The Best and Worst of Constantine

Unlike the Constantine film, the television series I thought was utterly fantastic in comparison – there was much more time to develop characters.

Not to say everything was inherently good, though. Constantine suffers heavily of the Magical Negroe trope (see The Legend of Bagger Vance) in two characters, Papa Midnite and the Angel, Manny. This trope is particularly noticeable in the episode, Danse Vaudou.

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Additionally, the character, Zed Martin, is a seer (i.e. passive power) that precludes her from a lot of the action during the stories (see the Sibylline Sisterhood in Doctor Who‘s “The Fires of Pompeii,” and Ship in The Sarah Jane Adventures‘ “The Mad Woman in the Attic,” for other examples) . According to The Daily Dot article, “Why NBC’s ‘Constantine’ failed to live up to its comic book origins“:

Constantine hasn’t officially been cancelled yet, but after having its first season truncated to 13 episodes, it may take a ratings miracle to save it from the jaws of death.

TV ratings are not a meritocracy, as any die-hard Firefly fan will tell you. Sometimes good shows get lousy numbers because their networks fail to support them (Avatar: Legend of Korra), or because they’re just too weird to work with mainstream audiences (The Tick). Constantine is neither of those things. It’s just not very good.

Adapted from cult DC/Vertigo comic Hellblazer, Constantine was in a perfect position to provide DC with something genuinely innovative. With Gotham retreading old ground and The Flash successfully aping Marvel’s action-comedy style, Constantine was DC’s opportunity to launch a comic book adaptation that represented Vertigo’s edgy, adult-rated tone.

But halfway through its first season, Constantine still feels like a watered-down Supernatural. John Constantine travels around America fighting demons, much like the Winchester brothers. The season-wide story arc is introduced by an enigmatic angel, much like Castiel. Most episodes rely on occult horror tropes, much like the early seasons of Supernatural. Constantine even manages to tick the boxes for Supernatural’s greatest flaw (casual racism and sexism) while failing to measure up to Supernatural’s greatest strength, the relationship between its main characters.

While this can partly be blamed on Supernatural being influenced by Hellblazer itself, that doesn’t mean Constantine was doomed from the start. TV shows about monsters and ghosts are ten-a-penny, but sharp, politically-savvy DC/Vertigo adaptations are not.

By adhering to familiar monster-of-the-week TV formulas,Constantine became a show with no distinguishing features of its own, adapted from a comic whose weirdness and originality led to decades of cult success. This is especially annoying in the light of Hannibal, another NBC show based on an unsettling and adult-rated source. Hannibal’s ratings aren’t exactly stellar, but it proves that you can launch a dark, surreal, emotionally complex drama on network TV, and not just win over the fans but inspire critics to label it the best show on television.

It’s interesting to see what made it through from theHellblazer comics, and what got written out. Aesthetically,Constantine does a very good job of copying Hellblazer‘s noir atmosphere. John Constantine’s trench coat and half-undone tie were deemed important enough to appear in every episode, but his underdog/counterculture roots are reduced to an oddly anachronistic punk rock backstory. His sidekicks Chas and Zed are based on Hellblazer characters, but they’re often so superfluous that they get written out of entire episodes. Most disappointing of all, Constantine’s “dark past” frames him as a stereotypically glib-but-troubled antihero, rather than the disaster-prone weirdo ofHellblazer fame.

Constantine’s dwindling fanbase will tell you that the series just took a few weeks to warm up, and they’re not totally wrong about that. This week’s episode was certainly better than the previous seven, ending on a cliffhanger where Constantine is shot by an old friend and left to die in a sewer. With Constantine being unwillingly sacrificed to save the life of two newborn babies, this scene mirrors an earlier episode where he manipulates someone into dying for the greater good. It’s a lot more interesting than Constantine being characterized as purely heroic, and it fits well with the wry, dark tone of the comics.

The problem is that the half-hour leading up to that moment was far less engaging. The villain is a young, beautiful nun (one of two young, beautiful nuns in the episode—Constantine makes out with the other one) who kidnaps babies on behalf of a group of evil Chilean warlocks. The idea of a sexy, baby-kidnapping demon nun feels like something from a pre-Buffy the Vampire Slayer era, but it’s played without a trace of genre-savvy irony. Meanwhile back home, Constantine’s sidekick Zed is kidnapped after she disobeys his advice to stay locked in his house while he’s out of town.

