Swamp Thing’s season one finale “Loose Ends” is aptly named. It’s the first of the ill-fated series’ episodes that telegraphs just how suddenly Warner Bros. cancelled the show, while also reducing the length of the season from 13 episodes to 10 (while the crew was still shooting).
It’s a hurried attempt to weave together several slow-growing narratives into a sendoff that tries to do its characters justice and make a statement about what kind of show Swamp Thing was always trying to be — a show that the studio seemingly didn’t understand.
In some respects, “Loose Ends” does those things solidly. But as Swamp Thing’s titular quagmire of a hero (Derek Mears) makes his last stand against the humans who would see him torn apart and tortured, you can’t help but think to yourself what the series might have ended up looking like if it’d been given a proper chance to tell its story in full.
When you look at the whole of Swamp Thing’s first season, you can see that it’s one of the few (if not the only) live-action adaptations of a superhero comic book that almost entirely eschewed its superheroic trappings in favour of modelling itself after a distinctly different kind of genre.
While Swamp Thing was littered with heroes and villains from DC’s comics, it wasn’t a cape series — it was a collection of hour-long horror stories about the vicious, evil things lurking in a small Louisiana town.
One of the byproducts of DC Universe’s Swamp Thing leaning very heavily into its horror elements is the way the series bypasses the nonstop, brightly-lit action you’d associate with a comic book show. Instead, you get a slow burn of a story that’s broken up by random bursts of alarming darkness that sneak up on you.
As unnerving as it was to watch corpses transform into mutilated flesh/plant hybrids and see people ripped apart by trees, it was even more disturbing to follow in Abby Arcane (Crystal Reed) and Swamp Thing’s footsteps as they slowly came to understand the larger significance of the powerful forces emanating from the swamp.
While Swamp Thing featured its fair share of classic Swamp Thing villains, such as the Rot and Jason Woodrue (Kevin Durand), the nascent Floronic Man, the show’s real “big bad” has always been darkness from within the swamp that’s been able to manifest so much madness and violence in Marais.
You can feel the horror the series is going for when the obviously-deranged Woodrue has Swamp Thing pinned down, while he methodically dissects and mutilates the hero. On the one level, you’re right there with the very conscious Swamp Thing as he screams in terror, helplessly watching as Woodrue scoops his organs out with glee.
But in the moment — when Woodrue discovers that Swamp Thing isn’t merely Alec Holland transformed into a plant creature but rather a sentient cluster of plants harbouring Alec’s consciousness — you zoom out a bit and experience a different kind of sympathetic dread for Swamp Thing.
After Swamp Thing and Abby Arcane learned the truth about what he actually is in the series’ penultimate episode, Swamp Thing was left in a narratively tough space. Just looking at the larger structure of the season, at this point the heroes’ biggest hurdle had already been cleared.
Though there were still more than a few bad apples out in Marais for Swamp Thing to spend his time taking out — Woodrue, Avery Sunderland (Will Patton) and the Conclave mercenaries out to capture Swampy — his learning about the larger implications of his connection to the Green made all of that seem unimportant.
TV shows come and go, but the recent cancellation of DC Universe’s Swamp Thing series was particularly surprising considering that the first season, which only began airing weeks ago, was generally well received by fans and critics alike. As strange and sudden as Swamp Thing’s departure seems from the outside, it sounds like everyone working on the set was just as shocked.
Those other villain-centric plot lines are things one imagines would have fit nicely into the other three episodes Swamp Thing was meant to have.
But what “Loose Ends” does instead is try to swiftly incorporate them all (and a few more) into a single, loosely-connected story, which is about Swamp Thing making a decision whether to completely leave the world of humans behind or to stay by Abby’s side.
While Swamp Thing ventures out into the swamp intent on murdering the Conclave mercs for ever daring to threaten his life, Abby sets out to find proof of who the hired guns are from Avery’s wife, Maria Sunderland (Virginia Madsen) — whose husband had her committed to a mental institution after she made it clear that she would no longer help him pay off his significant debts.
Maria’s arc this season has been one of Swamp Thing’s most fascinating, as the grieving mother tapped into the swamp’s magic in order to be reunited with the long-dead (and very malevolent) spirit of her daughter.
