Episode 898: Executive Child

“I am the keeper of the book, and the protector of the baby.”

Sitting alone in his hotel room, waiting for his daughter to call, itinerant sperm donor and faux-father Paul Stoddard finds his attention drawn to a calendar hanging on the wall. Then he finds his hand drawn to a pen lying on the desk. Then a circle finds itself drawn around December the 4th.

As the pen falls from his nerveless hand, Paul says to himself, “What made me do that? December 4th! What does it mean?”

What it means, I’m sorry to say, is that the pen is yet another convert of the bewildering demonic cross-time conspiracy that’s currently wreaking havoc in the Collinsport small business community. We knew about the antique shop, of course, and I’ve long had my suspicions of the local Orbach’s, but I thought at least they’d have the decency to leave the school supplies out of this. Those monsters!

898 dark shadows megan philip strangle

And speaking of the hot lava dumpster fire currently engulfing the antique shop, there’s a heated labor dispute going on between the proprietors, who are currently strangling each other to insensibility. It’s a good thing the Leviathans have invested in the grassroots and trained the ballpoints to terrorize people, because the current cult members are too busy exterminating each other to attend to new business.

There is no margin for error, they say, and punishment is necessary, which is tough on the new recruits. Megan and Philip Todd just joined the team a couple weeks ago, brainwashed by a box and a book, and they’re already at each other’s throats.

The problem is that the book was stolen, shoplifted right out from under them. This caused the Leviathan baby to get sick somehow — you know how babies are, with their ancient alien devotional literature. As a result, we have a margin, which is almost entirely for error. This is intolerable.

So Barnabas Collins, the new chief strategist for the Leviathan cause, locked Philip in a back room and brainwashed him for 24 hours with a reel-to-reel tape of pro-punishment messaging. Then Barnabas sent Philip went back home, where he made with the domestic violence.

898 dark shadows david stairs

“Punishment is necessary!” Philip repeats, choking the life from his wife, but suddenly a new voice is heard.

“Punishment is no longer necessary!” declares young David Collins, appearing on the staircase with the Leviathan baby. Philip loosens his grip, and David announces, “The baby is sick. I have come to make it better.”

And you have to hand it to the Dark Shadows team; sometimes they come up with the perfect way to resolve a crisis. We had no idea David was in the building, so appearing on the stairs with the baby is a power move. It doesn’t make the storyline any more coherent, fridge logic-wise, but it’s a nice moment.

898 dark shadows megan david height

David hands Megan the baby, and then a pouch of medicine. He was just activated as a Leviathan agent a couple days ago, hypnotized by the ancient book. Yesterday, he found some herbs in a secret basement murder dungeon, which is hidden underneath the Leviathan altar. Now we know what he was up to.

Megan asks what’s in the bag, and he says, “It’s a kind of medicine. It’s just what he needs.”

She asks how he knows, and he smiles. “I know,” he says, entirely in command of the situation.

This shot on the stairs is basically perfect, and necessary for this moment. David’s a head taller than Megan this way, and they need that visual in order to justify the swagger.

898 dark shadows david philip what you saw

Philip realizes that David stole the book, and insists that he bring it back.

“I’m afraid that isn’t possible,” David says. Philip asks why not. “Because I am the keeper of the book,” David declares, “and the protector of the baby. We all have our duties. You have found yours, and now I’ve found mine.”

That’s a surprise for Megan and Philip, who were told in their onboarding that they were the keepers of the book and the protectors of the baby. They’ve apparently been reassigned. I think they just provide storage space now.

898 dark shadows david philip megan

Megan goes upstairs to put little Joseph to bed, and when she comes back, David has more instructions.

David:  Does the baby have his medicine?

Megan:  Yes.

David:  It should begin to take effect in a little while. If you ever need my help, I will come to you. But no one is to know, no one.

Megan:  We understand.

David:  Good night, Megan. Good night, Philip.

Philip:  Good night.

And then he just walks out the door, meeting adjourned.

So it turns out the true terror of this storyline is that Megan and Philip have an increasing number of supervisors, giving them contradictory feedback. They’re business owners; they’re not used to this level of middle management. Suddenly they’re being bossed around by complete strangers, including a little kid. Practically anybody can walk into their store, and start telling them what to do.

