Swamp Thing season 1, episode 9 review: The Anatomy Lesson


With the second to last episode of the DC Universe’s Swamp Thing comes the biggest reveal of them all. But how will this series end? Spoilers ahead.

The penultimate chapter of Swamp Thing dropped on Friday with an episode entitled “The Anatomy Lesson.” This title was also used for Swamp Thing Volume 2, No. 21 of the comic book series. This was the second issue of prolific writer Alan Moore’s (Watchmen, Batman: The Killing Joke) run on Swamp Thing from February 1984. And it plays out in much the same way as this seminal issue of the series.

The big bad villains

Dr. Jason Woodrue ends up becoming a villain called the Floronic Man in DC Comics. But, with one episode left, there may not be time for this transformation. He is definitely a villain in this show. But he also has the sympathy of the viewing audience because he is driven to save his wife (Caroline) from her degenerative brain disease (Alzheimer’s).

This makes Woodrue so much more captivating as a bad guy. He is interested in the science and nothing more because he has a personal stake. Even if there were a way to “cure” Alec Holland of what he has become, he would never do it. Not just for his wife, but for the many possibilities that Swamp Thing represents in terms of science, medicine, and so many other discoveries.

At the other end of the villain spectrum is Avery Sunderland – the ultimate bad guy in this story. His abuse of the swamp – and his order to murder Alec Holland – for personal gain is what ends up creating Swamp Thing. Sunderland is such an evil character that his own wife (Marie) and mistress (Sheriff Lucilia Cable) team up to kill him and take control of his many holdings.

Yet, Sunderland survives – with Swamp Thing’s help – and gets his wife put into a mental institution. The show did a great job with this seemingly regular businessman that will go to great extremes to get what he wants. And mostly, he is only concerned with more wealth – no matter the cost.

The big reveal

As Woodrue does an autopsy on Swamp Thing/Alec Holland (or “the specimen” from his view), he pulls out various organs. But the organs no longer serve their original function of breathing (lungs) or pumping blood (heart). They are sort of petrified.

The surprising revelation is that Woodrue concludes that Swamp Thing is not a man. But is, in fact, a plant that thinks he is a man. When Dr. Abby Arcane finally rescues Holland, Alec is driven to go back to the swamp to finds out if Woodrue’s conclusion is true.

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Swamp Thing ends up retrieving the body of Alec Holland, and pronouncing that: “Alec Holland is dead” in the closing moments of the episode. There is truth in that statement. But Holland’s consciousness and memories – really his soul – has been absorbed by the swamp and created this, well, Swamp Thing.

It certainly leaves Holland knowing that he can never be alive in that body again – there is no cure to transform him back into a man. But Holland can live on in this new form, as a hero. And somehow along his journey, he has earned the affection of Abby, whom Alec clearly loves. Holland will never escape becoming this monster in terms of appearance. But his soul allows this creature to do spectacular things. This is a different life, but a second chance at life as well.

It is a really cool origin story. And Moore’s creation of this genesis began with the aforementioned Issue #21. By the way, that issue and the entire Alan Moore run of Swamp Thing is available on the DC Universe streaming service. So, check it out – I know that I plan to do so.

The big mistake

The main reason for my interest in reading Alan Moore’s comic book run on Swamp Thing is this beautifully delivered television show. Using what came before, the producers of this show breathed new life into this character, and they made a very believable and compelling story along the way. DC – or its parent company Warner Brothers – needs to rethink the show’s cancellation.

But, at the very least, DC should not waste setting up such a fantastic world and not use it any further. Cross this character over with DC Universe’s other original shows Titans or Doom Patrol. Start working with other characters from the Justice League Dark roster (my personal pick would be Zatanna), and use Swamp Thing in the eventual team-up.

Don’t squander all this good work.

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Swamp Thing has been terrific for nine episodes. And how they plan to end it with just 45-60 more minutes of airtime is hard to imagine. Here’s hoping that final stretch can live up to what has come thus far. Check out the final episode of Swamp Thing on the DC Universe streaming service on Friday, August 2.