Let’s start with the elephant in the room. Swamp Thing was cancelled after only one episode, and there have been a number of contradictory explanations, some of which are as odd as the show itself. No matter what the reason, the whole situation is very strange. Why cancel a show but run the entire season anyway? It just puts a pall over the entire thing. And it makes it more difficult to enjoy the series. One has the cancellation nagging at the back of the brain, making me foresee weaknesses that might not come into existence.
It’s also true that the second episode of the series is weaker than the first. That’s not unusual, though, and is almost always the case when it comes to comic books. You can open with a big, splashy debut, but the second installment demands some groundwork be laid, and there is never quite the same level of freshness. And since it is only the second part, there also cannot yet be any big payoffs for set-ups.
That being said, the opening scene, and closing ten minutes or so of this week’s episode were great. On the downside, those were also the only times Swamp Thing was actually a part of the show.
Four new characters get introduced in the second episode, bringing the regular supporting cast to about eleven characters. That seems an awful lot to me. Perhaps some of them are just getting set up to be killed off in gruesome fashion later in the season. I’d be totally fine with that. But I did wind up feeling like there ought to have been more Swamp Thing in the show.
Jeryl Prescott is, indeed, playing Madame Xanadu. She made a cameo in the first episode, but here we get to see the blind seer doing her tarot card thing. I was surprised that she was not as spooky and superior as she tends to be in the comics, but this Madame Xanadu is a well known resident in the town, so needs to be played that way. Her scene sees Maria Sunderland (Virginia Madsen) come for some advice on coping with her daughter’s death, and the reading takes a dark and violent turn. It’s the best scene in the show that does not involve Swamp Thing himself. And, just like in the first episode, Madsen just rocks every second she is onscreen, whether she has dialogue or not.
Kevin Durand plays Dr Jason Woodrue, a character with a long, villainous past in DC Comics, and an integral part of the Swamp Thing mythos. Here, he and his wife have been working for Avery Sunderland, and it appears he has played an unwitting part in the creation of Swamp Thing. Woodrue is intelligent and arrogant, and though he is not quite the same character from the comics, Durand quickly carves a nice niche for him, not shying away from butting heads with his employer. I fully expect his plotline to take him in some floral directions.
Jennifer Beals plays Lucilla Cable, the sheriff of Marais, and the protective mother of Matt Cable. With Alec Holland dead, Matt is getting set up as a potential romantic interest for Abby, and the two share a past, an old high school crush on Matt’s part. Beals conveys competence at her job, and yet I don’t fully trust her. I’m glad she is going to be more than just Matt’s mother. She helps round his character out, but has her own function in the story. Still, has there ever been a tv or movie sheriff in a southern US town that turned out not to be evil in some fashion?
So even though the cast seems to be getting uncontrollably large, I did enjoy all three of those new characters. I cannot say the same about the fourth. Ian Ziering plays Daniel Cassidy, a video rental shop owner and part time actor, best known for playing Blue Devil in an eponymous movie. Cassidy seems to be there for some comic relief, although I can’t say I found his scenes amusing. In the comics, Cassidy is a stunt man who gets magically sealed into the high tech Blue Devil costume, so I suspect something along those lines will play out in the show. But he really just got in the way in this episode, and it was during his scenes that I began to ponder the size of the cast, and wonder when we would actually get to see Swamp Thing again.
Goodness, I’m over 700 words and haven’t talked about anything other than the new cast members. My review is turning out like the episode.
Plot wise, this episode does what it needed to do, as Abby tries to learn more about the mystery substance being dumped into the swamps, and its connection to the disease spreading in the town. The little girl who fell ill last episode is proving to have an odd connection to Swamp Thing, who is having his own issues, coming to terms with now being a large piece of gooey turf. The story builds to a great climax in the swamps, the special effects are commendable, there are some shocking and disturbing moments. The middle of the episode sags, but the opening and closing are strong.
But as I said, the cancellation casts its shadow over the whole thing, making me fear that the small flaws I am seeing might grow into major ones as it goes on. I can only say that I really hope I am wrong about that.