Dan on TV: Multi-requiem

Too Soon: Swamp Thing

SWAMP THING. You make my HEART SING.
Image: DC Universe

“Nature’s first green is gold, her hardest hue to hold.”

-Robert Frost

What’s it about?

CDC doctor Abigail Arcane (Gotham vet Crystal Reed… one of the good ones) returns to her home town of Marais*, Louisianna when a swamp-borne plague starts infecting citizens. A mutagen being dumped into the swamp waters has turned the plants violent and awoken dark forces that threaten all life. Abby works with rogue biologist (who knew that was a thing) Alec Holland to find the source of the contagion, but he’s killed by an unknown assassin just as they’re getting acquainted. Fortunately for all, he is resurrected as a giant plant monster (former Jason Vorhees actor Derek Mears), with a mystic connection to the Green, a force connecting all plant life. Abby and plant-Alec must fight back the dark forces in the swamp, and the corporate tycoon trying to exploit them, while dealing with Abby’s dark past and Alec’s uncertain future.

*”Marais” is another typical fictional DC city, and like “Smallville” and “Metropolis” the name is just a description of the town, as it’s just French for “marsh.”

Why did it end?

They tried to blame it on not getting a tax rebate they were promised by their shooting location, but that story had more holes than Bonnie and Clyde’s death car. No, it seems what happened is that the bosses at the DC Universe streaming channel were hoping for something a little more standard-superhero, and when executive producer James Wan, horror director James Wan, James “I made Aquaman into a megahit you goddamn ingrates” Wan instead delivered a shockingly effective horror series about terrifying swamp monsters and the good swamp monster that opposes them, they pulled the plug.

Which makes no sense. Titans and Doom Patrol have very different aesthetics, neither of which are really “classic superhero” stuff, everything they’ve put out so far is R-rated… letting Swamp Thing be a horror show fits perfectly and is a much better fit to how the comics have gone the last decade, where Swampy holds the line against mystical force of decay the Rot, its grotesque undead body-horror soldiers, and its evil leader, Anton Arcane, yes relation to Abby. If anything on this channel should be classic superhero stuff it’s Stargirl, if that’s still happening.

Idiots. Perfectly good horror series with a bunch of well-done takes on DC’s magic characters, and they get cold feet ’cause it’s too scary.

How did it end?

They did their best to turn what was supposed to be episode 10 of 13 into a series finale. A couple of plots received swift wrap-ups, including one that had just started, a few characters complete their journeys for good or ill (or ride into the sunset for a spinoff that unfortunately isn’t coming), but clearly they were holding out some hope for a revival, because one major villain is still around (despite clearly being a warm-up act for Anton), and a post-credits scene reveals a new nemesis.

They knew they were cancelled and they kept the post-credits scene. Dick move.

Still… as endings go, I’ll take it.

Should I watch it?

There’s a lot of good stuff in here. Making Abby the focus really works, for more than just budgetary reasons (she requires less makeup than Swampy). The horror elements worked great. The supporting cast does quite well, especially Jennifer Beals* as the morally compromised town sheriff, Virginia Madsen as Abby’s surrogate mother-turned-bitter nemesis, and Kevin Durand as Jason Woodroe, an ethically… flexible scientist with a love of plants, who in the comics is frequently found doing things he shouldn’t in the origin stories of your Swamp Things and Poison Ivys.

Plus, as I alluded earlier, there are some great takes on some kind of obscure DC magic characters. Madame Xanadu as a blind fortune teller is… just okay, but serviceable; the Phantom Stranger as not a powerful mystic, but just a scruffy drifter who happens to know things the hero needs to know, or a random figure who nudges you somewhere you need to be, is great, I want that Phantom Stranger in all the DC shows and movies now**; and 90210 vet-turned-Sharnado star Ian Ziering as D-list actor Daniel Cassidy, aka the Blue Devil? Perfect. That is perfect casting. They owe me more of him.

(One of the main villains, Will Patton as Avery Sunderland, is being done no favours by his character’s Louisiana accent. A perfectly fine scene of being low-key menacing while slaughtering a turtle for soup is really deflated every time he pronounces it “toitle soup.”)

So, yeah… it might end just when it’s getting warmed up, but you could do a lot worse.

*I know how long ago Flashdance was, so I get that mathematically Jennifer Beals is old enough to be playing the mother of one of Abby’s love interests, but damn she does not look it.

**Seriously, put him in Legends of Tomorrow, have him nudge the Legends in various directions, but only John Constantine ever seems to notice it’s always the same guy.

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