Avery Sunderland almost found a degree of absolution for his past crimes in episode 8 of Swamp Thing, “Long Walk Home.” While the series’ chief villain ultimately stumbled on the road to redemption, the episode effectively made it seem like the industrialist was trying to turn over a new leaf.
A robber baron of the old school of American industry, who runs the town of Marais, Louisiana as if it were his own kingdom, there are few nice things that can be said about Avery Sunderland. Over the course of the series, it has been revealed that Sunderland was responsible for introducing a biological accelerator into the wetlands around Marais, which began making some of the citizens sick. Sunderland also arranged for the murder of biologist Alec Holland after he discovered the cause of the plague and personally murdered banker Gordon Haas, who had been giving Sunderland off-the-books personal loans for years.
The plot of episode 7, “Brilliant Disguise,” largely focused on Avery Sunderland and the two women in his life – his wife Maria, and his mistress, Marais’ sheriff Lucilia Cable. Unbeknownst to Sunderland, both women had become sick of his manipulative ways and put aside their own personal distaste for one another to join forces and get revenge. With Maria prepared to deliver a fake story to account for Sunderland’s disappearance, Sheriff Cable lured Sunderland out into the swamp, shooting him and leaving him for dead. The end of the episode revealed, however, that Sunderland was still hanging on to life.
“Long Walk Home” sees Sunderland taking a spirit walk of sorts through the part of the swamp infected by The Rot, having visions of his father’s violent death, which inspired his fear of the swamp and desire to tame it. Swamp Thing discovers the crazed Sunderland and uses his powers to heal Sunderland’s wounds. The two go on to discuss Sunderland’s belief that the swamp hates him, having taken his father and his daughter from him. Swamp Thing also tells Sunderland about The Green and his belief that he was transformed to restore the balance that Sunderland’s taking from the swamp without giving back has caused.
Sunderland seems truly moved by the revelation of how much damage he has caused and the realization that those he cared about the most have turned on him. He also seems humbled that Swamp Thing would take care of him in spite of everything. This prompts Sunderland to promise Swamp Thing that he’ll talk to Dr. Jason Woodrue and see if they can find a way to change him back into Alec Holland.
Surprisingly, Sunderland is true to his word and upon returning to civilization the first thing he does is visit Woodrue and asks about the possibility of curing Alec Holland. Woodrue likens this to “curing the goose of laying golden eggs” and appeals to Sunderland’s greed, saying that the scientific miracles he could bring about by studying Holland in his current state would make them both rich and famous. Sunderland quietly says that Holland saved his life, but ultimately agrees with Woodrue’s argument that Holland could save millions of lives if brought into the lab. This leads to the two men laying a trap for Swamp Thing and a cliff-hanger conclusion that ends with Swamp Thing being flash-frozen by Sunderland’s henchmen.
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