Here, though, it all kind of comes to a screeching halt when Abby finds Maria, blissed out in a psychic illusion that’s convinced her she really is with her daughter. Abby just... leaves the hospital, and that’s that.
Because “Loose Ends” covers so much ground, it would have been easier for the show to simply cut some of those dangling threads loose, and the episode arguably would have been stronger for it.
Even though Woodrue wasn’t able to harvest as much of Swamp Thing’s body as he would have preferred, he got enough to bring home with him to prepare as a kind of twisted, curative stir-fry for his recently-paralysed wife, whose mind is trapped in her unmoving body.
Durand’s brought an unhinged, unsteady energy to his performance as Woodrue throughout the season, but he goes balls to the wall here as he prepares a taste of Swamp Thing’s vegetarian offal for himself before offering it to his clearly terrified wife.
Though eating pieces of Swamp Thing obviously imbues Woodrue with some degree of enchanted strength, his experiment’s cut short by Abby and the police before he has a chance to properly transform into his classic Floronic form — and again, “Loose Ends” busies itself, instead following up on tangential plots that just don’t fit into the episode.
The entire business of Ian Ziering’s Daniel Cassidy being cursed to transform into the Blue Devil goes largely unaddressed, following the events of previous episodes that finally gave us a good look at what the curse entails. The Blue Devil doesn’t end up teaming up with Swamp Thing to take down the villains, he just books it out of Marais never to be seen again.
The same goes for Jennifer Beals’ sheriff Lucilla Cable, who spends some time with her son in the hospital before being suddenly murdered by Avery Sunderland. “Loose Ends” wants you to know that Lucilla dies, but because her story never picked up the same momentum and heft of other characters, her demise just doesn’t carry any weight.
While all of this has been going on, however, Swamp Thing and the Conclave mercs have been in the swamp for what appears to be hours looking for one another. Their hunt is depicted throughout the episode in a series of scenes where Swamp Thing systematically takes his opponents out over the cover of night.
If those scenes were strung together in the tighter, more cohesive way they appear to have meant to be, they’d add up to a solid chunk of honest-to-god horror movie goodness — goodness that showed off what an awe-inspiring beast Swamp Thing can be.
But that effect is lost by an excess of editing that makes what Swamp Thing and the soldiers have been doing in the swamp difficult to sync chronologically with the events of the rest of the episode, and so you’re left with the impression that they’ve all just been wandering around in the dark for a long time.
Swamp Thing’s battle features a few moments of true gory goodness that jump out of the shadows to remind you what kind of show this has always been. But then things get that much weirder when Swamp Thing has a conversation with a psychic projection of the human Alec Holland (Andy Bean) about their future.
Swamp Thing and Alec are one and the same, but they’re also different people with different paths in life. But what they both know to be similarly true of themselves is that they fundamentally want to do good in the world, and they both have deep feelings for Abby, who — surprise — shows up again in the episode’s final moments.
Trying to figure out how to turn Swamp Thing back into Alec Holland is what brought Abby closer to them both, but it was through fighting alongside Swamp Thing that she came to understand Swampy was the ally she was meant to partner with all along.
In another universe, Swamp Thing and Abby’s reunion in Alec’s old lab would have been the moment that Swamp Thing did the damned thing, whipped out those psychedelic yams, and let its two obviously star-crossed lovers admit their feelings for one another before boning.
But that seems to have been too far a line for Swamp Thing to cross, which is a shame — because a bold, tawdry and thought-provoking sex scene between a plant monster and a human honestly would have made “Loose Ends” a pretty all right C-list horror movie (complete with a rather... telling post-credits scene we’ll be discussing next week) that leaves a lasting impression.
It needs to be said that while Swamp Thing undoubtedly deserved a better finale than “Loose Ends”, it feels unfair to place much of the blame for the episode’s failures on the cast and crew’s shoulders.
While the episode has its structural and narrative weaknesses, the performances, the direction, the writing and the spirit of the episode echo the moments when Swamp Thing was at its best and trying to tell an ambitious story.
The lacklustre end to Swamp Thing that “Loose Ends” gives us isn’t an indicator that the show couldn’t have been a success. Rather, it’s a testament to the idea that if studios are really serious about wanting to make bold, experimental productions, they have to commit to them. Otherwise, they’ll die on the vine.