“Sometimes the mistakes we make stay with us.”
There’s a colloquial statement that more or less adds up to nothing good happening after 2AM. Though the definitive nature of that could be argued (despite Bear Hands’ song), there’s no arguing that a whole helluva lot of trouble happens during those hours. If you wanted to exchange the time for a place—that place being the swamp—and you’ve got a similar phrase for movies and television. This is one of the primary aspects of Swamp Thing’s pilot episode, one that starts off strong and lays the groundwork for a promising season, despite not sticking the landing at the end.
The third live-action show to premiere on DC’s streaming service, Swamp Thing sets itself apart from Titans and Doom Patrol with a very real sense of horror vibes. When three men are butchered in the swamps (though one does get away only to be consumed by the infected swamp) by what appears to be the semi-sentient ecology — with no qualms about the gruesome nature of their demise — we’re immediately put on alert that, like its two predecessors, this show’s not pulling its punches.
Soon after that, we get a first glimpse at the series protagonist, Dr. Abby Arcane (Crystal Reed, Teen Wolf, Gotham), a CDC biologist working in the Congo. From the start, her humanitarian nature is on display as she’s able to convince a scared machete-wielding boy to let her treat his sick little sister. Knowing the Swamp Thing lore, this character trait will pay dividends when the crap hits the fan. Something that happens rather quickly.
Called away from her current assignment, Abby heads back to Marais, Louisiana, her hometown that houses painful memories. One of the most impressive things this first episode does is to not give viewers all the answers. In Abby’s case, it’s snippets of memories playing out as she drives into town as well as former friends she runs into throughout her treks through town and swamp, searching for clues on the potential outbreak. This is strengthened when Abby is confronted by Maria Sunderland, wife of Avery Sunderland, Marais’ business mogul , and mother to Shawna, Abby’s friend whose death has created a schism between herself and the Sunderlands. Even when Abby and Holland bond over past mistakes, the details of Shawna’s death are never revealed, with Abby only saying “I killed her”. This type of obscure presentation of important events is a distinct tool used in pilots to peak an audience’s interest. Though Abby’s comment is a trope-ish distraction, it also makes sense that she wouldn’t pour her heart out to a man she just met.
Though Swamp Thing does a fantastic job developing Abby’s character as well as creating a welcome horror tone, that same justice is not carried over to some of the supporting cast, chief among them Alec Holland. Though Andy Bean (Power, It: Chapter Two) does a fine job mixing his character’s roguish arrogance with a subtle warmth, it doesn’t seem as if he’s going to get a ton of screen time to expand upon his character, seeing as, at episode’s end, he’s shot up by a mystery boater trying to prevent Holland from scooping up the biological accelerant dispensers that seem to be the cause of the impending outbreak and the horrors occurring in the swamp. His apparent death is seemingly prevented when the semi-sentience of the swamps takes him in its embrace, ultimately transforming him into the series’ titular character.
While not a horrible decision by any means—especially if the rest of the season can build upon the promising start—getting Swamp Thing this early does cut into the burgeoning bond Holland and Abby were forming. Though she ran screaming into the swamp at seeing this monstrous entity raise itself from the waters, not knowing it was Holland (or some derivation of the man himself), it would have been a much more powerful reveal had the pair been allowed to develop their relationship just a bit longer. With that said, if Crystal Reed maintains that emotional edge she displayed in the pilot, she may be able to create that missing bond we were never really able to see form fully on-screen.
Root and Stem
- After Titans had that very meh trailer last year, I was not sold on this new DC television universe. But after fully immersing myself into that show and Doom Patrol, it looked like this streaming network was heading in a positive direction, unlike its DCEU cousin. Swamp Thing’s premiere only strengthens that assertion. Though not perfect by any means (Battlestar Galactica and Supernatural aside, what series premiere really is?) Swamp Thing creates a compelling world by entangling just enough science with hints of the mystical with the scary nature of real-world epidemics. Lots of questions are raised and, while it seems that the big business guy will once again be the antagonist, the Sunderland history with Abby Arcane is a much more compelling drama than the business = bad trope so often used in Hollywood (again, if that is the case).
- Having Will Patton and Virginia Madsen as the town’s leadership only adds to my interest. Both are fine actors, able to walk that line between good and bad to the point where you’re not quite sure where they’ll end up. Madsen is phenomenal during her anger-fueled monologue to Abby and finding out more about their relationship is every bit as interesting as seeing the Swamp Thing in action.
- Speaking of that titular character, I’m fascinated to see how they craft this creature’s narrative. Will he have a formidable adversary or will this be more of a Frankenstein monster’s tale, where his enemies are the scared townsfolk of Marais? Though the writers have done a bang up job creating a compelling drama on the human side of things, will they be able to maintain that same quality now that Swamp Thing is in the picture? Only time will tell.