(Hey there Swampettes, first time here? Make sure you visit the Swamp Thing recap page to check out the episode recaps preceding this one. The recaps are in chronological order, so don’t miss a single swamptastic moment!)
Episode Five opens on everyone’s favorite impressively unhealthy married couple, Maria and Avery Sunderland. They’re talking on the phone, discussing the progress that their new adopted daughter, Susie Coyle, has made after beating the plant virus. Although their conversation is positive, not all is well in Sunderland-ville. Avery, who promises that he’s on a business trip, is actually in a motel rekindling an affair with Sheriff Lucillia Cable. Meanwhile, at the Sunderlands‘ home, curious paranormal phenomena continue to plague Maria. She goes upstairs to check on Susie, who is seeing visions of the Sunderlands‘ dead daughter, Shawna. All of a sudden, Susie is transported into a different room, and when Maria runs after her, she finds that Susie has changed. Susie‘s body is still there, but the soul inside it isn’t hers…
Meanwhile, at the swamp, things are getting worse for Swamp Thing/Alec Holland. Not only is he having flashbacks to his previous human life, but he’s also experiencing disturbing present-day visions of dead bodies floating all around the swamp. His internal horror is externalized as the swamp itself, which has only helped him in the past, seems to want to destroy him, wrapping its tentacley vines around him and dragging him down. All of a sudden, the vines depart as someone comes through the swamp. At first, we think it’s just a regular citizen, singing a haunting song as he motors through the marsh. But then, we realize he’s not only aware of Swamp Thing‘s presence, but he’s also unafraid of the creature. The stranger speaks to Swamp Thing about the strangeness of natures transitions, from caterpillar to butterfly and more. Clearly, he’s aware of Swamp Thing‘s previous humanity, and maybe even his powers, mentioning that he too can hear the trees speaking. Swamp Thing marvels at this new person to enter his life. “Who are you?” he asks.
Now we find ourselves tracking with Dan Cassidy, strange prisoner of Marais. Dan is approaching the exit to Marais now, speeding along the highway in a sports car. But as he gets to the town’s border, he abruptly stops. Dan gets out of the car and approaches the border, and we can tell something is very opposed to him leaving. Disembodied voices whisper as Dan walks up to the town line, reaches out his hand… and suddenly finds his arm engulfed in a curious blue flame. Dan curses his predicament and goes into his car’s trunk for bandages. There, we see for the first time the thing that makes Dan Cassidy a household name for superhero fans in both his world and ours; the Blue Devil outfit. The eyes of its grotesque blue mask glow with supernatural energy as Dan bemoans the “deal” he made with the suit a while ago. He shuts the trunk and heads back into the town he hates.
Back at Avery‘s “out of town business meeting,” Lucillia Cable dresses for the day. Avery, still in bed, comments on a ring that she wears. Apparently, the ring was a gift from him, which means that this affair has been going on for a while, sometime before Maria was in the picture. Lucillia gets a call from Liz Tremayne, interrupting the heartfelt discussion the lovers were having. Lucillia ignores the call, telling Avery that since Liz‘s girlfriend, Marco, found remnants of Alec Holland‘s shot-up boat, she’s been getting calls from the reporter daily. Avery plays cool, but we know that he’s got something on his mind. This investigative reporter, he’s thinking, is becoming too much of a problem.
At her lab in the Marais hospital, Abby Arcane is struggling to explain the scientific properties of Swamp Thing‘s DNA she collected. She says into an audio recorder that the solution may, in fact, be beyond science, and Jason Woodrue mockingly intrudes on her thought. Woodrue rebukes her suspicions of the supernatural, but that doesn’t stop him from peppering her with questions about the plant sample. After she avoids those, he moves on to ask about Alec Holland, who he believes knew something about the strange properties of the swamp, and passed his info onto Abby. Thankfully, Abby gets a call to leave the hospital. Actually, it’s a call from the recently possessed Susie Coyle, so maybe “thankfully” isn’t the right word.
Before we follow her, though, we head to Delroy’s Roadhouse, where Avery Sunderland cruelly prepares a turtle for a meal. Delroy enters, surprised to find Avery there so early, or even there at all. Avery says he let himself in with his key. After all, we learn, he does own the land Delroy’s is on. Avery begins to ask that Delroy call his daughter off the hunt, when Liz herself walks in. She pointedly tells Avery she was just about to speak with his accountant, Gordan Haas (whom Avery just murdered, remember?), and asks if Avery knows anything about his disappearance. Avery responds that Haas went on vacation, then he leaves Delroy’s, seething but staying calm. Before moving on, we briefly meet up with Jason Woodrue, who has hired a fisherman to take him out on the swamp. Woodrue and his hired man come across what he was searching for: Alec Holland‘s lab. Inside, he finds the aftermath of Swamp Thing‘s battle with The Rot… and a plant off of Swamp Thing’s body.
