This Swamp Thing review contains spoilers.
Damn, this show deserves a better fate. I have wanted to avoid focusing on the negative too much, but we are at the halfway point of Swamp Thing’s first, and currently only, season, and things are picking up – but I am skeptical whether we’ll get a satisfying conclusion (even thought the finale was supposedly reworked to provide closure).
“Drive All Night,” (yet another Springsteen song title turned episode title) is a visually exciting ghost story with a creepy tone, and a plot that drives Abby’s arc forward. It also introduces both The Green and The Phantom Stranger to Swamp Thing – and we get a glimpse at Blue Devil!
There is a helluva lot going on in this fifth installment!
First up, I love actor Macon Blair’s (of Blue Ruin!) depiction of DC’s The Phantom Stranger (or, rather, a “passing stranger,” a “phantom from a dream”). Rather than his blue trenchcoat and fedora, this is a bit of an unkempt swamp man, eerily calm and affable, pulling up for late night fishin’ (to the tune of Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams,” used to an unsettling effect).
And his arrival just so happens to occur as Swamp Thing fights the spirit of the swamp that is desperate to share its secrets with him. Swampy still resists his nature, and resists the swamp. But the Stranger serves as a bit of a therapist and mentor, reminding Swamp Thing he is still Alec Holland on the inside – but he is also part of The Green, that connects all plant-life together, and has stories to share. The interaction between the two is eerie, but so nicely understated.
It turns out Swampy needs the hand from the Stranger, since his powers are necessary for Abby’s supernatural showdown. The opening minutes of the episode are freaky as the Sunderlands deceased daughter comes home (and initially haunts, then possesses Susie – the kid with the worst luck in Marais).
Virginia Madsen is no stranger to haunted house stories, so she moves through the scene nicely as Maria Sunderland. It is scary stuff as she moves into Susie’s room to comfort her from the “girl from the pictures downstairs.” And the bathtub scene is pretty damn good – only topped later on by Zombie Shawna’s confrontation of Abby in her bedroom. Vomiting up black swamp goo, and an eel, is a good gross out moment, but the floating, scraping corpse underwater outside the second-story window is a great aesthetic.
A tip of the hat to Elle Graham, who plays Susie. The young actress has had some solid scenes before this episode, but she is quite convincing as an evil little thing here. She nails the delivery on the stone cold delivery of “Susie’s not here anymore,” drips disdain towards Abby.
Speaking of Abby, I was disappointed by her wavering between accepting the supernatural (after all she’s seen) and then grasping at logic by calling child services, or attempting to explain the situation even after she sees some paranormal shenanigans!
Still, the payoff is intriguing for the mystery of Shawna, and Abby’s involvement. At first, it does seem that Abby “killed” her friend due to childhood foolishness, but no, it was the swamp itself that took her. And it reveals the swamp has been a place where some sort of evil has dwelled for a long time – long before Woodrue’s accelerant, or Swamp Thing.
So did Xanadu open a door to something evil, which let a “Shawna” through, or was the door already cracked open? And are things are about to blow wide open on the level of human sacrifice, cats and dogs living together, and mass hysteria
Based on Dan’s Blue Devil mask with glowing eyes, and the blue flame burn he sustained, things are only just heating up in Marais, and whatever forces he made a deal with ain’t ready to let him go yet. And I can’t help but like Ian Ziering in this role. He is so likable but doofy, and arrogant. I love how he charges to Liz’s rescue, but ends up potentially getting himself killed.
On the topic of Liz, I can’t say I’ve warmed to the character, but she’s growing on me. It was refreshing we got the showdown between her and Avery straightaway (while he was relishing making his gory “toitle” soup), and I’m pleased she wasn’t turned into a damsel. Still, I’m throwing shade on the writers for creating a journalist character who bemoaned having her dream job in New York City, but disgruntled because she was proofreading copy – in her entry level job after college. C’mon folks, you could have given her a better backstory.
OK, so apparently everyone other supporting character on Swamp Thing is now a villain?
Matt apparently killed Alec for Avery. Lucilia killed Remy Dubois (poor stupid Remy) in cold blood. Avery is cheating on Maria with Lucilia, threatens Delroy and Liz (and killed Gordon). And Woodrue is so obsessed with unraveling the secret to Abby’s cell samples, and curing his wife (though which drives him more?) that he wants to hunt down Swampy and get him on a slab.
In particular, I am like the unraveling of the broken Avery, who is about to lose his wife, as his little empire also goes under. Although Woodrue is the one to watch.
It would appear things are not going to be pleasant in sleepy Marais anymore.
Again, Swamp Thing pushes its mythology forward without wasting much time, and while delivering another dose of supernatural horror. And what’s especially notable is — unlike shows where supporting characters are time-fillers until the plot returns to the heroes – I am quite invested mostly everyone who gets screen time here.