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 to the fourth episode of Swamp Thing on DC Universe, “Darkness on the Edge of Town.” As you come out to the Swamp with me, be sure to watch out for cursed bodies falling from the trees.
1. Monster of the Week
I feel that this episode was the weakest out of the four episodes aired so far. The first three episodes have spent their time walking us through the world of Marais and its Swamp and introducing us to the major pieces on the game board. That job being largely done, the episode settles itself into the standard “Monster of the Week” formula that we are used to from so much network TV. The primary danger of the Green Flu was resolved at the end of the last episode, so “Darkness at the Edge of Town” is ready to move on to something else. In this case it is what appears to be another mysterious illness from the Swamp that causes people to have hallucinations of their greatest fear and freak out violently attacking other people and themselves (I bet Scarecrow would love to take a vacation in Marais to study this). It turns out that it is more like a curse than an illness, though; a fact that concerns both Abby and Swamp Thing as they want to science the shit out of it. The curse spreads easily, by someone scratching its next victim when they are in the throes of their nightmare.
The show definitely takes advantage of being on a streaming service with the gruesome level that they show the curse taking effect, starting with the way it was introduced. Two tree poachers are cutting down a tree when a heavily decayed corpse falls from the branches and its teeth scratch along one of their arms. This man later has an episode that results in him thrusting his hand into a garbage disposal… yeah it was not pretty.
Ultimately, with the help of Swamp Thing, Abby manages to contain the curse back into the original corpse which is then swallowed into the earth of the Swamp, concluding this storyline. We only learn a little new information about everything going on in this episode and not much actually happens on any of the major storylines. While an entertaining plot, I never felt any danger for our main characters, even when Lucilia and Abby are infected by the curse, so there seemed to almost no long-term effects. Hopefully this episode is meant to be a palate cleanser before the show digs into its meatier plots.
2. Naughty Naughty
Despite my worry for Liz at the end of the last episode, it turns out that she really was not in any danger of Avery, but that doesn’t mean that we are done with his little murderous sidetrip. The episode opens with Avery driving his late banker out to the Swamp where he dumps the body in a trench and lights it on fire. It is obvious that this isn’t Avery’s first rodeo at disposing bodies and we are reminded again that he really is a bad dude. The show tries to twist our emotions by giving us a flashback of the time Avery’s good ole boy father wanted him to kill a captured alligator. Unsurprisingly, boy-Avery refuses and his father calls him weak before killing the animal. Avery is not weak any longer, as the flashbacks are juxtaposed with his steely-face while he immolates his (latest?) murder victim. Later on in the episode, Avery mentions that he was only a boy when his father went missing in the Swamp, and I think we are meant to believe that Avery was responsible for that.
“Darkness on the Edge of Town” has several instances of heroics which helps with some character development in an episode otherwise light on developments. Abby of course is her usual heroic self, and I think this is a good place to recognize this. We get the first hints of this in the pilot when she risks her own health to talk down a frightened boy from violence, and that sort of thing just continues in the series. What stands out to me is the matter-of-fact matter of her courage, as if it is just an automatic instinct for her that does not require any thought. Of course, this is standard characteristic of the “strong female protagonist” trope and we have seen a lot of it in various television programs. So while it is not really new or outstanding, I just appreciate an intelligent character that remembers she is intelligent and approaches dangers rationally. In this episode, her act of heroism is not really much of a surprise either, but it is still a heroic act. She purposefully gets herself infected with the curse, to save Lucilia (whose greatest fear is the death of her son), so that she can bring it back out to the Swamp and Swamp Thing can contain it again. This is after she places herself in front of a berserk sheriff waving her gun around.Continued below
The other standout heroic act comes from our favorite video store rental guy who really just wants to leave Marais. When Lucilia is in the middle of her nightmare episode, which involves her pointing her sidearm at a bunch of partying people, Abby manages to put herself in front and does not seem able to calm her. Cassidy, attending the shindig, sees an opportunity and tackles the sheriff and taking possession of her gun. This felt kind of unexpected from this character and with the attention spent on him in this episode and the last, I am very curious to learn more about his role in everything happening in Marais.
4. Swamp Thing’s Powers
We also get to see that Swamp Thing is growing more accustomed to his variety of powers. It seems that he is able to sense elements of the Darkness that is infecting the Swamp. While talking with Abby he mentions that it is somehow a manifestation of the human pollution in the swamp. This is the first real eco-conscious statement we have seen, though the idea has been apparent since the first episode and raises the conflict of human versus the Swamp. We also see Swamp Thing’s growing ability with controlling the plants of the swamp and even extending parts of his body. He uses a set of thick vines to guide Abby’s boat at one point. When she asks for a sample of him to begin research a solution, instead of coming close, he extends a long tendril that she is able to pluck off.
Abby asks him where his knowledge of the Swamp comes from and he replies that it is from the plants. He seems worried when he says this and begs her to tell him what and who he is. In an episode with a lot about fear, we see that Alec’s fear is losing the sense of his identity while he is Swamp Thing. It seems that his powers come with a price.
5. Science Nerds
It looks my hope for more interactions between Woodrue and Abby is fated to be true. When Abby is working on analyzing the sample from Swamp Thing, Woodrue comes into the lab, looks at her recorded data and instantly (and quite arrogantly) tells her that she is wrong and then explains why. If this is not a great example of mansplaining, I don’t know what is. Abby, not one to rise to the bait, informs him that everything is correct and invites him to look into the microscope. Which of course blows his mind. He offers to help with the analysis, and it is obvious that Abby sees the advantage in this since his expertise is exactly what is needed. She is hesitant though, because he works for Avery, and we all know that Avery is a bad dude. When he promises confidentiality and full disclosure only to Abby, she relents, so we are definitely going to see more of the science nerds bashing brains together again.
– The show continues to play with our perception of our villains by having Maria and Avery Sunderland develop an attachment to Susie Coyle which seems like a noble act. With Maria, this is easy to attribute to her maternal nature, which has been the cause of her anger towards Abby. Avery, it turns out, has an agenda of course.
– The nightmare episodes helped add more pieces to the history of Marais and our characters. We learn that Liz’s grandmother was killed in a violent robbery of the roadhouse and that Abby’s greatest fear is of the faceless man that wants to take her away from her mother. Now I haven’t done a lot of research in the comics, but I have learned that Abby’s father is one of the notable villains in Swamp Thing’s rogues gallery, and it’s easy to assume that this fearsome figure represents him.
– I really love the way that Daniel Cassidy tries to ingratiate himself to Abby by bringing balloons for the children in the hospital. He is desperately trying to figure out what role she plays to allow him to leave Marais, but is frustrated by the lack of answers. His distress amusingly leads to him talking to his handful of balloons.
That’s about it for this week Swamp Dwellers. Hope to see you all again next week! Same Swamp Time! Same Swamp Channel!