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The Fight for Endless Childhood in Candle Cove

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Candle Cove, the first season of Nick Antosca’s recently canceled Channel Zero anthology horror series, is anchored by a single image: a child-sized figure (Cassandra Consiglio) made of stolen baby teeth. Unnamed and unspeaking, the creature sustains itself by consuming the baby teeth of Iron Hill, Ohio’s children. This idea of arrested childhood feeding parasitically on the real thing informs much of the season’s story.

Child psychologist Mike Painter’s (Paul Schneider) deceased twin Eddie (Luca Villacis) is the psychic force which animates the tooth-child, draws Mike back to Iron Hill, and preys on the town’s children via the titular television program, Candle Cove. When Eddie attempts to seize control of Mike, the visible sign of this possession is a supernumerary baby tooth forcing itself out through Mike’s gumline. Through Mike, Eddie would enjoy unlimited access to children, many of them already psychologically vulnerable.

Mike attempts to extract an extra tooth, a trait only Eddie had during their childhood

Only through the consumption of children can Eddie prolong his existence and increase his power. With one exception, he acts only through child mediums. When he finally appears in person, he retains the semblance of a child in spite of his ghastly charnel house surroundings. Even at the height of his power, the things Eddie does with that power are consummately juvenile. He tortures his bullies, coerces adults into obeying him, and makes his flights of fancy real. While everyone else struggles to come to grips with the horror into which he’s thrust them, Eddie himself is living in a fantasy of power and perfection.

Childish Things

Frances Booth (Marina Stephenson Kerr) and her abducted and brainwashed students

The sacrifice of eight-year-old Jacob Booth (Connor Peterson) at the hands of his mother Frances (Marina Stephenson Kerr in present day, Tara Koehler as a young woman) was the beginning of Eddie’s reign of terror in Iron Hill. While the show remains wisely opaque about the mechanisms and origins of Eddie’s psychic powers, their visible manifestations are fittingly childish. The most prominent among them is the illusory television program Candle Cove, a sort of hypnotic signal Eddie uses to bind other children to his will.

An unending match of the card game ‘War’ from the twins’ childhood is another important plot point. The entire conflict between Mike and his phantom twin takes place in the ruins of their shared childhood, bounded by images of jittery puppets and dog-eared playing cards. And in a way their childhood is not just the setting, but the stakes as well. For Mike, stopping Eddie means burying their experiences together and moving on from a violent and traumatic past. For Eddie, victory is a return to that same childhood without end or boundary.

Pirate Percy (Karen Valleau) and Jawbone (Fred Stinson) 

In this context Candle Cove plays out as a kind of struggle between our competing urges for regression and maturation, our need as adults to heal old emotional wounds and our longing for the lost innocence and simplicity of childhood. For children on the cusp of puberty, fear of the unknown and pain at the loss of childhood is natural, a part of the quiet trauma of growing up — but an adult’s fixation on that impossible return can produce a profound flattening and distortion of their personality. Eddie’s cold, distant affect isn’t so much the expression of childlike detachment as it is the callous, inward-looking blankness of an adult man unable to dream of anything more interesting than his own faintly-remembered boyhood.

Growing Up Is Hard to Do

It’s the Skin-Taker (Olivier De Sagazan), a shapeshifting nightmare constantly resculpting and brutalizing itself, which gives us our first glimpse of the shape of Eddie’s adult psyche. Blending blood, clay-like flesh, and self-injury with the piratical trappings of Eddie’s make-believe television series, the Skin-Taker is a creature of frustrated rampages and inchoate self-expression. It jams sharpened twigs into its own face, bangs its head against the walls of the joyless dimension in which it lives with Eddie, and even consumes itself in straw-fueled gouts of fire when it first shows itself to Mike.

The Skin-Taker (Olivier De Sagazan) with Mike’s daughter Lily Painter (Abigail Pniowsky)

It acts, in short, much as Mike did when Eddie first possessed him to summon him back to Iron Hill. The “COME HOME MIKE” he carves into his own arm during that psychotic break is an expression of that same stunted, furious urge that drives the Skin-Taker to injure itself again and again, perhaps in hopes of communicating some elemental facet of Eddie’s personality. It embodies not a calculating adulthood, not a thoughtful exercise of cruelty, but the gory welter of a grown man ripping at himself in frenzied agitation, hoping that if he just tears enough away he’ll find his boyhood, wild and free and unencumbered, waiting for him.

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