Avery gets revenge, Woodrue gets data, Cassidy gets angry, and Swamp Thing gets a grim realization. So let’s dive in to in the penultimate entry in the Swamp Thing series and unwrap episode 9: The Anatomy Lesson.
So here’s what’s fucked up, friends: As I’m writing this, that huge convention in San Diego has wrapped and DC had a pretty spectacular panel. In it, the DC Universe streaming service portion of the panel mentioned renewals for DCU original, Young Justice, gave a sneak peek at Titans season two, and mentioned what fans can expect in the next season of Doom Patrol as well. No love for the big green guy? Really? Not even a mention? Now, yes, I’m speaking from a place of anger, but I’ve watched all of the above-mentioned series on the service and can honestly say Swamp Thing is waaaaaaaay better than Doom Patrol. I couldn’t even finish that shit. And I’m in no rush to catch the back half of Young Justice: Outsiders. Unfortunately, I feel like there’s something that we will probably never know about, something that happened behind the scenes at Swamp Thing production HQ. There had to be! There’s no other way to explain why this gem of a show, that was both critically and fan acclaimed, has not even had any further mention since week one about its status. That’s messed up, man!
Okay, rant over, let’s get down to the recap. So pretty packed episode this week, despite the, yet again, forty-five minute run time. Everyone was back this week, with the exception of Lucilia (Jennfer Beals) and Madame Xanadu (Jeryl Prescott). But hey, Daniel Cassidy (Ian Ziering) was back, and boy was he back! But first, what the hell happened to Swamp Thing after the climactic ending of last week’s episode? Well, we open this week with an excited Dr. Woodrue stopping home for just a moment before heading to the mobile lab that The Conclave has provided him. This is important to mention because remember that he’s doing all this for his wife who is already in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s. So, he’s kind of a dick for not being around more, but you wanna forgive him because at least his intentions are good. But, wow, we’ve really seen a huge change in his character these last couple episodes the closer he gets to possibly unraveling the secrets behind the mutagens and how they connect to Swamp Thing. He’s become very driven, almost to the point of obsession. Anyway, the main thing to take away from this brief scene was that Woodrue was leaving his poor wife alone again but not before he reminds her to take her meds in the morning.
Once at the lab, Woodrue starts to literally dissect our big ‘ol green buddy in a scene that I have to say was pretty hard to watch at times. Not so much because of the actual tearing and ripping apart from the insides of our main character, but more so because he’s awake through the whole procedure and he’s agonizing and pleading throughout the whole damn scene. But Woodrue just keeps going, opening him up, removing these makeshift organs, all the while our creature just grits his teeth and puts up with it. Again, it’s very important to mention what happens next because they took a page out of comic book writer Alan Moore’s (Watchmen, V for Vendetta, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) Swamp Thing mythos. As Woodrue is studying the creature’s organs, he’s explaining to him that he’s not a man at all since his organs seem to have no discernible function which must mean somehow the mutagen absorbed Alec Holland’s consciousness, his memories, and thus created a body and organs based on what it believed was a human body. This comes straight from Moore’s early 80’s retelling of Swamp Thing’s origin. Whereas earlier writers had deemed Swamp Thing a story of a man turned monster, Moore decided instead to make it so that he was strictly a plant creature imbued with the memories of Alec Holland. It’s interesting making a note of this simply to determine which origin the DCU people wanted to explore.
So back in town, you didn’t think that Avery was gonna forget how his wife, Maria, burned him, did you? He tracks her down right when she’s on the phone trying to reach the Conclave’s Nathan Ellery and has some goons take her into custody. Avery brags to her about how he bribed his favorite judge to get her Baker Acted. Once at the psychiatric hospital there’s some pretty good banter between the two of them. As much as it’s been fun to see these two backstab each other in these last few episodes, it was kind of sad to get this sense of finality to their story here. Avery asks why she tried to cut him out of the deal and kill him; Maria says she got tired of all the lies. It was all very tragic. Still, out of it all, Avery was somehow able to regain control of the deal with the Conclave and reestablish contact with Ellery. The last words Maria says to Avery before he closes that door on her forever are that this is far from over. I’m sure if we did get another season, she would somehow escape, or she may still in the last episode yet to come. Either way, I’m betting it would have been (or may still be) Sheriff Lucilia Cable. These two have a shared enemy in Avery now, so that’s why I make that claim.
