Episode 888: Little Shop

“Something terrible is going to happen to us if we stay here!”

We’re back in the swinging sixties, and just in time. Barnabas’ trip to the nineteenth century was held over by popular demand, and if they’d kept it up for another six weeks, then by the time he came back it would be the 1970s, because of how time works.

The new storyline is just getting started — this is actually the first episode that takes place entirely in 1969 — so they’re still lining up the plot points. So far, Barnabas has been hijacked by some kind of ancient pyramid scheme death cult, Julia is anxiously awaiting Barnabas’ return from the past, and Carolyn is wearing a terrible clown skirt.

But today, we get our first big shock: Jason McGuire is back!

888 dark shadows paul flashlight

Yes! We saw a mystery man mooching around the Old House yesterday, and when Julia confronts him at the top of today’s episode — it’s Jason!

Now, if you’re not familiar with the famous Mr. McGuire, he was an important villain when Barnabas first appeared on the show, back when it was possible to have non-supernatural villains. He helped Elizabeth’s husband Paul fake his death and skip town, because pretending to be dead is funny and lucrative. Everyone knows this.

Jason returned to town a couple years ago to blackmail Liz, and he’d almost convinced her to marry him and share her outrageous fortune, when she had a sudden change of heart and confessed the whole thing. Once the police got involved, Jason ran away, making a quick stop-off at the Old House, where he was convinced Barnabas was hiding the Collins family jewels. Jason opened the coffin, Barnabas strangled Jason, and they buried him in the back room of the mausoleum.

But now he’s back, alive again and wandering around the Old House — returned from the grave,  somehow. Has Jason been resurrected by some terrible power, to take his revenge on Barnabas? What could this possibly mean?

888 dark shadows julia carolyn talking

Well, we’re not going to find out, I guess, because he runs off into the shadows — classic Jason, right?

Julia didn’t recognize him, because she never met Jason; she was just joining the show when he was killed. So when Carolyn comes by, all Julia can say is that she found a stranger poking around in the house.

And that’s all the excitement we’re going to get for a little while, because now they’re going to do another lengthy sequence where not much really happens, just like yesterday. Julia and Carolyn chat about the stranger, and then they talk about whether Barnabas is going to come back from the past. Julia goes downstairs to check for him, and then Carolyn sees the stranger outside the window, so Julia has to run back upstairs and discuss it.

Julia wants to stay the night in case Barnabas comes back, and Carolyn decides that she’ll sleep over too, so now we’re watching a show where the two characters that we’re following go to sleep in the middle of act two.

888 dark shadows carolyn julia skirt

They wake up in the morning, and Carolyn tells Julia that she dreamed about Chris, her sort-of boyfriend who she doesn’t realize is a werewolf. So they talk that over for a while, and then they decide to go antiquing.

On their way out, Julia says, “Would you mind if we stopped at Collinwood for one moment? I’ve got to make a phone call.” Carolyn says, “No, I don’t mind at all,” and then they put on their coats and leave.

I’m running through all of this tedious detail to demonstrate how much tedious detail there is to run through. After the Jason McGuire reveal, basically nothing happens for the next eight minutes; it’s just Julia and Carolyn talking, and going up and down the stairs.

This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem — we don’t need a car chase in every scene — but Gordon Russell wrote today’s script, and on the writing team, Gordon is the weakest on dialogue. He really excels at the clockwork episodes, where he has to come up with a way to move characters and props around, in order to set up a plot point. He’s clever when he has a challenge like that, but give him eight minutes of conversation, and he falls to pieces. “Would you mind if we stopped at Collinwood for one moment” is an incredibly boring thing to say, especially because we don’t see the phone call, so there doesn’t seem to be any reason for Julia to even say it.

888 dark shadows megan philip friends

That poses a problem, because they’re introducing two brand-new characters and a new location today, and they’re going to be important in the developing story. We could really use some sparkling dialogue here, and unfortunately, we’re not going to get it.

The new set is an antique shop that just opened in downtown Collinsport, run by a married couple, Megan and Philip Todd. We find them unpacking some recent acquisitions.

Philip:  One whale oil lamp.

Megan:  Mmm, once owned by Herman Melville. “Moby Dick was born by the light of this priceless object!”

Philip:  You’re not going to describe it that way!

Megan:  Well, anything to drum up a little business.

They chuckle.

Megan:  What’s next?

Philip:  One exquisite clock.

Megan:  Hmm, with a slightly broken pendulum.

Philip:  Don’t worry, I’ll fix it. I’ll put it aside.

