“Sebastian, I don’t understand your vision at all!”
“Barnabas, everything is happening so quickly!” Julia says, which just goes to show you how wrong a person can be.
So I’m sorry, but this is one of those episodes where I just hate the world and everything in it. Yesterday’s episode was a weird, dreamlike fugue state that escaped from a black box theater and savaged its keepers, and tomorrow’s is the big crash-bang Everybody Dies finale, but today is Wednesday, and nothing ever happens on a Wednesday.
Except that it’s Maggie’s last episode, although Maggie isn’t a big deal anymore anyway. She was one of the three leads in the Parallel Time story a few months ago, and she’s the female lead for the new House of Dark Shadows movie which was just released, so you would imagine that she’d take an important role in the current Turn of the Screw-based storyline, on account of she’s the children’s governess and that’s how The Turn of the Screw is supposed to work. The whole story is about the governess; doing T of the S without a governess is like doing an Agatha Christie murder mystery without a detective, where the murderer just keeps killing people until they get bored and decide to stop.
But Maggie hardly knows anything about what’s happened to the children; she’s just letting Quint and Miss Jessel do whatever they want, while she goes and plays Mina Harker with an offstage Dracula. So that’s all been kind of a damp fizzle, and now she’s driving off into the sunset, where she can get her hair done and then move forward with her life.
There are only four characters in today’s episode, none of them really prepared to do anything consequential. We’re just getting to the rousing finale of this storyline, and it feels like everyone’s vacated.
As for the main players, the children are upstairs polishing their skis, Quentin’s been buried alive, Daphne is crying and Gerard is plotting. We’ll catch up with them tomorrow, but everyone else is gone.
Roxanne’s chained up in a coffin behind the bookcase, Professor Stokes is in Europe, Roger is god knows where, Willie is fretting about Roxanne, and Carolyn, Elizabeth and Mrs. Johnson are missing presumed possessed. At this near-climactic crisis point, the Collins family has basically just given up, leaving Barnabas and Julia to comb through old diaries, in lieu of anything useful they can do.
“Barnabas, I found something in the original Quentin’s diary,” Julia says. “It worries me.” This is not a promising opener.
Barnabas flips through the book. “Well, why should this worry you?” he says. “It’s nothing but blank pages.”
“Yes, but look at the last entry! It’s on this date — this very day, in 1840!”
Barnabas is trying to follow. “You think the original Quentin Collins died on this date?”
“Yes, I do.”
“But that wouldn’t have any meaning for our Quentin.”
Julia frowns. “Maybe it would, maybe it wouldn’t, but I have a terrible feeling that it might.”
So that’s where we are right now. Dr. Julia Hoffman has analyzed the situation, and she suspects that Quentin’s great grand-uncle died exactly one hundred and thirty years ago. This doesn’t help them find Quentin or advance the plot in any way, but she decided to take forty seconds of national television to issue an FYI. When the most interesting character in the history of fiction is reduced to sitting in the eye of the storm and researching anniversaries, then I think it’s time to re-evaluate what’s happening on this program.
Meanwhile, Maggie’s in her room at Collinwood, drifting off to sleep. She’s dying, kind of, thanks to some frequent plasma leaks on behalf of Roxanne, the fiendish vampire who’s currently chained up in a closet. Roxanne’s been sending her urgent dream-telegrams asking for assistance, but her sort-of boyfriend Sebastian is making sure she doesn’t go anywhere she shouldn’t. I wish I could think of a way to make this recap interesting, but nothing is really presenting itself. Life is like that, sometimes.
So I don’t know, maybe they should destroy Collinwood after all. The show was way better when it was Barnabas and Julia walking around in the future, dodging falling sculpture and strangling sheriffs. Everything since then has just been a drag, one slow step after another towards a climax that hardly changes anything.
I mean, we’re technically supposed to be afraid for Collinwood and the Collins family, but we haven’t seen them put up any kind of a fight, so it’s hard to get worked up about it. Liz, David and Carolyn have all been possessed, and they’re not even working together; they’ve all wandered off in different directions. Roger’s been completely absent, Quentin’s been mooning over the scent of lilacs, and nobody’s done anything the least bit helpful.
This would have felt threatening, if there were any real emotional stakes in protecting the status quo, but it just feels empty. I have way more feelings about Gerard than I do about anybody in the Collins family, and they’re mostly positive. If he’s going to usher in an age of catastrophe, then I don’t personally see any reason to try and stop him.
