“Well, you can think that way if you want. You’ll only be joining an ever-increasing mob!”
So I like the Leviathan story, is apparently what’s happening. Looking back over the last month of blog posts, I’ve devoted a lot of them to things that I like about the storyline.
It’s silly, obviously, and they have no idea what to do with the monster or the conspirators. For once, the writers have a clear idea of where they want to be in four to six weeks, but from day to day they’re stumbling around from one thing to another, and they cover up plot inconsistencies by having the characters say “yes, that was a prophecy, we totally meant to do that for reasons that we would rather not explain at this time.”
But Dark Shadows storylines are always silly and riddled with holes, and there’s a lot to enjoy in these early days of the Leviathans. They’ve brought Liz’s ex-husband Paul back, continuing an important early story thread that we assumed they’d just forgotten about. The resolution of the “Payment Due” mystery last week was clever and thrilling. There’s a tight focus on Barnabas, Julia, Carolyn and Liz — four of the best characters on the show, who didn’t always have a lot to do during late 1968 and early ’69. I don’t believe in Megan and Philip, and I think the story’s use of Quentin is entirely inadequate, but there are lots of things to like, and I’d say on the whole it’s a net positive.
This is somewhat remarkable, because the reputation among Dark Shadows fans is that the Leviathan story is terrible and show-destroying. That may turn out to be true, as we get further into it — but right now, it’s worth pointing out that there’s a lot here to love.
At the moment, the primary source of pleasure is Alexander, the quick-growing Leviathan child. He was a baby last week, but he’s now matured into a tiny gangster, bossing people around like an eight-year-old bootlegger from Bugsy Malone. He strolls into Collinwood for a play date with David, and instantly puts the adults in their place.
Liz, now under the sway of the Leviathan gang, asks Alexander what he’s planning to do. The kid says, “There is no need for your questions,” and Liz says that she’s sorry. “You’re right, of course,” she says. “I apologize for asking.” It’s an inversion of the usual adult/kid relationship, a la The Twilight Zone’s “It’s a Good Life” and Village of the Damned, and it’s especially creepy when the target is Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, the most powerful person in Collinsport.
Paul emerges from the drawing room, and Liz says, “Oh, there you are. Come and meet Alexander; he’s come to spend the day with David.”
Alexander steps up to Paul, and cocks his head. “Mistah Stahddard and I know each other,” he says, with his little Bronx tough-guy accent. “Don’t we?” He’s basically challenging Paul to deny it, which, again, eight-year-old. I love this kid.
Now that we’ve seen that the starchild is maturing from baby to smart-mouth elementary schooler in a matter of weeks, it’s clear that we’re heading towards an adult version of this crazy child. In The Dunwich Horror, which this part of the storyline is based on, H.P. Lovecraft uses time compression to age the kid from infant to age ten in a few pages, at which point the creature is functionally an adult, and we can move on to the next phase of the story.
But on a soap opera, you can’t just skip ahead ten years, because there are other overlapping storylines that need attending to. So they need to find something for people to do while they’re aging up the Leviathan brat, and right now, that means spending a couple episodes driving Paul Stoddard out of his mind.
Paul knows that the monsters have some kind of fiendish plan for his daughter Carolyn, and he wants to protect her by taking her away somewhere, out of the death cult’s reach. So they’ve got to discredit him, looking the other way and twirling their finger in a circle around their ear, while he fumes and splutters and convinces no one.
And I have to say, in this stage of their operation, the Leviathans are executing their plan flawlessly. They can make Paul fly into a rage just by looking at him funny, and these episodes are just a long series of funny looks.
Paul’s trying to confide in Maggie, who’s willing to hear him out because she’s a nice person, and besides, she’s seen way crazier stuff in the last couple years than this. But then he opens the door and finds Alexander listening, and he just goes nuts, shaking the kid and demanding to know what he’s planning to do.
That gives everyone a chance to treat Paul like he’s a lunatic, which continues to stoke his fire. The Leviathans are playing this astutely so far; maybe they really should take over the world.