And then he goes and puts it aside, as Megan grins appreciatively. She’s super smiley, apparently determined to win over the audience with an abundance of cheer.

888 dark shadows julia carolyn megan philip

As you know, there are three steps to making the audience like a new character: make a joke, make a friend, and make a plot point happen. Megan and Philip seem to be right on track, as we see when Carolyn brings Julia into the shop. Carolyn’s been here before, and she gets a warm welcome from the Todds.

Carolyn:  I’ve told her all about the shop.

Megan:  Hey! Maybe we should hire you, to spread the word about us.

Carolyn:  You don’t have to hire me, I’d do it anyway. I’m so impressed with what you have here.

Really? Well, that makes one of you; it looks like a dump to me. There’s some kind of stuffed pig weasel on the back shelf that I find unsettling, because I can’t identify what it’s supposed to be. It seems like a mammal hastily assembled by God out of spare parts, at the last minute.

But that means Carolyn’s enthusiasm for the place is mostly based on how much she likes the Todds, so they’ve nailed the make a friend step.

888 dark shadows julia philip check

And they score well on the plot point, too, showing off a canvas painted by Charles Delaware Tate. Julia reacts like the superstar that she is, zeroing in immediately on anything that might be story-productive.

With Barnabas charting an odd new course of his own in this storyline, Julia needs to be the interim protagonist, driving the story that the audience most wants to see. Right now, that means the werewolf plotline that we left midstream, when Barnabas ran off to 1897. Julia didn’t really care that much about Chris Jennings before — Barnabas was the one who really identified with Chris and committed to helping him, while Julia came along for the ride. Now she’s the only one who can move that plot forward, so all of a sudden, she’s devoted to it.

Julia knows that Charles Delaware Tate painted the magical portrait that cured Quentin of being a werewolf, so if Tate is still alive, he may be able to help Chris. She doesn’t actually say that in this scene, because she doesn’t have to — the audience knows all about it, and we’re one hundred percent aligned with Julia right now.

She asks Philip how much the Tate costs — and when he says three hundred dollars, she immediately whips out her checkbook and completes the sale. She also wants the name of the auction house where Philip bought the painting, and any information that might lead her to finding more Tate paintings. She’s being smart, and that gives her immense power in the narrative, because smart characters make stories go faster. Buying this painting is a power move.

888 dark shadows paul carolyn altar

With all that action in the show’s upper tier, the new characters are really going to have to assert themselves, if they want us to care about them. So it’s disappointing when Carolyn runs into Jason later on in the episode, and it turns out he’s not actually Jason.

Julia didn’t know McGuire, but Carolyn was deeply involved in the Liz/Jason blackmail story. She would definitely recognize him on sight, even with a mustache. But when she cries out, “I know who you are!” she follows it immediately with, “You’re the man Julia caught sneaking around the Old House last night!” So I guess this isn’t Jason after all, just another weird Dark Shadows lookalike. I don’t know who this is. Well, it’s probably not important. They don’t say his name during the episode, so I guess there’s no way to tell.

888 dark shadows philip megan rich

Anyway, back to Megan and Philip, who are being super pleasant and likeable.

Megan:  Well? What’s the good news?

Philip:  Far and away the best day we’ve had yet.

They kiss.

Philip:  Now, if we could just find a customer like Dr. Hoffman every day —

Megan:  Oh! We’d be rich by the end of the year!

Philip:  Right you are.

And he kisses her forehead, because they’re young and in love, and I hate them. Oh, how I hate them.

888 dark shadows philip megan premonition

So this is the real mystery that I actually want to figure out, at this point in the storyline. Megan and Philip seem to be doing everything right — they’re friendly, and they banter, and they buy pre-packaged plot twists at estate sales. I should be entirely pro-antiques at this point. But instead, I really dislike them, and it may take a minute for me to unpack exactly why I think they don’t work.

The primary problem, I think, is that they aren’t funny. They make a lot of jokes — see above, practically everything that they’ve said is some kind of light-hearted banter — but they never make you laugh.

“Anything to drum up a little business!” “Maybe we should hire you, to spread the word about us!” “Right you are!” These conversations have the shape of jokes, and they’re in all the places that jokes should be. In the script outline, it clearly says “Megan and Philip joke around with each other, so that everyone knows that they’re a friendly, loving couple who don’t deserve to be menaced by unseen horrors.” These moments are in the script because the writers know that this is the way to win audience favor.

