Swamp Thing 3.7: The Mysteries of Alessandro

It’s your basic “boy-meets-girl, boy-becomes-cryptid” story, really. A woman walks into a laboratory, and the chemistry experiment begins.

As we’ve discussed, the three steps to getting the audience to like a character is to make a friend, make a joke and make a plot point, and Dr. Alec Holland is about to do all three in record time. The appeal of Swamp Thing is half superhero-action and half romantic drama, so it’s only going to be effective if it can get us to believe in Cable and Alec as a couple, during the limited amount of time before he explodes.

So this meet-cute needs to be practically automatic, establishing that both parties are smart, funny and attractive, and getting them to challenge each other in sparky mini-clashes that are interesting to watch. The time-honored method is to get the characters to stick their hands in a murky water trough, looking for an imaginary animal.

Cable doesn’t know what Alec is working on yet, and frankly, neither do I. She walks through the crowded lab for the first time, past some test tubes, computers, potting soil and miscellaneous. And there are the two doctors, crouched over a water trough, with one hand each immersed in the algae-ridden water.

The movie establishes that Alec and Cable share a sense of humor in the most direct possible way. Cable makes a joke — “Lose a contact lens?” — and Alec looks up at her, smiles, and says “Funny!” And now they’re a couple.

He’ll do that again in a minute, responding to another one of her jokes with a positive evaluation, and I have to admit, there are worse ways to run a meet-cute.

They want to establish that Alec is eccentric and playful, so Alec says, “Well, don’t just stand there, give us a hand!” She’s put off, but he says “Please?” with a little twinkle in his eye, and a twinkling Ray Wise is hard to resist.

“I dropped a cooper’s digger,” he explains, and that’s how you get someone that you just met to stick their hand elbow-deep in pond scum. “Would you look under the rocks, please?”

So she looks under the rocks, tentatively, because why are there rocks in this thing. “What’s a cooper’s digger, anyway?” she asks. “Some kind of shovel?”

And then, the big reveal. “Nah,” he says, “just Alessandro!” And like a conjurer pulling a slimy wet rabbit from a slimy wet hat, he hoists a wriggling, squealing mammal up into the air by his tail. “He’s got a little one-celled animal living in his fur that makes a terrific host.” So that’s how you construct a meet-cute, I guess, if you’re entirely out of your mind and you don’t know how science works.

As our new cast member looks directly into the camera and says hello to the folks at home, I have several important questions to ask about Alessandro.

I’ll start with the most obvious: what the fuck is a cooper’s digger?

Because this is a new form of life, as far as I know. The internet informs me that there’s no such thing; if you search for “cooper’s digger” all you get are quotes from Swamp Thing, plus a greyhound from Australia that may have been named as a Swamp Thing reference, and if you scroll down too far you get some bottom-feeder porn keyword scrapes. That’s it. A cooper’s digger is not a thing.

There’s a Cooper’s hawk, if that helps, but that’s the only Cooper’s animal that I’ve come across. If Cooper discovered anything else worth naming, then they must have kept it to themselves.

The actual animal that’s being taken for a swing around the set is an opossum, a species that tends to get ordinary descriptive names like Bushy-tailed opossum, Big-eared opossum, Osgood’s short-tailed opossum and Bishop’s slender opossum. The only one that comes close to having a luxury name is the Four-eyed opossum, which has little white patches above its eyes that don’t look even vaguely like a second set of eyes. (Looking up pictures of Four-eyed opossums is not worth your time; I learned that lesson the hard way.)

Anyway, the point is that it’s not a cooper’s digger, and I can’t imagine why Wes Craven thinks that it is.

Okay, further questions about Alessandro.

Why is he under the water? Alec says “I dropped a cooper’s digger,” but how do you drop an animal in a scummy water trough? Why does Alec even have a scummy water trough? The water trough is over in a corner of the lab, so what was Alec intending to do with Alessandro when he walked him all the way over to the corner and accidentally dropped him?

If Alessandro was dropped in the water trough, why is it difficult for them to find him? A mammal who’s been submerged in water is usually pretty easy to find, because it’ll be splashing around, trying not to drown. Is Alessandro an amphibian? Even if there is an explanation for why Alessandro was just sitting motionless under the water, quietly practicing his snorkel technique, how hard would it be to find him? He’s huge and furry; two people sitting on the floor and feeling around for him should have found him within a couple of seconds.

And how could Alessandro be under the rocks? Also, why are there rocks in your scummy water trough? I still can’t get my head around even having a scummy water trough in your laboratory in the first place, but if you’re going to have one, why fill it with rocks?

