The latest episode of DC Universe’s hit horror series Swamp Thing, “Brilliant Disguise,” balances some of the series’ most intense action with its most emotional moments yet. Half the episode sees the ladies of Marais getting their revenge on the town’s big bad, Avery Sunderland (Will Patton) while the other half sees Alec Holland (Andy Bean) finally reunited with his would-be lover Abby Arcane (Crystal Reed) in his human form.
Swamp Thing has done an excellent job throughout its 10-episode first (and only) season of mixing many different types of horror into a blender that still feels like its own unique universe. “Brilliant Disguise” takes Swamp Thing back into more surrealistic territory with Alec showing Abby the essence of the Green (and its constant struggle with the Rot) while also turning up the action/thriller side of the show, focusing on the events surrounding Avery’s takedown.
Virginia Madsen (Sideways) makes a welcome return to the show this week after sitting out last week as Maria healed from her poltergeist encounter in the swamps. She’s such a powerful actress that her presence was immediately missed. It seems at first glance that Maria is back to her old self. She’s making a dinner party for the Enclave (comic fans take note of their entrance) investor group members who are coming to see Avery and Dr. Woodrue’s (Kevin Durand) mutagen discovery. After the reveal last week that Matt Cable (Wade Henderson) was the shadowy gunman who murdered Alec Holland in the pilot at Avery’s behest, everyone was wondering how his mistress (and mother to Matt) Sheriff Lucille Cable (Jennifer Beals) would react. Well now everyone has their answer. Essentially don’t fuck with Maria and/or Lucille Cable. This episode of Swamp Thing could easily be referred to as Les Diabolique: Marais.
“Brilliant Disguise” saves that soapy twist for the end, however, and spends a lot of the run time between human Alec and Abby spending one last day together. Now, this is one of the few times I’ve been really conflicted about where Swamp Thing has gone on a narrative level. Andy Bean as Alec and Crystal Reed as Abby have undeniable chemistry together, that’s no question. Seeing them back together again is a treat, but it feels like a wasted opportunity to take the show into that Beauty and the Beast territory that the promos promised. Yes, visually it’s extremely stimulating in the scene with Alec and Abby walking together as he teaches her the essence of the Green. It’s a technicolor wonderland with beautiful foreign flowers blooming out of the swamp. It looks both familiar and alien and is one of the more interesting things that the show has done aesthetically thus far.
The Rot sequence doesn’t disappoint either. Once the darkness realizes that Alec and Abby are there (wherever there actually is), it sends the Rot to try and kill them both. Punches aren’t pulled in this scene and tree roots viciously attack Abby in a very beautiful nod to Tim Burton’s unfairly maligned Sleepy Hollow (1999). The twisted evil roots biting into Abby’s arms, infecting her with darkness, are very much influenced by the very same type of German expressionist look that Burton was going for in his reinterpretation of the Washington Irving classic. It gets a little wonky with Alec summoning just the plant that Abby knows will cure her. As I said in a previous recap, scientific accuracy definitely isn’t Swamp Thing‘s strongest point, but it doesn’t really need to be.
All of that is fine; it just feels like a missed opportunity and too safe of a choice to bring back Andy Bean to humanize Swampy instead of using Derek Mears as much as possible as the Creature. It also adds a sense of the taboo to the romantic side of Abby and Alec’s relationship to have them fall in love with him as the Creature, something they haven’t done outside of the ads. It also just makes more sense that he would be showing her this whole new world he’s now inhabiting…as himself.
It’s not enough to ruin “Brilliant Disguise,” but I really wish they would have allowed Swamp Thing to just go there with it. In a show that hasn’t been afraid to show all sorts of bloody horror, it’s been quite light on any kind of sex in a show that has all the potential for it. The tension is set up right from the get-go, and Abby and Alec do finally kiss this week. It just didn’t feel as great and/or shocking as a moment as the show could have had if Abby kissed the actual Swamp Thing.
On the opposite end of the spectrum in tone, Sheriff Cable shows up at the Sunderland mansion just as Maria is preparing the perfect dinner to impress the Enclave investors driving down to Marais for Avery’s meeting. She seems almost too okay with the sheriff taking her husband away on official business, especially since Swamp Thing has hinted that Maria knows damn well exactly what Avery is and what he’s up to.
She’s a smart woman, smarter than her calculating husband even. That made me a little suspicious from the start, but the episode still pulls the twist off in style. Lucille pulls Avery out into the swamp to go and find Alec before someone else finds out their shared dirty secret and she, he, and her son all go down for his murder. Except the real plan is to have Matt waiting in the swamp and get the drop on Avery, murder him and leave his body in the swamp…and Maria is the one who planned it. Les Diabolique indeed.
The mistress and the wife planned the evil bastard husband’s murder?! In a delicious classic Hollywood twist, it turns out that the entire plan to get rid of Avery was both Maria and Lucille working together to finally put a stop to all of his bullshit. Maria had convinced Avery to sign something that gave her complete control of the company and she wastes zero time in taking charge of the Enclave meeting after receiving assurance from Dr. Woodrue that he can, in fact, deliver the medical breakthrough that he’s promised. It’s a great empowering moment that shows that when in top form, Maria can be just as ruthless as Avery ever could be…and smarter too. There’s only one slight problem that comes with one more twist. It turns out that Avery Sunderland is the father of none other than Matt Cable…and he’s not dead.
In a moment of desperation (and cunning), Avery blurts out just before his planned execution out on the swamp to Matt that he should “go ahead and kill his own father.” It’s actually true (and kind of obvious), but it’s all just a last-second attempt for Avery to get the high ground. He finds a very conveniently placed knife on the boat and stabs Matt before Sheriff Cable blasts a shotgun hole through his leg. In a moment that mirrors what Avery did to Alec, he dives into the water to avoid certain death.
Lucille never sees his body despite emptying several shotgun shells into the water, but of course Avery isn’t dead. He washes up in the very last shot of the episode as elsewhere in the swamp, Swampy tells Abby to leave and allow him to become what he’s meant to be. She goes back to Atlanta convinced that she can still save what’s left of the man she once knew.
“Brilliant Disguise” should have initially been the half-way point of a 13-episode first season of Swamp Thing on DC Universe, but creative differences led to the cancellation of the show six days after the premiere of its pilot. Since then, it’s gone on to garner favorable-to-fantastic reviews every week and a fan base that’s frustrated, yet still enjoying the 10 episodes we’ve been blessed with.
There was barely a mention this week of Blue Devil (Ian Ziering), Liz Tremayne (Maria Stein) was seen for a split second on a phone call, and Madame Xanadu (Jeryl Prescott) was nowhere to be found. Will all of these storylines come to a somewhat satisfying conclusion with only three episodes left? Will Abby find a cure for Alec or allow him to take his new place as protector of the Green? Will someone finally get the best of Avery or will he regain control of his wife and the entire town of Marais? There’s only one way to find out: to tune back in next week and dive back into the murky waters as we fast approach the conclusion of DC Universe’s Swamp Thing.