It seems likely that Constantine is building up to a season finale where some kind of demonic force tries break free from Hell, an idea already retold ad nauseam by Supernatural, Buffy, and basically any fantasy show with a basis in pseudo-Biblical mythology. Regardless of whether Matt Ryan plays a better John Constantine than Keanu Reeves, this kind of cliche-driven writing is a disservice toHellblazer.

In the unlikely event that NBC gives them a second season,Constantine‘s writers will hopefully grab the opportunity to drop theSupernatural-lite act and cleave closer to Hellblazer’s offbeat tone. Among the bizarrely offensive episodes (“There’s nothing blacker than gypsy magic,” really?) and the show’s total inability to do anything interesting with Chas and Zed, there are seeds of hope.

The rapport between Constantine and vodou priest Papa Midnite could be the foundation for something more complex than a typical protagonist-defeats-evil setup. And with details like this week’s bleeding placenta pear tree and the bug-vomiting demon borrowed from Hellblazer No. 1, we know this show has a capacity for imaginative grotesquery. It’s just too bad its creators seem more concerned with building Constantine up as a kind of House M.D. for exorcists rather than something with a little more depth.

Finally, although I certainly think Matt Ryan as John Constantine was pretty hot. The character originally is suppose to be bisexual, which was edited out of the series, as according to The Advocate‘s article, “Op-ed: NBC’s Straight-Washing of John Constantine Is Bi Erasure“:

I’m bisexual and there are very few male bisexual characters on television. The only queer story Hollywood seems to want to tell is that of white gay men. There are a few bisexual female characters (who tend to be overly sexualized) but even fewer or zero canon bisexual male characters. Even the few bi characters on television can’t bring themselves to say the word “bi.”

That’s why I’m especially frustrated that NBC decided to straight-wash a canon bisexual character.

The character John Constantine in Hellblazer is a bad-ass demon hunter who happens to like both men and women, both sexually and romantically. Although his sexuality isn’t the main plot point, it’s pretty clear after reading a few issues that Constantine has had both girlfriends and boyfriends, and that he has been in some kinky man-on-man situations, à la Fifty Shades of Grey. But instead of staying true to the character, producers of the show have decided his sexuality isn’t that big of a deal. Or at least, representing his sexuality accurately isn’t that important to him. However, I can’t imagine the reaction would be the same if a major studio decided to try and make a traditionally straight character LGBT.

According to a recent report released by GLAAD on LGBT media representation, out of all of the LGBT characters on television (most of which were depicted as background story lines), 17.7 percent of them were bisexual. Yet LGBT demographer, the Williams Institute at UCLA explained in the Vox article, “If you had a show with a cast of 20 characters who were LGBT, two-thirds of the women would be bisexual… And one third [of the men] would be bi.” That’s a far cry from the LGBT representation we currently have on television. What’s wrong with a little diversity? Or for that matter, accuracy?

Dissecting a character to fit a heteronormative box is sloppy and irresponsible. Bisexuals deserve to be represented in media too — not erased or straight-washed. If NBC can’t handle portraying a bisexual male character, then perhaps the network shouldn’t take on John Constantine.

Sexuality is always a part of a character — however minimal — but some sort of romantic or sexual relationship is usually a significant plot point in superhero stories. A bisexual male superhero would disrupt the hetero male template of, “hero saves damsel in distress” that we see consistently in iconic stories like Superman, Spiderman, and Captain America. But it’s 2014, and sometimes men need saving too.

There’s something particularly elusive about bisexual male characters. There is a deeply ingrained misconception that a man can’t be romantically involved with another man and still be interested in women as well. It’s centered on the idea that masculinity requires a wanting, and “getting” of women, and not men. But the depiction of Constantine in Hellblazer proves that is a false assumption.

Despite what the producers of the show appear to think about the importance of the character’s sexuality, in the comics it gives Constantine’s character depth, develops his story line, and frankly, makes him more than just another non-descript straight, white male. Media representation of minority groups is incredibly important. Fiction or not, media portrayals of minority groups help the general public acknowledge, relate to, and humanize a group they might not interact with in their day-to-day lives. It helps young bi youth see themselves on television; it helps people understand that us bi guys are really not that different, and sometimes, even if just in comic books, it helps us see that you don’t have to be straight to kick (demon) ass.

