DARK SHADOWS has become a classic for being the first soap opera to revolve around supernatural horror, and to do so while keeping its characters believable and its situations plausible.
As this installment begins, DS's most famous character. the 175-year-old vampire Barnabas Collins, is passing himself off as a cousin from England, while secretly holding waitress Maggie Evans prisoner. Maggie escapes, in a nearly catatonic state, with the help of a mysterious little girl named Sarah, who appears to her and several others. Maggie is sent to Windcliff, a sanitarium run by Dr. Julia Hoffman, who finds Maggie's case especially fascinating.
Back at Collinwood, Jason McGuire is blackmailing Elizabeth Stoddard into marrying him. In protest, Elizabeth's daughter Carolyn threatens to marry a hippie biker named Buzz. At the pivotal moment, Elizabeth reveals the secret she and Jason have been keeping between them. But there's a REAL secret Jason has been keeping from Elizabeth. Jason ultimately has a run-in with Barnabas.
Barnabas invites the family to a dinner party to celebrate his restoration of the Old House. His goal is to attract Victoria, but his plan backfires when the family decides to hold a seance.
Meanwhile, Dr. Hoffman comes to stay at Collinwood, posing as a historian, to investigate her private suspicions about Maggie's case. She discovers exactly what Barnabas is and confronts him -- which is where set 2 ends.
This installment continues to expand Barnabas's character beyond simple villain. I was particularly struck by Barnabas's speech in episode #258 about how he once begged for mercy from those who could have shown it to him, but was shown none -- one of those moments that's especially powerful because of Shakespearean actor Jonathan Frid's delivery. We get another look at Barnabas's tortured past when Victoria Winters reenacts Josette death during the seance -- which Barnabas tries to percent. And Barnabas has a different type of interest in Victoria than he did in Maggie. He wanted to own and control Maggie -- to trash her identity and replace it with that of Josette. But he seems to genuinely care for Victoria. Yes he wants Victoria to assume the persona of Josette, but WILLINGLY because she finds that persona attractive. Barnabas also has genuine feelings of love and affection for his little sister, Sarah -- no doubt, the same Sarah who helps Maggie escape -- and to be genuinely upset over her having died in childhood. All in all, Barnabas has become too interesting a character at this point to be dispatched with a hammer and stake, as was the original plan.
Another departure from the original plan is the female Dr. Julia Hoffman, who, as I read in the DARK SHADOWS COMPANION, owes her gender to a typo. The character was originally supposed to be a male doctor named Julian Hoffman -- Julius, according to the DARK SHADOWS ALMANAC -- but somebody mistyped it as Julia. Dan Curtis saw it and said "Why not?" At the end of episode #290, it becomes apparent that she has something in mind other than killing Barnabas -- and you'll have to buy set 3 to find out what.
Returning to Sarah, I'm afraid I don't think Sharon Smyth has the right stuff to pull it off. Sarah is a very significant character, who will ultimately help persuade Barnabas to change his ways, but Smyth's performance, while remarkably free of flubbed lines, is flat, wooden, and emotionless.
A chaaracter I think we could have just done without is Buzz, Carolyn's hippie biker boyfriend. In the first place, he's an outright caricature, who stands out like a sore thumb among all the fully developed, three-dimensional characters who make DS so distinctive. In the second place, he seems like an attempt to make the show "relevant" to the `60s, during which this portion of the show was being made. One often-cited virtue of DS is that it remained immune to the ideology of that era, but this seems to be a lapse.
However, DS was forced to make a technical concession to current events in episode #251. As explained in the DARK SHADOWS ALMANAC, some parts of the country lost a week of DS to a week of O.N.O. hearings on the Vietnam war. To bring viewers up to speed, ABC provided a summary of the preempted episodes as part of episode #251, but the summary was long enough that it necessitated chopping 45 seconds from the beginning of the first act.
Episode #275 is noteworthy for several reasons. First, if you were getting SICK of hearing, "My name is Victoria Winters," at the beginning of every episode, this is where it stops. Nancy Barrett does the opening for this one, without any "My name is - " involved, and the introductions for all subsequent episodes follow this new pattern. Second, this is either THE last, or one of the last, episodes to feature a filmed exterior sequence that includes one of the character -- in this case, Carolyn on the beach. Third, herein is the final convergence of the two plots,currently in progress, with the "Jason blackmailing Liz" story coming to a very final end. Finally, the confrontation between Jason and Willie is another occasion on which the avoidance of the word "vampire" is particularly obvious. Note how Willie talks all around it when he tries to warn Jason about Barnabas.
You may notice that episode #289 has the grainy sound of a kinescope copy, but a very clear video picture. As explained in the DARK SHADOWS ALMANAC, episode was originally among those that survive only as kinescopes -- low-quality copies made by filming what's on a video monitor -- until somebody found a Spanish-language version of the videotape. The video from this was combined with the English-language kinescope soundtrack to make the hybrid we now see.
So in the next installment, we'll find out what kind of treatment Barnabas is going to get in place of the hammer and stake.