Tuesday, July 12, 2016


With superhero television programs blowing up in the last few years, recaps of superhero television shows have become all the internet rage. Other sites, however, are hobbled by the need to cover shows which have been "recently broadcast" or which are "any good at all." But who covers the uncoverable? That's why Gone&Forgotten chooses to cover the 1991-1993 USA Network live-action Swamp Thing television series in a feature I like to call "Swamp Thing Changed" or...

If You See Swamp Thing, Say Swamp Thing
Turnip jerky, out for revenge!
Season One / Episode Thirteen : The Shipment

In which we finally cut Jim loose! Hooray!

USA's Swamp Thing was never precisely prestige television, and suffered a few shortcomings. The budget, not the least of which, was never the highest (even though they made some pretty impressive leaps with the makeup and costuming). The storylines were also shaky, plots were picked up and dropped unceremoniously, the sets were few and repetitive, consistency wasn't of the highest concern, and the show felt like a series of unconnected events into which a hobo made of artichokes would occasionally stumble.

And then there was Jim (Jessie Ziegler), a budding psychopath who befriends Swamp Thing to their mutual detriment, and not really to the benefit of anyone else in the cast either. It's not really Jim's fault -- he's an unremarkable kid actor shouldering the heavy burden of keeping the plot moving on a show whose greatest menace is smoke bombs and sock puppets. His ludicrous backstory -- a pathological liar in short-pants who haunts the streets of Philadelphia at midnight, sowing discord when man and reason slept, moved to the swamp to live with his soon-to-kick-it grandmother and his rabbity mom so as to pull himself together - was insane. Was this kid in 'Nam? I think you'll find that moving a psychopath to the swamps is just asking for the water level to rise from all the sunken bum corpses.

With that being said, though, at least he's out as of this episode! Yup, Jim is gone – or will be soon -- and Swamp Thing experiences a sea change at the end of his first season or, more thematically, a swamp change.

Hey, are those Bugle Boy jeans?

The episode opens by wandering into risqué territory of the highest degree: A muscular young hitchhiker getting cuffed and roughed around by a balding cop … while a human tomatillo watches from the bushes. The scuffle between Arcane’s pet lawman and an unnamed hitchhiker takes the show briefly into some tawny, homoerotic male wrestling, as lean tan limbs are forced by rough hands into cuffs in extreme closeup. Did any other episode involve this much lovingly photographed fades of a pouty young man’s powerful back?  Have I been missing a whole subtext since episode one? All I remember in that one is a dwarf mutant hanging from a stick in the swamp.

After the credits, the unnamed hitchhiker is deposited in a bank of cells containing Arcane’s assorted failed mutations. Frankly, it looks like a cutaway from The Muppets. In reality, it’s Arcane’s experimental pool, the rejects from which are shipped off to third world locations for use in manual labor. Seriously. This is, like, the third disposal method for past-the-warranty Un-Men which this season has suggested so far. It’s this town’s most vibrant economy.

This current batch of bunged-up mutations is freed by Swamp Thing, which I only mention because one of the fat weirdos looks like Homer Simpson. With his other liberated compatriots, the freed weirdo runs into the swamp, which is Swamp Thing’s version of “saving someone.”


Meanwhile, it turns out that Jim had been hiding in a cupboard in Arcane’s secret lab and saw the whole thing! This puts Jim’s life in danger more than the other eight thousand dumb or self-harming things he’s done on this show so far.  Arcane thinks so, anyway, as he orders his bought-and-sold law enforcement officer to put an end to Jim *skrrrrth* permanently. Pretend that sound effect back there was me running my finger across my throat in a knife-like motion. Now you get it. Okay, moving on.

Now, here is what happened to Jim. Pay very close attention, because you will have questions; Sherriff Pay-Me puts Jim on a slave shipment to South America. That’s Jim, out of the picture – now he needs to fake Jim’s death. This is accomplished with a bike, one of Arcane’s mutants which happens to about Jim’s size, and a driverless Chevy Impala … which they set on fire. Then it explodes. It must have been one of those fiery bike accidents I’ve heard so much about.

Seems like it could happen, sure.

Before his abduction, Jim had managed to make phone contact with his half-brother Will. Arriving with a mane of hair that simply couldn’t be tamed, inoffensive basic cable good looks and a previously-unspoken history with his step-mother Tressa, it’s pretty clear that Will is here to completely erase the memory of Jim from the viewing public … whom I’d assume were more than happy to assist.

Will is the first character in the show so far to react to Swamp Thing as though he were some HORRIFYING GIANT MONSTER! This might warm you to Will, but then there are these exchanges which seem to imply that the series might become some sort of buddy action piece.

Swamp Thing: “I don’t like being followed”
Will: “I don’t like getting shut out”
Swamp Thing: “Get used to it”

As though welcoming in the next season’s new era, Swamp Thing season one ratchets up the violence for its first really spectacular fight scene that doesn't involve carnies. Breaking into Arcane’s lab, the Swamp Thing must contend with an actually pretty tubby guy doing super-good jumping kicks and stuff. Health is holistic, I guess! In any case, it’s a cool scene which ends with the bad guy getting shoved through a shelf full of chemicals and knocked into an electrical explosion. I know my rules, that guy’s gonna get super-speed!

Will's hair looks like someone cut a kickball in half.

Ultimately, all the badassery comes to naught, as Jim is nowhere to be found in Arcane’s lab and the burned body of Toad Boy creates what I can only call completely underwhelming if apparently convincing argument for the kid’s current occupation of a pine box.

Of course, Jim is alive and trapped on that truck heading for South America – forever, presumably. The way the camera lingers on Jim’s terrified eyes, you’d think season two would occupy itself with a multi-part rescue effort storyline. Nope. Nope, it does not. Jim’s misery among the mutates bound for prison camp labor remains our final image of the little psycho, his tiny pink hands clutching rusty iron bars. The loving length of the shot probably says as much about the production staff’s feelings about Jim as anything.

Jesus Christ, there wasn't anything this harrowing in Schindler's List.

That’s the end of season one! Next up, season two, with more comic book references, better fight scenes mostly, and a befuddling amount of backstory!

1 comment:

John said...

"sowing discord when man and reason slept" - oh man, that is great. Additional kudos for "Swamp Thing Changed". Time to go listen to some Pulp.

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