This episode was a bit of a trip from start to finish, trading in the body horror and sci-fi violence of previous episodes for a full-on haunted house vibe.
From the eerie early scenes with Susie trying to adjust to a new home that isn’t entirely inviting, to Abby reliving the worst day of her life, to Alec being host to visions of death and decay from across time, to Daniel being cursed for wanting for out of his career, this episode is dripping with a real sense of existential dread.
Even in seemingly benign conversations, there’s a feeling of “no escape.” Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the scene where Danny and Liz discuss the curse of the small town. Not a literal curse, mind you. No, there’s a kind of sad truth to the vortex that your old hometown can become. For Liz, Marais surprised her with how comfortable it felt to return home after going to the big city for a year. For Danny, however, coming to Marais was the biggest mistake he ever made, and now he’s trapped until some higher power gives him the go-ahead to continue following his dreams. This is a really smart way of exploring the themes of claustrophobia and the fear of a wasted life in an episode that otherwise tackles them in less-than-subtle ways.
Not that a loss of subtlety is always a bad thing. The effects in this episode continue to impress. From the projection of the Green’s memories in the swamp to the ever-evolving Swamp Thing suit, this show is constantly innovating in cool ways. There’s a great attention to detail when it comes to the Swamp Thing suit, as each episode has some slightly different growths on it, whether it’s a stray bit of moss or new little weeds, it looks like he’s growing along with his understanding of his new nature.
Speaking of the Green, this is the first time we truly hear it referred to by name, courtesy of guest star Macon Blair as a truly unexpected character. While not explicitly stated in the episode, this Stranger is a bit of Phantom, and he hints at such when trying to guide Swamp Thing into the next phase of his life. Blair’s delivery is brilliant, kind and gentle, but with a sort of knowing sadness. The episode’s official synopsis confirms the character’s identity and I’m looking forward to seeing more from him. It’s not exactly the character from the comics, but the presentation of him here really works with the mix of grounded characterization and hardcore supernatural fiction that the show has been aiming for.
Unfortunately, the one moment of the episode that didn’t quite gel for me was connected to some of the best horror visuals in the episode. Following a harrowing sequence full of haunted house effects, in which Susie’s form is replaced with Shawna’s ghost, a snake climbs from the girl’s mouth, and we (and Abby) see a brilliant shot of Shawna Avery drowning through of a bedroom window. Abby responds by calmly telling the girl that she’s not Shawna, then storming downstairs and demanding to know what Maria has told Susie about Abby and Shawna’s friendship.
It feels like a very confusing reaction, to ask if Maria put Susie up to this, right after seeing otherworldly visions. It seems as though the scene was shot with Susie saying more and more personal things until Abby stormed out, but a decision was made in editing to spruce things up a bit. The shots of Shawna talking look to be insert shots, while the drowning effect may have been added in place of the original background.
This may not be the case, but the spooky actions and Abby’s reaction don’t quite match up, which takes some of the punch out of the entire sequence. It’s even more obvious that these spookshow effects were edited in when, a few scenes later, Abby is talking to Xanadu about Susie’s odd “behavior.” Despite the strength of the effects, they end up making Abby’s general demeanor through the rest of the episode not make much sense.
For the most part, though, this episode had a bit more of a forward momentum than the last few. Between Avery’s machinations, Sheriff Cable crossing the line, and Jason Woodrue’s desire to get the creature in the swamp onto an operating table, the pieces are beginning to fall into place for the season’s climax.
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