But they’re not funny. The lines aren’t very good to begin with, and Marie Wallace and Christopher Bernau don’t deliver them in a particularly funny way. So they fall into the uncanny valley of comedy — lines that are supposed to sound human, but they don’t quite connect. Here’s another one:

Megan:  Do you believe in premonitions?

Philip:  No. Why?

Megan:  I just had one.

Philip:  Congratulations.

Do you see what I mean? He’s making a little sarcastic joke, but it’s not clever, and it’s not something a human would ever say. So I just kind of recoil from it, this laugh line of the living dead.

Megan tells Philip, “Something terrible is going to happen to us if we stay here,” and I’m afraid that I have to agree. You already are something terrible, and you’re already happening.

Tomorrow: It’s From the Past.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

Again, given what we find out about the stranger’s real identity next week, his actions at the beginning of this episode make no sense. He tells Julia that he was supposed to meet someone at the Old House. Who? What is he talking about?

Julia has the sniffles; she sniffs several times when she and Carolyn are talking in the Old House drawing room in the first act.

Julia asks if Philip is sure that the painting is a genuine Tate, and Philip stumbles over the line: “Oh, yes. I know his work well, it’s, uh — I know his signature even better.”

Philip brings the painting over to the window so that Julia can examine it, and there’s a shot of the two of them from outside the shop. Then they cut back to the camera inside the shop, and you can see the camera and a crew member through the window.

After her phone call, Julia muses, “If Tate is still alive, he may be able to help Chris Jenning.” She means Jennings.

When the stranger approaches the altar in the final scene, you can see the edge of the burlap carpet that’s supposed to be the ground.

Oh, and it turns out we do find out who that mysterious stranger is, because he’s listed in the credits. It’s Paul Stoddard, Carolyn’s long-lost father. It’s a little weird to list his name when they’re making a big deal about him as a mystery man, but Dark Shadows is gonna be Dark Shadows.

Tomorrow: It’s From the Past.

888 dark shadows paul credit

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

20 thoughts on “Episode 888: Little Shop

  1. Happy Pride everyone!

    Okay, I like the IDEA of the Todds – one of the very few outsider couples with no blood ties to the Collins’ to appear on the show. (Aside from them, Maggie and Joe, and Magda and Sandor, who else is there?) I like how they start out so happy and then everything turns to tragedy later on. It’s as if the lesson is, “THAT’S what you get for opening a business in Collinsport and/or hiring the girl in the clown skirt from the house above the cliffs.” It’s such a rare idea for this show that I’m not sure the writers are always sure how to do write for them – most of the “romantic” scenes on the show came straight out of Bronte – but they were committed enough to build a new set for them so that they didn’t have to come over for dinner at Collinwood EVERY night! I think the real challenge with Phillip and Megan is the casting of Chris Bernau and Marie Wallace. Bernau’s signature role was Alan Spaulding on The Guiding Light, which worked because he was a villain. He was erudite and brittle, so we were willing to ignore his lack of chemistry with all women and buy him as a womanizer. Here, he just doesn’t ring true as a happily married straight man. And Marie Wallace never downplayed her stage energy and reveled in being hysterical, crazy or just plain grand. She was too over the top to be believable as good Megan. (I would have loved to see Joel Crothers as Philip and a calmer, sweeter actress as Megan.)

    And one can’t downplay how much fun it is to see the regular characters interact in a space that is NOT Collinwood, the Old House or the Blue Whale. I like new sets, and I like when soap operas go to places of business. I also love how we’re spending a few days acclimating ourselves to the fact that Julia will be the hero of this story for a while. It’s hard to put into words since this is the third time I’ve watched the Leviathan story, but I do recall that when new sagas started on the show, I didn’t mind being kept in the dark, and even as a child I understood on some level that this cast acted as a repertory company, so it took a week or two to adjust to who was playing who at this point, and I felt a lot of excitement building up knowing that this was a whole new tale.

    1. My issue with the Todds is that they’re written as generic happy couple who are doomed because they’re moving into a haunted house. It’s a fairly rote horror cliche. And if you’re familiar with the genre, it makes you roll your eyes.

      I’d have preferred that like Bruno and (SPOILER), the Todds were already loyal Leviathans whose entire end goal was to get friendly with Carolyn. It would add depth to the characters and make some of their stilted dialogue work better because it’s intended to be stilted.

      Wallace, of course, is great casting for who Megan becomes. And it would work if she had been that Megan all along, but the whole point is that the Todds are normal and what happens to them is a tragedy they did nothing to cause.

