Episode 899: The Fam Dram

“It’s a creature without a soul, that has to find one to be real.”

They say that art should hold a mirror up to nature, but the problem is there’s an awful lot of nature, and who has the time to just stand there and hold up mirrors? Plus, you go buy a mirror, and then you rustle up a decent patch of nature to hold it up to, and after all that hassle, what do you have? Backwards nature. Meanwhile, everybody else is holding mirrors up to superheroes and car chases.

But what the hell, just for today, let’s leave the blasphemous starbaby in his box, and partake in some good old-fashioned fam dram. Today’s slice of life begins with faithless father Paul Stoddard, recently returned to Collinsport, as he discovers that somebody has tattooed an ancient cult symbol on his inside left wrist, without his knowledge or consent.

899 dark shadows paul phone

Well, obviously he finds that troublesome — it’s an upsetting situation, he’s not made of stone — and the only thing that can cheer him up is a visit from his recently rediscovered daughter, Carolyn.

Back in the day, Paul Stoddard was a reasonably successful con man who married the richest girl in town, and then got about three-quarters of the way towards the door with a suitcase full of her jewels, bonds and Krugerrands. Furious, Liz smacked him over the head with a fireplace poker and buried him in the basement, or at least she thought she did. It turned out to be a misunderstanding.

So Paul took off, nursing his near-fatal headache, and he’s spent the last twenty years on the road, swindling his way from one scheme to another. Meanwhile, Liz and Carolyn carried on, a wounded family.

This was one of the show’s core storylines in the first year, a series of terrible secrets that cast a shadow over the great estate. But the mystery was resolved by the end of the first year, and wrapping up that storyline gave Dark Shadows permission to cut ties with traditional daytime television, and devote itself full-time to the spook show. Nobody’s mentioned this plotline for years.

899 dark shadows paul carolyn door

But now, as the show is embarking on the most outré supernatural story they’ve ever embarked, Paul is back, opening old wounds that we forgot even existed. He’s kept out of Liz’s sight so far, but he’s in contact with Carolyn, who was only a baby when he last saw her.

There’s still a supernatural element to this family reunion — sudden-onset tattoos don’t just happen by themselves — but they’re playing the father-daughter relationship entirely straight, and it’s by far the best thing that’s happening on the show right now.

The key is the way that Paul reacts when he sees Carolyn. Every time that he sees her, he plays it as if seeing his daughter is the most incredible experience that he’s ever had. He’s just astonished that she even exists, and she’s willing to talk to him. For all these years, the only image he had was a crying infant, and suddenly here she is — bright, confident, pretty, affectionate, strong-willed — just magically appearing before his eyes. Yes, he’s currently being hunted by magical space octopi, but he is sincerely awestruck by this amazing young woman.

And the fact that he really values her — the way that we do, because Carolyn is a great character — that makes us happy, and we wish him the best.

899 dark shadows carolyn paul worse

Right away, they give us an example of what Carolyn brings to the scene. She can tell that he’s freaking out about something, and she comes straight out and asks him what’s wrong. She’s a soap opera’s most precious possession — a smart character — and smart characters don’t waste time. They diagnose a problem, and take immediate steps to fix it, which moves the story forward.

Paul’s a con artist; when Carolyn asks what’s wrong, he should have a selection of lies and distractions available at a moment’s notice. But he just chuckles, and says, “I can’t fool you, can I?” This is a man who’s spent his life fooling people, but when he stands before his extraordinary daughter, he just can’t do it.

So he makes an attempt to explain the unexplainable. It doesn’t go that well.

Paul:  Someone’s trying to do something to me.

Carolyn:  Who?

Paul:  I don’t know!

Carolyn:  What are they trying to do?

Paul:  I don’t know that, either!

And the problem is, that’s an accurate recap of the current storyline. That’s what Dark Shadows is like, these days.

899 dark shadows carolyn paul look

But Carolyn says that she’ll help, any way that she can, and she asks where they should start — and he just looks at her, helpless, astonished by this marvelous creature who somebody decided was his very own grown-up daughter.