 

The Best:

Non Est Asylum, A Feast of Friends, The Rage of Caliban, Blessed Are the Damned, and A Whole World Out There

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In brief bits:

  • Non Est Asylum
  • Although A Feast of Friends has a major plothole, it was a very personal sort of story, which is what made it very likable;
  • The Rage of Caliban was a very good story, with a neat twist;
  • Blessed Are the Damned is by far the episode of the whole series, as after it, episode quality seems to head downward; and
  • A Whole World Out There is great in that it promotes possibility, even in the face of severe limitation.

According to the Den of Geek review of Non Est Asylum:

It can be reasonably said that DC television is currently ruling the genre world at the moment with the ratings success of the slowly improving Gotham, the continuing awesomeness of Arrow, and the near perfection of The Flash. Now, adding to this mitzvah of DC goodness comes Constantine, a very different kind of DC Comics series.

You see, until recently, John Constantine: Hellblazer was a Vertigo book and featured some of the most cutting edge horror ever to appear in comics from such talents as Alan Moore, Jamie Delano, Garth Ennis, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Peter Milligan, Warren Ellis, and so many more that remained narratively separate from the DC Universe proper. Constantine could be the television home of countless dark horror and magic based properties that DC holds and potentially scratch a very different itch than the current superhero shows ruling our world. Constantine could serve as the entry point into the Vertigo Universe, and that is very exciting.

All I can say about the pilot, and this might be the ultimate compliment, is that it’s a John Constantine show with all the trappings and dark tonality one would expect. Now, don’t get me wrong, the realism of the Alan Moore Constantine can NEVER be fully realized outside of comics, he’s just such a product of his medium, but this series created an almost perfect replica.

Matt Ryan is note perfect: a snarky, world weary, rumpled urban sorcerer barely hanging on to his sanity. He looks like John Constantine, and I know the character has only appeared as a static image (Keanu Reeves does not count…at all), but somehow, I got a sense that he moved like Constantine, too. Writers David S. Goyer and Daniel Cerone captured something very much resembling the essence of the character and distilled him down just enough to have him carry the pilot.

Which is not to say the debut episode does not have its problems, it was paced strangely and it thrusts the viewer into the middle of the action in a very disorienting way, but these were pilot problems, and the grizzled charisma of Ryan carried the proceedings, distracting from any structural issues. The episode centered around Constantine trying to protect a young woman named Liv Aberdine (Lucy Griffiths) who had inherited the power to see spirits and demons from her departed father.

The pilot used Liv is the POV character, allowing Constantine to explain how magic works in this very demonic world. The only problem was that Liv was not fully realized. She’s introduced lamenting her quiet life and wishing for a call to adventure. It’s obvious and cliché, and stood out in stark contrast to the rest of the episode. Ultimately, she added nothing to the show, which is probably why she was written out after the pilot was filmed. Griffiths did her level best but she had nothing to work with.

That’s the end of the complaining, because everything else about the episode just works. It feels like an homage to late ‘80s horror with its gritty realism and sudden scares. There were a few jump out of your chair moments like when Liv saw her long dead nana or the sequence detailing the sudden death of Liv’s neighbor Talia. The series seems to know how to do classic horror atmosphere with everything seemingly old, slightly broken and out of place. It has the perfect tone, and I look forward to seeing how far the series can push the horror envelope once it has its sea legs.

As for the rest of the cast, Charles Halford was great as Chas, the seemingly immortal man of few words that just happens to be Constantine’s best mate. I wasn’t really able to get a sense of Harold Perrineau as Manny, Constantine’s literal guardian angel, as the Lost vet’s scenes really just functioned as pilot-y exposition dumps. Speaking of Lost actors, Jeremy Davies (Justified) was his usual brilliant self as Ritchie Simpson, Constantine’s brilliant but reluctant hacker friend. All these characters play suitable second bananas to the man of the hour.

Considering Liv is going to soon be abandoned in favor of Zed, this pilot simply served as a vessel in which to introduce Constantine and his world. We learned about his world, his regrets, and his tragic past. It also introduced the character of Astrid, an innocent young girl who Constantine failed to save and now resides in Hell. The show evoked the Newcastle Incident, something fans of the comic will be very familiar with. We were similarly informed that Constantine’s mother died in childbirth and that his father was physically and mentally abusive as a reaction to the loss of his wife.