More questions:

Why are they keeping Alessandro in a little fish tank so small that he can’t even stretch out in it? Why is Alec covering the tank with a piece of wood, presumably held down with that big rock? How does Alessandro breathe in there? Does he just not need to breathe at all? Is a cooper’s digger some kind of supersoldier opossum that can survive in airless environments?

Also, why is there a one-celled animal living in his fur? Does that animal live on other cooper’s diggers, or is Alessandro particularly blessed? If you need a one-celled animal to run experiments on, is there another place to store them besides another animal’s fur?

And how can a one-celled animal be a terrific host? It’s only one cell. What could it be a host for? You try to put something on top of a one-celled animal, you’re not going to get very far. Is the one-celled animal a parasite? Is Alec trying to infect a parasite with another parasite?

Then Alec tells Linda, “I want you to run up a new variation on the formula with that little host on Alessandro’s fur,” and what on earth could that mean? How do you run up new variations, and what does Alessandro have to do with it? Is the one-celled host an ingredient, a test subject or a co-author?

And that new variation that Linda runs up? That’s the one that explodes when you drip it on the floor. What has that one-celled host been doing, all this time? Is it mixing up tiny little one-celled Molotov cocktails? Is Alessandro sitting in his little fishtank, plotting revenge?

I swear, if Alessandro peels off his rubber mask and it turns out that he’s Arcane in disguise, I am going to lose it. I don’t get paid enough to handle this shit.

Tomorrow:
We check in with Adrienne Barbeau
3.8: Beauty, and the Other One


Footnotes:

There are a few visual continuity errors in this scene. The first one is very small: when Charlie looks up at Cable and tells her to get someone to take her into the swamps, there’s a Coca-Cola can on the desk behind him. As Cable walks through the room, the Coke can isn’t on that desk anymore — but we do see it in a different place, next to some flowerpots.

The more obvious one is that in one shot of Alec holding up Alessandro, the animal is soaked in green slime, and in the next shot, he’s totally clean and dry. He’s messy again by the time Alec puts him into the fishtank.

That also applies to the human characters, who all have magically dry forearms that we don’t see them clean off.

Tomorrow:
We check in with Adrienne Barbeau
3.8: Beauty, and the Other One

Chapters

— Danny Horn

25 thoughts on “Swamp Thing 3.7: The Mysteries of Alessandro

  1. Those of us who met Danny Horn through DSED know that Alessandro is a pigweasel (or is at least pigweasel-adjacent).
    And I am reasonably confident (I looked it up on Wikipedia) that opposum is not the correct spelling – it’s opossum. Which is okay, because they’re calling the critter a Cooper’s digger anyway, so who even knows. Maybe he changed his name when he got to Hollywood; I understand that many showbiz hopefuls do. 🐾

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Analyzing the science in a movie is like asking your son why he flushed his toy giraffe down the toilet. You’re not going to get a rational explanation, and you’ll only frustrate everyone by trying.

    Liked by 7 people

  3. Maybe this is why the Hollands are in this unmapped swamp in the first place–it’s the only habitat of the Cooper’s digger, which itself is the only habitat for this one-celled organism that is capable of transforming Alec into a Swamp Thing and Arcane into a pigweasel when mixed with the proper ingredients through the proper application of SCIENCE. Think of the military uses! Not to mention the changes this could bring to society . . . . Ah, nevermind. I got nothing. This is a stupid scene.

    And even though it’s almost a decade in the future, I can’t see Ray Wise now without thinking of Leland Palmer, which just makes me go ewwww to any meet-cute he’s a part of. Cable should have just turned around and taken the boat back to the helicopter and gotten out of there. But if people did that, we wouldn’t have horror movies, I suppose.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Poor Ray Wise is a retroactive victim of his own talent, here: he was so creepily, horribly convincing as Leland that any other role he plays has you tense as hell and waiting for him to pounce on poor Sheryl Lee, even if she’s not in the project.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. When I saw that sopping wet critter decoratively covered in slime I thought, That’s an opossum! Danny thought all of this! That’s why Danny writes and I read.
    Google tells me that a Virginia opossum can rest underwater since it is able to close it’s nostrils! So there’s that.
    The name could just be a Camp in-joke. Cooper found it digging in his stuff, Holland appropriated it as a Swamp Lab rat equivalent and it was known as Cooper’s digger until Linda decided it reminded her of an old boyfriend and named it after him. I mean, how else does an opossum get named Alessandro?

