Episode 908: Jim Henson’s Gaslight Babies

“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.

908 dark shadows paul alexander bronx

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.

908 dark shadows liz paul upstairs

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.

908 dark shadows maggie paul alexander

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.

908 dark shadows david paul photos

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.

908 dark shadows alexander paul manhandle

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.

908 dark shadows paul young carolyn curtains

Alex dives behind some curtains, and when Paul opens them — he finds a little girl.

908 dark shadows young carolyn stare

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.

908 dark shadows paul photos

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.

908 dark shadows paul carolyn stairs

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.

908 dark shadows paul young carolyn book

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.

908 bugsy malone guns

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

25 thoughts on “Episode 908: Jim Henson’s Gaslight Babies

  1. Easily one of the best episodes in the Leviathan story so far! Paul begins to feel like a real H. P. Lovecraft character as he slowly loses his cool. Child Carolyn is a great touch because she adds a psychological aspect to the horror.

    I think its around this period of the Leviathan arc that Paul and Julia are cemented as the main protagonists of this storyline. Or at least I think they are, anyway. Feel free to disagree. I haven’t seen the second half yet because I want to keep in sync with the pace of the blog.

    Speaking of the blog, I was surprised when you said that you enjoy the Leviathan period Danny. I was getting the vibe from your earlier entries that you think this period of the show is boring. Which is totally fair, because there are episodes where the pacing drags. But I think its deliberately done that way as an attempt to emulate the slow burn of Lovecraft’s stories to build atmosphere and suspense.

    1. …Lovecraft said, “In all matters mysterious, never explain.” This is something that makes it tricky to hybridise it with a soap opera, even one as talented as /not/ explaining things as DS.

      My personal perspective on this Leviathan business is that it’s frustrating because they /almost/ made it work, but not quite. Wilbur’s invisible twin brother in /The Dunwich Horror/ works because it can flatten a barn without even trying and still remain invisible. On paper that’s comparatively easy to achieve, if you’re as talented as Lovecraft. To ‘show’ it is much harder, as the ‘payoff’ for the manifestation of ‘Alexander-in-the-room’ will demonstrate.

      They were on the right track – again just my opinion – but the storyline was stifled by the half-hearted attempts to ‘explain’ things and have them make ‘sense’ to an extent. If they had cut themselves free of their moorings and ventured into total subconscious/surrealist DS territory here…

      1. That’s a great summation of the storyline. Great potential, some solid moments…but generally not within their reach.

        I hated Alexander the first few times. I found him too stilted. I’ve grown to appreciate him and have chosen to find him creepy on purpose. I also love the idea (though it was certainly not the writers’ intent) that this is a spoof of how soaps SORAS their children when stories run dry, and that helps me enjoy Alexander’s brief existence as well.

        1. Well, a ‘creepy kid’ is a lot simpler and easier to achieve than an human/Old One hybrid like Wilbur Whateley in Lovecraft’s original ‘The Dunwich Horror’. We won’t go there, for spoiler’s sake, but it would’ve given Alex Stevens and that two-bit ‘werewolf’ makeup some interesting challenges.

          Generally, (my opinion!) Lovecraft is hard to do visually. The reasons why are too complex to go into here, other than to note in passing that nobody really did it well enough until /Re-Animator/ back in ’85. There may have been better work done recently, but I’m not qualified to say. Long and short – Lovecraft is more about mood and /atmosphere/ than detail, and DS being the same it /could/ have worked…

          I wonder if Dan actually knew what was being ‘borrowed’ at any given time? Did the authors /tell him/ they were doing HPL outright, or was it left unsaid? Curtis claimed that the show tanked when /he/ started losing interest in it – perhaps the movie was already distracting him…

          1. Yeah, I think Dan lost interest around the 1840 storyline. There’s a backstage story about Dan and the writers getting together for a marathon story meeting, where they basically decided to do 1840 as a mash-up of 1897 (ghosts possessing kids) and 1795 (a witch trial). That’s the point where they pretty much admitted they were running out of ideas — about eight months from now.

            I expect that Dan was still plugged in for the Leviathan story, although he and the writers were definitely distracted by the movie.

  2. Danny, you’ve mentioned several times what the “rules” are for making us care about a character (friend, joke, plot point); any similar steps in how to make a successful evil character?

    1. I’m also curious to Danny’s take on this, but I would suggest they’re exactly the same…only maybe “ally” instead of ‘friend.’

      There was a recent story on Days of Our Lives wherein I frequently cited these rules for characters because the villain had no confidante, and we were tormented by scenes of her acting crazily in a mirror. She desperately needed a gay nephew or a handmaiden or a hunchback or something.

      1. Guess you could preface the points with “evil”…
        Make an evil joke;
        Make an evil friend;
        Make an evil plot point happen.

        🙂

        Of course, villains are automatic plot point generators (if they are any ‘good’ at being evil). I wondered why it is that villains (like Alexis Carrington and JR Ewing for example) are popular with audiences, why people root for them.

