THE DARK SHADOWS DIARIES:
Volume Four (Episodes 41-50)
Starring: Joan Bennett, Mitchell Ryan, Louis Edmonds, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Alexandra Isles, Nancy Barrett, David Ford, and Frank Schofield
Written by: Francis Swann and Art Wallace
Directed by: John Sedwick and Lela Swift
Fashions Provided by Orhbach’s
52-year-old SPOILERS AHEAD.
Happy holidays creeps, and welcome back to The Dark Shadows Diaries! I hope everyone’s interactions with their family, extended and immediate, were proper icy and uncomfortable. This time of the year is always super tough. I get it. BUT I am back to shake that seasonal depression by the lapels and scream “STOP LETTING YOUR DOG SHIT IN MY YARD, STEVEN” and regale you with tales from Sixties America’s favorite daytime goth Dark Shadows!
I know last time we talked things were kind of gloom and doom with the early episode coverage, but Jeff Bezos decided to stop cosplaying Lex Luthor for a bit and restored the rest of the Beginning collection that I needed back onto Amazon’s servers. Just in time for a Collinwood Christmas!** But, we’re back, bay-bay! And holy cats are things starting to get super dramatic! I bring you, humble readers, Dark Shadows Diaries Volume 4! (*echoes* 4…4…4…4.)
So when we last talked, the show’s narrative was kind of in flux. After David, the Sixties’ answer to Clifford, tried to kill his dad by disrupting a “bleeder valve” (the All-Spark of 60’s cars apparently) on his car, Art Wallace’s scripts just kind of spun their wheels a bit. He tried out new character pairings and fleshing out the Evans family, led by the newly regenerated Sam Evans (now played by David Ford). But, don’t worry y’all, he is still a hilariously over the top drunk.
This choice is EVEN funnier because as I watched these episodes, I started to notice that Ford totally no sells the like GULPING drinks he is supposedly taking of brandy and scotch. It bloody killed me. Like, it is one thing to be quaffing down liquids set out by the prop people, but it is really an acting power move to be like, “Sam doesn’t even flinch when he hammers back three fingers from a goddamn water glass.” I could talk about it forever. I tried taking screenshots of it, but I was always laughing too hard to do it properly. Anyway, I digress.
But in the first five episodes of this block, now scripted by staffer and playwright Francis Swann, the show starts to refocus really well on Burke Devlin’s hilariously un-subtle plot to take over the Collins family fortune and estate. We get some really fun and important stuff out of these episodes. First up, Swann builds upward on the connection between adult schemer Devlin and wee boy schemer David, up at the big house. It is neat in that Burke gains in his crusade and leads to some choice mindfuckery from David that we will get into in a bit.
Also seeing the rest of the cast, mainly the Collins family, interact with Burke and the scurry about worrying about WHEN they are GONNA TALK TO BURKE again is a fun time. It keeps mixing up the cast a bunch, so we see different hams ham it up together, wringing their hands and staring out windows like it was their fucking job.
AND SPEAKING OF JOB, a brand new set debuts in this block! Roger’s office at the Cannery! I know this sounds kinda a super lame thing to be celebrating but after looking at the Collinwood foyer, the Blue Whale, and the drawing room set for fifty episodes straight now, seeing a brand new, hilariously underdressed set is a real cause to break out the GOOD sherry! And I DID! Even funnier that Carolyn straight up burns him HARD as soon as she walks into it and she is RIGHT because not five minutes before she made her entrance he was just angrily playing darts with his janky head wound scar makeup. Jesus, I love this show, and I HATE Roger.
I digress again too. I was talking about Swainn really refocusing the show, and that is personified by the dogged and serial scenery chewer Bill Malloy. Malloy is a character that made his debut a few columns back, but he didn’t really have a thread just yet. We just are told that he runs the Collins company, and used to ONLY run the fishing fleets. “I’m a boatman!” he growls a few times during this block.