      It reminds me of Stephen King’s issue with Nicholson’s casting in THE SHINING. If the point was just to cast the lunatic terrorizing his family with an axe, Jack’s your man. But the story works best if Torrance is a normal joe in scene one and that is never Nicholson.

    2. I suspect that Megan and Phillip were the result of both Joel Crothers and Alexandra Moltke leaving the show. With Vicky gone, Maggie moved to Collinwood, and Joe Haskell left for good. Were it not for that, Joe and Maggie might have become the parents of the Leviathan child.

  2. I believe also in this episode we learn from conversation between Megan and Philip that they frequently have spaghetti for dinner to save money — a classic hallmark of financial struggle no doubt included to get the audience behind them. Now, what I want to know is: for sauce, Hunt’s or Ragú? And if Ragú, is it the sauce that’s meat flavored? Just knowing they could only get a taste of meat through spaghetti sauce would really have won me over for sure.

    I like that antique shop set, especially the front window and the street lamp outside. I don’t know, something about the whole layout just seems to breathe that classic quaint New England charm — which is what I found so attractive about the Evans Cottage set.

    This must be the first time that Carolyn has actually expressed an interest in seeking employment. And she’s, what, 23 by now? For a Collins of Collinsport, whose mother runs the family business, she has shown surprisingly little ambition. In 1966, she was toying with the idea of marrying a local fisherman. Despite that she took over as mistress of Collinwood and supervisor of the family business in 1967 while Liz was incapacitated during the Phoenix story, she has shown little evidence of trying to advance herself, aside from the odd romantic fling. And now, at age 23, the daughter of the richest family in town is finally landing her first job — as a shop assistant.

    1. It’s another interesting contrast between the more upper middle class modern day Collins and the more aristocratic versions in the past. The family heiress working in a shop, even as a lark, would have been unheard of in the 19th Century.

      Theoretically, Carolyn’s job should be marrying someone able to run the Collins business. The previous generation failed in that Roger was a cad and Liz married a cad.

  3. Danny, Seemed like Chris Bernau (and several other DS males) all had links to having been in the stage production of “Boys in the Band” at one time, right? Seems like there is an online article about all of that somewhere… Also, the actor who played Lincoln Tyler on All My Children from the mid-to-late 70’s onward (Peter White?) — he was also a “Boys in the Band” alum, as I recall. At one point, an ABC exec was trying to get Peter White to somehow disclaim or disavow his connection to “BITB,” but Peter White would not back down — he was proud of his “BITB” work and was not about to be “in the closet” about “BITB.” Made me like and respect Peter White all the more…

  4. So where do we point the finger?

    Could two different actors have made those same lines ‘work’? Would Chris Bernau and Marie Wallace have been more likeable with different dialogue? Fifty-fifty?

    Of course, we know even before seeing the end of the story, that these folks are doomed (Doomed! DOOMED!), because they’re new, and were fool enough to move to Collinsport. I’m willing to give them a chance and see if they get any better before meeting their fate (DOOMED!). I can always dislike them later.

  5. Sorry, Danny, but once again I sharply disagree with just about everything you’ve said about today’s, and yesterday’s, episode. I enjoyed it. The idea that it’s boring is beyond me.

    After the onslaught of dynamic highs that ended the 1897 story, this is the appropriate place for dynamic lows. I love that it’s slowed down for two seconds as a new story begins. In music, it’s called “breathing room”. If it was nothing, but dynamic highs all the time, then there would be no dynamics at all, just extended loudness.
    Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, 4th movement is a perfect example of what I’m talking about: It builds up, and then strategically drops down several times, before reaching it’s climax. You can’t have the highs without the lows, it doesn’t work.
    Of course, I came of age before the advent of MTV in 1981, with it’s rapid-fire editing that spread to all electronic forms of media and trained unfortunate younger generations to have no attention span, and no patience.

    There’s been so much emphasis on “plot points” recently, that other equally important aspects, such as a creepy atmosphere, have been overlooked. That is what’s happening here. They are trying to re-establish a creepy mood.
    After years of study, one thing I can say for sure is that ‘speed’ and ‘creepiness’ are mutually exclusive. In order to create a creepy mood, there must be, as Ang Lee would put it, “stillness”.

    The most important thing that seems to be unappreciated here is that the “feeling of nothing happening” is exactly the point. It is supposed to SEEM as though nothing is happening. We know better, we know there’s plenty going on.