He takes a breath. “Carolyn,” he sighs, “I want to say something to you — something I thought I’d never be able to say. And right now, it’s the biggest truth of my life. I love you, very much.”

899 dark shadows carolyn paul little girl

She takes a step towards him, and suddenly, she’s the little lost princess, who’s been waiting her entire life for her father to say that he loves her.

She spent eighteen years wondering when he was going to return, and then two years hating him and hoping he wouldn’t, and now here he is, and she hugs him, and it lights her up, this impossible, long hoped-for dream come true.

899 dark shadows paul liz mrs stoddard

And then the ex walks in. Elizabeth could tell that Carolyn was hiding something, so she’s followed her daughter, and she’s not happy with the results of her investigation.

He tries to bluff, swaggering up to her and declaring, “Mrs. Paul Stoddard!”

“I am not Mrs. Paul Stoddard,” she says. “I am Elizabeth Collins Stoddard.” And then she walks away from him, and starts talking to Carolyn.

899 dark shadows carolyn liz paul

And look at this! Three furious people, none of them witches or werewolves, and the only thing I want to do is find out what they’re going to say.

899 dark shadows paul liz

They ask Carolyn to leave the room, and she does, reluctantly. And then the world explodes.

Paul:  You’re still beautiful.

Liz:  I doubt that. But you’re still the same, I can see — sneaking back into town, forcing yourself on Carolyn.

Paul:  Forcing myself?

Liz:  Behind my back! Somehow convincing her that there’s something between you.

Paul:  There is.

Liz:  When I asked her to leave the room, she wouldn’t. But she did when you asked her to. Oh, how well I remember that charm of yours. How it used to move me! Just as it does Carolyn now. But I’m aware of how false it is; it doesn’t affect me anymore.

And there it is, the beautiful sound of a soap opera in action. Before Dark Shadows, Joan Bennett was a movie star, which was a thing they used to have back when movies were about people. She would stand on a set and say dialogue at actors, and she needed to have real presence and style, because they couldn’t cut away to the Golden Gate Bridge exploding.

“How well I remember that charm of yours,” she says. “How it used to move me!” This is what movie stars do for a living.

899 dark shadows paul liz move

Here, have some more.

Paul:  You think I’m after your money.

Liz:  That would come as no shock.

Paul:  Well, my reason for coming would. You’re right, Elizabeth. I was forced to return to Collinsport… by you.

Liz:  Please, Paul!

Paul:  By memory of you!

Liz:  You’re outrageous!

899 dark shadows liz paul shouting

They’re standing two inches away from each other, and shouting at the top of their lungs directly into each other’s faces. It’s tremendous.

Liz:  You haven’t changed a bit, Paul. You’re still the same sly, dishonest man —

Paul:  Please, Elizabeth! I never loved any other woman but you.

Liz:  You never loved anyone! What do you want from me now?

Paul:  Nothing!

Liz:  Good! Because that’s exactly what you’re going to get. From me, or any other Collins.

Paul:  You still think of yourself as a Collins, eh? Why did you keep my name?

Liz:  Because it is Carolyn’s, too.

Paul:  Well, I’m glad you admit that. Because if she has my name, then she is partly mine.

Liz:  Did you think of that when she was a child, when she was growing up?

Paul:  No, and that was a terrible mistake, I know that!

Liz:  You’re always so willing to admit your mistakes! And after you’ve admitted them, you’re perfectly willing to make them all over again!

The whole scene’s like that. It sounds like Liz has been having this exact argument inside her head for the last twenty years, all these pent-up zingers exploding on release.

This kind of close-order display of temperament would be welcome at any time, but it’s especially valuable right now. The show has just come back from a lengthy trip to the Collinwood of 1897, where each person in the cast had their own selection of story points. The four Collins siblings were at each other’s throats, and two of them had missing wives. The maid was in love with the black sheep of the family, and the governess was wanted for murder. And there was that little old lady dying in her big old bed, telling everyone that she knew a terrible secret.

