By Matt Henry and Mack Johnson
According to TVLine, The CW's re-airing of the season one Swamp Thing pilot on Tuesday night, October 6 "gave the network’s 8 o’clock hour its largest audience since May 19th (DC’s Stargirl), and the 90-minute period its best audience since February 4th."
The highly anticipated DC Universe original TV series Swamp Thing was seen by precious few people who plunked down their money for the streaming service in summer 2019. Following the critical and fan-based success of the first two DCU original series Titans and Doom Patrol, the bar was set pretty high for the shows that followed, but Swamp Thing didn't disappoint. Like its DCU predecessors, Swamp Thing was well-produced, well-cast, and intended for a mature audience. The CW has chosen to delete some of the more gory and violent R-rated scenes, and mute four-letter words, with awkward blurry spots over people's mouth to prevent lipreading. Some of the edge may be gone, but it's still well worth watching.
The series takes place in the Louisiana bayou (filmed in the swamps of South Carolina), in the small town of Marais. It's a dark, creepy place that makes you feel uncomfortable even before anything scary happens.
Three men of questionable character are out deep in the swamp late at night, up to no good. Little did they know that the swamp is special, mystically aware and active, and it does not like what these men are doing. What happens next is both horrific and fantastic, and the special effects are spot on. One of the men, Eddie, manages to escape the carnage. Or did the swamp let him escape?
Forty-eight hours later, Eddie's young daughter is in school when she coughs up slimy vegetation and quickly faints. She becomes Patient One, infected with a viral "plant plague," which is spreading fast. Cut to a jungle in the Congo, where we meet Dr. Abby Arcane (played by Crystal Reed) working a case for the CDC's Epidemic Intelligence Service. She receives word about the strange virus in her hometown of Marais, Louisiana, and immediately returns to help find a cure. As she and her CDC team make the rounds of the virus patients at the hospital, she finds Alec Holland (Andy Bean), as he's rifling through the young girl's blood test and gets removed promptly by security. Holland had been hired (and quickly fired) by the town's rich bigwig Avery Sunderland (Will Patton), to take samples in the swamp to help discover new business possibilities. Holland is intrigued by the new virus, suspects the unusual findings in his swamp studies are connected, and wants to help.
At a town hall meeting to discuss the outbreak, the townspeople are afraid and superstitious; they fear the swamp is taking revenge on them for mistreating it. This is a town of working class folks that respect the swamp and depend on it for their livelihood. Sunderland gives an inspiring speech to calm them, but it's obvious to us, the viewers, he has other plans for the swamp, not just the new medicines and fertilizers he mentions. Side note: it seems they ran out of production money when it came to creating actor Patton's wig. It's so bad it's a distraction. Here's hoping for an improvement in season two.
At Sunderland's bayou lab and Holland's HQ, Abby and Alec run tests on how the accelerant reacts with the swamp vegetation. The science isn't the only chemistry going on in the lab; the attraction between Abby and Alec is apparent. He believes there was a mutagenic, chemical accelerant introduced into the swamp that could possibly be the cause of the plant plague.
Abby and her childhood friend, now a local cop, find Eddie's body with vines and vegetation growing throughout it. After the body is taken to the hospital, Abby works on an autopsy, as Alec continues research at a table nearby. If you thought the first scene wasn't enough evidence that this is a horror series, what happens next is more vivid proof. No spoilers, but Abby and Alec barely escape with their lives.
Abby and Alec then go to the local watering hole to calm down, and ask around for some answers. We get a fun Easter egg peek and reference to a DC character that we'll see more of in future episodes. Abby meets up with her old friend, reporter Liz Tremayne for some local info, when she is abruptly interrupted by Avery Sunderland's wife Maria (a devilish Virginia Madsen), who wants to speak with Abby in private. There is something about Abby's past in Marais that is tragic and mysterious, and it's very obvious that Maria does not like her, and wants her out of town.
As Alec and Abby's budding romance grows, they continue to investigate the unknown substance and its connection to the virus. As they begin to discover just what those three men were doing to the swamp, things go awry. A shadowy figure attacks Alec as he gets too close to the truth, and Alec falls overboard, mortally wounded.
In the nearby lab, Abby hears the commotion and rushes to investigate. As she draws near the wreckage, to her horror, a shambling, mossy giant rises from the water.
This was such a phenomenal start to this series, suspenseful, thrilling, ripe with horror. The music was spooky, menacing, with a hint of melancholy...perfect for this series that mixes tragedy, horror, and romance.
Swamp Thing season one airs Tuesdays on The CW, and streams Wednesdays on cwtv.com