swamp thing brilliant disguise
Photo Credit: Fred Norris / 2019 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

“You hear that? Everything’s starting to wake up.”

To the surprise of Abby and viewers alike, last week ended with a final shot of a very-human Alec. “Brilliant Disguise” picks up seconds after that reveal and offers up a suitable explanation; the spores Abby inhaled have allowed her to see Swamp Thing as the man he used to be. This somewhat convenient excuse is given a deeper explanation as Alec tries to give Abby a better understanding of his connection with the green. He’s linked to this force of growth and life on multiple levels; it allows him to call for these aspects of nature that foster life. He’s still trying to understand these powers, subconsciously tapping into them early on before using a more conscious approach when Abby is poisoned by the darkness threatening the swamps.

This darkness (also identified as ‘rot’) appears to be the same antagonist creeping in the shadows that Madame Xanadu has preached on thus far; it wants to devour life, though whether or not there is a malevolent design to its nature (as suggested by the ghostly Shawna from a few episodes back) or it’s more yin to the green’s yang remains to be seen. Sooner or later, we’ll discover the truth of this darkness, and as scary as the idea of it being nothing more than the opposing force to create the necessary and natural balance in the cycle of life is, the more frightening prospect is that a malevolent intelligence is directing its continual growth.

In one of the few moments of light in the episode, Alec shows Abby around the beautiful aspects created by the green.

One thing that is not under question is the vile nature of the inhabitants of Marais. Save for Abby, Liz, and Delroy, everyone else has embraced some aspects of the darkness. The surprise winner in “Brilliant Disguise” isn’t Matt or Lucilia—who deftly plot to murder the manipulative and evil Avery Sunderland. That trophy goes to Maria, the woman whose fortune has made Avery the king of Marais.

No longer able to take his duplicity, she teams with the Cables to take her husband down once and for all, defaulting all the Sunderland businesses to her. Though the Sheriff believes she’s held up her end of the deal in murdering Avery, it’s not surprising when a wounded Avery crawls his way out of the water with a murderous look of rage in his eyes that promises a reckoning for those who’ve betrayed him.

“Brilliant Disguise” is an adequate lead-in to the final third of Swamp Thing’s run. Alec’s conversation with Abby gives us a better understanding of the relationship between green and rot/darkness while the real evil, as is usually the case, is perpetrated by the people. Maria’s rise as a villain is a welcome change as there’s more of a subtlety to her character as well as her motivations that are more interesting than Avery’s. But don’t discount Avery’s determination to reap vengeance upon those that wronged him. Maybe this may be the jump start his character needs to break free from the big-business villain template that created him. An even scarier prospect is if he becomes the antithesis of Alec/Swamp Thing and merges with the rot/darkness slowly expanding its dominion over the swamp. As it stands, Abby leaving Marais to help foster a cure for Alec won’t keep the darkness—both human-led and the supernatural—from swallowing up the pockets of light that continually seem to be overwhelmed by its shadowy counterpart.

Root and Stem

  • Though the thought of Avery merging with the rot/darkness does seem cliché, it would be a physical representation for what Swamp Thing is trying to fight and, less importantly, create some interest in Avery’s character. But that may not be necessary after the events of this week. Outing himself as Matt’s father is one thing, stabbing your son only to be shot and left for dead by your lover adds a bit more drama to the inevitable reunion. Avery’s in as bad a place as he’s ever been and his response could salvage his eventual narrative or solidify him as nothing more than a creatively bankrupt character.
  • Having Alec return (even if it wasn’t real) allowed the writers to further differentiate Alec Holland from the creature that he is now. It’s not just the speech patterns, either; the dialogue between the two is vastly different, as it should be. Though a part of Alec lives on in Swamp Thing, it’s more of a remnant of the main he was, a facsimile of the original. This also gave us a bit more of the Alec/Abby dynamic we really didn’t get to explore early on. Had we been given more of their relationship, the emotional weight behind her interactions with Swamp Thing and her determination to find a cure for him would have provided an even stronger bond. In a way, “Brilliant Disguise” acts as a ret-con to the initial handling of this relationship. One episode can’t make up for the questionable path already set but it does an admirable job filling in some of the holes.
  • Beyond Abby’s search for a cure, Maria’s bold plan and Nathan Ellergy’s introduction, the biggest emotional moment was a quiet one between two supporting characters. Jason Woodrue’s painful reminder of his wife’s deteriorating condition when she doesn’t remember the names of Maria or Ellergy was heartbreaking. Of all the characters in Swamp Thing, Jason’s motivations are the most captivating; not just because he wants to save his brilliant wife from a fate worse than death but also due to the compromises he’s willing to make in order to find that cure.