But now they’ve returned to 1969, where it turns out there’s very little in the way of organic human drama. When we last saw them, everybody’s personal concerns had faded into the background in the face of an angry ancestor taking over their home. Now that threat is over, everybody seems to have lost interest in having a story.

Roger, David, Amy, Maggie, Willie, Mrs. Johnson — the human residents of the great estate — are absolutely fine, with just about everything. They don’t want anything in particular; they have no worries worth mentioning. Tomorrow is probably going to be more or less the same as today, unless some external force intervenes. It’s like the writers have forgotten that soap opera characters need aspirations and motives and conflicts.

So this Paul/Liz/Carolyn story is unbelievably precious right now. This is the only real-life fam dram that Dark Shadows can muster right now, and look how good it is.

899 dark shadows paul liz out of town

“There’s a train leaving at eleven o’clock,” Elizabeth declares. “If you’re not on it, I’ll make a few phone calls, to my lawyer, and a private detective to find out what you’ve been doing — because I know whatever it is hasn’t been honest. Get out of town, Paul! It’ll be much easier.”

You have to love a character who knows train timetables off the top of her head. And here I was, thinking all that supernatural stuff was the exciting part. How it used to move me!

Next: Your Lies and Spells.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

During her argument with Paul, Liz has to clear her throat after saying, “You haven’t changed a bit, Paul.”

There’s a pause in Paul and Liz’s argument when one of them misses a line; it’s impossible to tell who. Liz says, “Carolyn made a mistake!” Then she waits, they miss a beat, and she says, “Get out of town, Paul!”

Liz tells Paul, “If you stay in Collinwood…” She means Collinsport.

Liz tells Carolyn, “I was always grateful that your father never — you never had to see your father when you were growing up.”

When Paul sits down in the middle of the pentagram, the boom mic comes into frame.

Behind the Scenes:

The sailor at the Blue Whale doesn’t introduce himself, but he’s listed in the credits as Jack Long. He’s played by Kenneth McMillan, who also plays the bartender at the Eagle in April 1970, during the Parallel Time story. At age 37, McMillan is just at the start of his acting career — he was formerly a manager at Gimbels Department Store. In his early thirties, he gave up retail and went to the LaGuardia High School for Performing Arts, and he went on to a very successful two decades of acting.

Dark Shadows was his first screen credit. In 1970, he appeared on Broadway in Borstal Boy, and then had small parts in big movies like Serpico, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, The Stepford Wives and Dog Day Afternoon. He was on ABC soap Ryan’s Hope for a couple years, and he was Rhoda’s boss on season 4 of Rhoda. He was in a couple more Broadway shows — Streamers and American Buffalo — and then he was basically in everything. He did some tough guy TV guest spots in Kojak, Starsky & Hutch, The Rockford Files. He was in Moonlighting and Dune and Amadeus. In 1982, he won an Obie for his starring role in Weekends Like Other People. This goes to show that Dark Shadows actors are not always cursed; just most of the time.

The disembodied voice that speaks to Paul at the end of the episode is listed as “Voice”, played by John Harkins. When we meet him tomorrow, he introduces himself as Strak. Harkins was last seen a few weeks ago as Garth Blackwood, the master of Dartmoor.

Next: Your Lies and Spells.

271 dark shadows liz poker

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

15 thoughts on “Episode 899: The Fam Dram

  1. I’m surprised it isn’t mentioned here, but Kenneth MacMillan was also the semi-comical sheriff in SALEM’S LOT. He was also very good in STEPHEN KING’S CAT’S EYE

  2. I wonder if the reprisal of the Paul Stoddard character and the return to more conventional, family-oriented issues was one of those occasions where Dan Curtis was asking Alexandra Moltke to return to the show. While everyone else at Collinwood are quietly being taken over by the Leviathans, Vicki Winters could have served as an audience identification character trying to make sense of the more vague aspects of the Leviathan story. They could also have resolved the question of Vicki’s lineage, which had been in the works just before her pregnancy forced her to leave the show in 1968.

