After months of excited anticipation, a fantastic monster reveal, and some internal drama, Swamp Thing has finally risen out of DC Universe. The comic book horror series’ debut is the latest live-action offering from DC Comics’ very own streaming platform, and it’s got both the comic and horror worlds abuzz. But let’s be honest, if you’re a regular here at NOFS, you already know all of this. So, without further ado, let’s dive into the debut episode of that lean, green, swamp-protecting machine.
We begin in the aptly named Bayou Swamp just outside Marais, Louisiana. It is the middle of the night, not typically the time to take a boat into the heart of the swamp. However, three mysterious figures are doing that just now, and it doesn’t take long to realize that their reasons for being there aren’t good ones. The men are dumping something, or rather, depositing some strange boxes into the swamp, strange boxes that contain something illegal. However, it’s not just the law that takes issue with what the men are doing. Slowly, the swamp itself begins to attack the shady boatmen. Vines drag one of the men into the green waters, while more rise up through the boat and, in a moment of both visual and audible gore, through one of the boatmen. The last of these shady characters manages a brief getaway, but as he approaches shore, is surrounded by even more of the environment’s tentacled rage. The man’s fate is unknown as we cut to the opening credits.
Swamp Thing delivers a scary, worthwhile experience that will please fans of the comics and of classic horror alike.
Next we meet Dr. Abby Arcane, brilliant medical scientist and hero of the Center for Disease Control. She’s been summoned to the US to deal with an inexplicable outbreak in Louisiana, one that just happens to have started in her hometown, Marais. Joining her is Harlan Edwards, sidekick to Abby‘s adventures and stalwart best friend. As soon as Abby and Harlan arrive in Marais, flashbacks of a previous tragedy begin plaguing Abby. However, they’ve got more immediate problems to deal with. Young Suzy Coyle has contracted an enigmatic but highly contagious pathogen, infecting her teacher and school nurse before getting into quarantine. Abby and Harlan set up base in the Marais hospital, but not before meeting an obnoxious (and unauthorized) fellow scientist. Before they can be introduced, the rogue scientist gets kicked out of the hospital.
Later, Abby heads to Suzy Coyle‘s home in hopes of learning more about the disease. According to local gossip, her father has been mysteriously missing lately. When she gets there, she runs into her childhood friend and current sheriff, Matt Cable. Matt and Abby investigate the home only two find two shocking things. First, there’s the rogue scientist, who introduces himself as Alec Holland. The second, and more shocking, thing is Suzy‘s father. Not only is he dead, his body has been transformed, morphed into a strange human/plant abomination. We as the audience recognize him as the third boatman from the opener.
After sending the body back to the hospital, Alec explains to Abby what he’s doing in Marais. Local businessman and community leader Avery Sunderland has hired Alec to investigate weird goings-on in the swamp. When Abby asks Alec to elaborate, he takes her out to the swamp itself, extracting a strange chemical found in its waters. The chemical, Alec explains, is a biological accelerant, one with incredible powers. Alec demonstrates this by dripping some of the chemical onto a dish of Spanish moss. It grows at a vicious, miraculous rate, nearly exploding its containment case before Alec kills it.
Just as Alec and Abby are investigating the disease in Bayou Swamp, Alec’s boss is addressing a town meeting because of it. Avery Sunderland is a classic soap opera villain, charming but crafty, able to talk his way out of any situation. And indeed he does, calming the citizens of Marais just as Alec enters the meeting from the back. Alec briefly updates Avery on his findings once the meeting is over, and Avery reminds him of the importance of his job. Not only is it imperative to save the town, apparently, it’s important to save Alec’s reputation. Without clarifying what that means, Avery leaves Alec alone.