So, Constantine confronts the demons pursuing Liv while we learn what makes this complex sorcerer tick. The opening exorcism in a mental institution did a great job establishing the character, his personality, and his abilities as well as the creepy as hell grittiness that permeates the 44 minutes. It’s hard to judge the series fully yet, but for now there is a show on the air that understands and celebrates the legacy of John Constantine.

As for the elephant in the room, no, we never see Constantine light up, but he does carry a cigarette lighter (and is seen putting cigs out), so the “Dangerous Habits” storyline you are all jones-ing for is indeed still a possibility

According to the Den of Geek review of A Feast of Friends:

If this week’s episode carried the same tone and tenor of last week’s installment, I was planning to call the series out on being to glossy, to point out that the world of John Constantine should be filthy and guttural, a word of infection and ugliness that can only be defended by a man whose heart and soul is in the gutter. I was going to call the series out for being too clean. And then this episode happened.

Seriously, I hope you didn’t watch this one while eating dinner, that would have been a waste of a perfectly good chicken pot pie, because this episode was as sick as they come. Between the swarms of filth beetles, bug eating, eye removal, raw meat devouring, fevered cannibalism, and almost constant bloodletting, this episode was like a gore hound’s wet dream.  If you didn’t gag at least once, you probably should take a long, hard look at your life.

This episode introduced another of the players of the already fabled Newcastle incident, the inciting event for Constantine’s history and character. When Gary Lester is detained at a nearby airport, an ancient hunger demon is let loose and it is up to Gary, John, and Zed to rie the world of this ancient and disgusting evil.

Did I mention the hunger demon is disgusting? Like “how did they get away with this on network television” disgusting. The demon is just the right degree of nastiness that the series needed to set itself apart of the crowded supernatural television procedural pack. You want to go on a diet? Just watch this episode as the demon jumped from host to host devouring anything edible in sight. The demon showed just how nasty dark magic can be, that it isn’t glamorous or sexy in an Anton LaVey sort of way, but downright eating rotting meat off a filthy floor nasty kind of way. This is the world I have been burning to see John Constantine in.

Lester was a great addition to the proceedings because he was a warning of what John could become. He also is a walking arraignment of Constantine’s past sins as he admitted that he was only in Newcastle because he wanted to follow every whim of the punk rock mage back in the day. So it was Constantine’s hubris and charisma which caused the Newcastle incident and the horrors to poor little Astra, which is why Constantine goes out of his way to help people and fight really gross hunger demons today.

Lester did not find salvation in helping others effected by dark magic. No, Lester found salvation in a needle and syringe. Good on the series for not pulling punches and, four episodes in, really rendering that scabbed-over world presented by Alan Moore and Jamie Delano so many years ago. Lester was a pure Hellblazer character, broken and flawed. His very existence was a source of guilt to John who saw his former friend as a walking testament to his greatest failure, but Constantine being Constantine, that didn’t stop the mage from trapping the hunger demon within Lester, basically confining his former mate to an eternity of agony. That’s the real John Constantine, a man who would sacrifice his best friend to save thousands.

As for the battle and origins of the hunger demon, this was not your typical TV beastie in execution or origin. Did we mention he was gross? Well add to that the thing was downright scary forcing its host to become slavering mindless beasts that endlessly devoured anything they found in front of them whether it was popcorn off a theatre floor or a hapless security guard’s face. The origins of the demon were also fascinating as the series took us to the Sudan, giving the series a welcome sense of international flavor, where Lester freed some poor Sudanese soul of the demon to, in Lester’s mind; find some salvation from the Newcastle incident. This sparked the demon getting free in America and Constantine’s hunt for the constantly consuming monster.

Constantine’s battles with the demon were memorable and intense, with from the monster causing a possessed girl to do the Bray Wyatt Exorcist crabwalk to the final confrontation with the thing, this episode showed the battles Constantine must face if he is to find forgiveness for Newcastle, battles with the nastiest kinds of demons in the nastiest of places. This is the Constantine I wanted since I heard about the series.

