Episode 913/914: Death and Taxidermy

“I found a way to transcend time. But you have found a way to suspend time!”

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given. And the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called… well, there’s some dispute about that, actually.

It’s the night after Christmas 1969, and young David is browsing through the good book. He shoplifted an ancient devotional almanac stuffed with prophecies, long-term weather predictions, household hints and prayers to the Elder Gods, and apparently it’s not okay to read ahead. David has been possessed by the villains of the current storyline, like he ever does anything else.

“This shall be followed by a period of ten days,” he reads. “And as darkness settles on the tenth day, there shall come forth another manifestation. And due homage shall be bestowed by all who believe.”

So he tells his aunt Elizabeth, who’s also a devotee, and they rush over to the antique shop for some late-night homage bestowing.

913 dark shadows michael face

That weird couple down at the antique shop have been growing their own monster, which has taken the shape of a blond child. You know Sea-Monkeys, where you send away for a little aquarium kit and some packets of Instant Life and Growth Food, and then you grow brine shrimp in the tank for like a week until they all die, unmourned and unloved? Well, it’s nothing like that.

It’s actually more like common or garden-variety soap opera rapid aging syndrome, which happens a lot in the alchemical world of afternoon television. There’s not a ton of use for elementary and middle school kids in daytime soap storylines — babies can be snatched, switched and DNA-tested, and high school kids can fall in love and testify in court, but the rest of the young set just kind of sits there, underutilized.

But soap characters keep having babies and you have to get a new generation somehow, so the children are regularly “aged up” by recasting the part with progressively older actors. This localized time compression means that you can establish multiple generations of soap families in a single decade.

One example is Tom Hughes from As the World Turns, who was born in 1961 and then recast seven times over the next nine years, hitting age 12 in 1966 and age 25 in 1969. By 1970, nine years after his birth, he’d been in college, served briefly in the Vietnam War and was hooked on narcotics. He was then recast a further six times, at which point he was old enough to start having rapidly recasted children of his own.

The quick-growing kid is also a lift from H.P. Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror, which is where all this Elder Things worship came from. In Dunwich, Wilbur Wheatley grows from an infant to adulthood in the space of ten years in-universe, and twelve paragraphs as we experience it. There are little stop-offs during the montage where a film would need a series of child actors — 11 months, 19 months, 4 years and so on — but the story doesn’t really get going until he’s ten years old, at which point he looks and acts like an adult, and can move the story along.

Soap operas don’t do time-compression montages, because they’d have to age up the rest of the cast as well, and that stretches the budget and viewers’ patience. That means SORAS typically manifests in a little burst of growth, followed by a plateau that lasts long enough to justify another step up the ladder.

And that’s what they’re doing here — we started with baby Joseph, who grew up into eight year old Alexander, and here’s the new model.

913 dark shadows michael david liz choice

The new kid emerges from the Chosen Room — long story, don’t worry about it — and addresses his staff. David calls him Alexander, and the boy snaps at him.

“I am not to be called Alexander anymore!” he says. “You should know that.”

Liz smiles. “Oh, what are Megan and Philip going to call you?”

“They picked a name I didn’t like,” he sniffs. “From now on, you will call me Michael. That’s my choice.”

So the kid’s been on the screen for like thirty seconds and already he’s super aggro. We don’t get any further information about the name debate, which makes me curious about what Megan and Philip’s proposal could have been. My guesses: Apple, Philip, Moon Unit, Blanket, Older Alexander. But he landed on Michael, like everyone does, sooner or later.

Liz:  We came to welcome you, Michael.

David:  We came as soon as I read the prophecy in the book.

Michael:  That is as it should be.

So I have to say, I kind of like this kid. He’s such a jerk, right out of the gate. Alexander was a pint-sized gangster, hitting people up for protection money, but Michael is more like a spoiled rich kid who lashes out at his servants because he doesn’t have anything else to do. That’s not really an appealing characteristic per se, but it’s not what I expected to walk through that door, and that’s got to count for something.

Michael informs Liz that David will spend the night here with him, so that’s a whole other angle I didn’t see coming. Liz worries that people will be suspicious, but Michael insists, “David wants to stay — don’t you, David?” He’s just randomly asserting dominance because that is how evil one-percent starchildren behave.

913 dark shadows michael arms

As soon as Liz leaves the antique shop, the dominance games kick into high gear.

