This week, Swamp Thing delivered the best-paced episode since the pilot. It also remixed the source material in ways that remained faithful to Alan Moore’s original intent while advancing the plotlines for our many characters and keeping things interesting for the television medium. Beware of spoilers, because I’m just gonna get right into this.
Let’s just start with the titular anatomy lesson, shall we? It didn’t seem possible, but the show found a way to make Woodrue’s dissection more brutal and intense than the original story by keeping Swamp Thing awake for the majority of the examination. This allows Woodrue to be able to discuss his findings without it seeming like awkward exposition, while also giving Swampy a way to learn the truth of his origins in a more confrontational manner.
These scenes are the highlight of the episode, mainly due to how wonderfully Derek Mears and Kevin Durand play off of one another. This is the match-up I’ve waited all season for and it doesn’t disappoint. Woodrue’s glee in literally peeling back the layers of the Swamp Thing is palpable, almost stomach-turning in how excited the man is, even as he commits a truly horrifying act on a living thing.
Durand replaces much of Woodrue’s previous twitchiness with a kind of swaggering confidence, as he’s fully in his element in this medical facility. Mears, on the other hand, makes Swamp Thing look more lost and desperate than ever before, struggling and gurgling his way through his conversation with Woodrue. He desperately tries to look away from the carnage, but he can’t help himself. The scientist he once was wants to understand what Woodrue is learning about him.
The show smartly adapts the concept of Swamp Thing having never been a man, but rather a plant-like growth with Alec Holland’s memories. This revelation is delivered straight to Swamp Thing’s face, and the reaction from the creature is heartbreaking. The makeup effects are top-notch (of course), with the various “organs” rendered in ways that are both repulsive and oddly quaint, perfectly matching Woodrue’s bemused descriptions.
In the less tragic sections of the episode, we get some full-on comic book nonsense (in the best way) when we check back in on Ian Ziering as Daniel Cassidy, who finally gets to see the Phantom Stranger again after many years. The Stranger, who looks more and more like his comic book counterpart each time we see him, shows him a possible dark future and tells him that he has a destiny to fulfill. Again, Macon Blair’s take on the Stranger is brilliant, with a mix of devilish charm and a genuine world-weary sadness.
Even more pressing is the fact that we get to see the show’s version of the Blue Devil. In a sequence that is shot like something straight out of the Evil Dead franchise, Cassidy takes out all of the mercenaries in Sunderland’s employ. It’s a wild and smartly shot sequence that keeps the Devil in the dark for the majority of it, showing the aftermath of his attacks as he rips and burns his way through them. This Blue Devil is a feral berzerker, all claws and flame, with an unearthly glow and a roar to match. The brief shot we see of him is fantastic, giving us just enough of a peek to side with Liz when she asks what the f*** that was.
The wait for Blue Devil’s entrance this season has been a long one, but boy, did it ever pay off. Ziering’s reaction to waking up after the battle is handled very well, with the actor appearing disgusted by his own actions and untrusting of his own body.
The final minutes of the episode are one awful revelation after another. Avery seems to have won his battle against Maria, Matt appears to be headed in the same sad (and ultimately redemptive direction) as his comic book counterpart, and in one of the most gothic moments of a series that has been saturated in moody darkness, Swamp Thing finds the body of Alec Holland. Both Derek Mears and Crystal Reed communicate the hopelessness of this discovery, which is somehow heavier and more full of meaning for both of them than in the original comic book, especially in regards to their blossoming romance. It’s the perfect horrific button for the episode and it leaves just enough “Loose Ends” to hopefully be tied up in next week’s finale. I’ll see you then.