Zed’s roll was kind of tacked on this week as she shared a vision with Lester causing her to relive his heroin addiction. This created a bond between Lester and Zed but the episode could have carried on just as easy without her. The writers seem totally obsessed with Constantine, as well they should be, and seem to be finding it difficult to find interesting arcs for Zed, and let’s not even discuss poor Chas who was conveniently written out for the second time in just four episodes. Even Manny seemed to be used only for dramatic effect as the angel was nothing more than an exposition dump whenever he appeared, although, the episode’s climax did use Manny to great emotional and dramatic effect.

But we forgive the warts because the episode was a horror hound’s dream come true, a truly brave and disgusting look into the ultra seedy world of John Constantine. OMG, I just realized, Cookie Monster could be a benevolent hunger demon. Yeeesshh!

According to the Den of Geek review of The Rage of Caliban:

The showrunners of Constantine couldn’t have known it when they filmed “Rage of Caliban,” but this episode marked a very important broadcast for the series. This was the first episode since NBC announced that the show would cease production and be limited to thirteen episodes. Ratings have been low during the initial broadcast, but the series shows promise in later viewings via DVR and streaming so the remaining episodes will tell the tale whether we will be treated to the adventures of Constantine, Zed, and Chas next year. I, for one, certainly hope so as I can’t just have the promise of a TV version of the Spectre and Dr. Fate not fulfilled.

So, this week, to possibly decide the future of Constantine, we have a generic but rather well executed little one-and-done dealing with the old salt of a vengeful spirit inhabiting the body of an innocent child, but with a twist. Other than just treading that familiar ground, the episode gave us a look into the psyche and motivations of one John Constantine and exposed the rumpled wizard in a way that other episodes just haven’t been able to pull off.

First off, “The Rage of Caliban” looked amazing. Probably because it was directed by the great Neil Marshall, the mad genius behind The Descent and Dog Soldiers, not to mention a few episodes of Black Sails and Game of Thrones, plus the Constantine pilot. Marshall provided the class and the atmosphere that let this episode sing despite its familiar story beats. The first time we met the possessed boy was particularly scary with the evil spirit that eventually would take hold of the doe eyed lad hiding eerily behind a sheer curtain. That’s some serious primal childhood nightmare stuff right there and Marshall nailed it.

This standalone episode dealt with Constantine and Chas dealing with the aforementioned possessed young boy. The opening of the installment was particularly effective with a young girl, possessed by the demon, slaughtering her parents. This established the demon, so when we saw a kid afraid of the monsters in his closet, we knew exactly where it was all going. All the basic elements of a good child possession story were here, the doting mother, the doubting father, and the world weary exorcist out to make things right. Except this time, our exorcist was Mr. Constantine out to save this child where he failed Astra so many years ago in Newcastle. Astra seems to be a binding plot element, Constantine’s main impetus for helping people, but episodes go by with nary a mention of the damned little girl. If the writers want to make sure the viewers know how important Astra is, they better keep her front and center, something this episode certainly does (although it helps that this was actually the second episode produced for the series, hence Zed’s absence).

So Constantine spent the episode trying to convince the parents suddenly frightened of their recently turned nasty little son that the boy hasn’t just turned into an asshole and was in fact possessed by a demon. The obstacles Constantine faced showed what a lonely road he walks as he is humanity’s protector against demons and evil spirits but everyone just looks at him as a nutter. When he tried to disguise himself as a school counselor and went to the boy’s home, he failed miserably and got knocked out by the father and locked in prison. This leads to the episode’s most effective scene, Constantine in prison being visited by his angel pal Manny. Like most of the supporting cast, Manny’s appearances are spotty at best. The angel popped up early in this week’s episode and then paid Constantine a visit while the wizard cooled his heels in prison. What followed was a look into Constantine’s heart, as Manny spelled out his mortal charge’s greatest failures and told John how badly he is needed because of the Rising Darkness. The scene in the cell was the first time the character of Manny didn’t seem tacked on or forced since the series began.

Meanwhile, the little demon child’s mom began to realize there was something wrong with Junior and sprung Constantine from the hoosegow. This set up the climax where Constantine realized that the spirit inside the boy wasn’t a demon, but the ghost of the first child to kill his parents in the town, a boy who lashed out at an abusive father. It was nice twist that saved the episode from seeming like a typical exorcism yarn as Constantine never actually got to perform an exorcism although we did see some cool spells from the wizard.

