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Swamp Thing: The Strong Women of Marais

Swamp Thing: The Strong Women of Marais

By Rosie Knight Thursday, July 18th, 2019

Welcome to the Couch Club, our recurring column devoted to all things #DCTV! This week, Rosie Knight pays tribute to the women of Swamp Thing and the show's female-forward approach.

Hey, hey, Couch Club! Did you miss me? It’s been a little while since I was last here to talk some DCTV! I’m not sure how many of you are DC Universe subscribers, but I’ve been absolutely loving Swamp Thing. It’s been blowing my mind since it debuted earlier this year and as we head towards the end of the season, I can’t help but be struck by how many rich, complex women it has introduced to our screens.

Sure, Swamp Thing’s practical effects are astonishing. Yes, Andy Bean and Derek Mears do a brilliant job of bringing the duality of Alec Holland and Swamp Thing to life. But how often do we really see a comic book genre show that features multiple major female characters each of whom have their own complex interior lives that don't revolve completely around men?

From the outset, the writers behind Swamp Thing have centered the story around the show’s women. This is different than in the comics, where Alec Holland is the main protagonist of the story (which, to cut Len Wein, Alan Moore and the other Swamp Thing comic writers some slack, makes sense seeing as he is the titular plant elemental and all). In DC Universe’s Swamp Thing, our entry point to Marais, Louisiana is CDC scientist Abby Arcane (Crystal Reed). It’s a choice that works for the show’s narrative, but it also works as a statement of intent letting audiences know that this is a series that values its female protagonists just as much as everyone else…perhaps even a little more.

It shouldn't feel radical, but it does, and after the events of the first episode, it becomes clear that Abby won't be trapped in a romantic triangle or play damsel in distress. In fact, if anything, this is a Beauty and the Beast story, one that will see Abby take on the role of hero.

It isn't just Abby, though. In fact, many of Swamp Thing’s characters are women. In the very first episode, we're introduced to Liz Tremayne (Maria Sten), Abby's best friend and Marais' local truth-hunting journalist who is never afraid to shine a light on the murky figures that infect and inhabit the small town. Her perseverance and integrity make her stand out from the shady characters who fill the town that she loves so much. Liz is a beacon of truth and light in the dark glades of Marais. She isn't even afraid of Swamp Thing's biggest bad, Avery Sunderland, and the murderous lengths that he'll go to protect himself and his wealth.

Heroic women are wonderful, and Swamp Thing is filled with them, but Executive Producers Len Wiseman, Gary Dauberman, Mark Verheiden and James Wan add a lot nuance to the landscape with some flawed or outright villainous female characters who also populate the cast. Jennifer Beals shines as Lucilia Cable, the compromised Sheriff of the town, whose love for her son and the nefarious Avery often undermine her moral compass. It feels rare to see women who do wrong that are also complex and empathetic. As the audience, we understand what drives Lucilia, whether it's the need to be loved or to protect her son from harm. She's also a particularly interesting case as despite the crimes and corruption we see her embroiled in, there are still times when see Lucilia do what's right and commit to working alongside the women of Marais rather than conspiring against them.

Virginia Madsen takes on the unenviable—and unexpectedly sizable—role of Maria Sunderland, Avery’s unstable wife. In less thoughtful hands, Maria could easily have become a tropey hysterical caricature, but here she plays as an intelligent woman driven mad by grief. If anything, the tragic death of her daughter has made her more Machiavellian, more malicious, more desperate to do whatever it takes to achieve her ultimate goal. It's a brutal performance that sees Madsen deal with not only her husband, his spiraling debt and the death of their daughter, but also the supernatural. And it all pays off massively at the shocking end of Swamp Thing’s seventh episode, "Brilliant Disguise."

Finally, I can’t end this without mentioning the powerful and brilliant Madame Xanadu. Jeryl Prescott delivers a killer performance as the all-seeing psychic who has the weight of two worlds on her shoulders. Not only does Xanadu have to protect the living human plane of Marais, but also the spirit world too…and did I mention that she’s also blind? It's no easy task, but Prescott’s Xanadu represents the power of womanhood along with one of the things that makes Swamp Thing so enjoyable overall—a distinct understanding and love for the comics, without a reverence that thwarts any imagination or new ideas.

With only three episodes remaining in the entire series, we can't wait to see where this wonderful DCTV series leaves the women of Marais, but we're sure they'll manage to pleasantly surprise and challenge us.
 

Catch new episodes of Swamp Thing every Friday on DC Universe. Click here to subscribe now.

Rosie Knight writes about comics, movies and TV for DCComics.com and DCUniverse.com. Check out her column on the Brilliant Women of Batman and be sure to follow her on Twitter at @RosieMarx.