26 January 2015

Dark Shadows: Bloodlust ii

And so we come to the second instalment of my first full-fledged Dark Shadows venture. While it could be argued that this episode doesn't further the plot a considerable amount, I'm enjoying the series for the same reason viewers took to Broadchurch two years ago. The characters in this are all new to me, and so every piece of information revealed, while it may not be fresh to experienced viewers/listeners, helps add to the picture I'm slowly building of Collinsport. And what a picture it is.

It's hard not to note the parallels between this episode and the last, most those notably surrounding the Cunninghams and their introduction. The family of four - Andrew, his wife Amy (formerly Jennings), Andrew's son Harry and his half-brother Tommy - arrive in town shortly after the murder of Melody Devereux, which of course occurred in the closing scenes of Episode One.

The way we meet this family is reminiscent of our introduction to Melody and her husband Mike in Bloodlust's opening episode. They arrive in town and slowly acquaint (or reacquaint in Amy's case) themselves with the locals. I think this aspect of the narrative was probably handled slightly better than last time, with the group being split off in three directions, leaving 18-month-old Tommy alone, rather than following a single strain of the story for the duration. I don't think it's a bad thing that, from the most critical of perspectives, the second episode of thirteen is still mostly setup; for a layered mystery, all the facts must eventually come out. And I get the funny feeling Messrs Lidster, Howells and Flanagan are withholding a few key clues for now. The rascals.

For some reason, I'm not sure we've actually met Melody's murderer yet. The occupant of the spooky house on the hill that keeps getting mentioned is no doubt blindingly obvious to Dark Shadows die-hards, but to me it's simply an intriguing mystery. Who is this person? Is it someone we've met? Somehow I doubt it, but I love that there's so much to think on after just fifty minutes of drama.

The parts of this episode that I personally enjoyed the most were those concerning Harry, Jackie and 'Eagle' (Cody to everyone else) and Sheriff Tate, or Rhonda, as she seems to insist upon. Revisiting Widows' Hill, which I first encountered in Snowflake, was a high point (geddit?) and I liked the way the mystery of the whispering cave was expanded upon - it's not just Victor Frost that could hear it after all. Will the otherworldly presence from the teaser make a reappearance? I look forward to seeing how that all develops, and I do hope this young trio are given the same level of exposure going forward as they're afforded here, because I found them a really enjoyable grouping. They connect on an unspoken level which is a difficult feat to successfully pull off in terms of both writing and acting. 

Whilst I'm on the subject, after my comments last time about Alexandra Donnachie sounding a little too old for the part (which caused a very minor stir on the Big Finish forums) here, afforded more time to breathe, I was completely sold. Jackie is, I believe, fifteen or sixteen, and there wasn't a moment when it occurred to me that Donnachie's portrayal didn't reflect this. In fact, I only thought to address this issue whilst writing the last paragraph. Scott Haran puts in an equally impressive turn as Harry Cunningham, and I can't help wondering how the photographs he was arranging are related to Melody's demise; they were referenced in such a throwaway manner it almost seems they must be important! Walles Hamonde completes the line-up as Cody, and a fine job he does too.

Cranking up the tension considerably is Lachele Carl's Sheriff Tate. Whilst everyone else seems in a bit of a daze about the murder, she's running around trying to protect her community and deliver justice to the killer. From what little I know of Collinsport, she must be a very busy lady. There seems to be some history between her and the almost-unnerving Isaiah, but exactly what that is hasn't been made explicit yet. Carl does a sterling job as the frantic mother/Sheriff, imbuing every line with exactly the emphasis and intonation it was written with. The moment of revelation towards the end when we learn Melody was drained of blood is a standout in this episode, thanks to the calibre of Carl's delivery. It kicks things in a new direction, and there's a tangible sense of fear emanating from her. To put it bluntly, it's a real "oh shit" moment for the listener.

To address our newly-arrived couple, Andrew already seems like a bit of a sleaze, despite his other half claiming that he begged her attention persistently when they first got together. In a nice reversal to the Devereuxs, it's Amy with the past connection to Collinsport, but Andrew who's brought them back now. It turns out that Amy and Mike know each other, again throwing new light on the case. With this uncovered, Mike's credibility as a suspect has jumped up a notch. Despite what I may have said, the pace is beginning to pick up now, and I firmly believe that by the halfway point of this series - at a peak in activity - there will have been another murder. And I also fully expect it not to be as simple as one person is a vampire. From the world the writers have impressed upon me over sixty-five minutes, I know only one thing: expect the unpredictable. It's great to see Matthew Waterhouse getting a really meaty role too, and he does embody the dry journalist admirably.

As if the peril and foreboding of the scripts wasn't enough, David Darlington's really giving the creep-ometer some welly. Punctuating scenes with ethereal, unearthly scores really helps to cement this series' weird credentials and the atmosphere the immersive experience of listening to Dark Shadows creates is quite extraordinary. And I don't mean in the sense that it's phenomenally good (although it is getting that way), I mean that it gives me a feeling deep inside of being slightly unsettled. This is anything but conventional audio drama, and is really good fun (in a roundabout kind of way) as a result. If I had one complaint in regards to the sound design, it would be that the car scene at the top of the episode is utterly devoid of sound effects aside from when the vehicle has to brake sharply. But I'm hardly going to let such a minor issue affect my enjoyment of the story being told here.

To conclude, this is another strong episode of Bloodlust, drawing me further and further into the murky world of Collinsport and its taciturn residents. So much mystery surrounds this settlement, and even though it was in the first episode, all the signs are pointing to the murder of Melody Devereux being just the beginning...

In a Nutshell: Very, very unusual, but very, very good.

There's more ways for you to buy Bloodlust from Big Finish than there are suspects, and that's saying something. Have a browse of them hereRead Joe Ford's review of this episode here.

1 comment:

  1. I'm listening to it also and it has me hooked