But on Dark Shadows, you’re only as good as your next surprise, and they’ve got a nice one coming up. To start off, David shows Paul an old photo album, drawing his attention to a particular shot of Carolyn at age eight. Paul doesn’t know David very well, so he doesn’t hear all of the alarm bells that should be ringing whenever this kid acts like he’s being helpful.
Later on — and I’m skipping ahead a lot here, because I can’t wait to get to the big reveal — Paul finds Alexander hiding behind a chair in his room. The kid says that he’s playing hide and seek with David, but Paul manhandles him once again and starts firing questions at him. The kid stays cool during the interrogation, spitting answers like a seasoned racketeer in the back room at the police station.
Paul: How long are you going to stay here?
Alexander: Just for the day.
Paul: I mean in town!
Alexander: I don’t know.
Paul: Is Philip Todd really your uncle?
Alexander: You’re hurting me!
And then the boy pushes Paul aside, and darts out the door and into the hallway.
Alex dives behind some curtains, and when Paul opens them — he finds a little girl.
And it’s not just any little girl, obviously; it’s Carolyn as a young girl, straight out of the photo album. And it’s not just any young Carolyn; it’s super spooky Village of the Damned young Carolyn.
She’s lovely. She meets Paul’s stare with a calm confidence that challenges his status as the adult in the room. And when he asks her who she is and what she’s doing, she says, “Why did you do it, Daddy? Why?” and then runs off into the bushes somewhere.
So they’re doing something here that’s even more creepy than seeing the Collins family fall under the sway of a lunatic outsider. In this moment, they’ve made a monster out of Carolyn.
As an adult, Carolyn can understand her father’s explanation for why he stayed away for twenty years, and she can make a rational decision about whether she wants to accept him back in her life. But this eight-year-old Carolyn is just pissed, as she probably was at the time. The Midwich Cuckoos facial expression is Alexander’s, really, but the dialogue is authentically Carolyn’s.
Paul runs downstairs, looking for the little girl, but she’s vanished. He shouts at Julia about it for a minute, and then goes into the drawing room to check his reference material. This is common practice for Dark Shadows after a spook sighting; photo albums are basically just a collection of mug shots for poltergeists.
Seeing the photo captioned “Carolyn, 8 years old,” he runs through the possibilities in thinks. “What is she?” he asks. “Not a ghost. You have to be dead to have a ghost! A memory? That’s impossible. I wasn’t here when Carolyn was eight! Or is she something they conjured up to torment me?” This is the marvelous thing that this show has become, an adventure where you have to sit down and remind yourself how ghosts work.
He chases his tail around the house for a while, and when he stops to rest in the foyer, the little girl walks in through the front door. He addresses her as Carolyn — he’s lost in Wonderland completely, by this point — and she keeps up her end of the scene.
As he approaches, she spits, “No! Don’t come near me! I hate you for what you did!”
She runs away again, and Paul is left alone, shouting at a memory that he never had. “But I can explain, if you just give me a chance!” he yelps, forgetting his suspicions and submitting to the idea that somehow, he has the opportunity to change his own past.
The lovely thing about this little story point is that it’s a multi-layered nightmare for Paul, where he loses the ability to control anything in his environment. He gets so caught up in the idea that he can reconcile with the daughter that he abandoned, that he forgets everything else. He’s not thinking about Alexander or the Leviathans anymore, and he doesn’t care how crazy he looks. This trick is exactly what we need from the villains right now. It’s cruel and clever, and it makes Alexander a much more threatening figure than he could ever be in monster form.
Tomorrow: Another Alias.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When David apologizes to Alexander for asking questions, something clatters to the floor in the studio.
David trips on his line when he’s showing Paul the photos: “That one must have been taken of Carolyn, just about the time you left. Collinwood.”
When Alexander runs and hides, Paul calls out, “Alegander?”
Tomorrow: Another Alias.
— Danny Horn