With three live-action shows under its belt, DC Universe has certainly started to develop a bit of a groove for itself when it concerns live action content. Titans was a success that far exceeded expectations and the sort of lame sizzle reel presented at San Diego Comic Con. A show that seemed that it was banking in on the “edginess” of superheroes actually ended up presenting some rich and deep character driven stories. It certainly started the DC Universe live-action series on the right foot. Doom Universe was a different feel… in all possible ways. While the show often came across as inconsistent and weird for the sake of weird, it ended the first season strongly focusing on character more. One of the biggest positives one can say about Doom Patrol is that there is literally nothing else on television like it. And with a medium that often beats concepts into the ground, that’s a bit refreshing.
These two series have paved the way for Swamp Thing which feels very much like its own entity. If Titans was the gritty superhero show and Doom Patrol was the dysfunctional family drenched in weirdness then Swamp Thing is their tension laced horror cousin. And for the most part, it really works. As much as being a part of the larger DCU benefited shows like Titans and Doom Patrol, keeping Swamp Thing within its own bubble universe allows the show to feed into itself. The stakes feel both incredibly high, they usually do with any type of spreading epidemic, while being grounded in the swamps and homes of Louisiana. That’s not to say that the larger DCU isn’t felt it just isn’t the center of the show like Dick Grayson’s connection to Batman or Cyborg’s connection to the Justice League.
Often times in horror we mistake scary with pop outs. Those moments that get the heart beating and the audience giggling a second later. “Can you believe I jumped at that?” Recently though the horror genre has shifted to something more. Something a little deeper. Films like A Quiet Place or Us deliver scares based on the tension they create. Tension so rich you can feel your teeth clamped together waiting for that release. Whether it’s that jump scare or perhaps seeing the creature that lives in the swamp. Swamp Thing does an excellent job of creating a tense atmosphere. From the episode’s opening where a bunch of fishermen are on the waters looking to fish illegally at night all the way to exploring a house of a missing person. Swamp Thing creates tension and allows it to build only to make good on what’s being promised. Of course, legit scares still work too and everything in the autopsy room was a horror delight. The body coming to life reminded me a great deal of John Carpenter’s The Thing and was the show having a lot of fun with the tension and suspense it created.
That’s not to say that the show is without fault though. There were a couple of instants where the typical horror tropes seemed to bleed into the series. After giving a speech to her medical staff instructing that all staff wear gloves, protective clothing, and goggles when dealing with infected patients, Doctor Abby Arcane immediately sees the ground zero patient without goggles. The same could be said when Holland and a local police officer inspect the child’s house looking for her father. Considering that this location should be a hotbed for whatever this virus is neither Holland or the officer put so much as a mask over their faces. Things like that may seem like minor hiccups but can remove someone from the moment. These are tension breakers. If the characters aren’t treating the threat of the epidemic seriously why should we believe it’s actually dangerous? There has to be more than just doing something to build the horror atmosphere. If you’re going to present smart characters then make sure they act smartly!
What was smart was the way the show made Abby the focal point of the episode while slyly slipping in an origin story for Alec Holland to become Swamp Thing. It was an excellent misdirect that allowed the characters to breathe naturally while not being bogged down by the typical origin story spin. Unless you’re a comic reader then you might not have expected Holland to end up emerging from the swamp as the titular hero. The episode gives all allusions that Swamp Thing is already existing and protecting his swamp, and the misdirect pays off. The shooting of Holland and his subsequent emergence from the water as Abby runs away was an effective way to end the episode. It changes the dynamic of what we were assuming and now we have to wonder if Holland will be able to reverse the plague that the swamp is unleashing on the town with his possible control of the green.
On the whole Swamp Thing delivers a solid first episode that lays the groundwork for a promising first season. There is plenty of intrigue and mythology to build off of that has nothing to do with the Swamp Thing himself. Did Abby really kill her friend or feels like she killed her? What happens when that little girl dies? Will Holland be able to ditch those flip flops now that he’s Swamp Thing? Who actually runs this town and are they responsible for this virus? There is a lot to be explored and hopefully, this shortened first season allows the show to fully explore the mysterious ahead.
What did you think Geeklings? Were you happy with this first episode? Do you have high expectations for this first season? Sound off in the comments or throw me a line over on Twitter @iamgeek32. I’ll be here all season covering each episode. I’m very much looking forward to what horrors come out of the swamp next. Hope you’ll join me.