Episode 878: Flight of the Conquered

“I’d advise you to start running. Don’t stop, because those sounds will always be close behind you.”

Aristede has displeased his employer, the mad Count Petofi, for reasons that I don’t feel like discussing right now. Intent on tormenting Aristede to the grave, Petofi has summoned a demonic prison guard, Garth Blackwood — a man that Aristede murdered, years ago. Now Aristede’s on the run, with the implacable Blackwood following close behind, stomping and growling and rattling a chain.

This doesn’t help Count Petofi achieve any of his goals, but he does it anyway. I don’t really know why.

878 dark shadows blackwood chain

So we need to take a moment to appreciate Garth Blackwood as a daytime soap opera character. Wild-eyed and extravagantly bearded, Blackwood stomps into the room on his one good leg, boiling over with frustration and rage before he even makes it through the door. He’s gripping a length of chain between his black-gloved fists, eager to choke the life out of anyone who crosses his path.

He does not love; he does not reflect. He has very little interest in recapping the day’s events. He is a twisted creature of darkness. Oh, and he’s dead.

For a little context, take a look at this 1969 promo for General Hospital. It begins with some sepia-toned still images of newborn babies, and then starts throwing faces at us, accompanied by a fine mist of sentimental music, composed for strings and kettle drums.

878 general hospital wonder

General Hospital, an announcer says, as they mix shots of characters’ faces, hospital equipment and miscellaneous.

Where doctors and nurses dedicate their lives to that wonder which is a human being. They don’t specify which human being they’re referring to.

878 general hospital syringe

They hit us with some more photographs: A door that says EMERGENCY SERVICE. A hand, twiddling a knob. A nurse preparing a syringe. An assortment of scalpels. Another baby.

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Skilled professionals, says the announcer, as they start to mix characters’ headshots.  Personal friends.

Doctors and nurses, with first names and last names, and tragedies of their own.

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People intertwined, in ever-changing patterns of love and hope, loneliness and despair.

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General Hospital — in color, on ABC.

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So that’s what 3:00 in the afternoon looks like, on ABC. This is what 4:00 looks like.

“A prisonarrrr has escaped from Dartmoorrr!” the demon growls. “He was seen entering here! Are you concealing him?”

He takes a few halting steps, and once more addresses the wounded man lying on the sofa. “The penalty for harboring an escaped criminal is SEVERE!” he says, and the camera pulls in on the chain, grasped tightly like a garrotte. It’s not clear if this creature has dedicated his life to that wonder which is a human being. I doubt it.

878 dark shadows blackwood moors

Informed that the man he’s looking for has fled on foot, the vision in black is on alert. “He will not go farrrr,” he trills, eyes glittering. “The moors are treacherous. They are my domain!” And then he marches out the back door. This is what law enforcement is like in England.

878 dark shadows evan garth strangle

Now, the thing to keep in mind here is that Dark Shadows is unbelievably popular right now. Housewives and teenagers are glued to this broken-down gypsy caravan like you wouldn’t believe. The American viewing public, given the choice between people intertwined in ever-changing patterns and Garth Blackwood clomping remorselessly across the imaginary moors, have opted for the latter.

They don’t even seem to care that the doctors and nurses have first names and last names; that means precisely nothing in their lives. The people want beetle-browed undead psychopaths, bursting into people’s homes in hot pursuit.

And yet General Hospital refuses to include even one murderous lunatic prison guard in their cast. It’ll never last, I’m telling you.

Tomorrow: Old Business.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

When Garth Blackwood first appears in Tate’s cottage, his steps don’t really match the sound effect very well.

The scenery outside Tate’s front door is just a white screen; this is especially apparent when Blackwood enters and addresses Petofi. When Blackwood exits through the back door, there isn’t anything out that way, either.

Aristede tells Evan, “I don’t know what he’s planning, but he seems like a — he’s helped me tremendously.”

Behind the Scenes:

Garth Blackwood is played by John Harkins, who’s been on the show before. His Dark Shadows career goes all the way back to episode 174, when he played Lieutenant Costa, one of the useless police officers who investigated Laura’s apparent death in Phoenix.

Tomorrow: Old Business.

878 general hospital ad

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

28 thoughts on “Episode 878: Flight of the Conquered

  1. Wow, now that’s a great bit of character acting, even if Garth Blackwood seems a bit like something out of a Monty Python sketch — I didn’t realize it was John Harkins. His portrayals of Lieutenant Costa and Garth Blackwood are like night and day. I’d say Harkins is perhaps the strongest talent among the occasional actors that come and go.

  2. I think one of the things I look forward to most with each of your posts, Danny, is the titles.They manage to be perfectly appropriate to the subject of the episode and make me laugh, as this one did. I think it would be heaven to sit with you for a couple of hours and pun away!