Throughout these first five or so episodes, the scripts are slowly threading Bill Malloy into his ongoing chess game with Burke. He talks really early about how he is fiercely loyal to Elizabeth and Elizabeth ONLY. (Much like the other guy who regenerated in Collinsport Matthew Morgan, but he’s been scarce here recently.) But he also has some sort of innate nobility fueling his need to get to the truth of just why Burke went to prison all those years ago. Ruffling like….everyone’s feathers in the process. ‘Surely that won’t come into play later on,’ he typed sarcastically.
Real talk, Bill sucks, but the guy playing him? Frank Schofield is a goddamn HOOT of an actor to watch. I have already described him as “what if Stephen Strange were a haggard Stephen King side character.” But seeing him in more episodes, I don’t think that does him justice. He is like a Venture Brothers parody of a right-hand man. He is also prone to WILD shifts in mood during his line readings that makes his already pinched, hang-dog performance even goddamn funnier.
His scenes with Sam where he is muscling him into a meeting between him, Burke, and Roger Collins in order to have it all out. He is light doing his good-natured like “oh ayuh, Sam, now what are we gonna do about this here?” one second and then the next he is full on ROARING in Ford’s face and jabbing him like SUPER SUPER hard in the chest. It is a riot to watch. He is actually a truly fantastic actor. He plays a bit part in the Outlaw Josey Wales that really shines. But man, oh, man is Bill a pain for basically every character established in the show so far.
So he really acts like a weathervane for this new plot. He stomps around Collinsport hassling everyone in the name of “helping Elizabeth” and builds it all up to a fever pitch UNNNTILLLLLLLL!
That’s RIGHT, kiddies! We are right on the cusp of The Murder of Bill Malloy! Being the first canon character claimed by Collinsport and kicking off what is widely considered to be the first story proper of Dark Shadows! When he was introduced, I remember vaguely going “Oh! Bill Malloy! He’s like a known quantity! I can’t wait to experience this rich and compelling lead character!” and then…
RIP Bill. Anyone on the show could have killed you because you were abrasive AF and apparently will never be as good a plant manager as someone named Ned Calder (something Joan Bennett literally does not shut up about any time Bill is mentioned this block. Like I made a count of how many times Elizabeth badmouths Bill, sometimes to his FACE, and it was at least six times in ten episodes. Stoddard’s be shady y’all). But this block isn’t content to just leave us a juicy mystery to chew on! No, it also possibly imbues the shittiest kid on TV with magickal powers!
Yes, that’s right, remember when I talked about Burke and David becoming pals? Well in the last four or so of this block, Burke sends David a gift. A crystal ball, an eventual holy totem for the show in later episodes. But being the shitlord that he is, David starts to hint that the ball is telling him the future and promptly using it to shit on the day of anyone who dares cross him. He tells Joe Haskell that Carolyn wants him to kick rocks (but honestly, he should) and also spews some spookiness to the other characters in one way or another. Most damming of all, he predicts that Maggie will go outside and “find death” and LO AND BEHOLD…
Tough stuff for Collinwood, for sure, but just the right amount of gonzo to be truly entertaining and that is what this show continues to be. Honestly, before I got this thing started, all I heard was how boring the early, pre-drama queen vampire episodes were. I don’t know what show those people were watching! We got killer, possibly supernaturally powered kids, ghosts, and barrels full of sherry! What more could you possibly want?
NEXT TIME! Volume 5! Who!? Killed?! Bill?! Malloy?!
PS: I think I mentioned it last time. I figured I should just follow through with the simpery as it is my brand. If you like these, hop on over to the Collinsport Historical Society, the internet’s keenest Dark Shadows fansite, and check out my ongoing coverage of the Big Finish Dark Shadows audio range. If you thought the TV show was crazy. Holy snakes, y’all, these audios are 9x’s more batshit. I’m talking cursed bottles of wine, wars between humans and monsters, and the literal Devil. It is fun times, I promise.
Be seeing you.
**SPEAKING of Christmas, currently the best physical collection of Dark Shadows from T to B on DVD is available on Amazon right now for the lowest price it has ever been officially listed at. Think of a lowly freelancer this ghouliday season. Plus, it’s a goddamn coffin. How fun is that?