Nothing ever lasts forever. Some things though, sadly, don’t ever get much of a chance to breathe. After two weeks of speculation and false reports, good old-fashioned “creative differences” behind the scenes seems to have put DC Universe’s Swamp Thing into an early grave. There’s still no official statement, but it seems there was a clash as to whether Swamp Thing would be more of a detective procedural or a straight on horror show. The most obvious answer is to meld the two, which the show has successfully done to this point. Make no bones though: it has elements of a procedural with a heavy emphasis on horror. Some involved on the production side were extremely unhappy with the tone of the pilot. This led the studio, as everyone knows by now, to travel to the set and shut it down somewhere in the middle of shooting its last three episodes.
As Swamp Thing moves closer each week to a forced conclusion, it’s amazing how well the show is still able to draw in viewers and keep bringing them back week after week. Swamp Thing executive producer and horror titan James Wan (The Conjuring, Aquaman) took to Instagram to tell fans to “immortalize these ten episodes.” We’ll give it our best shot, but it won’t be hard if Swamp Thing continues to deliver the goods as well as they delivered in the series’ third and best episode to date: “He Speaks.” Boy, does he ever!
One thing this author has been excited about that Swamp Thing finally gave a taste of in “He Speaks” was a little of the esoteric nature of the show’s source material, Alan Moore’s Saga of the Swamp Thing. There are other influences as well, but overall it was fantastic to see Alec Holland (Andy Bean) in human form again, trapped inside a netherworld by some sort of swamp magic, for lack of a better description. Not to dive too deep into comic book lore, but it comes to play in the episode “He Speaks” prevalently so a little Swamp Thing lore will add a little more to the viewing experience. There are two forces at play in the swamp: the green and the rot. The actual Swamp Thing (Derek Mears) represents the green while the rot is represented in a lot of different terrifying ways, but to boil it down as simply as possible: green is good, rot is bad.
Each episode of Swamp Thing has turned up the horror, but “He Speaks” turns it up to 11. Rob Fresco (Ash Vs. Evil Dead) and two-time Emmy winner Deran Sarafian (The Strain) take up writing and directing duties respectively for an episode that brings everything in Swamp Thing to an absolute boiling point. After saving Susie Coyle (Elle Graham) from the dangers of the swamp, Abby Arcane (Crystal Reed) is trying to figure out just what the creature she saw in the swamp was. Susie told Abby for last week’s cliffhanger that the Swamp Thing said its name was Alec.
Before all that can be dealt with, Avery Sunderland (Will Patton) has brought in Dr. Jason Woodrue (Jason Durand), the genetic biochemist who planted accelerant in the swamp around Marais at Avery’s request. Of course, if this fact got out the world would know what a true monster Avery is. To jog the memory, the accelerant was designed to make the Sunderlands a lot of money at the cost of anyone who gets in there way.
That’s one of the things that Swamp Things does best: bring attention to the real crisis of mega conglomerations using GMOs and chemicals that accelerate plant and food growth at the risk of human’s overall health and well-being. “Oh, come on! Stop making everything political! It’s Swamp Thing!” Everything is political. The series is definitely not a sermon but to ignore the real-world implications of what the show is talking about beyond the awesome body horror and Southern Gothic intrigue would be doing it a disservice. Jason Durand’s (The Strand) performance as Dr. Woodrue is spot on. He’s almost unrecognizable as the deranged fanatic as he questions Dr. Abby Arcane’s very notions of humanity while examining Eddie Coyle’s post-human plant hybrid of a corpse. “Plants one, humans zero,” he says with just a little bit too much glee.
There’s more moving parts this episode as now that everyone knows the characters and the players are all on the board, the game is truly ready to begin in Swamp Thing’s “He Speaks.” Jennifer Beals finally gets more screen time this week as Marais sheriff and Deputy Matt Cable’s (Wade Henderson) mother Lucille Cable. She’s also very disapproving of Dr. Abby Arcane, who it’s more than clear that her son has a long-burning love for her. Sheriff Cable thinks she’s dangerous, but she proves herself to be part of the town’s overall problem. All of these moving parts in Swamp Thing don’t make it easy to necessarily root for humanity. With the snap of a finger, the town patriarch Sunderland is able to bring in a new CDC team and grant his own bankrolled scientist to try to take over and do damage control. They aren’t there to help people like Abby and Harlan (Leonardo Nam). They are there to destroy people’s lives and the environment in the name of profit. Period.
Durand’s excellent performance as Woodrue can’t be overstated. On top of his creepy introduction to Abby over Eddie Coyle’s warped corpse, “He Speaks” really gives a good look at what really drives Dr. Woodrue. His fanaticism goes far past his work. His wife has Alzheimer’s, and in a heartbreaking and alarming scene it’s clear that Dr. Woodrue firmly believes that he will find a cure for her. That’s extremely delusional thinking. It’s also dangerous and goes a lot to show in a really small intimate scene that Dr. Woodrue is a man who will stop at nothing to achieve his goals, and his brilliance is indeed outweighed by his egomaniacal delusions of grandeur. He alone can cure his wife’s Alzheimer’s? Doubtful. This is the same asshole who readily developed Avery’s accelerant that started the sickness in Marais in the first place. Dr. Woodrue has moved up the list to one of the most dangerous people in Swamp Thing, and that’s saying something.