    Nice to see Burke Devlin’s old hotel room, but with the bed, sink, and mirror also there, it makes you wonder what the door at the back is for. Probably just closet space. And alas, no green lamps, but that lime green arm chair by the bedside table looks pretty nifty. Nothing says 1969 quite like a lime green arm chair.

    1. Prisoner, that would have been a good use of Vicki’s character. I don’t know if it would have saved the show, but I personally would have liked to have seen more emphasis on the Collins family, and not resorting to having zombies entering the picture.

  3. Oh if only this family storyline had played out longer. I was so disappointed when it ended. And Elizabeth was finally getting stuff to do and feel and say again…. Just before she gets body snatched.

  4. I’ve loved horror movies for a long time and I tend to study the things I love. What I’ve found is that, at its heart, a horror story is a tragedy, the story of lives destroyed.

    But how you experience that depends on how fully the characters are developed. The teenagers in “Friday the 13th” are virtually indistinguishable so we don’t care about their deaths. But the three lead characters in “Blair Witch Project” are strongly defined. We feel their fear and pain, and their ultimate ends disturb us.

    Which is a long-winded way of saying that this is why the revived soap opera-ness is so wonderful to us. It brings us back to the humanity of the characters and makes us feel their experiences.

  5. In Art Wallace’s original bible for the series, he mentioned at the end that Paul Stoddard was to return following the Jason storyline. He was “to return to Collinwood to escape the forces that pursue him”.

  6. I still think Jason and Paul are related in some way – they couldn’t have kept that secret for so long unless there was some type of familial bond (my opinion) – + they look so much alike :). Speaking about the hotel, is this supposed to be at the Collinsport Inn? It looks more like a ‘flophouse’ at the seedy edge of town with the sink in the room (suggesting that there is no private bathroom?). If it was the Collinsport Inn they sure had a variety of suites to choose from: Burke’s 3-room suite at the top level – but then there was the attic hole that Chris Jennings occupied until he ‘offed’ Conrad Bain. DId Tony Peterson have rooms there (his apartment was almost identical to Burke’s rooms). Also Burke had a full kitchen leading from his living area (where he made David his special ‘Devlin’ special mix of fruit juices. I love this part of story and the actions of this ‘family’. Great continuity!!!

  7. Not disagreeing (exactly); yes, this was well put together and nicely acted by all.
    It begins to tie up a plot left dangling back in the black & white episodes. And it was better than a scene between Mrs. Johnson and her horrid son would have been. There were not a lot of ‘normal’ storylines left anyhow.

    At this point in the series, normal soap opera wasn’t what DS watchers wanted to see. The soap fans had long since left. Fans wanted to see Carolyn being menaced by werewolf Chris, or Barnabas getting fangy, and the writers were giving out with domestic drama.
    Lots of kids didn’t need to tune in Dark Shadows to watch ex-marrieds argue, they could see that live in their kitchen.

    Again, good soap opera scene, but DS was not exactly soap opera any more.

  8. From my own perspective, and following up on what I said a few blog posts ago, as a ten-year-old viewer, I agree with John E. that I would have had no interest in this scene/storyline. I wanted to see monsters. And that is probably another clue/reason for the ratings decline. For the sake of argument, presuming the major demographic of DS right now was kids, kids are fickle and bored easily. DS may have burned itself out on 1897. It may have been inevitable that its core audience would soon be ready to move on to something else (and I mean away from DS, not a different type of storyline) regardless of what came next.

  9. I forgot Kenneth McMillan was in this, and I had no idea this was where he got his start. So watching this episode today, as soon as he walked in I squealed with delight, “It’s the Baron Harkonnen! HE WHO CONTROLS THE SPICE CONTROLS THE UNIVERSE!” lol.

  10. Rhoda’s boss! That’s why he looked so familiar!

    …I’m also amazed at how young he is, that he’s only 45 as Jack Doyle. Yet again, a generation ago, you see actors much younger than they look….

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