Back in the hospital, Abby runs tests on Mr. Coyle’s dead and transformed body. When Alec gets there, the two of them determine that the accelerant Alec has found in the swamp is all through Mr. Coyle’s body. Just as Abby is about to start more testing, Coyle’s body morphs even more. Now, it is a tentacled, plant-like rage monster, sprouting new and deadly vines every second. Across the hospital, Suzy wakes, only to head toward her father and discover the monster that has taken his place. Abby gets Suzy to safety as Alec deals with the creature, using his wits, his lighter, and some lab chemicals to destroy it.
Once the battle is over, Abby decides its time to speak to an old friend. She and Alec head to Delroy’s Roadhouse, Marais’s local bar/gathering center. As they enter, Alec comments on a spooky old woman watching them from the floor above. “Xanadu,” remarks Abby. DC Comics fans know this character will play an important role in upcoming episodes…
After a second of searching, Abby finds her old friend, investigative reporter Liz Tremayne. Liz cues the scientists in on rumors of illegal boats out on the swamp at night, and the pair are almost ready to leave. Then, an old acquaintance notices Abby. It’s Maria Sunderland, wife of Avery. Maria confronts Abby with intensity, and it comes out that Abby was once best friends with the woman’s daughter. A daughter who is now dead. After Maria gives her a tense warning to leave as soon as the disease is taken care of, Abby leaves with Alec in tow.
Once more, Alec and Abby head out to the middle of the swamp. They find the wreckage of the boat from the beginning, the horribly mangled body of the second boatman to die, and one of the boxes that the trio were dumping. They take it to Alec’s base of operations within the swamp and find that it’s some sort of time-released mechanism, filled with the accelerant.
As Alec runs tests on the box and it’s contents, Abby reveals that she knows the truth of who he is. After Googling his name, she’s found that Alec was a gifted scientist who was caught manipulating data to prove a conclusion. He was fired from his position, stripped of his credentials, and disgraced in his field. This, it turns out, is what Avery meant by his mysterious statement earlier.
With all his cards on the table, Alec asks Abby about her own past and the woman they met at the bar. Figuring she can trust him, Abby explains. Shawna, Avery and Maria’s daughter, was Abby’s best friend growing up. But just two days before their high school graduation, Shawna died. For an unsaid reason, Abby believes it was her fault. Abby’s about to tell Alec more when his computer notifies them that it’s completed its test. The accelerant they found in those boxes is just like what they found in Coyle’s system and in the swamp, only way, way stronger. Abby calls Harlan at the hospital, hoping this information will get them close to a cure. Once again, Alec goes out to the swamp.
“…the first episode makes it clear that what Swamp Thing does best, it does the most of. And that is horror.”
That’s when all hell breaks loose. As Alec tries to find more boxes of accelerant, a mysterious figure approaches on a boat. We can’t see his face, but we can see the shotgun in his hands. Too late to react, Alec is pumped with two rounds from the shotgun. The figure then throws dynamite into his boat, in what is probably an attempt to cover some evidence. As the life leaks out of him, Alec dives into the swamp.
Once again, the swamp takes matters into its own… vines? As Alec sinks beneath the murky waters, the swamp’s own powers begin to take hold of him, change him, make him into something else. Abby, having seen the destruction from Alec’s base, heads into the swamp, only to be capsized by the nightmarish magic below. She saves herself, swims to shore, and turns around.
There, rising up from the water to meet her, is the SWAMP THING.
Swamp Thing is starting off in an interesting place. I think the first episode suffered from the usual Pilot problems, creating awkward dialogue scenes between characters just to establish important plot pieces and backstories. Still, the first episode makes it clear that what Swamp Thing does best, it does the most of. And that is horror. Using smart practical effects and hard-R visuals, Swamp Thing delivers a scary, worthwhile experience that will please fans of the comics and of classic horror alike. I’ve got questions still, but I’m excited to see more.
I’ll be covering each episode of Swamp Thing as it airs on DC Universe, so be sure to keep an eye out for the upcoming recaps. You can do that by following our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram pages, and we’d love to hear your thoughts on the series while you’re there. For more horror recaps, and all the horror news, reviews, and interviews you can handle, keep lurking at Nightmare on Film Street.