        1. Actually, the “make a joke/friend/plot point” applies to all new characters, not just the nice people. The audience needs to like a new character — but that’s “like” as in “want them to be in my television show” rather than “wish I could hang out with them in real life”.

          There’s actually very little difference between “good” characters and “evil” characters in terms of the way the audience responds to them. In general, we like interesting, funny, smart, good-looking/sexy characters who have chemistry with other characters and move the plot forward. It doesn’t actually matter if they’re nice or not.

          So as John says, there are lots of popular villains that people “root for” in the sense that they make the show better, and we don’t want them to leave: Alexis Carrington, JR Ewing, Tony Soprano, Walter White, Frank Underwood, Darth Vader, the Daleks, and Barnabas Collins.

          For more thoughts about this, check out the “evil” and “supervillain” tags:

          https://darkshadowseveryday.com/tag/evil/
          https://darkshadowseveryday.com/tag/supervillain/

          1. So…
            It sort of applies even to the villains we don’t root for.

            Most movie villains fit there, like Strasser in ‘Casablanca’, or the Wicked Witch in ‘The Wizard Of Oz’. We need them, since without them there’s no conflict. And all the other ‘sexy, funny, smart, good-looking’ things are basically other ways of saying ‘interesting’.
            That’s why we like watching those films again and again, even when we know them by heart.

            Thanks for the links; I knew you MUST have touched on this before.

            “Here’s looking at you, kid.”
            “And your little dog, too!”

  3. Whoever the child actress was who played little Carolyn did a creepy good job. I still wish Elizabeth hadn’t gone under the spell so we could have had more fireworks between she and Paul.

  4. After re-watching the Leviathan story recently, I thought I caught a subtext – or maybe just a whiff – of the dynamic between Paul & Maggie. KLS sometimes gives him a look when he is going particularly crazy that explained to me why she’s so indulgent of his ravings. She sees her father in him, the original village drunk.

      1. In fact, in 1966 (episode 42) when Sam goes to Collinwood for the first time in 18 years with the intention of telling Liz about Roger’s secret (to “save his soul” as he puts it), he mentions by way of casual conversation that Paul had approached Sam about doing his portrait and that he wanted it in the size to hang over the mantel in the Collinwood drawing room, and even that Sam had some preliminary sketches of Paul that he had started on. So it’s possible that Paul and Maggie might have met before, long ago.

    1. Yes, I’ve always had the same feeling. She pushed Carolyn to accept Paul back in her life because she wished she could have Sam back in her own life, even though the situations were completely different.

  5. I love the stories that ‘expand’ on the core Collins characters – Paul coming back, Liz’s interaction with him, the Paul/Jason back story – personally I would rather see much more of this and less of the Todds and even Quentin who I think is a non-entity in this storyline. Quentin needs to be more of a commanding presence (like early Burke Devlin, who became a self-made millionaire ‘importer/exporter’ fresh out of prison). Also I wish they kept Alexander on and eliminated the Michael character (coming up) – Alexander was a likable kid which made it so much scarier when he terrorized the Collins family.

  6. I’m just relieved that they’re not tossing around that fake baby anymore.
    Pinocchio’s a REAL boy (er, girl, whatever) now. 😀

  7. The much maligned Leviathan story is actually fairly well setup with Frid playing the more sinister Barnabas which he does well and no dead bodies littering the place and the return of Paul Stoddard. The pacing is also good at this point. The weak links are the antique shop and the Todds – especially Philip Todd who frankly stinks.

    Now to this Barnabas thing. The character was not “redeemed” just simply rebooted
    starting with 1795 story. Its made clear in 1795 that he is not totally responsible for what happened to him and thus all his subsequent crimes, Beginning in 1968 he slowly moves toward protagonist status and by mid Parallel Time and going forward he makes it to full protagonist/hero. I thought it was a mistake to for the writers to turn him into a murderer again in 1897 precipitating the vampire hunt and his “staking”.

    Clearly the creative forces on Dark Shadows didn’t always know what to do with him.

  8. Wasn’t Scott Baio in BUGSY MALONE? Not to get too political (plus, I’ve always liked him, actually), but he’s been the target of a ton of jokes lately due to his support of Donald Trump. (Unfortunately for me, most of them are “has-been” jokes, which are usually unfunny to me no matter WHICH performers they’re about.)

  9. In your screenshot of Paul pushing aside the curtain to find Leviathan!Carolyn, is that a stage light that can be seen just over the top of the wall behind Paul?

  10. I’m watching the Leviathon storyline for the first time since it was originally broadcast (and I was a 9 year old.) I’m enjoying it quite a bit. So far, it’s far from the train wreck that I’ve been led to believe.

  11. The deliciousness of Paul’s crack up is that he is actually making a bad situation worse by lashing out at Roger. True, Roger is never going to sympathize with Paul, but someone who needs allies cannot afford to drive people away; yet Paul does, the way people who need help often do.

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