​ "Drive All Night" – Swamp Thing S01E05 Review

And this is why we can't have nice things.

Or to put it another way: DC Universe channel, bite me. Bite me wide, and bite me deep. But bite me.

When I read the press release saying the Phantom Stranger was in the episode, my heart leapt. I quickly put it back in my chest and sat down to write. First of all, he's one of my favorite comic book characters. For those not in the know, the Phantom Stranger is... someone who nobody is in the know about. He was originally the mysterious narrator in one of DC's horror anthology books. Then he got his own series, where he became a supernatural wizard of sorts. He eventually got integrated into the mainstream DC, turned down a Justice League membership, and bounced around in the comics ever since, including Swamp Thing's own comic. Stranger also appeared in a "team up" with Batman in The Brave and the Bold, in one of the best episodes of that series.

In appearance, the Stranger wears a blue suit and cloak, a golden amulet, and a snappy fedora pulled down over his forehead so that the shadow effectively acts as a mask. He seems to have any power he needs, but he's not omnipotent. In one of their smarter moves, DC featured him in a Secret Origins, showed four possible origins for the Stranger (He's a fallen angel! He's the Wandering Jew!), and then basically shrugged their shoulders and said maybe none of them were true. Later in the New 52 era, DC said he's Judas Iscariot. But that's been retconned and ignored since then, so who knows for sure?

I didn't think there was any way a live-action creative team could pull off such a character. But hey, DC Universe Channel didn't do too bad with Titans. And they brought us Mr. Nobody, Willoughby Kipling, Flex Mentallo, and Danny the Street on Doom Patrol.

Macon Blair, Swamp Thing S01E05

So what do we get for the Phantom Stranger in "Drive All Night"? A bearded Louisiana night fisherman. Jesus wept.

Fortunately, the "Phantom Night Fisherman" didn't stink up the place too bad, as he was only in it for about five minutes of screen time. He got a creepy entrance and served his expository purpose. Which as Ye Bearded One himself said, was to tell Swamp Thing what ST (and most of we the viewer) actually knew: That the trees were trying to share memories of the past with ST. Oh, and they were all tied together by an elemental force called the Green.

This first caused ST to see visions of dead bodies in old-timey clothing. And then he saw the incident where Teenage Abby supposedly killed Teenage Shawna. We later find out this is a warning from the Green to Swamp Thing that Abby is in danger. Again.

Meanwhile, other things happen. Daniel tries to leave town, but his hand bursts into blue flame when he reaches the city limits. He keeps his old Hollywood Blue Devil costume in his trunk, and its eyes glow blue when he's not looking. Nothing ominous about that.

Will Patton, Swamp Thing S01E05Avery is still scum: he's sleeping with Lucilia, and there are hints the two of them were going to get married until Maria rolled into Marais and Avery needed her money. Later at Delroy's bar, Avery pays the owner a visit, makes "toitle soup", and not-so-subtlety threatens Delroy to make him call Liz off of her investigation into Avery's affairs. When Liz shows up, Avery threatens her but she's not impressed.

We find out Xanadu and Abby have a past: Xanadu apparently gave Abby's mother, Anise, fortunetelling advice, which Abby thinks stopped her mother from getting a "real" cure to her life-threatening illness.

Lucilia discovers her son, Matt, may have killed Alec on Avery's orders. When a local worker blackmails Lucilia with the information, she shoots him dead. A lot.

Liz pours out her backstory to Daniel at Delroy's: she went to NYC to become a reporter but got stuck taking a job as a copy editor. So she moved back to Marais, where if it wasn't for Avery's shenanigans she'd probably be... copy editing. Two thugs threaten her in the parking lot, and Daniel comes to her rescue and gets hit over the head with a tire iron for his trouble.

Crystal Reed, Swamp Thing S01E05

Why are Xanadu and Abby together? That brings us to the main plot line. Susie (Elle Graham) is living at the Sutherland manor, and Maria has taken a shine to her. So has Dead Ghost Girl Shawna, who possesses Susie, talks to Abby, revealing secrets about them only Shawna knew, and finally convincing Maria to come into the water with her so they can be together. Since Maria has been consulting with Xanadu, Xanadu comes to the manor and joins forces with Abby to do... nothing. Abby goes in after Maria, Maria tries to drown her, then Shawna tries to drown Maria. ST shows up and rescues a now-unconscious Maria. ST tells Abby the Green has been sending him what it saw.

Apparently the Green has pan and scan, and does great camerawork. We find out Shawna wasn't killed by Abby, but by some force pulling her under the water. This makes Abby feel better, although it doesn't do anything for the unconscious Maria. ST slinks off into the shadows and glowers as Matt arrives and comforts Abby.