898 dark shadows barnabas philip

The weird and interesting thing about this moment is that we have no idea how Barnabas and David fit together in the hierarchy, and whether Barnabas knows that David is going to intervene.

Barnabas seemed pretty gung-ho about Philip and the margin for error, sending him off to massacre Megan with a head full of bad ideas. If Philip was actually supposed to kill Megan, then Barnabas is shockingly incompetent as the leader of the Leviathans. What was the plan for finding another Chosen One? Was Philip supposed to dispose of the body, and get away with murdering his wife? She’d spent all day telling everyone that somebody was coming to kill her. When she goes “missing” — leaving her sister’s baby in her husband’s care — what could Philip’s cover story have been?

But you can run through the fridge logic in your head, and decide that this was actually intended to teach them a lesson — Barnabas didn’t really want Philip to kill her, he just wanted to scare them both. But if that’s the case, then Barnabas must have known that David would stop them, based on a sequence of events that he had no apparent way to predict.

That suggests a kind of larger Leviathan hive-mind, which is able to move people around in a complicated, synchronized pattern. We saw Paul circle the calendar against his will, but were the Leviathans controlling David when he decided to steal the book from the antique shop?

You could see that as scary, in the Invasion of the Body Snatchers way, but there’s also the danger that the characters themselves become irrelevant. If Barnabas is acting entirely in accordance with the hive mind, then that’s not really Barnabas at all, and you and me and every audience member would prefer to keep Barnabas at the center of the show that he’s the star of. If this story is going to work emotionally, we have to see some glimpses of the converts’ own personalities, and assess how much their new outlook is screwing up their lives.

898 dark shadows megan philip understand

So here’s your example. After David leaves the shop, Philip sits down and attends to the bookkeeping. Megan is having a hard time adjusting to the new agenda.

Megan:  Philip…

Philip:  What is it?

Megan:  I want you to know something. I understand now.

Philip:  Understand what?

Megan:  Why you tried to punish me. You were just doing what you had to do.

Philip gets up, and looks in her eyes.

Philip:  I’m sorry, Megan.

Megan:  Oh, you mustn’t be! It was my fault about the book being missing! I’m so happy that it’s safe now, with David.

Philip:  So am I. But we’ve got to be careful now, Megan. We can’t make any more mistakes.

And then they kiss, and the creepy thing is that I think they’re actually in there.

898 dark shadows philip megan oops

So far, I’ve been critical of Chris Bernau, but he’s the one who pulls this moment together. As far as he’s concerned, the unpleasant incident is entirely forgotten — but when Megan brings up the fact that he was seconds away from killing her, his apology is entirely sincere.

This episode comes close to breaking Megan and Philip as a concept. They have no skills, and their role in the conspiracy is pretty vague. They were entrusted with the book and the baby, and now David has taken both jobs away from them. The only thing they have left is each other, and now we see how easily that bond can be shattered, at the whim of whoever walks in the door.

It’s a brittle construction, this new storyline, and it’s possible to read this episode as either spooky or ridiculous. The antique shop is a Rorschach test, and it’s up to each viewer to decide whether you believe in Megan and Philip or not. Overall, I’m leaning towards not, but I can see how other people can find something meaningful here. You have to lean in and participate a bit if you’re determined to enjoy this story, but this episode gives you some decent material to work with.

Tomorrow: The Fam Dram.


Footnote:

If you’re not familiar with the term “fridge logic”, it’s from the excellent TV Tropes wiki, based on what Alfred Hitchcock called “ice-box talk”.

In Vertigo, Jimmy Stewart watches Kim Novak enter the McKittrick Hotel, but when he enters, she’s mysteriously vanished. This plot point is just left hanging — you expect it to be explained later, but by the time they start explaining things, the audience has completely forgotten the hotel, so they don’t bother. Hitchcock said that a dangling plot point like this doesn’t matter, because it “hits you after you’ve gone home and start pulling cold chicken out of the ice-box.” If it doesn’t bother you while you’re watching the movie, then it doesn’t detract from the experience.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

When David hands the baby’s medicine to Megan, she reaches out with both hands to grab it, even though she’s carrying the baby. The baby is clearly a fairly light object (maybe a doll) wrapped in a blanket, so nobody really carries it properly, but in this moment, Megan basically tucks the baby under her arm and holds it in place with her elbow.

