“It isn’t a disease. The swamp… it changes things.”
After three weeks of panic, a handful of death, and some gruesome sights, the ‘green flu’ finally seems to be under control but now Abby finds herself in the midst of a similarly dangerous contamination rooted in the supernatural, a “darkness” that bring forth the worst fears in those it infects.
Whereas the first three episodes of Swamp Thing focused on the biological accelerant/green flu that combined to birth the titular character, “Darkness on the Edge of Town” is an all-too familiar one-shot episode that strays from the established season arc. The ‘darkness’ is an infection of unknown origins that passes from person-to-person through blood (or a simple scratch) and infects the host by making real (at least to their eyes) a person’s worst fears.
Unlike the green flu, this new threat can only affect one person at a time, though the violence the hyper-realistic hallucinations causes more often than not leads the host to their death. Like a typical one-shot, the story is seemingly wrapped up by episode’s end, with seemingly being an important distinction. Despite this mysterious “darkness” eventually contained with Swamp Thing’s help, all signs are pointing to its return or the conception of a new threat, one that may actually put our protagonists in danger.
Though this episode highlights one of the primary successes of Swamp Thing as a whole—the very real and tangible horror elements—it’s also a reminder as to why the first few episodes should have taken a bit more time with Alec’s transformation into Swamp Thing. Though he’s now asking the personal questions trying to figure out who, or what, he is now, there is no real mystery to it as things have played out so quickly that we never got a chance to get to know the real Alec and differentiate between his past self and Swamp Thing.
Almost as subtractive to the mythos is the continual use of full-body shots of the creature. It would have been more impactful to the series tone had, at least in the first half of the season, Swamp Thing was shown solely from the shadows, with a flash of eyes and the movement of his root-tentacles. For those who have seen the Spawn animated series (or read the original McFarlane comics), keeping the titular character, one whom is neither hero nor villain sequestered in the shadows, builds tension and mood far more effectively than prancing the character out in the open.
With some of these negatives in mind, “Darkness on the Edge of Town” is still a solid hour of entertainment. Its flaws are more a by-product of earlier decisions and the episode does its job by breaking up the green flu story and introducing a few more plot lines—particularly Daniel Cassidy’s—that will eventually play out in the second half of the season.
Root and Stem
- After the mysterious Tarot reading from Madame Xanadu last week, everything pointed to Dan Cassidy having some major part to play in this series. That’s emphasized in “Darkness” during his conversation with the Madame. Her mention of the bargain he made that’s bound him to Marais as well as a mystery-something coming that may destroy the town, even with Dan being there continues to develop the supernatural aspect of the series. With Abby’s horrified vision of the Man with No Face and Dan’s own familiarity/draw to her, it’s all hinting at the true big-bad of the season.
- Though the Man with No Face could be a compelling narrative step, his appearance in Abby’s hallucination was such a B-movie level concoction. Though Abby’s fear was real, everything from the voice, the dialogue, and line delivery sapped some of the menace from this character’s appearance. That’s not to say that, when (or if) he finally appears in the flesh, he won’t be able to generate some real fear, but as it pertains to “Darkness”, it just didn’t work.
- I mentioned last week how Avery Sunderland had erased any doubts about him becoming a black hat and that was further solidified here. His ‘purchase’ of Susie Coyle, an action that initially seems like something to appease his wife, is nothing more than a tool to help Dr. Woodrue figure out the green flu and, in the process, make Sunderland millions. Even Will Patton’s performance this week was lackluster as if the actor himself was aiming to personify his character’s two-dimensional nature.
- Speaking of Dr. Woodrue, I have to say Kevin Durand’s off-kilter performance works so well for his character. It’s someone ridiculous but, at the same time, sets him apart in a positive way…enough for me to want to see more of him on-screen. Considering his work with Avery and the desire to cure his wife of her dementia, all signs point to this being the case.
‘Swamp Thing’ – “Darkness on the Edge of Town”