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Five Thoughts on Swamp Thing’s “The Anatomy Lesson”

By | December 16th, 2020
Posted in Television | % Comments

To coincide with the airing of Swamp Thing on the CW, we are re-broadcasting our reviews of the series from its original airing on the DC Universe platform. If there are any differences in the episodes aired on the CW (edits for time or content, for example), those changes will not be reflected in our reviews.

Welcome Swamp Dwellers to our penultimate recap of DC Universe‘s Swamp Thing! “The Anatomy Lesson” shows us what is really inside a Swamp Thing and a lot of other stuff happens (seriously this was a rather packed episode). Let’s jump in and dredge up the bodies lost in the Swamp.

1. The Phantom Stranger Returns

“The Anatomy Lesson” gives us the return of the Phantom Stranger, last seen in a flashback giving Daniel Cassidy his shot at the big time as the Blue Devil. Here he appears to tell Cassidy that the price he is to pay has come due and he is needed. At Cassidy’s confusion, the Phantom Stranger sends him into a vision where he witnesses Abby and Liz being gunned down by the Conclave’s men. Returning to his hospital room, the Phantom Stranger says that what he saw was the future and he could have the power to stop it from happening, dropping the Blue Devil mask onto Cassidy’s bed. The implication is clear: take up the mantle of the Blue Devil and save your friends or know that they will die.

I get the sense here that the Phantom Stranger is working to a greater end than we see in this show and likely we will never find out what it is due to the show’s cancellation. It seems that he has been moving pieces on a paranormal game board with Swamp Thing and Cassidy as two of his game pieces. Is his opponent the Darkness that we’ve met in the Swamp or some other supernatural power we haven’t met yet?

Of course Cassidy makes the decision to take up the mask and becomes the Blue Devil, complete with a curved set of horns that would make any ram jealous. Later in the episode we get the exact circumstances seen in Cassidy’s vision as Liz and Abby are trying to save Swamp Thing. Instead of the two women being gunned down by hired muscle, the goons are ripped apart by the Blue Devil who attacks both physically and in a spiritual form that encases his victims in blue fire.

2. Do Not Cross Avery Sunderland

We knew that when Sunderland survived the assassination attempt in “Brilliant Disguise” that there would be a comeuppance for Lucilia, Matt, and Maria. In “The Anatomy Lesson”, Maria’s judgement came right soon as Sunderland pulls the right strings to get Maria committed to an asylum using the incident in the swamp with Shawna’s spirit and the endangerment of Susie Coyle as the instigating factor. Of course he publicly plays the grieving husband who only wants his wife back to him, albeit in a fashion that is much more subject to his power.

Since watching this episode, I have spent some time thinking about how Sunderland claims his wife is insane and has her committed is something straight out of the Victorian times. Women who fought against behaving as women were “expected” to behave were at risk of being committed by fathers or husbands and usually had no legal recourse to fight back. Those of you that watched Penny Dreadful would recognize this as something that happened to Vanessa Ives. The comparison becomes particularly apt when you remember that Sunderland was relying on Maria’s fortunes to keep him afloat in his sea of debt, and may now have new leverage to take control of her money himself. All in all, it’s a really shitty way for a strong and capable (though not likeable) character like Maria to be treated. One has to hope that if the show were to continue, her story would have been one to continue in some fashion. As it were, it seems as if she will be stuck in that asylum for a long time.

3. Tragedy Strikes

At the end of “Long Walk Home”, Sunderland and Woodrue managed to subdue and capture Swamp Thing which means that the mad doctor finally has access to the samples he wants to research. In his haste to begin vivisecting Swamp Thing as swiftly as possible, he leaves his wife, Caroline, alone at home. He did put her box of pills on her nightstand with the reminder to take her pills. I’m sure you can see where this is going now.

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The main reason that Woodrue was pursuing this research and desperately wanted Swamp Thing was that he was looking for a regenerative treatment for his wife’s advancing Alzheimer’s. He returns home ecstatic that he has a breakthrough and finds out that Caroline did remember to take her pills. Then she forgot she had taken them and remembered to take them again. And then she forgot again… So in a moment of triumph for Woodrue, he also possibly suffers a catastrophic loss that he could have prevented by not being so hasty. This is the kind of moment that breeds villains in a comic book world. Sadly we will not be able to see how this develops beyond the next episode.

4. Saturday Morning PSAs

Woodrue is not the only character to make an ill-informed decision in this episode. Hunky deputy Matt Cable is still distraught over learning about his parentage spends a good part of the episode drinking at Delroy’s place. Then he decides to take the drinking on the road. Yeah. Kids, don’t drink and drive. Else you will end up like Matt does: smashed headlong into a bridge pylon at a fairly fast rate of speed because you got distracted when Natalie Merchant came on the radio.

It’s hard to tell what the show is working to accomplish here besides just trying to tie up loose ends before the show ends. In fact, a lot of this episode seems to be the show trying to cram as much plot progress on all the fronts. It almost is too much and does a discredit to the characters and the stories they are trying to tell. Oh well, if wishes were horses… we would be surrounded by a lot of horse poop. Just remember, don’t drink and drive.

5. That Scene

One of the things this episode builds up towards was to give viewers an iconic scene and revelation straight from the Swamp Thing comics. For most of this season everyone has been acting under the idea that there is a way to “fix” Swamp Thing and return him to his original form. Abby believed she would find a cure that would allow him to become Alec Holland once more. Woodrue expects to find a modified Alec Holland inside Swamp Thing when he gleefully begins his dissection. What he finds instead is a simulacrum of a human body made from plant material. It is as if the Swamp had copied a human body when it created Swamp Thing and placed organ-like objects where they belonged, though they serve no identifiable purpose in Swamp Thing’s body.

Swamp Thing is aware during his dissection and he listens to what Woodrue is saying as his body is being examined and torn apart. We know that Swamp Thing has Alec’s intelligence, and he is quickly able to put the pieces together. So when Abby and Liz show up to free him, he decides that he needs to confirm a new hypothesis and marches off into the Swamp back to the site that started it all. Abby stands on the shore and watches as he submerges under the water. When he comes back he is bearing a decomposed body. A body that he confirms is Alec Holland. Holland is dead and there is no way that Swamp Thing can return to humanity.

As someone that did not read the comics (although I did get some info on Alan Moore’s twist on this matter), I think this would have been a great twist in the show. If it weren’t for one thing: DC Universe‘s promotional materials has been using an image of Swamp Thing holding a skeleton on the app from the very beginning. Anyone with knowledge of the comics would have known what they were doing from that.

Stray Thoughts

– I found it pretty amusing that when Abby was following Swamp Thing out of the cement factory, she walked right past the unconscious Daniel Cassidy and didn’t wonder why there was a naked man among all the murdered bodies.

– This episode did not treat wives very well. Caroline Woodrue overdosing and Maria Sunderland being locked in an asylum is not a great way to be leaving these characters in the penultimate episode. What sort of closure can we hope for on this?

So that’s it my boggy buddies. We only have one episode left to see how this all ends. Tune in next week to see how it all ends! Same Swamp time! Same Swamp channel!

//TAGS | Swamp Thing

Frank Skornia

Frank is a longtime fan of science fiction and fantasy, enjoying a wide range of material across the spectrum of media. He is also an avid gamer, enjoying video games, board games, and RPGs of all sorts. Frank is also a really big fan of Godzilla. You can find him on Twitter at @FSkornia.


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