Finally, a properly paced origin of Swamp Thing in live action. Well, for the most part, anyway.
Despite more chances to become a film or television legend than any other character in the DC Comics horror stable, Swamp Thing has been dogged over the years by a tonal problems even when production like the Swamp Thing film and 1990s series tried for horror. But DC Universe’s Swamp Thing finally fixes the tone by leaning entirely into the comics classic horror elements and trusting its fantastic world to look and sound great. The result, in the program’s first hour, is a surprisingly effective as it introduces us to the program’s central character, Abby Arcane (Crystal Reed).
You may remember the actor from Gotham, where she played Sofia Falcone. Here, she is something of a revelation as the program re-imagines Abby as a CDC epidemiologist desperately trying to discover why people in her hometown of Marais, Louisiana are sprouting plants inside their bodies. As the anchor, Reed is a delight to watch. She’s complex, take-charge and open with her emotions. It makes her a likeable protagonist as we’re introduced Marais citizens like her friend Liz Tremayne (Maria Sten) and Maria Sunderland (Virginia Madsen), the wife of the town’s number one employer and Abby’s benefactor after her parents died when she was a child. Unfortunately, Abby was involved in an accident when she was a high school senior that Maria cannot look past, leading to a palpable and disquieting tension between them. In fact, their one encounter at Liz’s bayou-adjacent bar is a highlight of the debut episode.
But with this focus on Abby and the townsfolk, you might be wondering where Swamp Thing comes into play. He appears early on in the form of Dr. Alec Holland (Andy Bean), a quirky researcher seemingly working for Maria’s husband Avery (Will Patton). He shows up at the hospital while Abby is taking her first look at one of the victims and he magically appears when she makes a housecall to the victim’s father. It would seem aggressive except for Bean making Alec quite appealing from the start. And thanks to the pair of them being incredible beautiful outsiders, a bond forms really quick.
In fact, it may be a little too quick. If there’s one key criticism to throw the show’s way, it is with the brief time Abby and Alec spend together. As his apparent death and Abby’s fondness for him will be big aspects of the storyline, you might want to see them have a little more time together.
At the same time, the first episode knows the best place to end: with Alec getting shot, submerged in a questionable serum and becoming Swamp Thing. The pace has the feel of a Swamp Thing comic and you could very easily see a modern telling of the creature’s origin ending its first issue on this exact same beat.
Which means Swamp Thing is starting on very solid ground. Shot in South Carolina, it looks gorgeous and authentic. It features a dynamic, likeable lead and, it should be said, a fantastic looking Swamp Thing (Derek Mears). Of course, this episode only offers a taste of characters like the Sunderlands, Liz, Matt Cable (Henderson Wade) and Madame Xandu (Jeryl Prescot); an intriguing DC Comics pull who has only the briefest of moments in the episode. We’ll talk more about those characters as the come into focus next week. We’ll also get a little bit more in Mears’s Swamp Thing as the show solidifies itself as the definitive film/TV take on the classic DC Comics creature.
Swamp Thing streams Fridays on DC Universe.