Julia says, “But, Chris, why did — what — what did Jenny’s appearance to you mean?”


Behind the Scenes:

Today’s episode aired on December 4th, the day that Paul is informed that payment is due. This was actually supposed to air the day before, giving Paul a day to think about it, but there was an unexpected pre-emption last Monday for the Apollo 12 splashdown.

Two episodes ago, Julia gave David a note written on canary-yellow stationery, and yesterday, Chris wrote a note to Carolyn on the same stationery. Today, Paul gives David a note for Carolyn, and that’s on the yellow stationery too — and so is the “Payment Due” note that Philip gives to Paul later in the episode. Apparently everybody in Collinsport has stocked up on the same stationery.

Tomorrow: The Fam Dram.

898 dark shadows philip megan truth

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

32 thoughts on “Episode 898: Executive Child

  1. Collinsport is the yellow stationery capitol of the Eastern seaboard.

    David should have stolen the book because it called to him and he had an overwhelming need to have it. That would have worked into the whole collective-mind thing. But what do I know, until this moment I didn’t even realize the Leviathans were the precursors of the Borg.

  2. I never thought it was a good idea to have David under control of another power after all the effort made to release him from Quentin’s ghost.

    1. It would have been scarier if it had been both Elizabeth and Roger. They’re the adults, they’re in charge. Even Maggie and Julia couldn’t really buck both of them.

    2. I agree, Joey, but David is usually possessed or affected by whatever entity comes his way: Laura, Barnabas (terrorized him), Cassandra (made him mute), Quentin, the Leviathans, and Gerard. Damn, they needed to get that boy outta town!

      1. This is because the real David is an incipient psychopath and being possessed by evil powers is actually an improvement.

  3. One of the biggest problems with this story is that “ground zero” of the action would be the antique shop and a way would have to be found to bring the established characters into the story. Unfortunately it would look very contrived…a Dark Shadows trademark.

    Thought there still was the fate of Chris Jennings and Olivia Corey’s desperate attempt to find Quentin as diversions…

  4. Lovecraft’s Leviathan agents in Dunwich weren’t the most organized or successful either. And they’re sequestered away on a farm. Being in a hip ‘n happenin’ antique store in town would seem to be closer to the action — whatever passes for “action” in Collinsport anyway.

    Evidently David Henessy’s stint as Petofi impressed the production staff enough to give him this quasi-reprise.

  5. David is plenty scary even without the possession motif. This is a character whose introduction to the show was as a 9-year-old patricide candidate who would torment his governess by telling her that when looking into his crystal ball (a present from Burke Devlin), he learned that someone in Collinsport wanted to kill her, adding that when she was dead he wouldn’t even go to her funeral. Later, though, he changes his mind, and when Vicki asks him, “Why would you come to my funeral?” he answers, “Because I like funerals!” It was not long after this exchange that David lured her into a secluded room in the closed off West Wing and locked her in, leaving her to die.

    Ah, those “tame” pre-Barnabas episodes!

    1. 1897 gave us this sort of Collins family again: Strife-ridden and consumed with secrets. Rachel Drummond was also a throwback to the much smarter “Nancy Drew-Like” Vicki.

      But after Jason McGuire died, the Collins family of the “present” ceased to have any sort of inner life, which is disastrous for soap opera characters.

      1. Stephen, I thought the anchor Collins family still was interesting during the time David was being terrorized by Barnabas. The part where they were just useless, IMO, was in the upcoming 1970 Destruction of Collingwood storyline.

      2. That’s why the gothic genre is not suited for a soap opera format. Yes, there is a big secret to discover. But once that secret is out, nothing interesting seems to happen to the core family. I mean, Roger had that big secret with Burke hanging over him. But once it was out, well, all he had to do was to be funny and hang around. There were no more inner conflicts for him.

        This is why in 1968, after Barnabas was cured he loses agency, and is buffeted by the decisions of others, and ends up a butler.

