If You See Swamp Thing, Say Swamp Thing
Season Two / Episode Eleven : Smoke and Mirrors
As far as Swamp Thing goes, "Smoke and Mirrors" is a gift, and its generosity is manifold.
Among the delights which this atypical episode brings us is an absence of Kipps. All the Kipps are otherwise engaged during the course of this 23-minute slice of heaven; Teresa has fucked off to some ambiguous place and subsequently AirBNB'ed her swamp-laden shanty to this episode's guest star, Will is off getting laid, Abigail isn't mentioned although we can safely assume that she probably got distracted by a shiny pebble or wondering if herons have emotions or something like that, and Jim is dead.
The downside of this largesse is that there's no Arcane and just about zeee-ro Swamp Thing in this episode. What we get instead is another gift, it's former MTV VeeJay Adam Curry playing the role of jaded, malaise-ridden rockstar Nathan Stone. Why a rockstar, you might ask? Because this episode is a cautionary tale about how heavy metal is evil and will force you to kill yourselves! Yes, it's a tale ripped from the headlines of about ten years earlier! Brace yourself, Rob and Ozzy, the Swamp Thing writing team is about to hand you your asses!
|I........would not go sleeveless if I were you, Adam.|
"Smoke and Mirrors" is ostensibly a public service announcement about the perils of listening to too much hard rock, it appears to be completely sincere, and it adopts an absolute hard-line pose against rock and roll. From the perspective of the episode, heavy metal absolutely DID kill those poor kids who had, in high profile cases from the Eighties, taken or attempted to take their own lives. This is the Seduction of the Innocent for hard rock, except instead of being the product a respected-if-misguided child psychiatrist and cultural activist, it's the product of a late-night basic cable horror anthology starring revered character actor A Large Broccoli and which is broadcast between commercials for Up All Night and Freedom Rock.
|The official flag of Things Being Bogus|
Before we even meet "Nathan Stone," -- the rocker with the least rocking name in rock (for my part, it sounds like the fake-ass name you'd give a corrupt businessman in another show which possesses precisely the same amount of gravitas as Swamp Thing. Hell, it might roll around on this program next season, it sounds so half-assed and likely) -- we hear his music. It's powerful stuff, crafted with an artist's sensibility, and speaks to an entire disaffected generation with lyrics like these:
"(Chugging guitar x4)
Put your pedal to the metal what the hell you waiting for?
No one knows your name and no one cares 'bout Dinah Shore
You act like artichokes sitting watching your TV
Mayan fuckin' mimes are buggle blub blub beeble bee
SO DO IT DO IT GET A BIG PLUMP SHREW IT PLBIBLBLBB
We hear this track over what appears to be footage from a twinsies snuff film as sponsored by Urban Decay. Joe Rohland and Matthew James (he went to the Lee Strassberg school! It paid off!) play the roles of Dead Teenager #1 and, in the role of a lifetime, Dead Teenager #2. Inspired by the really affecting lyrics of Nathan Stone, the two ... brothers? Lovers? Lifting buddies? Counter clerks at Hot Topic, Venice Beach branch? Whatever ... the two "teens*" march solemnly up to a pair of nooses hung so closely together that the only way both of these guys are gonna hang themselves is if they hug while they do it.
|"I love my large dead goth teenage twin sons!"|
*For values of "teens" in the mid- to late- Twenties.
After Heckyl and Jeckyl snuff themselves, we finally meet Nathan Stone, disaffected rockstar with just the worst attitude, just, just like unreasonably uncooperative and snide. He's a dude with no time to be, like, polite to cops and just, like, he can't believe how bogus all of this is. He smokes like dank marijuanas, man. He is also addicted to swinging his head around in a super-exaggerated action. As an actor, Adam Curry is really good at introducing corporate-rock-era Heart songs.
The Swamp Thing players aren't always given the best material with which to work, and it takes a Mark David Chapman or a Dick Durock to figure out how to have fun with the roles. And don't tell them I said this, but I don't even believe Carell Myers (Tressa Kipp), Scott Garrison (Will Kipp), or Kari Wuhrer (Abigail, a sheet of cardboard which was given a role on the show this season) are bad actors, per se. They just don't know how to inhabit their roles and give it much life beyond the scripted word.
|This pointless dream sequence happens near the end of the episode and lasts four hundred thousand minutes.|
None of this is an excuse for Adam Curry. I mean, the guy hosted Headbanger's Ball, how is it that he acts like he has never seen a rock star before? It's only worse if you imagine that he's doing an impression of a particularly disliked former interview subject, because you'll have to imagine that he foisted that on his coworkers in the breakroom at the drop of a hat.
Whatever the case, disdainful and jejune rock god Nathan Stone is advised by his manager to go lay low somewhere in the swamps of Houma, while prosecutors are assembling a case against him for, um, musically commanding two large teenagers to hang themselves. It turns out, the best place for him to hang out is in Tressa Kipp's abandoned house, rented out specifically for the moody young musician. The place has it all -- bog views, the smell of hot quagmire, humidity, alligators, and a judgmental pile of relish that walks.
|"Welcome to Up All Night, we're the skeletons of Gilbert Gottfried"|
Swamp Thing really has it in for Stone for some reason. The distant suicide of two squat-addicted headbangers/lifters/definitely-teenagers-and-not-full-grown-adults seems to have gotten under his bark, and he turns all his simmering rage on Stone by way of hallucinations, and also one time appearing on the TV like some kind of salad-encrusted evangelist. I don't know how Swamp Thing can appear on TV, by which I mean I still don't understand how this show got greenlighted, what they're even doing, or why it ran more than an episode. BUT HERE WE ARE
Swamp Thing plays such a minor role in this episode that he isn't even Stone's primary accuser. That comes in the form of a television anchor who leaps out of the television screen and becomes a preacher and also the Devil. This is played by Michael Callan, whom I primarily know as Metallo from the syndicated Superboy show. This guy is practically superhero TV royalty!
|Tanned, rested, and ready to give Superboy the bizness.|
Stone gets into it with whatever Callan's supposed to be (see the credits for clarification), leading to this amazing exchange and a shibboleth for a whole generation, maybe, only probably not:
"That whole rap of your is bull, anyway. Good ... evil ... its all the same crap. Rock and Roll is the only thing that counts, dig? Hard-ass, blistering, awesome Heavy Metal ROCK ... and ... ROLL!"
The emotion-packed ending of the episode sees Stone accept the consequences of his actions and swear off rock music forever. The kids stay dead. This is exactly what caused Darius Rucker to go Country. This is also the only possible conclusion to what was clearly a leftover script from the guy who brought you Mazes & Monsters. No, I kid, but the screenwriter for this episode did write a lot for Riptide. And maybe was Tipper Gore. I don't know, I didn't check. Awwww Suffragette!
|"It's a living!"|