It appears to be the end of act two for “Swamp Thing: The De Facto Mini-Series,” with one character presumed dead at the end, another three saying goodbye to Marais or at least seriously considering it, and a big twist revealed. Maybe multiple big twists. But it’s hard to keep track of the double-crosses when dealing with soap opera villains like Will Patton’s not-quite-successful industrialist.
Patton was about all they had for forceful performances when the show started. But, thanks to plot perturbations and the casting of Jennifer Beals (still wish she’d been around for the pilot), the performances have improved across the board. It’s still not great when Crystal Reed talks about her duty as a “CDC scientist,” but the better material outweighs it now.
Plus, Virginia Madsen gets an amazing episode arc as she realizes she can’t rely on Patton to negotiate her future—having recovered from her supernatural struggle against a malevolent spirit assuming the form of her dead daughter, Madsen apparently had to give up fostering the little kid who the spirit possessed. So she’s got more time on her hands.
What’s particularly great about Madsen’s arc is how it unfolds across the episode. Sure, Reed and Andy Bean have a whole adventure together, but they’re off in a lower-budget nature sci-fi Netflix series. Madsen’s got a character development arc. It’s awesome.
Especially once Michael Beach shows up.
He’s playing Nathan Ellery, who was a Bond villain in the comics. Most seventies comic book villains were Bond villains. The show characterizes him as a venture capitalist whose mysterious organization is funding black book projects. Or something. It doesn’t matter, Beach is fantastic. And he’s not chewing through it all like Patton.
Patton was great stunt casting for “Swamp Thing” as a nighttime horror soap. However, with the other characters showing agency around him and actors finding their performances, it doesn’t work as well. Particularly with Madsen and Beals.
And the show seems to know it, moving the chess pieces for the final act.
As for Reed and Bean… we’ll see. Swamp Thing Derek Mears—who almost calls himself a swamp thing—doesn’t get much screen time this episode because he grew Reed a hallucinogenic spore, so she sees him as Bean most of the episode.
It’s definitely Bean’s best performance. He’s mansplaining about things only he and the plants know, which kind of makes Swamp Thing the ultimate white male role. Or at least, Alec Holland in hallucinations post-transformation (Alan Moore actually wrote Alec Holland’s human soul as a dick, which is perfect).
So, Bean tells Reed all about his new understanding of life, the universe, and everything, including there’s a very dark place nearby they totally shouldn’t ever go and inspect.
Reed immediately zooms off to the nearby dark place where the “Rot” has taken over. The Rot is a newer Swamp Thing villain, so I’m not familiar with it. It’s gross, grey, and has tentacles.
It’s eventually an exciting adventure plot, with “Swamp Thing” finally using some of the budget to make the swamp look pretty. Right before showing it all rotty.
And then Kevin Durand and Selena Anduze have an excellent arc, full of muted conflict and quiet tragedy.
All in all, solid episode. Despite the lengthy, early slog, I’m both now on board and bummed it’s almost over.
I’m also pretty sure they’re doing the good stuff intentionally at this point.
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