The boy was saved, the spirit went back into the comatose body of the tragic killer it once inhabited and Constantine stood victorious. There were some atmospheric scares and a nice twist on a tired subgenre. I don’t know if it will get new viewers on board to a series that desperately needs them, but it was a nice, dark distraction on this holiday weekend.

According to the Den of Geek review of Blessed Are The Damned:

I’ve been getting down a bit on the last few episodes of Constantine for not world building enough, for not focusing on a shared mythology that binds the usually self-contained episodes of the series into a shared narrative. Well, this week’s episode fixed all that. By delivering a third act surprise I really didn’t see coming as well as shedding some much needed light between the until now teased war between Heaven and Hell.

Things started out typically enough with Constantine and Zed being drawn to a Southern Baptist Church where a faith healer had developed miraculous healing powers. Because every episode of this series has to write out one of the co-leads, Chas is conveniently pushed out of the episode as Zed and John investigate this snake handling man of God.

The story is pretty much shaped like you would expect it for the first two acts, with Constantine trying to find out how the preacher (no, not that Preacher, that Preacher is coming to AMC and how freakin’ cool is that? This is just a run of the mill faith healer with seemingly divine powers) is able to heal his flock.

Zed and John question the nature of religion and divinity and the whole thing is rather interesting if mundane. The preacher heals his congregation of myriad ailments and Constantine can’t quite believe all this magic will come without a price. It turned out that when the preacher was bitten by a snake and died, he managed to pull off an angel’s feather as he was being taken to Heaven.

I apologize for the heavy recap, but you need to understand the fragility of the plot before you see how the episode masterfully turned a typical McGuffin hunt into a masterful plot twist. Ok, so we’ve had a few looks at the nature of heaven through Manny, John’s angel pal, but not a whole heck of a lot, just glimpses or fragmented ideas of the place of angels and Heaven in the shared mythology ofConstantine.

This week, we got to see a new angel, a female celestial named Imogen. Imogen was dying because her stolen feather kept her trapped on Earth while all those the preacher healed were turning violently demonic. The healed were really the only source of horror in this episode but they were very effective with the healed church goers acting ape like and visceral after the preacher laid hands upon their suffering bodies.

So Imogen was a wilting little angel and our heroes had to get their hands on the feather. This is when things followed the grand Hellblazer tradition of sacrilegious daring as the always street smart Zed faked a desire to be baptized and picked the preachers pocket as she was being dunked. Now, here’s that ingenious turn. While Zed ran to return the feather to the wilting Imogen, Constantine discovered that the preacher once was guilty of killing a man in a hit and run. Imogen wasn’t an angel charged with taking him to Heaven, but a demon who was going to drag him to Hell. Well I’ll be knackered.

So now we have seen that there are Fallen Angels in the world of Constantine and that they are filled with hatred for the celestial host and for humanity. All of a sudden, the world of the series has opened up and the overarching plot has been made evident. Constantine and Zed operate in a world where Hell is trying to pour into the world of the living and wreck havoc on God’s favorite children, humanity. All of a sudden, with that one reveal of the preacher’s sin, the series has expanded into a very fascinating and high stakes holy war with Constantine caught in the middle.

The story ended up being a defining moment for Manny, a character who for a number of episodes was almost an afterthought. John’s guardian angel was integral in defeating Imogen by breaking his vow of non-interference by tearing out Imogen’s black, demonic heart. So what started out as typical one and done episode ended up defining the world of Constantine and his place in the larger scheme of a Biblical war between Heaven and Hell. Not bad. This might have better served the series if it aired earlier because this storyline could have been the glue that bound the overreaching mythology of the series together.

We have a keener understanding of angels and demons now but the series still hasn’t revealed much about Zed’s past. This episode, her visions were important to kick off the action of the episode and she also was the one who deceived her way into retrieving the feather, so after her trivial contributions to the past few episodes, Zed had a big role to play this week. The only issue was that by not revealing much about her past, by playing coy and keeping Constantine, and by extension the audience, in the dark, the series is making it very difficult to care about the character. The series can try and make her a mystery, but making her a complete cipher will endanger the integrity of the emotional resonance of the character.

But this week we cared, and the world of Constantine became a whole lot grander in scope.

According to the Den of Geek review of A Whole World Out There:

After this week, Constantinehas just two episodes left…and we have a bit of a misstep. This week’s episode was eerie enough with an effective Freddy Krueger riff and some nice metaphysical twists, but it was all a bit seen it before and never approaches the highs some of the better episodes of Constantinehave hit.