Michael turns on David, saying, “You went running to Barnabas the other day, didn’t you? You shouldn’t have done it, David. It made me very angry!” And then he crosses his arms, to indicate hierarchy.

David says that he’s sorry, and Michael snaps, “Being sorry isn’t enough.” And I don’t know, I just really like this bossy little kid. I can’t explain it. It may be the “executive child” trope that I always think is amusing. This pre-teen just walks in and tells everybody they’re a jerk, and things are going to change around here. I like the attitude.

913 dark shadows michael eyes

They do a bunch of extra-close close-ups on Michael’s eyes, which doesn’t really work, and they need to back off on that. Like I said, the kid’s kind of fun, but he’s not like a super-magnetic presence or anything. He’s not even arching an eyebrow.

But this episode, and possibly this storyline in general, is about building up menace in places where menace does not really exist.

913 village of the damned 2

Michael’s introduction is the point where the writers go beyond The Dunwich Horror and add another narrative collision, this time with the 1960 movie Village of the Damned.

In Village of the Damned, a whole community falls unconscious for a minute, and when they wake up, every fertile woman is suddenly pregnant with a weird dead-eyed blond kid. The children grow unnaturally fast, and by age three, they’re all wearing little suits and strolling around in packs, communicating telepathically and controlling adults with their thoughts.

Fortunately, the kids have a weakness, which is that they are not stealthy in any way. Everything that they do is pretty much guaranteed to invite suspicion, from the hairdo on down. So eventually a teacher blows up the school, taking advantage of another one of the kids’ weaknesses, which is that they’re flammable.

Still, the image of the creepy staring blond children is compelling, and you can see why they were hoping for something of the same quality for Michael. He’s supposed to stare at people, penetrating their minds and forcing them to do terrible things.

But they haven’t really committed to it, so Michael doesn’t feel like an unholy demon walking the earth in borrowed flesh. He feels like a bossy rich kid with a sweater.

Part of the problem is that the Leviathans have already been taking over people’s minds for more than a month, so there’s not much for a stray Midwich Cuckoo to do. Barnabas, David, Liz, Megan, Philip and Amy are already under the sway of the ancient conspiracy, which is plenty.

913 dark shadows michael stay

But they have to figure out a way for Michael to establish that he’s scary, and they’ve already done mind control. So what’s left?

Well, sleepover pranks, apparently. Michael asks David, “How would you like to spend the night right here, in the shop, all alone, where it’s nice and dark?”

David cries, “I don’t want to stay here alone!” although he’s spent his entire life living in a haunted house filled with actual ghosts that have actually tried to murder him, so I’m not sure why he’s so taken aback.

“It’s just an antique shop,” Michael says. “There’s nothing here that can hurt you.” That is the correct assessment of the current threat level.

913 dark shadows david worried

So David is left alone — all alone! — with the contents of a mid-sized antique shop that he is already familiar with. The sequence that ensues is not a blockbuster of terror.

The torment begins with the sound of a clock ticking. David looks around fearfully, and suddenly bumps into the stuffed otter sitting on a counter.

913 dark shadows otter

And there’s a crash-zoom into the otter’s face, accompanied by a big dramatic thrummm.

OTTERRRR!

913 dark shadows david looks

David keeps looking around and being anxious, and then there’s another frantic crash-zoom.

913 dark shadows pig weasel

PIG WEASELLLL!!!!

913 dark shadows david afraid

David backs away, more ticking and tocking, and then:

913 dark shadows deer

DEER!!!!!!

913 dark shadows david chair

It’s all too much for David to handle; he’s only a child. He takes a seat and tries to collect himself, and then:

913 dark shadows mask

MASK!!!

913 dark shadows david telephone

And then it’s just more ticking, and he thinks about using the telephone but doesn’t.

913 dark shadows david michael fine

Before you know it, it’s morning, and Michael comes down the stairs. He asks David how his night was. David says it was fine.

Monday: The Walkback.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

This is intentional, but worth noting: in Julia’s scene outside Harrison Monroe’s house at the end of the last episode, she was addressed by a voice talking to her over a loudspeaker, which told her to go away. For the reprise in today’s teaser, she plays the scene without the loudspeaker voice, probably because they didn’t want to pay the day player who provided the voice.

When the Chosen Room door opens at the end of the first act, you can glimpse people moving around through the crack in the door.