  3. That first screen cap with Petofi bundled up in the ubiquitous Collinsport Quilt (we had one as part of our Colonial decor, that I think is still floating around the house, or possibly keeping Joe Haskell comfy over at Windcliff); has anyone else mentioned it’s similarity to the overall ‘feel’ of DS plots? A bunch of little bits that don’t exactly match, made from the same basic material, stitched together into something that seems cohesive?
    Oh, and with a LOT of little holes. (I remember that our quilt was more decorative than functional.)
    If someone else has already brought this up, my apologies. I’m still trying to catch up!

  4. There is a definite resemblance between Nurse Jessie on GA and 1967 Julia Hoffman – maybe it was the hairstyle?

    1. Really? I don’t see that. Everybody loved Nurse Jessee (Emily McLaughlin) on GH, but to me she was the most low key actor ever on daytime television.

  5. John E, I read an article about afghans (It’s not a quilt, since it’s made from yarn, not fabric) made from colored squares, similar to the one that seems to be in everyone’s house at least twice on DS, on a blog written by either a knitter or a TV historian. Can’t remember which. Anyway, these afghans are supposed to symbolize fond memories of the grandma, mother, or aunt who made them, and their presence in the lives of the people who own them. So it seems natural to find one in Maggie’s house (made by her late mom?) or in one of the bedrooms in Collinwood (made by a bored Edith Collins?). What the heck is it doing in Petofi’s lair then?

    1. Awww, Count Petofi’s Nanna knitted it for him? There might be a special square commemorating his hand being severed!

      I have a theory about the metaphorical meaning of the Collinsport Fly, too, but someone MUST have mentioned THAT.

      1. Well, even Petofi was someone’s son, at some point in the distant past. Though his afghan would have been predominantly red (as in blood stained) somehow.

        Regarding the Collinsport Fly, in episode 25 (broadcast July 29, 1966), in the 12-minute moment, as Liz is laying down the law to Roger about the story she wants him to tell about why Vicki was recommended to Collinwood, there are not one, but actually two Collinsport Flies hovering about, one settling in Joan Bennett’s hair and the other flying about her face around the mouth.

        It seems that even the Collinsport Fly had a family as well… though, no doubt, their afghan must have been more brown in color….

    2. No, this afghan is special – it’s a homing afghan. It starts out at the Evans’ cottage, then sows its wild oats, appearing all over the damn place…but always returns to its ancestral home, the artist’s set. Here we see it back there in the past, 1897. I am watching my way through DS at the moment and have got a bit past the blog…still a bit anxious to see whether the afghan is going to make it back to 1969. If some dunderhead leaves it back in 1897 I am going to be so pissed!

    3. This isn’t Petofi’s lair, though…it’s Charles Tate’s studio. So what is Charles Tate doing with the Collinsport Afghan? Did the studio come furnished? And does the afghan stay there for 70 years to show up when Charles’s studio becomes Sam and Maggie’s cottage?

  6. Danny, John Harkins should also be familiar to you for a very memorable guest shot on The Mary Tyler Moore Show: he played the minister officiating at the funeral of Chuckles the Clown. “A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants.”

  7. General Hospital aired at 3 p.m. and One Life to Live followed at 3:30. OLTL was even more hip late 60s – really a very good soap with an ethnically-diverse cast of characters. Yes, 4 p.m. on ABC was quite a departure from the preceding contemporary soaps. Even when DS returns to the present time in ’69, it’s still a weird mix with the other two soaps.

  8. Re: the famous Collinsport Afghan … there’s a Dark Shadows group on Ravelry (an online forum for knitters and crocheters). I’m a member but haven’t checked the message boards in months since there wasn’t much going on. But I logged on yesterday and learned that the members got together earlier this year and made a duplicate of the famous Afghan, which was auctioned off for charity at the recent DS Festival.

    1. Hahaha that’s fantastic! You don’t know how happy that makes me. You made my day. I’ll probably have to make one eventually…

      1. Oh, now I just have to find out what happened to my family’s heirloom afghan! Maybe it’s in the mystery box with all my Marilyn Ross DS novels…

  9. Interestingly, “General Hospital” would eventually take its own turn at the ultrafantastic starting in about a dozen years, with its storylines about a madman trying to freeze Port Charles, an alien visitor, mobsters who die and come back more times than Angelique, etc.

    And then its spinoff actually went the vampire route. So there’s that, too …

  10. I remember seeing John Harkins in dozens of TV shows in the ’70s and ’80s but I didn’t recognize him at all as Blackwood.

    Whenever I see a clip from the early days of General Hospital I wonder what possessed the producers to cast a not particularly attractive ex-baseball player with a thin acting resume as their lead. Then again you could say the same thing about Jonathan Frid (except the baseball part).

  11. Funny, the General Hospital I remember (from my mom/grandma watching them when I was a kid) was a bunch of people having lots of sex on daytime TV. I don’t remember much about hospitals.

  12. Blackwood reminds me of a Scoobydoo villain. I’m also wondering if the creators of “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” named their Father Blackwood after him?

    I LOVED when Judith told Evan she is not someone to be trifled with. She is awesome! She totally kicks ass without even smearing her eyeliner!

    And what the hell is with Aristede going along with Trask’s nefarious murder plot when he considers him a “man of the cloth”? Unless Aristede truly has no soul.

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