“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And there’s a crash-zoom into the otter’s face, accompanied by a big dramatic thrummm.
David keeps looking around and being anxious, and then there’s another frantic crash-zoom.
David backs away, more ticking and tocking, and then:
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:
And then it’s just more ticking, and he thinks about using the telephone but doesn’t.
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.
— Danny Horn