Elsewhere Marais journalist Liz Tremayne (Maria Stein) is getting dangerously close to a secret that very well could get her killed. She’s going after the town’s accountant Gordan Haas over shady dealing practices that lead right back to Avery Sunderland. If you haven’t caught on to that yet, all roads in Marais, Louisiana lead back to Avery. Swamp Thing takes the horror to a whole new level while also expanding the types of scares that it brings to the table. There’s fresh and unusual body horror right from the get-go as the “rot” of the swamp turns an unsuspecting hunter into a zombie-like swamp creature by spewing all manner of nasty swamp bugs into his mouth. The real horrors, as Guillermo del Toro has taught us, are not from the so-called “monsters” that people often don’t understand so instead fear. In Swamp Thing, the real monsters are flesh and blood.
Avery Sunderland has that soft demeanor of a Southern politician. Pre–Civil War, it’s not hard to imagine him as a plantation owner bringing that creepy Southern charm. In a nice reveal this episode for anyone loving the soapier side of things, Sheriff Lucille Cable and Avery have had an affair in the past. She’s put a stop to it, but if anyone was hoping that Sheriff Cable wasn’t under the thumb of Sunderland at the end of the day, they’d be sorely mistaken. On a personal note, living in West Virginia, fat cats like Avery Sunderland have ruled over the Southern coal fields with an iron fist, poisoning the environment and killing the people while being treated like benevolent lords in some type of serfdom. People like Avery are the absolute worst type of scum.
Virginia Madsen (Candyman, Sideways) finally gets some much-deserved screen time as Avery’s wife and Marais matriarch Maria Sunderland. It’s a blast to finally see Swamp Thing‘s “He Speaks,” its third episode, build on what we already now about Maria and let her shine. Madsen is such a talent, that already after “He Speaks” she has the biggest arc on the show to date. Maria is such an explosive, powerful, yet mentally unstable individual that there’s still part of me that thinks she’s the only one who can really bring Avery down in the end. At this point, it’s entirely up in the air as to what Maria is going to do next in Swamp Thing and that is a delicious thing to digest.
Seeing her finally telling Avery that he couldn’t have any more of her family’s money to run his secretive laboratory is a moment that should be applauded. She’s grieving since the return of Abby to Marais. It’s brought her back to a dangerous level of post-traumatic stress. Is she truly talking to the ghost of Shawna in her palace-like bathroom or is it a fractured psyche? Does it matter? All are fantastic questions leaving me excited to see where Maria goes next if Swamp Thing continues to build upon her story. I hope they do as Madsen’s performance is one of the most fascinating aspects of “He Speaks.”
So where is the swamp thing in the middle of all this Swamp Thing talk? Abby makes an admittedly ill-advised trip back to Alec’s lab on the swamp to hopefully find some notes that will help her cure the ever-escalating number of extremely sick people at the Marais hospital. The audience knows it’s the accelerant, but Abby doesn’t. The sequence at Alec’s former lab is truly horrendous and a turning point in the show. It’s absolutely terrifying. One of the zombified swamp denizens controlled by Tthe rot” crashes through the window of Alec’s lab. The entire scene plays out like something straight out of John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). The rot-possessed creature is truly a disgusting site to behold and looks straight from the nightmares of Lucio Fulci (The Beyond).
Then it finally happens. There’s only two words but it is a spine-tingling moment. Swampy busts through the floor of his own lab and says “leave her” in the raspiest whisper that fades off into the night. After a truly gruesome showdown between the Swamp Thing and the rot, Abby just comes out and says that Susie Coyle told her he was Alec Holland. Now, whether or not this is actually the case depends on which Swamp Thing lore the show goes with. Alan Moore changed the idea that the creature was Alec Holland who had been morphed into a plant-like creature after a lab explosion into a sort of vice versa where the plant thinks that it is Alec Holland.
Either way, this creature has some of Holland in him. The tragic love that could have been between Alec and Abby gives any moments they share a very Beauty and the Beast type of romantic feel to Swamp Thing. The first of those is in “He Speaks” when the creature runs his hands through her hair the same way Alec did and calls her by name; and later when the creature watches lovelorn outside the local bar as Matt Cable entices Abby to a dance. Back at the cabin, Abby asks why the swamp is fighting people and the Swamp Thing responds back “not fighting…fighting back.” This gives Abby a stretch of an epiphany that results in Susie (Ellie Graham), Harland, and the rest of the sick in the hospital cured by cutting back on the medications that are fighting the disease and then the sickness stops fighting…back? Okay, maybe scientific accuracy isn’t the show’s strong point.
Avery really shows himself in the show’s last 10 minutes that he is truly the one to fear in Swamp Thing. He is a bigger monster than anything that could ever come out of the swamp. He brutally murders Marais accountant Gordan Haas with a gold club to the head…repeatedly. He is the villain that Swamp Thing deserves and Will Patton (The Mothman Prophecies) shines in a role that goes against type. He’s a great character actor that has really done a little bit of just about everything throughout his extensive career. That’s one of the many things to love about Swamp Thing. Big-name talents are attached in supporting roles in the series while young up-and-comers lead the cast. It’s a great strategy and only adds more heft to the show with the likes of Madsen, Patton, Beals, and Durand all turning in noteworthy performances.
Where Swamp Thing is headed after “He Speaks” is anybody’s guess. One other small thread in “He Speaks” sees Madame Xanadu (Jeryl Prescott) and Daniel Cassidy (Ian Ziering) together as Daniel gets his tarot cards read for the zillionth time. This scene points to a larger supernatural force at play in Marais as Daniel complains that he is somehow trapped in the town and is unable to escape. The tarot cards seem to hold all the answers, if only they would ever give him a different reading. It just so happens that his reading changes in “He Speaks” for the first time in eight years. What could it all mean? Who knows, but Daniel has a suspicion that the arrival of Abby Arcane is somehow tied to his fate. With Swamp Thing nearing the horrific halfway mark, we’ll all just have to wait one more week to dive back into the murky water as the mystery unfolds.