“There’s something here that doesn’t make any sense.”
The curse is come upon us once again. The dark woods have claimed another.
Last night, a young woman, alone on the grounds of the estate, was disassembled by an unknown assailant, her life extinguished by a malevolent, savage beast that knows only hunger.
So, obviously, we can’t let this go on. I mean, at some point, you run out of day players.
So here’s handsome, moody Chris Jennings, coming home after a long night of serial killing, and once again the place is a wreck. Same shambles, different day.
Chris actually sighs as he closes the door and pulls down the shades, because destroying the evidence of his latest killing spree has become a tedious routine.
Once again, he tears off his bloodstained shirt in full view of the camera, for the second time this week. Dark Shadows is currently the highest rated show on daytime television, and they mean to keep it that way.
Just to underscore that point, he tosses the shirt into the back room, grabs a turtleneck, and then walks all the way back to the middle of the set to put it on.
The message we are sending to the young people of America is that covering up for a murder is the hottest thing a guy could do. I bet Charles Manson and the Zodiac Killer are both sitting in front of their television sets, taking furious notes.
Clearing away the debris, Chris finds a woman’s purse among the wreckage. “That girl,” he grimaces, and then takes a second to think.
Then he says, “Donna!” So that’s nice, he got there eventually.
He puts the purse down on the table as he continues to straighten the place up. He’s just getting a second to really reflect on the situation when there’s a knock at the door, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s the heat, in the shape of Sheriff Patterson of the Collinsport PD.
Now, fortunately for Chris, Sheriff George Patterson is the most useless waste of fabric and gristle in the history of televised law enforcement. He first appeared on the show in August 1966, not solving the murder of Bill Malloy, and he’s been hanging around not solving crimes ever since.
You name it — murder, arson, abduction, missing children — Patterson has seen it all. Well, not actually seen per se, but he’s filed the paperwork.
His investigative technique is to walk up to people and describe every single piece of evidence that he has, and then ask them what they think. Sheriff Patterson was into crowdsourcing before it was cool.
In fact, Patterson is so useless that he’s been played by four different actors in the last year and a half, and nobody’s noticed.
Today happens to be the Sheriff’s last appearance on Dark Shadows, and they give him an appropriate sendoff, with all of the dignity that he deserves.
Okay, back to the investigation. The authorities have found Donna Friedlander’s bloodsoaked corpse out on the lawn where Chris left her, and Patterson’s here to make inquiries.
Chris was the last person who was seen with Donna — he was supposed to drive her to Bangor last night, but they never even got as far as the driveway. Sheriff P wants to know why not.
Chris starts spinning his roulette wheel of excuses — a business trip, a headache, I think better when I’m alone — when he suddenly realizes that Donna’s purse is sitting right there on the table.
So Chris does what any normal citizen would do when he’s being questioned by the police — he strolls over to the table, picks up a newspaper, and then casually drops the paper onto the table, obscuring the purse from view.
Now, this is clearly Flintstones level villainy, but I think that’s the point. Dark Shadows is once again wobbling unsteadily across a tightrope, thrilling the audience with supernatural danger while maintaining a cheerfully lunatic tone.
Played realistically, this would be an unbelievably grisly storyline; this guy has just spent the week clawing his way through every young female on the property, and now he’s concealing the evidence of his latest thrill-kill.
If Dark Shadows has actually become a horror show, then this should be a moment of horror.
Instead, we’ve got Chris circling the table as the Sheriff moves around the room, blocking the purse from sight like it’s an episode of Here’s Lucy. The entire episode today is played like a sitcom, and I don’t know about you, but I find it immensely appealing.
Even the Sheriff thinks there’s something funny going on around here, and he says he’s going to take Chris downtown for questioning.
Patterson: There’s something here that doesn’t make any sense. Now, that girl was killed nearer to this house than any other house on the estate, in the woods between here and the main house. Judging from the appearance of the body, she put up quite a fight. And yet you say you didn’t hear anything.
Chris: That’s right. I didn’t.
Patterson: Maybe you’ll remember better in town. You’ll drive your own car, or ride with me?
Chris: I don’t have my keys, you know that.
Patterson: Oh, yes, yes. I’d forgotten. You gave your keys to the girl.
And then he puts on his hat and walks out, like Columbo, Junior. That little rimshot might actually be the best moment in Patterson’s career.
Meanwhile, at the main house, the Junior Detectives are also discussing the recent crime wave. Julia says, “I feel so responsible,” and Barnabas says, “Yes,” although this new sense of responsibility doesn’t seem to affect their behavior very much.
Julia: Barnabas — if we hadn’t let him take her, do you think we could have stopped it?
Barnabas: I don’t think so. I have the feeling that wherever they went last night was Donna’s fault. She must have delayed him, until the moon was up. And then he couldn’t help it. The werewolf does not choose his victims.
So that’s where the show is, morality-wise — and then we take another step into dark sitcom. This next exchange sounds like a Quentin Tarantino-directed episode of Bewitched.
Barnabas: We must go to Chris’ cottage.
Julia: Now? Why?
Barnabas: Well, if the police are really suspicious of him, they’re going to send somebody over to search the house.
Barnabas: Well, I want to be there first, that’s all.
And the really appealing thing about this story — the thing that actually makes it work — is that Barnabas is finally, at long last, thinking about somebody who isn’t named Barnabas.
As I’ve pointed out many times, there are three steps to making the audience care about a character: Make a joke, make a friend, make a plot point happen. The “make a friend” step is more important than you might think. Making a friend gives a character value and worth in the narrative; it’s like a magic trick for audience empathy.
