This Swamp Thing review contains spoilers.
It is the penultimate episode of Swamp Thing and yet, rather than building to an epic series finale, “The Anatomy Lesson” stumbles with a story that feels patched together, and rushed. While a show shifting its signature aesthetic can be invigorating, the noirish vibe and overuse of deep focus cinematography jarringly disrupts the flow that has heretofore been established. Unfortunately the writing also stumbles.
Frankly, this reviewer wouldn’t be surprised to learn everyone involved in Swamp Thing (who learned during the filming of Episode 10 that it would be the final shoot for the season, rather than the planned 13 episodes) had to go back and re-work much of this story to wrap things up. And the most disappointing aspect is Swamp Thing had been reliably strong up until its final moments.
After being captured last episode, Swamp Thing is transported to a lab for the living dissection at the hands of Woodrue. But so consumed by his mission to save his wife from her early onset Alzheimer’s – as well as driven by his own arrogance – Woodrue abandons that very woman, and poisons the final memories they could have together.
Director Michael Goi is a gifted cinematographer, and I appreciate how he toys with audience perceptions by relying on the deep focus technique as she relays her nightmare, and later on when she overdoses on medication because she was left alone. Caroline (Selena Anduze) has gone from a brilliant scientist to a woman whose mind is slipping quickly from her, as is her own husband. The visual conveys that.
Meanwhile, Goi uses it again when Maria (Virgina Madsen), who is more sane now than she has been in years, is committed by her scheming husband Avery (Will Patton). In this way the series has gone from a Southern Gothic Horror to melodrama. The awkward dispatch of Matt is further evidence of this; the sudden “Wait, what?” car crash is ridiculously like something out of a B-movie.
Not even the reliable Crystal Reed can salvage Abby’s twisting and turning without much direction. She and Liz are sadly reduced to running, and hiding, like damsels until the transformed Daniel arrives to complete his destiny. Because this is why the Phantom Stranger has kept in Marais all this time? If Xanadu had not dropped off the face of this series, Daniel should have a word with her.
Speaking of Daniel Cassidy and the Blue Devil, the monster deals with The Conclave’s muscle fairly easily (one of which says the equivalent of “I’ve got a bad feeling about this”). Blue Devil does not work, and while Ian Ziering has been enjoyable to watch as Cassidy, he is done a disservice by a pretty lame blue-fire transformation. The creature effect itself for BD is so shrouded in shadow that it prevents enough of a reveal. The hero-demon has potential but as it is, he just comes out of nowhere.
OK, I realize I am being incredibly negative, so let me pump the brakes a bit.
The dissection scenes between Woodrue and Swampy are schlocky, but effective. Woodrue takes great delight in cutting into what he initially believes is Alec Holland. There is curiosity, but not an ounce of empathy. Then he thrills at revealing (echoing the comics) that Swamp Thing isn’t a man at all, but “a plant who thinks he’s a man.” That’s the deepest cut he can make.
The effects are pretty good here but you can definitely see the seams between Swamp Thing’s head, and the practical body. Thankfully Derek Mears sells his lines like a champ, saying “I feel it all.” And he knows the revelation to be true, leading to the finale with the comic book cover homage.
Yes, Alec Holland is dead, and Swampy is something else.
I honestly don’t know how Swamp Thing will conclude its first season, and the series, with the final episode next week. However, after sprinting for much of its run, “The Anatomy Lesson” is a huge stumble just as the show is about to cross the finish line.