The USA network's 1990-1993 Swamp Thing television series sure went a long way before trying their luck with a bottle episode. But it works, even if it requires Mark Lindsay Chapman to deliver the most bizarre, unhinged performance of the series. I mean, "especially because it requires Mark Lindsay Chapman to deliver the most bizarre, unhinged performance of the series"...
Arcane is searching for a "hybrid swamp lily," cultivated and jealously guarded by an ancient, long-dead and lost civilization. He knows he's on the right track when he finds a bunch of the tribe's traditional ceremonial masks! Just lying on top of a golf course or something! They could not have seeded the hill with less competence. For a civiliation that is long dead and undiscovered, all of their possessions look brand new and nothing's grown over them. It looks like someone upended a wheelbarrow full of Collegeville costumes.
|And look, a cattle skull! He's found the remains of a prehistoric Bowlin's!|
The masks lead Arcane to a cave. Swamp Thing (in a slightly new costume, interestingly enough) follows him in, and proceeds to morally judge him so hard that the whole things caves in. Now they're trapped together -- an already-weakened Swamp Thing dying in the dark, a manic Arcane trapped without light and a quickly dwindling supply of fresh air. With Graham unreachable through the radio-proof walls, it looks like the end for our intrepid pair!
What follows is a genuine masterclass by Mark Lindsay Chapman in how to perform like Mark Lindsay Chapman. Unmoored from the need to communicate with another actor in anything resembling a dialogue, he's launched into a monologue about his person, his ambitions, his self-esteem and his existential dread. He embarks on tirades, some of which I believe were quoted wholesale from works of literature and theater but I'm too dumb to know which were from where, and challenges God to prove His worth in the face of Arcane.
|This show is so cheap that it sometimes feels like it's on purpose.|
He also has his downsides.
In the course of his antics, Arcane ends up confiding his deepest fears and insecurities -- alternating with bravado and menace -- to Swamp Thing's unmoving corpse. That's where things get interesting, because we are now officially inside Arcane's head now, complete with reflected lantern light bouncing off a wall suddenly becoming a bona fide spotlight (complete with "klung" sound effect) just as Arcane has something upon which to wax poetic.
If there's a downside to the episode, it's when the hallucinations from oxygen deprivation take over, and it becomes a mindfuck episode, a la PayDay, with hallucinations and smoky, dark sets. Arcane goes full red-rubber-band-schizo, perceives his corpse as an anatomy lesson for his living self, sees himself as a judging figure of God condemning the corpse, sees his worthless skeleton abused for the sake of the so-called science whose cruelties he once performed. I mean, that was all great, it's just that this era of Swamp Thing gets really invested in the mindfuck, and it's tedious.
|"Oh hey, I didn't notice you there. Boy, my family, eh? What a bunch of characters..."|
In the end, Swamp Thing revives, ironically fed life-giving carbon dioxide via Arcane's incessant yattering. Now they're lung-buddies. The big potted plant does that thing where he grows his dick really long and sticks it out into the sun for strength (which, to be fair, the vine looked a lot less like a dick this time, perhaps by studio edict), and frees them both.
If there's any takeaway from the episode, let is be this obtuse and indeterminate thing Swamp Thing intones as he descends into the healing swamp water ... "Cheating the swamp is a debt that will be repaid ... eventually"
|"Is this, uh ... is this me? Is this supposed to be me?"|