        They need to give the characters flaws that will make them repeat their mistakes again and again, and get in trouble again (which is why I think that the “happy endings” of so many novels are happy because we don’t get to see the aftermath)

    2. Prisoner, remember that he also tried to kill his father by removing that damned bleeder valve from Roger’s Mustang.

      1. Yes, that’s what I was referring to with “patricide candidate”. That sure is a lovely car, too! I could see why Burke would want to buy one just like it.

        Hey, wait a minute! I just went to Google to post a YouTube vid of the 1966 ABC promo that shows David looking out his window as Roger drives his Mustang past the house — and there’s a series of ABC 1966 promos with the uploader as Robert Sharp. Is that you? Small virtual world, isn’t it? 🙂

        Great to see all those promos collected in one clip!

        1. Thanks Prisoner. Actually, the one with David looking out the window is the only one that’s authentic. I recreated the others based on memory, using the same soundtrack. The originals had different narration.

  6. So…
    The Leviathans gave their leadership to Barnabas, a 200-year-old vampire. EX-vampire.
    Then they passed everything on to a twenty-something yuppie couple.
    Now, simply on the strength of David’s ability to steal, the Leviathans are giving HIM all the control. A ten-year-old.
    I’m sensing an entropic pattern here.
    The Leviathans are probably arguing now about whether Ginger or Mary Ann is hotter…

    1. How come no one has yet come up with a Dark Shadows/Gilligan’s Island crossover? After all the estate can well hold a deserted island (“Collins Isle”?) for the castaways.

  7. …it “hits you after you’ve gone home and start pulling cold chicken out of the ice-box.” If it doesn’t bother you while you’re watching the movie, then it doesn’t detract from the experience.

    I love the movie Follow the Feet, but there’s a scene early on where Harriet Hilliard gets a snack for Randolph Scott and doesn’t close the refrigerator door. I can never watch the movie without sitting through the whole thing worrying about her refrigerator, all her spoiled perishables, and her skyrocketing electric bill.

    1. I mean, her sister Ginger Rogers is pretty smart, so I guess I should just assume she came over and shut the door at some point. But it still bugs me.

      1. You need to cut Harriet some slack…she had enticed Randolph Scott (YOUNG Randy, in a sailor’s suit no less) to come home with her. I know I’D be a little bit…distracted! Get Thee Behind Me, Satan!

        “You’d do it for Randolph Scott.”
        Sheriff Bart, in ‘Blazing Saddles’

          1. We’d all do it for Randolph Scott.
            Did they have Daytime Emmy Awards during the DS run? I think David Henesy should have had the Best Performance by a Young Actor Award every year he was on the show.
            How many Guiding Light or As the World Turns Younger Actors had to walk around possessed all the time??

            1. Did they have Daytime Emmy Awards during the DS run?

              The Daytime Emmys started in 1974.

              The Primetime Emmys (known then simply as “The Emmy Awards”) had a Daytime Programming category during the run of “Dark Shadows,” but the shows nominated were talk shows, game shows or cooking shows through 1971. Soaps were nominated in the Daytime Programming category awarded in 1972 (“The Doctors” and “General Hospital,” with the former winning) and if the qualification period was all of 1971 then “Dark Shadows” was robbed. Robbed, I say!

              1. But Riccardo, it’s my understanding that there was a daytime Emmy category (Outstanding Achievement in Daytime Television) in 1968 and that Joan Bennett was nominated, along with an art director from another soap, and someone else who was not an actor. In the end, none of them won, which is kind of weird.

  8. I wonder why they didn’t just make Philip and Megan the villains–have them entice Carolyn into the shop and bring out the box on their own (maybe Mr Strack sold it to them earlier). Have the Collinses get caught up one by one as Julia and Barnabas–and then just Julia–battle to save them. Barnabas coming back to himself after he is ordered to kill Julia would have fit in fine that way. Together they save everyone. The Todds die in the battle. Would have worked much better imo.

  9. Let me understand this: For 11 months, they have been fighting to free David from possession by Quentin’s ghost. And now, 2 weeks after the end of the 1897 storyline, Julia’s first inclination is to hold a seance and contact Quentin’s spirit, using David as bait. What could possibly go wrong with this? The fact it all worked out is irrelevant – this is a horrible idea. We complain about Barnabas’ “bad ideas” but this is a doozy and it was Julia’s idea.

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