That’s how Barnabas evolved from villain-of-the-week to become the main character of the show, by forging an uneasy friendship with Julia and Willie. Now, he’s recruiting another member of the team.
Julia: What are you looking for?
Barnabas: A sign, Julia. A sign!
Julia: Of what?
Barnabas: Guilt! If I am correct, he probably wouldn’t have had time to dispose of anything incriminating.
So that’s super cute; Chris is like the toxic mutant son they never had.
But they can’t just get by on Barnabas’ say-so. Julia has to sign off on this too, and she does it in the most sitcom way that she possibly can.
Barnabas says he’s going to go search in the bedroom for evidence to tamper with, and he tells Julia to look around out here. Once he’s gone, Julia putters aimlessly around the room for a full thirty seconds — pacing, sighing, listlessly opening a couple of nearby drawers.
Finally, she shuffles back to her starting position, utterly unbothered. She glances idly at the newspaper on the table.
With a bored sigh, she snatches up the newspaper, revealing the purse.
She stands there and reads the paper.
And then she executes an absolutely flawless Here’s Lucy double-take. It’s a gorgeous moment. Couldn’t be better.
So here they are, united: the Unscooby Gang — a team of monsters that travels around, protecting the guilty from those meddling kids.
Over at the police station, Sheriff Patterson decides to dispense with police procedure, and get by on folksiness alone. Chris has been trying out one worthless alibi after another, and Patterson decides the kid needs a break.
Patterson: Look, I tell you what. Suppose I leave you here a while.
Chris: What do you mean, I’m under arrest?
Patterson: Nah, don’t go jumping to conclusions. I’ve got some paperwork I should be doing. You can use the time to try to remember. And this time, make it a story I can’t punch holes in, will you?
So that’s where we live now, kind of a laissez-faire Bedford Falls “everybody’s entitled to a murder now and then” post-apocalyptic dystopia. You’d think that it would be impossible for the Collinsport constabulary to get any worse than this.
But nothing’s impossible, when the Unscooby Gang is around. One phone call later, and Patterson’s back, with a smile on his face.
“You know, you shouldn’t be embarrassed about having too much to drink,” he says. “A lot of people black out when they’ve been drinking. You’re lucky you were with Barnabas Collins. He’s about the best alibi you could have, in this town.”
And that’s how Sheriff George Patterson ends his Dark Shadows career, smiling and shaking hands with the only guilty man he’s ever met. It’s a fitting tribute to his lifetime of service.
In appreciation of the Sheriff’s singular achievements in soap opera justice, let’s take a look at his all-time win-loss record.
Bill Malloy’s murder, 1966: Matthew Morgan remains at large for months, committing further mayhem.
Victoria Winters’ kidnapping, 1966: Matthew eludes capture until he’s scared to death by ghosts.
Mystery woman who died in a fire in Phoenix, identified as Laura Collins, 1967: Unsolved.
Mysterious cattle death, 1967: Unsolved.
Girls attacked in town, 1967: Unsolved.
Paul Stoddard’s murder, 1967: Turns out it wasn’t a real murder.
Maggie Evans’ disappearance, 1967: Solved by a ghost.
David Collins’ disappearance, 1967: Solved by a ghost.
Setting a trap for Maggie’s abductor, 1967: Deputies shoot the wrong man; the accused is released from a mental institution eight months later, and kidnaps Maggie again.
Dr. Woodard’s murder, 1967: Unsolved.
Adam on the rampage, 1968: Patterson captures Adam, who immediately escapes. Deputies chase the suspect off Widow’s Hill, but he survives. Patterson never figures out who or what Adam is.
Cassandra Collins’ disappearance, 1968: Not sure he even knew about it.
Tom Jennings’ death, 1968: Unsolved.
Conspiracy to poison Joe Haskell, 1968: Unsolved.
Joe’s attempted murder of Barnabas, 1968: Joe is taken to the hospital; charges are dropped.
Hotel clerk’s murder, 1968: Unsolved.
Barmaid’s murder, 1968: Unsolved.
Donna Friedlander’s murder, 1969: Patterson has the murderer in custody, then shakes his hand and lets him go.
Number of criminals still at large: All of them, except the ones who were killed by ghosts.
Still, at least Sheriff Patterson didn’t get murdered, and turned into a zombie slave. That’s the next Sheriff. So I guess that’s something.
Monday: Murder Club.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
I cleaned up the quote above for clarity; what Barnabas actually tells Julia is, “I have the feeling that whatever — wherever they left, and wherever they went last night, was Donna’s fault.”
Chris tries to explain what happened last night to the Sheriff: “I got this headache, I get them, migraines, and I told her just to take my car on, I gave her my keys, told her to leave the car at the bus station in Collinsport, and that she should bring me the keys, uh, later, I’d get the car, uh, this morning. In fact, that she should leave the keys in the car.”
Behind the Scenes:
Vince O’Brien, the final Sheriff Patterson, had an interesting career post-Dark Shadows. In the late 60s and 70s, he was the “Shell Answer Man” in commercials for Shell Oil, a role that he described as “like hitting the state lottery.” He appeared in Guiding Light and Ryan’s Hope, and he had small roles in Annie Hall, Six Degrees of Separation and Quiz Show. In the mid-90s, he had a recurring role as Judge Franks on Law & Order. He seems like a nice guy. A terrible policeman, obviously, but a nice guy.
Monday: Murder Club.
— Danny Horn