“A Whole World out There” begins with four dopey college kids conducting a séance. Yup, the whole college kid séance deal. Constantine, we thought better of you. Of course, the four dopes are all sucked into some other world where the ghostly form of the dude that played Ethan Rom on Lost starts tormenting them. Now, it’s always good to see good old William Mapother get some work, he plays one of the best mysterious strangers in Hollywood, and he does his job perfectly in this episode making for a pretty cool one off Constantinevillain, but man, were those kids dumb.

Of course, John Constantine is called in to investigate and the series repeats one of the few mistakes it has made during its brief run. Chas and Zed are nowhere to be seen. The episode writes them both out (Chas is chilling with his family and Zed is “recovering”). Notice how on The Flash or Arrow, every episode has at least something for every cast member to do? That allows for a series to build a character mythology. Constantinehas a relatively small supporting cast and needs to foster its growth every chance it gets. Excluding Chas or Zed or both every other episode stunts their character growth and forces the series to lose a sense of cohesiveness.

OK, rant over, back to Ethan Rom and the dumb as a box of spanners college kids.

With the four dopes in deep demonic doodie, Constantine pays a visit to his old pal Ritchie Simpson (played by another Lostalum, the always brilliant Jeremy Davies). Davies is at his twitchy best as Simpson, a character I assumed was written out of the series as we haven’t seen him since the pilot. Poor Ritchie has given up and the episode does a really good job at portraying just how sick of life the college professor is. We see him just playing tape recordings of old lectures rather than engaging his class but when Constantine arrives to help those dopey kids, Ritchie isn’t happy.

The series is getting a lot of mileage with those that were present at the Newcastle tragedy and Simpson is just the latest in a line of folk that Constantine must make good with. Ritchie was a fascinating character, an old school punk rock disciple and a nerdy genius…you know, the kind of the character that Simpson always plays. Simpson served as an exposition machine as he told John just how the ghost of Ethan Rom (actually the character was named Jacob Shaw; I’m just having a blast with the Lost callbacks) is tormenting the kids that summoned him during their very ill advised séance. The story of Shaw was a Lovecraftian tale of geometry gone mad and a frightening look at theoretical dimensional physics and astral projection combined with the speculative science of the Singularity. The whole thing was smart and thought provoking and it took an actor with the character acumen of Simpson to sell it in way that made it understandable.

So Constantine and Simpson knew what they were up against, a madman who was able to construct his own reality on another plane who had mastered the rules of physics on that plane. Shaw managed to trap three of the kids in his own personal hell reality and hunt them to his heart’s content. The fourth went to Constantine for help. Ritchie explained to her that Shaw would be able to reach through any reflective surface to abduct her. So what does she do? The genius whips out her cell phone. Like, I said, dumb.

The battle between the two Lost actors really wasn’t the gripping part of the climax, the gripping part was Ritchie’s reluctance to leave the dimension. The whole episode focused on the toll living in Constantine’s world takes on the human psyche. We got to see a glimpse of Gary Lester again this week, still trapped with a demon inside him, and we got to see just how the events of Newcastle had affected Ritchie. Constantine cajoled him back to the physical plane, to not stay in Shaw’s world where he could control every aspect of reality. It was a poignant moment of hope and a renewal of life as John continued to make up for his past misdeeds. Yet, sadly, the last thing we see is John Constantine, in his skivvies, smoking, drinking a bottle of cheap hooch, not able to find the same solace as Simpson did. The price is high indeed.

And speaking of former actors onLost, Harold Perrineau didshow up this week as Manny the angel and did absolutely nothing. But it was cool to have a trifecta of Lostplayers.

With some fine performance and a cool premise, this week’s Constantine was entertaining but disposable, and with only two episodes left, the series can’t really afford disposable.

The Worst:

The Darkness Beneath, The Devil’s Vinyl, and Waiting for the Man

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In pieces:

  • The Darkness Beneath was basically OK, but not riveting;
  • The Devil’s Vinyl sparked only little interest; and,
  • Waiting for the Man had a similar element with children as seen in The Rage of Caliban, but rather than invert the trope as that episode did, this one felt underwhelming.

According to the Den of Geek review of The Darkness Beneath:

Well, I guess this is going to turn into a supernatural procedural. OK, that could work, I suppose.

