“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!
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
— Danny Horn