A solidly spooky episode that sets up the second half of the season brilliantly.
- 🌿Some seriously scary sequences
- 🌿Jennifer Beals is really killing it
- 🌿Macon Blair as the Phantom Stranger is all-time great casting
- 🌿There's only five episodes left
This post contains spoilers for Swamp Thing.
Check out our last review here.
It's rare that you get a truly great episode of a season at the halfway point, especially when the show you're watching was canceled before the second episode aired. But Swamp Thing delivers a wonderfully dark and thoughtful story that is driven by the arrival of the brilliant Macon Blair (Blue Ruin, Green Room) as the haunting DC Comics character the Phantom Stranger. That's not the only important comic book business going down this week, though, as "Drive All Night" is also concerned with the future of Daniel Cassidy (Ian Ziering) who we get to know a lot more about as we reenter the murky waters of Marais.
Turns out that Cassidy made a deal with the devil both figuratively and literally and is now trapped in Marais, and whenever he tries to leave he sets on fire. He's not alone in his strange situation as Swamp Thing (Derek Mears) himself is having an odd encounter with a new face. Driving his little boat into the bayou is none other than the Phantom Stranger, who is not at all scared of the giant plant creature before him and instead seems to be more concerned with helping the man once known as Alec Holland to come to terms with his new fate.
Comic book shows are an understandably mixed bag with many of them following a procedural villain-of-the-week format. I've spoken about it before but the choice not to do that here just astounds me. The confidence that Mark Verheiden, Gary Dauberman, James Wan, and Len Wiseman had in what they were making is so clear and this episode is a great example of that. Here we are halfway through the season and "Drive All Night" manages to balance a philosophical exploration of life and existence and a wider narrative that builds the world outside of Abby (Crystal Reed) and Alec (Andy Bean).
There's no filler here as we learn--through the trippy visions of the swamp and our titular hero's relationship with it--of Abby's tragic backstory and the accident that drove her away from Marais. Avoiding any kind of boring exposition we instead relive these brutal moments through Swamp Thing and his deep connection to his new home. Mears is perfectly maudlin as the creature in that stunning practical suit and Blair is a wonderful partner to his slowly dawning realization. It's a partnership I would love to see explored more as it's so well done. I mean, who doesn't want to watch a horror character actor and an elemental swamp creature ponder the meaning of life?
If that sounds a little weird for you then no worries as it's really the secondary plot thread this episode. The core of "Drive All Night" is all about the Sunderlands and their new charge. Susie Coyle (Elle Graham) has been at the heart of Swamp Thing since the very first episode but her connection with the swamp has put her in grave danger from the powerful first family of Marais. After Avery paid off her uncle last episode she's now under the care of Avery's (Will Patton) slowly unraveling wife Maria (Virgina Madsen). Things might not be so bad but their dead daughter Shawna (Given Sharp) has apparently come back from the dead--though whether it's actually her is still to be seen--and has plans on the mortal vessel of little Susie.
"Drive All Night" has a lot of fun playing with genre and tone this week as we slip between the true horror of Shawna's return which is rendered in true Conjuring style fashion. Shawna is a ghastly and vengeful spirit who seems to want nothing more than to destroy the mother who loves her so much. Abby's attempts to save Susie pit her against the girl she once loved whose death she still blames herself for. The tragic nature of Shawna's return fits in perfectly with the Southern Gothic storytelling that Swamp Thing excels in. But we also get some real dark noir in the form of Lucilia (Jennifer Beals) and her desperation to protect her son Matt.
Echoing the heart wrenching story of Maria and her love for Shawna is the tale of Marais' Sheriff and her terrible realization that her son (Henderson Wade) was the one who killed Alec Holland. Yep, lovely Matt Cable, Abby's childhood best friend, was the one who murdered the man who would become Swamp Thing. And even worse, he did it at the behest of Lucilia's lover and his own father, Avery Sunderland. Just like the rot destroying the swamp, everything bad in Marais can be traced back to Avery and his diabolical machinations. But Lucilia is not one to let anything happen to Matt, so she swiftly slaughters the only witness to the crime. It'll be an interesting thread going forward, not only potentially looking into police corruption and brutality but also at how Matt and Abby's relationship will be affected by his terrible mistake.
There are no happy endings for anyone this week. Daniel is accosted by Avery's goons outside the RoadHouse and ends the episode in a very bad way. Looks like that deal might just come in handy after all. Even though Abby and Swamp Thing manage to save Susie and Maria, Avery is alerted to the fact that the creature exists and sets out to capture him in order to experiment on the good green boy. It's all setting up a very interesting second act for the sterling series.
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