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 used to like to call a dumb pun kind of title, but I've run out of those, so I just call it ...
If You See Swamp Thing, Say Swamp Thing
Season Two / Episode Nineteen : Changes
TURN AND FACE THE SWAMP THING! Ch-ch-changes! In which we learn just which one is the most wooden, Alex Holland or Swamp Thing.
Oh yay, Dr.Ann Fisk (Janet Julian) is ... back? Maybe? It's definitely not her first appearance, yet, and it could very well be her second. Or fifth. I dunno. Continuity is only so important to this show, because Jim is still being murdered every minute in a Peruvian mutant mine.
|It's unfair making Nancy Drew emote at a bird.|
Anyway, Dr.Fisk is back, freeing "blue doves" from traps set up all around the swamp. I actually didn't think there were any doves in the swamps, but I'm sure someone in comments can tell me more than what a little googling taught me -- that these are common ground doves, and that they live in the American southwest mostly. I only mention this because they're part of the plot, as far as that goes.
The other part of the plot is that Arcane's men have sprayed some sort of genetically-targeted poison over the Swamp, and it is literally reducing Swamp Thing to goo! The doves figure into it too, as Arcane plans to move on to exterminating the birds once he's sure it works on Swamp Thing. I missed the "why" of that argument but, in my defense, who cares?
|Common-ass Ground Doves, I promise you.|
A disintegrating Swamp Thing hides out in Ann's lab, where she has great news -- she's figured out a cure for his condition! Oh, but only if he weren't being targeted by a DNA-destroying pathogen. Aw gee, Swampy, sorry. She's still really cheery about having discovered a way to have saved Swamp Thing if he weren't dying. Oh well.
Ann's cure involves using an enormous surplus Navy decompression chamber and a "DNA milshake with a dash of radioactive cesium." Also, she uses a desktop microscope to double-check Swamp Thing's DNA, which is a good value for the $19.95 she probably spent on the thing.
They agree to wait to try the cure on Swamp Thing, but Alec receives an emergency message from the birds of the swamp. While Ann sleeps, the birds tweet Arcane's evil plan right to Swampy's ears. This is like a really boggy version of Snow White.
So Swamp Thing gives himself the cure, inspiring all kinds of angelic choir music and writhing around in a latex flesh-sac. Ann interrupts the transformation, and that either does or does not explain why Alec Holland pops out of the pod balls-out crazy, half-swamp monster and punching things. A cursory viewing of the film Altered States might provide a small clue, on the other hand, since they're overtly copying it.
|I mean, it looks good and everything ...|
The question of transforming from Swamp Thing to Alec Holland never addresses a core point: Swamp Thing is handsomer. I mean, Dick Durock's a pretty good-looking guy, as is Patrick Neal Quinn who plays Holland in this episode. But the heavy brow sets off Swamp Thing's eyes and he's got cheekbones to die for. If I were Swamp Thing, I'd probably just stay green.
But Holland is back, butt naked and human, and his hair is all there too. I thought they were just reiviving his DNA, but his DNA apparently remembers his favorite haircut. When I say his hair looks freshly cut, I mean freshly cut, like he literally just got out of the chair and wandered naked over to the set. Like I used to do, and why I'm banned at SuperCuts.
|Ann's science can even trim sideburns.|
The thing about Patrick Neal Quinn is that he is a very bad actor, or very stiff and inorganic, anyway. However, he looks so much like the comic book version of Alec Holland that it is ridiculous. It's great face-casting, but that's all. It's also to his detriment that his scenes -- and this is also not a particularly well-written episode, at least in terms of dialogue -- are primarily with Janet Julian, and the two of them just have zeeee-ro chemistry. It felt like a high school production.
Alec develops a bad case of Swamp Arm, as plant cellulose fiber begins to grow on the skin of his arm. Sensing that they'll need the original bio-restorative formula -- something that only Holland and Arcane can develop together -- Ann capitalizes on Arcane's persistent horniness to trick him over to her place. While Arcane muses out loud about sticking his dick into ladies, as he does a little too often in this show to be a believable cocksman, Alec steps out from behind a wall and surprises him! "Surprised?" asks Ann, underlining the moment. This is a masterclass in dialogue.
|Every scene between these two feels like a PBS show aimed at teaching 8 year olds about environmentalism.|
The pair go on to trick Arcane into thinking that his anti-Swamp Thing spray is actually responsible for returning Holland to his original body, which leads to some expositionary text that implies the two had been college pals or something? They're writing this whole thing on the fly. The series bible for this thing must have been a napkin with a fingerprint stain in mustard on the front AND back.
This is another thing worth mentioning about the dialogue -- Holland retains absolutely nothing of the wisdom gained during his time as Swamp Thing. No patience, no insight, no passion for justice. Just peevish fear of his arm going full courgette.
|Looks like Ed Begley Jr doing the opening scene from Creepshow|
Arcane takes the duo back to his lab, where Graham gets his biggest scene yet; doing a Jack Nicholson impression and inadvertently owning himself by trying to impress Ann with a sexual metaphor based around an electron microscope. While there, they destroy the bacteria which allowed Arcane to target Swamp Thing in the first place, leading Chapman to holler the line "MY BACTERIA," rendering the whole thing worth it.
When Holland turns back into Swamp Thing, it's actually a relief on account of Dick Durock really is surprisingly good in his role. It also ends the interminability of this episode.
|A Nicholson impression is how you know it's the 90s.|
The thing about these shows where the monster protagonist briefly changes back to his human form is that we, as the audience, know that the character is going to become a monster again by the end. After all, whose name is on the title, "Alec Holland?" No, it's Three's Company. Swamp Thing. I meant Swamp Thing.
In these kinds of episodes, it's what the character does between becoming human and then becoming a monster again that gives the episode its purpose, and Holland doesn't do much except slowly change back. This is why that old episode of The Incredible Hulk worked so well, because Bruce Banner spends the interim between transformations learning deep truths and new emotional realities about himself, gaining and losing a profound and meaningful relationship with a woman who is plainly his true soulmate. Hell, most episodes of The Hulk are about what Banner or some other character learns and does during Banner's human moments. Or they're about throwing a bear over a lake, one of the two, a height Swamp Thing has yet to reach.
|This scene lasted an hour and all Ann did was stand there.|