    Liked by 6 people

      1. Soon to be trained as the aquatic equivalent of K-9 cop dogs. Nobody suspects infiltration by an opposum that doesn’t need to breathe!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I assume the scum pond is for just that: growing algae and other plants for experiments, or testing how said algae reacts to adjusting the tannic acid or throwing cooper’s diggers into the tank.

    And I don’t think anybody on set knew what “host” means in the context they’re using it in: if they’d said that Alessandro’s fur was a perfect environment for hosting the one celled organism they’re presumably studying that would make sense. But the one celled organism itself hosting something needs a rewrite.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. “throwing cooper’s diggers into the tank”

      Man, I sure missed out going to public school. All we had in biology class were frogs to dissect.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I wouldn’t characterize the movie as “half superhero-action and half romantic drama.” This scene raises the possibility of a romance between Alice and Alec, which will give a poignancy to the later interactions between Alice and Swamp Thing. But they only have one sequence alone together, and it’s by far the worst part of the movie. So the romantic drama is far less than half of the interest.

    Nor is superhero action half the movie. Most of the action is Alice Cable vs the Bad Guys, with Swamp Thing irrupting into the foreground only towards the end. Alice is an effective enough action hero that you can easily imagine a whole series of movies where she begins and ends the story, and if the star were Chuck Norris or Joe Don Baker or any of the other men who would usually anchor a project of this scale in this period he probably wouldn’t have allowed himself to be rendered so helpless at the climax. It’s necessary, though- the movie is called “Swamp Thing,” after all, and Swamp Thing has powers far beyond those of a mortal federal employee, so Swamp Thing has to be the final victor.

    I think that the ending really throws the light back on Alice. She has been so effective throughout that the final acknowledgment that she needs help puts all action heroes into perspective. In real life, Chuck or Joe Don or whoever would have needed help too, probably a lot more help than Alice gets from Swamp Thing, and that wouldn’t have made them any less heroic. So she emerges, not just as the hero of this action movie, but as a model against which we measure the heroes of other action movies.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. “Alice is an effective enough action hero”

      How about including Alice in the Lois Lane, Badass series of movies & shows that really oughta get made?

      Liked by 2 people

  7. “He’s got a little one-celled animal living in his fur that makes a terrific host.”

    And how can a one-celled animal be a terrific host?

    I’m pretty sure he means the fur of the Cooper’s Digger (Alessandro) makes a terrific host but Alec didn’t say it clearly.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Dr. Holland getting words mixed up and babbling nonsense could be a character touch. It helps make him an audience identification character. The one time I met Adrienne Barbeau I reacted to her the same way. Having Dr. Holland become semi-incoherent in Alice’s presence makes him someone I could empathize with.

      Liked by 6 people

    2. Now that we are in the age of CRISPR, one could say there is a single cell organism in the hair of the opossum which could be modified. Take out contents of the cell and put in whatever recombinant content you want and the cell is now hosting different DNA or RNA, or maybe just a piece of something like a lipid.

      I don’t know why I’m trying to fix the dialogue. I’ve never watched the entire movie even though my husband sometime watches it.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. What puzzles me is the departing agent’s line, “What, they sent a woman out here?” when Dr. Linda Holland is a woman and she’s here. Do they think of her as one of the boys? Or has Alec kept her locked in the lab all this time so they don’t even know she’s here?

    Liked by 3 people

  9. “Cable doesn’t know what Alec is working on yet, and frankly, neither do I.”

    See, that’s why you have a desk job, instead of being selected as a Swamp Scientist like Cable.

    She’s got all kinds of great skills. Like scowling on helicopters. Instantly fixing laser sonic generators. Joking with swamp scientists, and turning over rocks in scummy water troughs without having to be asked twice. She’s perfect for the job, which is to get the audience to enjoy quirky Alec Holland, Swamp Science Guy to the Stars.

    Send a guy like Danny out to the swamp, and all he does is complain that swamp science doesn’t add up. That’s why there was only room on that helicopter for one Scientist! (Plus her magically disappearing suitcase, with the clothes for later.)

    Your posts on this film are such fun! So much more enjoyable than learning about Salkinds Securities Shenanagins, or tearing apart the ways Superman II’s script made its own characters inconsistent. I can tell that with this movie, they earnestly tried hard to give their full dollar’s worth of Charming Scientist Romance amid Swamp Science You Sure Didn’t Get in High School. Looks like they’re doing just great so far!

    Liked by 2 people

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