We return to Swamp Thing, whose mysterious new friend is providing him with answers he’s been seeking since the show began. First and foremost, the stranger gives a pretty on-the-nose hint as to his identity. “I’m a passing stranger,” he says, “maybe a phantom from a dream.” It’s awkward dialogue, sure, but DC fans will no doubt find it cool that The Phantom Stranger has made his way into Swamp Thing. As for the titular character himself, Swamp Thing is just happy to finally meet someone with answers. When Swamp Thing tells Phantom Stranger about the ghosts he’s been seeing, the Stranger clarifies that it’s not ghosts at all: he’s seeing the memories of the trees that live in the swamp. When Swamp Thing asks how this is possible, the Stranger drops the biggest comic book reference on the show yet. He explains to Swamp Thing what “The Green” is, the force that holds together all manner of plant life, and that connects the former Dr. Holland to the swamp. But that’s not all. The Green, says the Stranger, is speaking to Swamp Thing because there is a danger returning to Marais, an evil from somewhere in the past. Swamp Thing connects psychically with a tree nearby, and for the first time, purposefully experiences a plant’s memory. The memory he sees is indeed a dangerous one. In it, a young girl treads water near where Swamp Thing is standing now, in the present. She calls out for her missing friend, Shawna.
Now, that young girl is grown, and is currently showing up at the Sunderland estate. Abby knocks and is greeted by Maria, whose usual icy resentment is tinged with a weird, malevolent smile. Abby ignores this and goes upstairs to find Susie, but the little girl she finds is not who she was expecting. “Susie” sings a song from Abby’s past, a favorite of hers and Shawna’s. When the possessed girl calls Abby by the nickname Shawna used for her, Abby assumes that Maria has put Susie up to some cruel trick. So, Shawna proves it’s really her.
The walls shake and mirrors shatter as the spirit of Shawna takes its corpsey form before her old friend. She opens her mouth to scream and an eel, long and dark and covered in swamp water, slithers out of her throat and onto the floor. The dead girl verbally lashes out at Abby, saying she wants to see her drown just like she did. Finally, Abby gets out of the room and confronts Maria. Maria tells her that Madam Xanadu brought Shawna back, and then threatens to call the police if Abby doesn’t leave. When she does, Susie/Shawna comes to her, saying she can’t stay in this mortal boy for long. But, says the dead daughter to her mother, there is a way they can be together forever. She need only follow Shawna to the swamp. Outside the Sunderland estate, Xanadu is waiting, as though she knew they were just talking about her. She implores Abby to believe that Susie is in great danger, but doesn’t have to do much convincing, as a freakishly determined Maria flies by in her car. We see that poor possessed Susie is in the passenger seat. Xanadu gets in Abby’s car and the pair pursue her.
As Xanadu and Abby are in hot pursuit of Maria, Sheriff Lucillia Cable is on a different kind of hunt. After getting sick of Liz Tremayne demanding answers, Lucillia decides to put the Alec Holland case to bed once and for all. To do this, she visits the last witness she’d ever want to talk to, a lowlife by the name of Remy DuBois. Remy has been in trouble with the law plenty of times, so their conversation is understandably very tense. Finally, Lucillia asks if Remy knows anything about the explosion the night Alec Holland disappeared, and the answer she gets shocks her. Remy saw Alec on the water that night, but he wasn’t alone. Creeping toward Alec just before gunshots sounded was… Matt Cable. Now, Remy figures it would be in Lucillia’s best interests if she paid to keep him quiet. In fact, he mentions that Avery Sunderland could kick in a little cash as well. Matt was on one of his boats, after all. Lucillia keeps cool, and for a moment, we believe she’s going to negotiate with the criminal.
Then, in broad daylight, Sheriff Lucillia Cable pulls out her gun and shoots Remy down.
Lucillia is radioing police HQ to report Remy attacked her as we cut back to Xanadu and Abby. Abby refuses to accept that what’s controlling Susie is Shawna’s ghost, even though Xanadu insists it is her, just a version twisted by death. Abby flat out refuses to believe her, mentioning that she’s already seen a life ruined by Xanadu’s visions, her own mother. Meanwhile, “Susie” and Maria arrive at the swamp, where Shawna’s ghost takes on her own form and calls her mother out into the water. Maria begins to wade out as Susie is released by the spirit holding her. Immediately, she goes for help.