At the very end, Jason approaches Avery and tells him a living creature has been exposed to the plant accelerant. Jason needs the creature so he can dissect it for the secret of cellular regeneration, and Avery promises to put his best hunter on the job.

That's it for this episode. And it's not bad. But Swamp Thing has always been "not bad". It's better than its movie, TV, and animated predecessors. But then again, 2019 Swamp Thing is intended to be serious.

Crystal Reed, Swamp Thing S01E05

The horror scenes are good. Dead Ghost Girl Shawna appears underwater in a tub filled with river water. Later, she makes Abby see a vision of a second-story window while Abby is inside. Outside is a floating corpse tapping on the window. Elle Graham as Susie is actually more ominous and scary than Dead Ghost Girl Shawna. It's the creepy adult-like voice coming from a young child. Ian Ziering is also surprisingly good.

But it still doesn't make sense. Apparently there's something evil in the swamp (the Red, which animated Munson a couple of episodes ago), that the Green opposes. So the Green turned Alec into ST to become its avatar and defend... who? or what? Abby? Why does the Green care about Avery? Maria? She's married to Avery, who is anything but good for the Green. Dead Ghost Girl Shawna isn't threatening the swamp. They all seem to be pawns in some great struggle between the Green and the Red. But it seems like they should be on the same side.

"Drive All Night" is the fifth episode out of ten, and ST is barely coming into his powers. Now he can channel what plants have seen in the past. Sort of. It's not clear if ST can control plants: he had vines draw and quarter Munson, but in this episode vines hold ST in place so he can see the corpse-memories the Green show him. One wonders what the creative team is going to do in the next, and last, five episodes before the end of the season and the series.

Kevin Durand, Will Patton, Swamp Thing S01E05

The Phantom Night Fisherman (PNF) is a good example of what I've said before: Swamp Thing is... small. Avery is a small-town villain and Jason seems more effective as a potential long-term bad guy. One gets the impression he'll do something with the plant accelerant, becoming the show's version of Woodrue in the comics (aka the Floronic Man). That'll be the season finale, and all the buildup will be wasted because it's the series finale. A pity because it never hurts to have more of Kevin Durand.

PNF is small. He's not the comic book incarnation where he fights evil as an avatar of the Lords of Order. Unless Judas decided to take up night fishing, PNF doesn't even come across as his newer New 52 version.

The Daniel/Blue Devil situation is actually the "biggest" part of Swamp Thing. Daniel made a deal with some supernatural (demonic?) force to return to his home town on some kind of mission. That has big implications. Not Trigon/world-destroying complications, or even Mr. Nobody/giant buttock balloon/mass insanity complications. But it could turn into something major with some work. How it's connected to ST, or the Red, or the Green, still isn't clear. It seems demonic in nature, what with the flames and the (Blue) Devil motif. And I liked ST's sojourn to Hell way back in Saga of the Swamp Thing #50 where his supernatural comrades battled the demons of Hell and what amounted to a giant finger so huge it was unrecognizable as a finger until the very end.

But that was Alan Moore. And even if Moore were interested in this version of Swamp Thing, he considers himself burned by other Hollywood adaptations of his work like V for Vendetta and Watchmen. And thus has no interest in getting close to any other TV or movie adaptations of his work.

So on we go. Stay for the horror, and hope the creative team can assemble all the pieces into something resembling a "closed" one-season series.

But that's just my opinion, I could be wrong. What do you think?

Written by Gislef on Jun 29, 2019


Gislef posted 21 days ago


I don't get it, though. The Phantom Stranger is like the Dr. Strange of the DC universe. More so, actually: he's so far beyond Strange (or Dr. Fate) level magic that he's an omnipotent near-god-like being. He shouldn't come across as an extra from Deliverance. Casting Mark Sheppard (who played Willoughby Kipling on Doom Patrol) would have made more sense. Or his father Morgan.

How do they get the casting of Willoughby Kipling (or John Constantine, with Matt Ryan) so right, but screw up so badly with Phantom Night Fisherman? Yeah, it's not the same creative team. But come on, DC: exercise a little oversight.

It's also weird because Ian Ziering is good as Daniel Cassidy. A cocky small-town stuntman who sells his soul to a devil and gets supernatural powers, and is clearly in over his head. How do you get a relatively minor character like Blue Devil right, but screw up Phantom Stranger? I don't expect Ian McKellan on a DC Universe channel budget, but Macon Blair? Come on...

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