There was a lot to like in this week’s Swamp Thing. Two villains from the comics made their debuts, and a conspiracy that had been brewing behind the scenes takes shape in a surprising twist of events. But I also had problems with this episode, and this will be the most negative review I have written of the show, even though I did enjoy the episode.
I’m not going to talk at all about the conspiracy. It’s great, and came at me out of the blue, even though the groundwork had been laid. That’s all I’ll say.
The Rot and Nathan Ellery both showed up this week. The Rot is an entity in constant conflict with the Green. Swamp Thing is only beginning to understand the nature of the Green, so as yet his understanding of the Rot is even more limited. Abby (Crystal Reed) has even less comprehension of these things, which leads her to make a foolish decision, and suffer the potentially fatal consequences.
Nathan Ellery, played by Michael Beach, is the leader of a shadowy organization called the Conclave. He was a main villain in the earliest Swamp Thing stories, by Len Wein, and got killed off long ago in the comics. Alan Moore essentially created General Sunderland to replace Ellery, and the readers learned that Ellery and the Conclave had been merely pawns of Sunderland. Here, their positions have been reversed. Avery Sunderland (Will Patton) is the more local big shot villain, while Ellery and his group are the power players behind the scenes. Beach isn’t given an awful lot to do in this episode, but he pulls off the dinner scene very well.
Now to my problems with this episode.
Firstly, at the end of the previous week’s installment Swamp Thing manifested some spores that allowed Abby to see him as Alec Holland. So in this episode we barely see Swamp Thing. Instead, we get Andy Bean as Alec accompanying Abby into the swamp to find the Rot. By the end of the episode the spores are wearing off, so that’s good at least. I have little interest in watching Alec Holland – the TV Series. I can handle the spores as a one off thing, but if we see this taking place again I am going to get very upset.
And not just because we are seeing Alec instead of Swamp Thing. The show completely ignores that Swamp Thing is much larger and heavier than Alec, does not move as quickly, and is not a dexterous. Andy Bean was moving around and handling things as though his body was his real body, not an illusion. We were meant to believe he was still really Swamp Thing, but it was so distracting and difficult to accept when the action taking place was denying the reality of the character.
Still, as long as that is never done again, or the effect of the spores lasts no longer than a conversation, I can live with it. My other problem is greater, but it involves a spoiler. I will do my best not to spoil too much, though.
I love Henderson Wade as Matt Cable, let me say that first. He is doing a great job in the role, and particularly after last week’s episode, has become both a sympathetic figure, and also one who deserves punishment. He is, without question, a fair skinned black man. Jennifer Beals is also doing a superb job as his mother, the sheriff Lucilla Cable. I liked that there was the obvious implication of an interracial relationship in the background, as Beals is as unmistakably white as Wade is black.
Well, turns out I was wrong about that. Matt’s father is revealed in this episode, and he’s a white guy. Pasty white. Whiter than Beals.
I’m no biologist, but I am having a really hard time accepting a black man as the child of two white people. If, in earlier episodes, we had met some relatives of Beals’ character, and learned that she had a black father or something, perhaps this would be easier to accept. But no such groundwork was laid, and even if some patchwork was done along those lines now, it would just seem awkward and desperate.
And unlike the situation with the spores, this is not something that can just be ignored and not used again. Matt’s parentage is somewhat critical to the developing narrative.
Do I sound like someone ranting about Ariel? I hope not. I am most definitely not saying Henderson Wade should not be playing Matt Cable. He’s great, and I am perfectly happy with him in the role. But then make at least one of his parents black! How could such a weird, stupid thing be done?
In the end, I was relieved that this was such a good episode that those problems remained secondary considerations. But for the first time since the show began, I find myself having serious doubts about it.