It’s pretty clear at this point you could just point a camera at Kevin Durand’s Jason Woodrue and get a funny, thrilling, and strange episode of Swamp Thing.
One would be tempted to call him the show’s secret weapon, but he’s hardly a secret. Consider the scene in this week’s episode, “He Speaks,” between Woodrue and Abby (Crystal Reed). He is compelling with a certain menace, but it almost seems accidental. We also learn, in a subsequent scene, his wife Carolina (Selena Anduze) has some sort of degenerative brain condition. Woodrue hopes the mutagenic qualities of the virus will lead to a cure. It’s a new and different motivation for a character often without a strong motivation in the pages of various DC Comics. And, yeah, it may be borrowed from the tragic backstory given to Victor Fries — a villain who also lacked for strong motivation at one point — but we’ll take it as it gives Woodrue and Durand something good to work with. Presumably, tragedy will strike before too long and he will begin a journey to become the Floronic Man.
But Woodrue is also indicative of something else remarkable about Swamp Thing as a whole: it is like watching a Vertigo comic book series from the 1990s brought to life. Thin characters like the Floronic Man are given greater dimension, seemingly dead characters return in horrifying new ways, and ghosts have a subtle power to influence the living.
As an example, we’ll use the Sunderland story in this episode. Maria (Virginia Madsen) makes contact with her dead daughter Shawna (Given Sharp), who immediately suggests Avery (Will Patton) has been unfaithful. Turns out he has — with Sheriff Lucilia Cable (Jennifer Beals), no less! — but it seems this has only come to light because Shawna’s ghost was poking around downstairs while Avery came on to the sheriff. Alternatively, Shawna could just be a manifestation of Maria’s mind finally willing to admit something she denied about her husband, but the ambiguity feels like something out of Hellblazer, Sandman or even the later Swamp Thing before Tefe became the star.
More on Tefe in a moment.
Avery, meanwhile, is part of a mysterious Conclave and willing to murder in order to keep its secrets. The scene in which he kills his bank examiner and realizes Liz Tremayne (Maria Sten) is on his trail might as well have been pulled directly from a 1980s Swamp Thing comic: a soap opera scene turned truly dark and sinister. Also, it should be said, Patton is such a delight in roles like these. He has a charm even as his characters prove to be despicable.
The Vertigo quality also extends to Abby’s first conversation with Swamp Thing (Derek Mears). It feels threatening even as she tries to reach out to him. Granted, she’s not willing to touch him yet, but her belief that Alec (Andy Bean) can be restored with Swamp Thing’s help proves a certain empathy and connection between them. She also witnessed Swamp Thing’s instinctual empathy in regards to the maggot-creature; encouraging something to release its troubled soul. It proves Swamp Thing is more than a hulk of plant matter. It also suggests a deeper reason for the weirdness in the Marais swamps beyond Woodrue’s accelerant. Hopefully, we’ll see the supernatural in full force before the end.
Oh, and one last Vertigo comparison: Susie Coyle (Elle Graham). When the character first appeared in the pilot, she struck me as an Easter Egg of sorts. She looks just like Tefe Holland, a character who would grow up in the pages of Swamp Thing and eventually become its star for a time. But Susie’s continued connection to the swamp and her continued appearances suggest she’s more than just an Easter Egg of Tefe. It is an interesting choice for the series as it allows a character like Tefe to appear while keeping Swamp Thing and Abby’s daughter as a future event. Well, at least it would’ve been had the show not been cancelled.
No wait, premature cancellation is also another nod to Vertigo. Sure, a lot of books overstayed their welcome, but plenty were cut short before they could prove inspirations for television shows.
Swamp Thing streams Fridays on DC Universe.