So the only thing to do is say goodbye to Kathryn Leigh Scott, who’s been on the show since episode 1 and is beloved by all. I honestly can’t think of an example of anyone saying anything negative about her work on Dark Shadows. She’s not always been given good material, but she’s done her best with whatever she had.
Maggie was the lead attraction in episode 250, one of my all-time favorites, where she was on-screen basically the entire time, trying to convince Willie to kill the sleeping vampire in the basement. Her appealing performance made Barnabas’ villainy work, and she’s a mostly-unsung hero for her work in getting the audience to accept the show’s swerve into the supernatural.
And then there’s Josette, who basically did the same thing for Barnabas’ origin story. I’m on record for not really liking Josette as a character — I think she’s spoiled and dull, and hardly ever makes a competent choice. But somehow, I’m not tempted to blame Kathryn for the performance, in the way that I absolutely blame Alexandra Moltke for making Vicki dull and annoying. Josette was always defined by her tragedy — the girl who threw herself off Widow’s Hill, and into legend — and there’s only so much you can do.
And then there’s Kitty Soames from 1897, who I absolutely adored. They finally gave Kathryn a bad-girl role — not a supernatural villain, but a drawing-room comedy golddigger, running her own personal storyline that had very little to do with anything else. Kitty was her diva role, written for her as a special present from the production staff, and I think it was her best.
So I don’t know why they didn’t give her any decent character work after that; I have no theories. She was an occasional visitor during the Leviathan storyline, and she was back in good-girl victim mode in Parallel Time — and then completely sidelined over the last two months, when Maggie should have had a leading role in The Return of the Turn of the Screw.
It’s easy to track the progress of the four major kaiju on the show — Jonathan Frid, Grayson Hall, Lara Parker and David Selby. Each of them showed up in a minor role, and quickly dominated everything happening around them. Barnabas, Julia, Angelique and Quentin forced their way into the saga of the Collins family, and basically took over — the outsiders replacing the core family. That’s why the Collins family is represented in the current storyline by Barnabas, Julia and Quentin, while the “real” family is scattered and absent.
But Kathryn Leigh Scott wasn’t a discovery, as the kaiju were. She was just always there, reliable and appealing, capable of more but rarely given the chance to prove it.
It was her choice to leave, of course; they didn’t always use her well, but they weren’t dumb enough to fire her. Kathryn was getting married and moving to Paris, so Dan and the writers gave her an exit — sending Maggie to Windcliff again, to recuperate after her second bout as vampire chow.
Kathryn figured that she’d be back someday — she and her husband would come home from their soujourn in Paris, and she could return as Maggie, sprung from Windcliff, straight into whatever supernatural nonsense the show was doing at the time. In her 1986 memoir, My Scrapbook Memories of Dark Shadows, she says that she was stunned to learn from a newspaper that the show was cancelled. For Kathryn, at least, the writing wasn’t on the wall yet; she didn’t realize that Dark Shadows only had another six months to run.
After tomorrow’s season finale, we never return to Collinwood in the present day; the show takes us to various iterations of the 1840s, and leaves us there. So Elizabeth, Roger, Carolyn, David, Quentin and the rest of the 1970 cast just fade away, with no meaningful closure. They just go on, presumably, freed from their demons and living to fight another day.
But they gave Maggie an ending, or at least an interesting place to stay. Roxanne, who’d taken Maggie’s place as the new object of Barnabas’ affection, would just get packed into a box in the closet and forgotten. Maggie deserved more, and it’s a mark of respect for her character that she got her own personalized big finish.
“I just realized,” she says, as a sympathetic stranger drives her to the airport, “that if we keep going like this, we’ll never see Collinwood again, or any of the people I love.” The driver tries to reassure her, but she’s right. She won’t see those people again, and neither will we, after tomorrow. We’re all going to Windcliff, eventually; Maggie Evans is just getting a head start.
Tomorrow: The Last Straw.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Maggie wakes up screaming from her dream, we can see past the edge of the set, and somebody’s hand waving.
Barnabas says, “I know that, Quentin — uh, Sebastian!”
Behind the Scenes:
The story of what happens to Maggie Evans and Sebastian Shaw at Windcliff is told in a 2012 Big Finish audio play, Dreaming of the Water. Her return to Collinsport is revealed in The Ghost Watcher, and then she’s in a bunch of stories from 2014 on, including Beyond the Grave, The Harvest of Souls, and most recently And Red All Over.
Dark Shadows Every Day readers can get a 25% discount on Big Finish’s Dark Shadows audiobooks range, by using the code DSED25OFF when you check out. This offer is valid until Dec 31, 2017.
Tomorrow: The Last Straw.
— Danny Horn