Behind the Scenes:

Yesterday’s episode was pre-empted for Christmas Day, so this episode gets a double number: 913/914. However, they’re still running a number behind, because of an unexpected pre-emption a month ago for the Apollo 12 splashdown. They catch up with the numbering after New Year’s with a triple-numbered episode, 919/920/921.

Michael is played by 13-year-old Michael Maitland. He was in the original Broadway cast of Mame from May 1966 to January 1970; his last day of filming on Dark Shadows was just a few days before his last performance in Mame. He’d also been on the CBS soap The Edge of Night in 1967.

Monday: The Walkback.

913 village of the damned house

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

34 thoughts on “Episode 913/914: Death and Taxidermy

  1. Some other reasons for the SORAS (Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome):
    A) Child labor laws — child actors are only supposed to be on set or on screen for relatively short mandatory times. Hence, to get around that, some parts are played by twins, so they can inter-change the children (and work around those child labor laws/regulations).
    B) Children, generally, are not always that great actors. Hence, SORAS so you can maybe have better storylines and better overall acting. Often, young-looking adults will play teens on soaps.
    That’s funny about Tom Hughes — never knew he was born the same year I was. Of course, I did notice his SORAS. By the mid-70’s, Tom was a practicing attorney in his grandfather Chris’s law firm and was on at least his 2nd marriage, as I recall.

    1. Ahhh, SORAS…. I remember doing a radio show and somehow the topic went to this. In the studio, I had an openly gay friend of mine from whom when I mentioned the term and pronounced it, he did a Danny Thomas spit take and was found in a corner of the room in the embryonic position convulsing with laughter. It didn’t help either when the other guys in the room didn’t know what was going on, until they put two and two together and started to goof on my pronunciation, forcing him to run out of the room so he could breathe.

  2. Naturally, this reminds me of Wodehouse, specifically the time Bertie was in a sitting room surrounded by specimens of taxidermy (most notably a family group of a father bullfinch, mother bullfinch, and little Master Bullfinch, ” the last named of whom wore an expression that was definitely that of a thug.”)

    In real life, I dislike taxidermy but here, it’s hilarious. Especially since I think that otter looks more huggable than sinister.

  3. Somehow Michael makes me think of a small version of the actor Shane Bryant as Dorian Gray. Which is fitting, since that was a Dan Curtis production.

  4. Regarding Tom Hughes, he did age rapidly at first, but then he was in a holding pattern from the 70s – 80s, when he was in his thirties. By the 90s, he was in his 40s. My favorite to actors in the part are Justin Deas and Gregg Marx; both won Emmys in the role.

  5. The teenage Leviathan character Michael was played by actor Michael Maitland who was born August 27, 1956 and passed away April 23, 2014 at the rather young age of 57.

  6. Amy Jennings is SORASed between her final TV episode and her audio appearances. In the TV episodes she’s around David’s age at oldest, leaving the show in a 1970 episode. So she’s at most 13/14 years old.

    However in the Big Finish audios when Amy returns in stories set during 1973 she’s a capable college student and experienced enough to be consulted on strange supernatural activity, not to mention able to be at the Blue Whale without being kicked out. This indicates she’s at least 18 or 19, if not in her early 20’s.

    Possible explanations:
    A) Amy was orphaned at a young age and a surviving character on Dark Shadows. That’s enough to emotionally mature many people.

    B) She was taught by Professor Stokes, whose methods tend to be unorthadox at best. Perhaps he saw a bright young spark in her and chose to nurture it. She also seems to be intuitive about how to deal with supernatural threats. What’s to say there isn’t some encounter she had that aged her up a year or two at some point? I wouldn’t put it past one of Stoke’s experiments gone wrong to have a similar effect.

    C) Amy isn’t heard to have ordered any alcoholic drinks at the Whale (Carolyn teases her about the possibility of getting her grape juice spiked). She also isn’t the bad girl type, so Jonah Rooney (the bartender and nephew of Bob) is easier on her. Bloodlust has teenage characters at the Whale but refused alcoholic drinks (being teenagers, they aren’t so easily deterred).

  7. Michael Maitland doesn’t impress me. He has no charm. No humor.

    He is the very image of the kids that I had wished I beat up in elementary school.

    Little a holes. Braggarts. Who picked on you for no reason. When you are minding your own business.

