As I mentioned in my first review of Dark Shadows, the earliest episodes following Victoria Winters’ arrival at the little Maine town of Collinsport are rather tedious to get through. Most of them are taken up with the Burke Devlin revenge plot, which I can’t work up any interest in. Even in that story line, it seems like something only happens every third or fourth episode; the others consist of different pairs of people talking over the same points again and again.
To be fair, the show’s writer sometimes shows a clever turn in jumping from one conversation to another, both discussing the same topic and each picking up where the other left off even though the two are occurring in different parts of Collinwood or even miles apart in the town. But if this was usual for soap operas of the era, I’m surprised people could watch them from day to day. On DVD, an episode runs about 20 minutes with the commercials removed and I would watch 4 or 5 in an afternoon. That helped it move a little more briskly.
At this early point, I could see why they eventually brought a vampire into the story to liven things up. Some of the characters were definitely begging for a good bite to the jugular vein. I was about to give it up. Then, at about episode No. 40, things began to improve.
Amid innumerable conversations about what Burke Devlin could be up to, Bill Malloy, the manager of the Collins cannery, drops by the studio/cottage of the drunken artist Sam Evans and learns something that absolutely astonishes him. The viewer doesn’t get to hear what secret Sam has revealed, but it upsets Malloy so much that he goes out to get just as drunk and wanders around Collinsport making vague, distracted remarks about what he now knows.
During his ramblings, he meets Burke and offers him a proposition: Mr. Malloy doesn’t care what happens to Roger–Roger can get whatever’s coming to him–but he feels protective of Mrs. Collins Stoddard and her daughter Carolyn. If he can help to clear Burke of the manslaughter charge that sent him to prison, will Burke go away and leave the rest of the family alone? Burke agrees.
Malloy then calls on Mrs. Collins Stoddard at Collinwood to warn her about this horrible information he’s about to make public–but he doesn’t tell her exactly what it is. He also invites Burke, Roger, and Sam to meet with him at his office at the cannery that evening.
The three men are all at the office, waiting, at the appointed time… but Malloy never arrives. He was last seen leaving his home about half an hour earlier, but disappeared somewhere on the walk to the cannery.
One night soon afterwards, while Carolyn and Vicky are walking around the grounds of Collinwood near the cliffs, they see what looks like a man’s body washed up on the rocks below. They rush back to the house, where Roger snidely dismisses the idea that they saw any such thing. Elizabeth Collins Stoddard sends Matthew out to investigate.
The handyman at first reports that it was only a bunch of seaweed that appeared to be a human body through a trick of the moonlight, but later he admits to his employer that it was in fact the missing Mr. Malloy. He had lied and pushed the body back into the water to keep police and reporters from bothering her with prying questions.
Elizabeth, not afraid of being bothered in this way, immediately calls the police herself. A search begins and Malloy’s body is eventually retrieved farther down the coast. The police discover some suspicious injuries on his head that may not have been caused by the rocks.
We have a murder mystery!
Roger Collins is obviously the one who benefits most from Malloy’s death. Too obviously, I’m sorry to say. Sam Evans is another good suspect, since he’s implicated in the terrible secret that he and Roger have been keeping. The police also question Burke in spite of his insistence that he had the best reason to want Malloy to remain alive. Burke initiates his own private inquiries, and via the unwitting Carolyn, installs Malloy’s former housekeeper at Collinwood so that she can spy on Roger and gather evidence against him. Both Burke and the housekeeper, Mrs. Johnson, are certain that Roger is the murderer.
One curious sidelight of the investigation is the interest young David Collins takes in it. He studies local tidal currents to figure out where Malloy first went into the ocean and where he was therefore probably killed. He also spends time gazing into a crystal ball that Burke sent him for his birthday.
Before Malloy’s body was even discovered, David had emerged from one session of crystal-gazing with the announcement that Roger had murdered the missing man!
Burke and David have been on friendly terms since that whole who-tampered-with-Roger’s-brakes incident. Throughout the series so far, there have been hints that the boy is actually Burke’s son and not Roger’s; the way both men treat David suggests that they believe it might be true.
Unrelated to all of this, the first indisputably supernatural event of the series occurs around the 50th episode.
Vicky and Carolyn hear a banging noise one night and, like all young ladies who live in big, spooky, dark houses, go downstairs in their nightgowns to investigate.
They find a large book concerning the Collins family history lying on the drawing-room floor with no indication of how it came to be there. They return it to the table where it usually sits and go back to bed.
After the two girls have left, the book opens by itself and the pages turn to an illustration of one Josette Collins, a lady of the family who threw herself off Widows’ Hill more than a century ago.