Swamp Thing Season Finale Review: A Slow-Burn Series Extinguished Before Its Time
The Swamp Thing season finale is bittersweet, because since DC Universe cancelled the show it is also a series finale. For television shows, any season finale can be a series finale, but clearly Swamp Thing’s producers expected to get at least another go-round with the characters. So, despite the Swamp Thing season finale telling a complete story, it leaves many narrative threads dangling. Comic book series, especially at the time the main source material for this series first appeared, thrive on setting up the next story. However, streaming service shows usually work best when they tell a complete tale. The show seemed to follow Alan Moore’s take on the character. Unfortunately, this means the big reveal of the season is one most fans expected right away. A shame, because this series had so much potential to be great if only it got there earlier.
Of course, the storytellers likely didn’t know this would be their only shot to tell Swamp Thing’s story. Streaming shows are different than shows released via other outlets. Rather than tell a densely serialized tale about the mythology of Len Wein’s creation, they tried to balance the show. There were stories focused on Swamp Thing and the man he was, Alec Holland. Yet, other episodes tried to be single-serving horror tales that begged to be rewatched. Rolling out an episode per week will keep fans subscribed to DC Universe, but great episodes they want to watch over and over again keep them subscribed between seasons. Still the Swamp Thing season finale wrapped up the best story about the character ever told in live-action. Let’s break down where they succeeded and failed below. Spoilers after the jump.
The Saga of the Swamp Thing
The biggest mistake came from saving the reveal about Alec Holland’s true fate for the Swamp Thing season finale. Moore got to this plot point in the opening arc of his run on the comic. Establishing that he’s just an avatar for the Green with the memories of a man earlier in the run would have freed the storytellers up to tell awesome standalone stories. Instead, we get the “mystery” of how to “cure” Swamp Thing driving the narrative, something most fans already knew would be futile. This is the problem every live-action Swamp Thing project suffered. To get to the tale of the Swamp Thing, you need first tell the tale of Alec Holland. Though they got there by the end of the pilot, they still revisited the character through flashbacks and hallucinogenic plant magic.
Actually, one of the best devices only happened in the latter part of the season finale. Alec appeared to Swamp Thing as an hallucination, allowing both sides of Swampy’s internal conflict to have a voice. It’s such a shame that this dynamic, clearly setting up how Andy Bean would appear in the next season. Now that we know no second season will happen, it’s a shame we didn’t get to see this dynamic between him and Derek Mears’s Swamp Thing. Especially because Mears plays his character very differently than Bean plays Holland. Still, at least they get a complete story. Swamp Thing, aware of his supernatural status quo, stands with Crystal Reed’s Abby Arcane to face the nebulous “darkness” that awakened Earth’s need for a new planet elemental. It’s the kind of open-ended final moment that allows for fans to write their own continuing adventures in their heads.
Narratives Dangling Like Vines in the Swamp
Of the three live-action DC Universe series, only Doom Patrol really landed. The reason for this might be because it told a complete story in its first season. That show took plenty of risks and left nothing on the table for next season. Unlike Titans, which seemed to be almost entirely set-up. The ensemble action drama is a good, but the entire first season seemed like one long pilot episode. Like Swamp Thing, they seemed to be “saving” some of the good stuff and setting up multiple storylines without really paying them off.
For example, the inimitable Ian Ziering guest stars on a few episodes as Daniel Cassidy who is also the Blue Devil. In the Swamp Thing season finale, Ziering’s character finally “Devils” out. Then, just like a snap, he takes off from the town where he’s been trapped. He zooms away as if his spin-off already earned a green light. Instead of kicking off his magical subplot the moment we meet him, we only get a single full-devil scene. What magical forces kept him in Marais, and why, are questions left aside for a “next time” that will never come.
Also, Matt Cable makes an appearance as the son of the local sheriff, played by Jennifer Beals, and Avery Sunderland, played by Will Patton (no relation). The soap opera of this horror series, they are connected to almost every major character in some way. They are a family of killers and liars who hold intense grudges. Yet, in the comics, Matt Cable married Abby Arcane. Their relationship took a backseat to the family drama. While the show indicated the two were close, it seems as if the storytellers saved that relationship for added tension in season two.