    1. So, HE’S the one who got peanuts banned from your school (even though he didn’t have a peanut allergy – in fact, nobody at your school did). Tried to claim he was lactose intolerant, too, just to get attention, then you caught him drinking chocolate milk…he’d dare you to chuck an apple at a car, then snitch on you. Little fink.

      1. As much as I remember, since I am at 1970PT,
        Was that he never lost his a-hole persona.

        Nobody coaching this kid? Or was he playing himself?
        And did he actually rename his character?

        Did he end up Prom King, or Senior Class President?

        Maybe Trump.

        1. The link below for the Dark Shadows News Page features a page announcing the passing of Michael Maitland in 2014. At the bottom of the page are several comments, one of which is from someone who went to school with Maitland from grades 1 through 6, and despite saying that he was “a swell kid” he mentions that:

          “…And he was always getting me into trouble in school..he definitely was a rebel..definitely..and pushing the limits..all the time..”

          http://darkshadowsnews.blogspot.com/2014/05/michael-maitland-1956-2014.html

          Recall Dan Curtis’ golden rule for Dark Shadows casting:

          “I just hired people I liked.”

        2. I remember that during his brief appearance on DS that the teen magazines were featuring him as if he was the new DS heartthrob. I think I can honestly say he is the character I liked the least on the series.

  8. Aha! I thought Michael Maitland looked familiar. Did anyone watch the Saturday morning superhero show, Isis, with Joanna Cameron? Michael Maitland was in the UFO episode titled, The Lights of Mystery Mountain, in 1975.

  9. Need to see a tail to be sure, but the newest venal varmint looks to be a beaver; he’s too plump and wide for an otter (but there seem to be a number of otter species). A wide, flat oval tail for a beaver, a long, tapering tail for an otter. And otters have noses more like a cat’s.

    I hope they know what happens when pigweasels and otterbeavers are together…lots of little otterweasels and pigbeavers, pigotters and weaselbeavers chewing holes in the wainscoting, and trying to build dams in the bathtubs.

    And I KNEW we couldn’t trust Mr. Deer Head!

  10. Yeah, Phillip wanted to call me Eddie Haskell, but I didn’t see the humor in that, so I turned him into a pig weasel, and made him listen, as I called the taxidermist for an estimate.
    Megan wanted to call me “Oh My Dear Dear Sweet Sweet Precious Precious….”, so I turned her into a toy helicopter and made her fly really really fast around and around and around the shop, until she finally crashed through a window! We haven’t seen her since!

    1. I liked Cyrus, too.

      The Leviathans knew of Carolyn’s tendency to be attracted to distant relatives, which is why they decided Jeb’s final form should look just like her great-great-great grandfather.

      1. And Gabriel was quite the a hole, as well.

        Pennock was good at that.

        Which is why I disliked him until Cyrus.

        Then, John Yeager made me hate him again.

        And then, Gabriel.

        Funny, how loveable he was in interviews……and played such awful people.

        1. This comments section should light up big time when he has the violent kiss with Nancy Barrett, her lip bleeding, and she tries to hide it, then they zoom in on it.

          The only real human blood ever seen on the show. It ain’t tomato juice.

          That’s a ways off.

  11. I thought that little boy from Village Of The Damned looked familiar. His name is Martin Stephens, and he starred in one of my top favorite films, The Innocents, from 1961. Here’s one of the best moments….

  12. Great video. It’s always nice to see Buzz. He really was the best catch Carolyn had. He was human and a good dancer.

    1. It really is amazing what a difference a couple of years make. And the first time I saw the first episode of Dark Shadows comma and we saw Caroline and Joe’s date at the Blue Whale, I didn’t have the historical context to understand why he was being such a horrible, uptight jerk about her having a little innocent fun. When she tells him not to be such a square, I think anyone but the mid-sixties middle-class housewife is firmly on her side.

    2. Here’s a photo of Michael “Buzz” Hadge (right, as “Ray”) without the beard in November 1969, on stage with Al Pacino in the Off-Broadway production of The Local Stigmatic (a play by Heathcote Williams) at the Actors’ Playhouse in New York.

      1. Dang! A shame they gave Buzz a beard, Mike has a cute chin!
        And Al Pacino has discovered the secret to theater stills: ALWAYS do something interesting with your mouth in the shot. =-O

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