To some, this week’s episode of Swamp Thing might come off as fear factor filler, but it also perfectly simulates the feel of a mid-1980s Swamp Thing comic book; when stories were told in 22 pages with a few updates on ongoing threads.
In fact, this week’s A-plot — a fear-generating contagion leaping from person to person via blood-letting scratches — feels like it was cribbed directly from the Alan Moore/Steve Bissette run. It’s been some time since we last read Saga of the Swamp Thing, so we can’t confirm that, but the terrifying fantasies the victims experienced could easily fuel Bissette’s pencils for a good 18 pages. Even the way it travels from a guest character to Delroy (Al Mitchell) to Sheriff Cable (Jennifer Beals) to Abby (Crystal Reed) to Swamp Thing (Derek Mears) to its final resting place feels like the plot progression you would see in an issue of Swamp Thing set between two major story arcs. All it would’ve needed was a guest appearance from, say, Doctor Thirteen to complete the sense of deja vu — though one could say Daniel Cassidy (Ian Ziering) is filling that role.
In fact, let’s focus on him for a moment as his “waiting” is one of the runners addressed this week. As revealed in his chat with Madame Xanadu (Jeryl Prescott), he made a bargain with someone to stay in Marais until he was needed. Apparently, his undefined mission relates to Abby, but in a way Xanadu cannot see because the fates of everyone in town is muddy (pun intended). Now, if we were the betting sort, we’d put money down on Dan taking John Constantine’s role later in story, helping to father Tefe. But as that future is not in the cards for the cancelled series, Dan’s role must be much more short term and resolved within the remaining episodes. Maybe he will have to become Blue Devil to help Abby and Swamp Thing. And, perhaps, like his comic book counterpart, Dan will get stuck in that suit. It all leads to the question: who did he make this bargain with? There are the usual suspects, of course — Etrigan, Neron, and even the big man of Hell himself. Any would be interesting, provided Swamp Thing wanted to go in that direction.
Which brings us back to the conclusion of the episode. Like a mid-80s issue of Swamp Thing, the contagion is never explained away. Abby never gets the chance to study it and Swamp Thing keeps calling it “the darkness.” Although, he eventually adds that it is merely part of the darkness in the swamp. Within the framework of the episode, there is horror to be mined from something neither protagonist can adequately explain. And in the effort to build out the world, it also allows both character to question the nature of the swamp. Both are scientists and should be able to find rational answers to the weirdness. But at the end of the episode, both confront the possibility that there may be no rational answer to any of this.
Sure, there’s always the out: Woodrue’s (Kevin Durand) accelerant caused horrible mutations in the swamp. But with Swamp Thing’s ability to hear the plants and trees, it is possible an outright supernatural answer will emerge before the end. It is a shame the show was knee-capped as the tension between science and a haunted swamp is an interesting one for the series to pull at. And presuming Swamp Thing is a creature with the memories of Alec Holland (Andy Bean), allowing rational characters to wade into the irrational feels like the right sort of pace. Especially if that means we get to see the Green, Dan’s deal fulfilled, and a name to Abby’s childhood horror before then end.
It also makes the premature end all the more tragic. Swamp Thing continues to feel right even in an episode which, unfortunately, has the taste of filler. Imagine what it could’ve done with the full confidence of WarnerMedia behind it.
Swamp Thing streams Fridays on DC Universe.