As the first and last season of Swamp Thing approaches its inexorable end, Abby races to save Swamp Thing as Woodrue prepares him for vivisection and delivers a shocking surprise about the Alec Holland and his relationship to the Swamp Thing.
With Avery Sunderland’s help, Woodrue finally has his specimen on the cutting room floor. The cheeky, offbeat character is gone now, replaced by a focused scientist unaffected by the cries of pain from Swamp Thing. Watching this creature tortured (in the name of science, though!) and Woodrue devoid of even a trace of compassion is disturbing and yet true to his character. Were it not for his relationship with Caroline, Woodrue would be like so many other mad geniuses on film; lacking the basic trait of human empathy. It’s not a bad thing, at least in the vein of the show. Out of all the antagonists—the Sunderlands, Ellery, and the Cables—Woodrue has been consistently written, his scenes, while not always the most exciting, his character’s direction has always been clear. Granted, the end scene with his wife after she mistakenly takes her entire supply of Alzheimer meds lacks the emotional punch the writers were going for, but that does not change the overall success they reached with Woodrue as a whole.
The same can’t be said for Liz. After her initial introduction, it seemed as if she would be an integral part of the narrative. Not just as Abby’s former friend, but also a reporter determined to expose the truth about Avery Sunderland’s dealings. With only one episode to go, her investigation subplot seems long forgotten. Even her team-up with Abby in “The Anatomy Lesson” seems hollow (for both her and Abby, to be honest). Their ability to track Woodrue’s hidden lab is wildly simplistic and, though not redundant, their presence is a neatly placed convenience so that Daniel’s Blue Devil alter ego gets to come out and play. This latter news is one of the best things to come from the episode. Though Dan Cassidy has suffered from the same neglect as Liz and others, he takes center stage (if for but a moment) this week. The Blue Devil’s character design and blue fire about both wonderfully crafted, as is the decision to only capture quick shots of him in action. It’s a choice that was not used enough for Swamp Thing himself, robbing the titular character of the mystery and in-the-shadows presence that would have strengthened the air of mystery about him.
For Swamp Thing himself, Dr. Woodrue’s theory that the creature is nothing more than a mimicry of the real Alec Holland, somehow absorbing the dead scientist’s memories, is proven true when Swamp Thing himself returns to the Cove and retrieves Holland’s decayed body. The visual of Swamp Thing holding Holland’s corpse in his arms is powerful in itself, but the revelation that he is not who he thought is a blow to both the creature and Abby. It’s both a perfect and necessary note to end on leading into next week’s series finale.
When dissecting “The Anatomy Lesson”, one can’t help but compare its inconsistencies with the overall issues littered throughout Swamp Thing as a series. More to the point, many of the issues in this week’s episode stem from the uneven storytelling that’s plagued the show from the start. That not to say “The Anatomy Lesson” doesn’t have its moments—it does—the problem is there are too many empty beats, where a character’s actions or circumstances do not warrant any sort of buy-in. In the end, like the show itself, “The Anatomy Lesson” will be remembered as a prime example of unfulfilled potential.
Root and Stem
- If there is anything more criminal than the handling of the Sunderlands, I don’t know what it is. Will Patton and Virginia Madsen are both capable actors and, aside from some admittedly solid moments early in the series for Madsen, these two characters have been an utter disappointment. And it’s not like there weren’t opportunities, even for the bland Avery, the writers just weren’t able to capitalize on the seeds they planted. Again, this could absolutely be due to the shortening of the season and unexpected cancelation, but that doesn’t change the product itself.
- To continue on that front, the handling of Matt’s character was bizarre and unnecessary. Instead of spending time on Matt drinking himself stupid before crashing his cruiser, it could have been spent to add depth to either the Sunderland or Abby/Liz arc. It’s not as if there was much in the way of substance for Matt anyway.
- It’s unfortunate that next week will be our last visit to Marais as there was so much potential in this show. Daniel Cassidy’s transformation into Blue Devil and the story behind it (and the stranger that imbued him with these powers) would have made for a solid season two story arc. Next week’s finale may prove me wrong but it just seems this will be another case of fumbling away a good idea.