This week, tensions between Avery and Lucilia come to a head. Meanwhile, Swamp Thing and Abby investigate the Rot.
“Brilliant Disguise” has a bit more of a contemplative tone than the rest of the series so far. The sequences of Alec guiding Abby through the places where the Green is thriving have an almost fairy tale quality to them. The bright colors and lighting make it feel like they’ve stepped into an entirely different world, which is heightened by the fact that Abby spends the majority of the episode hallucinating, seeing Alec as his old self.
Yes, this appears to be the show’s take on the comics’ “tuber stories,” in which Abby would ingest a vegetable grown from Swamp Thing’s body and the two would experience a kind of hallucinogenic version of lovemaking. The television series obviously takes a much different route here, but there’s a real sweetness to the whole thing.
For one, it’s a delight to see Andy Bean as Alec Holland again. Bean brings a whole new sense of focus to his portrayal of Alec in this episode. He’s much more in-tune with his place in the world and his responsibilities toward the Green. While he still has a bit of that nervous charm, there’s a kind of knowing calm to his demeanor as well. It’s a brilliant bit of acting on Bean’s part. Even when Abby can see him as Alec, he’s no longer quite the man she knew.
Crystal Reed is wonderful in this episode, as well. As Abby follows Alec through the swamp, there’s a mix of awe and skepticism in her delivery. She wants to know more about this new world that Alec has become aware of, but the scientist in her needs to understand the logic of it. The scenes toward the end of Abby fighting the infection from the Rot are terrifying and Reed sells every moment of it.
Back in Marais, things are tenser than ever. While the confrontation between Avery Sunderland and Lucilia Cable is fantastic, the real MVPs of the Marais scenes this week are Virginia Madsen as Maria Sunderland and Kevin Durand as Jason Woodrue.
Madsen plays her every scene with a kind of calm sense of control. It’s a far cry from the manic attacker of a few episodes ago or the weeping mess she was earlier in the series. Maria finally knows what she wants and how to get it. Whether this is due to a lingering influence from the Rot is not clear, but Madsen crushes these scenes.
Durand’s Woodrue is still one of the most revelatory performances of this series. He vacillates between full-on mad scientist and devoted husband with such ease that it feels completely true. The scenes between Jason and his wife are heartbreaking, with Durand portraying Woodrue with a kind of wearied acceptance. His wife’s deteriorating condition will more than likely push Woodrue to take new, riskier steps in his research. The way that Durand plays Woodrue almost makes the audience understand why he goes to the lengths that he does, which is no simple feat.
Brian Taylor’s score again deserves a shout out in this episode. It’s solid as always, but there were some interesting pieces in “Brilliant Disguise” that really helped drive the more emotional scenes home. In particular, there is a soft, almost plaintive version of the main theme that plays over Abby and Alec’s final conversation of the episode. There’s already a kind of epic sadness that runs through that theme, but this version in particular makes their goodbye feel even more certain.
As we get ever closer to the end of the series, it’s difficult not to have a million questions about what we’ll see resolved. But even more than that, it’s hard not to feel like some of the characters in the series are getting short shrift. Harland basically disappeared once he’d been cured, presumably going back to the CDC. But where’s Susie? The last we saw of her was when she broke away from Shawna’s possession. Is she still living with the Sunderlands? Are we going to see Liz do anything more than call Abby out of concern?
These are nitpicks, but the Susie thing is especially jarring when one considers how much of the first half of the season focused on her. Otherwise, this episode was another strong installment that built up the mythology of the series even further. I’m looking forward to seeing how Avery fares in Alec’s territory next week!
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