“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?
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.
“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.
— Danny Horn