Susie finds Abby and Xanadu right just feet away from the swamp, so close to where Shawna died. After Susie catches the women up, the trio rushes to save Maria. Abby spots Maria in the water and dives in to save her, but the hate in Maria fights back, nearly drowning Abby as she tries to rescue her. Suddenly, a strange force pulls Maria into the water. For a moment, it seems the swamp has claimed both mother and daughter until, covered in mud, Swamp Thing arises holding Maria’s body. Abby acts quickly to resuscitate Maria, and they bring the woman to land, where Susie, Xanadu, and the unconscious woman wait for help.
Now, Abby has to know how Swamp Thing knew where to find them just in time to save Maria. Reluctantly, Swamp Thing reaches out his hand and touches her head, connecting her to himself and the memories of the trees. He’s got something to show her, but she won’t like it. Still, it’s something we’ve been wondering about since episode one. Abby is about to relive Shawna’s death.
It begins on a bridge. Young Abby and Shawna are about to graduate high school, and as per tradition, they’ve got to jump off the local river crossing. At first, Abby begs Shawna not to do it. Then, after her friend teases her, she gives in. In fact, she actually pushes Shawna in. There’s a moment when Abby laughs at her friend’s fall, but then things get scary. Shawna is nowhere to be seen. Abby herself leaps into the river, crying out for her friends. There’s a tense second of fear and then… Shawna comes up laughing. She’s pranked Abby. The two friends laugh at each other and we think we’ve been misled. Clearly, this can’t be how Shawna dies, right? Then, something pulls Shawna under. Abby does what she can, but her friend is lost quickly to whatever force has her. Suddenly, the memory stops. We’re back with Abby in the present and she realizes something huge. For all these years, she’s believed she was responsible for Shawna’s death. In reality, it wasn’t just an accident. Something, like the something that had just grabbed hold of Maria, killed her. As cops arrive to assist the unconscious woman, Swamp Thing tells Abby that he was told to show her this memory, at this moment. As a warning.
Back at Delroy’s, two frustrated crusaders share a drink. We hear Liz Tremayne tell Dan Cassidy her story of growing up in Marais, studying journalism, then getting a dream job in New York. Well, what seemed like a dream job. After getting no real opportunities and finding herself frustrated by the big city newspapers, Liz moved back to Marais to continue her investigative journalism. Liz finishes her story and bids Dan a goodnight, heading out to the parking lot.
There, two masked thugs wait for her. They threaten her that if she doesn’t stop looking into Avery Sunderland, something bad will happen to her or the ones she loves. Liz responds immediately, handily beating down the goons. Then, a very cocky and probably drunk Dan Cassidy arrives to “help.” In the chaos, Dan is hit, hard, with a crowbar. Liz calls for help and we follow the pair to a hospital.
There, we switch focus to Avery Sunderland, who is barging in and demanding to see his wife. A doctor starts to take him back but suddenly Jason Woodrue appears with news. The plant sample he found in Alec’s lab, he tells Avery, is a living thing. Avery gives Jason the contact info of a tracker, the “best in the business,” as he claims. “Find it,” says the ruthless businessman to his scientist. From across the hospital, Maria watches this scene take place. What must be going through her head? Her daughter has once again gone. And there’s her husband, her cheating husband, delaying his visitation with her to check in with a business partner. In this moment, Maria must feel terribly alone. But if there’s anything she feels more than loneliness… it is sheer, blinding rage.
Alright reader, call me biased. I really liked this episode. Not only did it return to one of my favorite subplots, the ghost of Shawna Sunderland, it featured probably the most surprising character reveal of the show yet: that Lucillia Cable is capable of murder. When Swamp Thing premiered last month, I prayed that it wouldn’t be another by-the-book superhero smash-em-up, and I think this episode confirmed to me that that’s not what the creators are thinking. This is a story of small-town intrigue, as much Twin Peaks as it is Justice League Dark. This episode makes it clear that Swamp Thing Vs. the Forces of Evil is just one part of the story, while Abby Arcane Vs. Corruption in Marais is Just as important. Swamp Thing is proving to be spooky soap opera as much as it is unique comic adaptation, and I love that the writers are including the weirdness of the town in the same plot as the supernatural goings-on in the swamp. The best monster stories are about humans, after all, and time and again, Swamp Thing shows that it understands that.
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