A Post-Credits Floronic Man Sighting
One of the more inspired casting choices came when Kevin Durand signed on to portray meek, bookish scientist Jason Woodrue. Comics fans know that this character eventually becomes the Floronic Man, a villain who can tap into the power of the Green. Durand usually plays tough guys, like Martin Keamy in Lost or The Blob in the first Wolverine solo film.
Interestingly, Duran usually plays role the one played by Jake Busey in the season finale, a military heavy. Still, Durand proves his range with his portrayal of the soft-spoken scientist just brimming with rage. The transition from researcher concerned about helping his wife to full-blown psychopath happened so subtly the viewer (like the characters) don’t notice until it’s too late.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see Durand’s take on the hulking Floronic Man for more than a single post-credits scene. Again, instead of using him to his fullest potential for an episode or three this season, they “saved” one of the only enemies to give Swamp Thing a real challenge for the next time that will never come. In fact, they likely cast Durand because he has the stature to pull off the monstrous character. What makes it hurt all the more is that Durand’s range with the character meant this Floronic Man would be, like in the comics, both horrifying and pathetic at different points in the story.
Accepting the Swamp Thing We Got Instead of the Swamp Thing We Deserved
This Swamp Thing review might seem negative, since much of it focus on what will never be. Though we may wish the writers left nothing on the table in terms of story, what we got was still fantastic. Mears performs incredibly well in a what appears to be an intricate and limiting costume. Swamp Thing never looked so much like himself, yet Mears still imbued the character with emotional nuance you don’t expect from a rubber suit. They really leaned into the horror element of it all, particularly graphic body horror. Sinister, snake-like vines tear faces and torsos apart routinely. Swamp Thing is slowly and graphically dissected. The dead don’t stay dead in Marais. What makes the season finale so painful is that every episode makes you want to see more of the series.
Like the comics that inspired it, Swamp Thing embraced all parts of itself. Yes, it offered the potential for superhero horror. However, it also wasn’t afraid to be weird or lean into the silliness of it all. The set, which the expense to maintain contributed to its cancellation, looked incredible. The performances are excellent, limited, if at all, by the pace at which the story unfolds. A series made for Swamp Thing fans, this show is one that fans of general horror could easily enjoy. This could have filled that bayou-sized hole in the hearts of True Blood fans, though Swamp Thing has 100 percent fewer gorgeous naked people. Still, it had the same small-town intrigue and potential for an increasingly (delightfully) wacky mythology. Unfortunately, the show was too expensive on a platform too niche to support its cost.
What’s Next for Swamp Thing?
As mentioned above, the Swamp Thing season finale is also the series finale, according to DC Universe’s own marketing. Some fans on social media hope to #SaveSwampThing, but this is unlikely since it is so expensive and streaming services are circling the wagons. There is the slimmest of chances, especially if streaming numbers are strong, that HBO Max rescues the show like it did with Doom Patrol. Perhaps they offer them something like 12 or 16 episodes to tell a full story. They could film it all at once to save money, then spread them out over two “seasons.” Again, this is the longest of long shots, but if enough people watched and make enough noise, the content-hungry services might step in. However, this is likely all we’ll get of this version.
One other possibility is that the show continues as an adult animated series. DC Universe’s “TV-MA” Harley Quinn series will premiere later this year. If it is successful, they might consider taking this version of Swamp Thing to the animated side. They did it before, when a Swamp Thing cartoon followed the live-action versions in the 1980s and 1990s. In fact, a few cast members like Ziering and Durand do a lot of voice-only acting already. Still, there would have to be significant fan demand for such a thing to even be considered. And, there’s still plenty of Swamp Thing stories being told in the comics.
Thus, the Swamp Thing season finale represents the end of yet another attempt to realize this character in live-action. But the stories they told over that season were great. For fans of the character or action-horror in general, Swamp Thing is a series that can be enjoyed more than once. We’re lucky we got what we did.
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.