    Yesterday, something happened with Carolyn that I considered vitally significant, but you dismissed it as “one of those moods that I have no patience for, where nothing is going wrong”.
    That was not just another bad mood. Carolyn is about to become the target of something big and horrible, and this is where all of that begins. On some deep level, in the back of her mind, she knows that something IS wrong, something IS happening, and it’s going to happen to her, despite the illusion that it’s just another day at Collinwood.

    They were clever not to use the word “premonition” yesterday, they didn’t need to, they were saving that for today. For weeks, I’ve been looking forward to what you might have to say about today, when it’s Megan’s turn to have the exact same feeling…..

    1. Beautifully put, Richard. Moments of happiness are few and far between on DS, and the “banal” conversation between Megan and Philip actually ratchets up the suspense because you just know something terrible is going to happen. Storytelling has certainly sped up on TV since the days of old soaps and Masterpiece Theatre. There’s nothing wrong with that, except it used to be fun to savor a conversation for its own sake between two characters or the build-up to a new story. The very contrast to those zany days of 1897 is what makes this slower paced return to modern times so fascinating to me. It feels more adult somehow, which could have contributed to the falloff of ratings since the producers had been aiming more and more at schoolchildren. (Except this former school kid remembers being thrilled by the Leviathan story.)

    2. That’s precisely why I like the 1966 to 1967 episodes so much — in fact, that may well be my favorite period overall. Even when things don’t appear to be happening, they are, because there is tension building. The time when David locks Vicki up in an old room in the West Wing and leaves her to die and she is discovered by Roger, he doesn’t simply happen upon her. We see him exit the drawing room through the secret panel — the first use of the secret panel on the show — and we follow his footsteps, along winding stairwells and myriad corridors, until he finally happens upon where she is locked in, but before letting her out he terrorizes her from out in the hall by pretending to be a ghost that warns her that she is in danger.

      And when Barnabas is introduced: It doesn’t just happen right away and all of a sudden. After the Phoenix story concludes they take a couple of weeks of relative calm where earlier storylines are reintroduced, characters reflect a bit on what happened with Laura Collins, Burke takes David fishing, Sam Evans gets an offer to have his work shown in a gallery… and Willie gets enchanted by jewels in a portrait — which communicates first with a heart beat and eyes that glow. The episodes leading up to and including where Barnabas’ coffin is opened might be seen by some as moving too slow.

      I was turning 15 in 1981 and I always despised MTV and all that it stood for — which is flash, hype, and zero substance.

      Today is the 50th anniversary of the broadcast of the first episode of Dark Shadows, which I viewed today starting at 4:00 p.m. EST on the nose. There’s a channel on YouTube that has that episode in 3D.

  6. With that shop, the Todds should be on an episode of “Collinsport Hoarders.”

    I do agree there is value in letting a story percolate for maximum tension, but it seems obvious on and off screen everyone is burned out. The most memorable part of the Leviathan story for me as a kid was the weeks of heavy breathing. Such a letdown.

  7. The series has shifted gears previously: After the camp heights of Nicholas Blair trying to create a race of monsters, they moved to a more subtley creepy and intense haunted house story. Even the werewolf was handled in a more down to earth way than Angelique’s vampire in a flowing white nightgown.

    I get that the pacing for the series is changing but I think the Leviathans have the same “world domination” concept that is all wrong for a series that works best with personal stakes and goals, like early Barnabas and the haunting of Collinwood. I’d even prefer the “will” story from 1897, which is also subtler than what 1897 became.

    Ultimately, though, a series without its two male leads (especially since Barnabas is no longer himself) is going to court boredom,

    1. I agree. DS works best when it’s Collinwood and Collins-family-and-friends focused. Nicholas Blair’s scheme and the Leviathans’ schemes are just too big. Really, a rare trip to Banger, Boston or New York is all we need.

  8. If it were Jason he would’ve told Carolyn, in his Irish brogue and a gleam in his eye, that death was nature’s way of telling you to slow down and then ask the whereabouts of his good friend Willie.

  9. The weak link in all of this is Christopher Bernau. His line delivery is stilted, soapy, and awful…..he’s unconvincing, unfunny, like the guy at a party who has all this confidence that he is entertaining to everyone, while everyone else just turns, quietly groans, and rolls their eyes…..

    Marie Wallace doesn’t have a chance, with his abundance of unchemistry.

  10. Now I remember what the Todd characters are doing.

    They’re playing Precious.

    Ugh.

    Yeah, and they were both cheerleaders in high school……

  11. About that stuffed “pig weasel” – it’s Collinsport! Is it any surprise that the local antique shop has a stuffed cryptid on its shelves?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s