Now, onto the biggest development of the last few episodes and back at the hospital: Not only was Cassidy finally back, but so was the mysterious Phantom Stranger. The stranger shows Cassidy a future where Abby and Liz are killed while looking for Swamp Thing by a handful of The Conclave’s goons. He then tells Cassidy that he has the power to do whatever he wants; he can leave the hospital bed; go home, and never come back. Or he can choose to take up the mantle of the Blue Devil and help them. That’s the only way Abby and Liz survive. Of course, based on what we’ve seen in previous episodes, we know that it’s in Daniel’s nature to do the right thing, be heroic when he can. So he picks up the prop mask and it begins to glow and enchant Cassidy with a bluish light before we get that dramatic cut away to the next scene.
Speaking of Abby and Liz, in the actual present, they’ve tracked down the location of Woodrue’s secret mobile lab thanks to the investigative journalism skills of Liz and they’re skulking through the abandoned Sunderland factory trying to find Swamp Thing. Sure enough, we see the events in the Phantom Stranger’s vision starting to unfold before our eyes. Once Abby and Liz hide out in an electrical room, the outer room explodes in blue lights and carnage. Flashes here, blood splashes there. It’s a bloodbath, folks. When finally we get our long deserved appearance. The one we’ve been waiting for since waaaaaay back in episode two when we found out that Blue Devil was even a possibility. And all I’ll say is that I am glad they did not go with the traditional look from the 80’s comic book or the cheesy design we got glimpses of from the movie set scenes this season. This was a full on, badass frigging monster!
Abby and Liz have no idea what they’ve just seen and when they leave the security of their little hiding spot, all they see is the bloody mess of body parts and charred remains the Devil has left behind. It was a pretty cool sequence. Amidst all the chaos, Woodrue packs up some things and arranges to have Swamp Thing moved to another facility while he goes to pick up his wife. A goon says it’s already been arranged and they both leave.
Two things to mention real quick before we get to the chilling conclusion of this week’s episode. We got about five minutes with Matt Cable drowning his sorrows at Delroy’s roadhouse and blathering on about betrayal and his mom and stuff before he gets into his car and wraps it around a bridge column. I’m not quite sure what the point of this scene was. Is he dead? Crippled? Who will find him? We just don’t know yet, but it was so brief that I can only imagine we’ll get all those answers next week. Now, when Woodrue gets back home to “collect his wife” after fleeing the destruction at the mobile lab facility, he comes across his wife in the bedroom, who has apparently confused taking her morning meds with somehow taking all her meds for the week and she’s collapsed. Again, we’re not quite sure if she’s dead, injured, having a stroke, or whatever, but I guess we’ll find that out as well next week.
So in the shocking conclusion of this week’s episode, curious about what Woodrue had said earlier during the dissection, Swamp Thing tells Abby he has to get back to the swamp to see if Woodrue’s right. Abby has no idea what he’s talking about, but follows him all the way to the swamp anyway. Swamp Thing disappears below the surface of the water for a moment, but returns with bony remains in hand and explains to Abby that the remains are those of Alec Holland and what he is, is just this “thing.” Abby gasps in denial before Swamp Thing confirms our worst fears and proclaims to her, “Alec Holland is dead.” Pretty chilling ending if you ask me. But here’s my biggest problem with this end sequence. If you’ve seen any of the promo materials leading up to the release of the series, then you know that DCU technically spoiled a huuuuuuge revelation in one of the one sheets promoting the show. In it, we see Swamp Thing carrying the skeletal remains of someone. Of course, not knowing anything about the show or the comic book mythology, I guess you could take the imagery as just a metaphor for the death of a man and the birth of a monster. But given that the shot in the show is almost identical to the one in the poster, I would say it was huge spoiler doled out weeks or even months in advance of the show’s release. Pretty fucked up, DCU.
Anyway, huge plot spoiler aside, it was a pretty solid and emotionally gripping end to what is the second to last episode of the series. Speaking of the end, I mean this is it, folks, I started to notice, beginning with last weeks entry and definitely continuing here, the cracks in the veneer of what started out as a very promising series. Characters have made decisions, then changed their minds at the drop of a hat, traits have emerged faster than I can say “multiple personality disorder,” and dealing with the consequences of their actions has more than likely occurred in the same episode. These are all the telling signs of a series that was unexpectedly halted mid-production and then shortened by a factor of almost twenty five percent as this series was. Look, I don’t blame the crew, creative team, or talent. They were simply trying to make lemonade out of a bushel of lemons. No, the blame goes higher than the folks in the trenches, busting their ass to try and put out a good product. I tell my students all the time, “We can only work with what we got!” And that’s what they’ve done here too. We’ll see if in the end it all amounts to something worthwhile when the conclusion comes in just a few short days. I liked this episode a lot, for a multitude of reasons, but for finally delivering on some gratuitous Blue Devil carnage, I’m giving it a five out of five.
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