First, the good. As an old time Vertigo nut, I find it rather surreal that I’m watching a faithful adaptation (well, as faithful as a show not produced by Bryan Fuller can be on network television) of Hellblazer on Halloween. For the most part, NBC has not tried to put a gloss on John Constantine or his world. It’s a dark, gritty, working class horror that matches the general tone of the classic version of the character. Matt Ryan plays the character with such flair it’s almost eerie.

Last week, we were introduced to Liv, a character that seemingly was supposed to be part of the story engine of the show. There was a sort of Doctor/Companion vibe between Liv and Constantine, which did give the whole thing a sort of been there done that feel. This week, we meet Zed, who is much more worldly when it comes to the realm of the supernatural. She isn’t a wide-eyed innocent that exists so Constantine can explain stuff to the audience through her.

Zed has the power of prophetic visions and is able to help Constantine solve supernatural problems by stepping into the spirit world, something this episode did to nice effect. The only issue with Zed so far is, she is kind of super model-y, she does not match that slice of life feel the rest of the show has. Angélica Celaya plays Zed well, with a confidence and a quiet sensuality that underplays the actress’s statuesque good looks, but part of the horror of Constantine’s world is the averageness of it all, a motif that is hard to hit with a character that looks like she stepped out of a soap opera. But I’ll give Celaya the benefit of the doubt because she totally sold Zed’s confidence and toughness and she has chemistry with Ryan, and hopefully the series will focus on Zed’s more story driven attributes rather than exploit her looks.

So as for the story itself, the episode sort of served as a second pilot, solidifying Constantine’s abilities and purpose while establishing his partnership with Zed. It was a total standalone and, while not being actively bad, a bit throwaway. In fact, nothing in the pilot had any impact on the second episode. Chas was written out early, there was no mention of the little girl John sent to Hell, nary a mention of Liv, and no visit from John’s angel pal, Manny. Other than John himself and his mission, it seemed like a whole new show.

We did get a peek at Liv’s map which will provide the weekly cases for John and Zed but that was really the only connection to last week’s installment. This week, John was sent to a Philadelphia mining town where a demonic presence dwells in the mine. The resolution of the case was obvious from the first commercial break but the episode did a good job with the claustrophobic atmosphere needed to totally sell a haunted mine mystery. The murder that kicked off the story was horrific and appreciated on Halloween and the demons of the mines were sufficiently creepy.

The whole thing did bring up an issue that many fans have had with the series since details of the show became clear early this year, though. The show really needs to be set in Europe. A haunted mine with an ancient restless spirit inside kind of only works when the country of origin is, you know, old. There was a bit of a Lovecraftian vibe to the small town nightmare scenario, but Constantine is best when he is gallivanting around ancient lands ripe with druidic potential, not rural Philadelphia.

But there we were in the not close to ancient confines of the American East Coast with Constantine and Zed facing down some admittedly creepy spirits, Our favorite exorcist and his new pal won the day, saw the real bad guys get punished (bad capitalists!), solved the murder (it wasn’t the capitalists nor was it surprising), and formed a reluctant bond with Zed. I guess now with take two of the femalelead, we will be able to get into the meat of the show with some myth and world building coming up. At least, I hope so.

You’ve seen this episode before in many forms. The character work done with John and Zed kept “The Darkness Within” from becoming a complete paint by numbers yawnfest. I hope the series doesn’t become a case of the week type of thing because it has thirty years of comic mythology to borrow from to give it a distinct identity instead of being a more serious Grimm with a British accent. It has the actors, it has the characters, it knows how to scare, and it has the source material to be special, now that we have our leads settled, let’s hope Constantine takes the steps to get there instead of being as disposable as it was this week.

According to the Den of Geek review of The Devil’s Vinyl:

After a bit of an aside to introduce Zed to the seriesConstantine regains its focus by introducing a villain that stretches back to the very first issue of Hellblazer. This, the third episode of Constantine, was penned by two comic book and television veterans. Mark Verheiden, who wrote and produced Battlestar Galactica, Heroes, Fallen SkiesCaprica, and Time Cop, joined with Constantine showrunner and godfather of the DC Universe David S. Goyer to bring us the most Vertigo esque episode of Constantine yet.

This episode worked just as a badass horror story. It centered on a record that contains a recording of an old time Blues singer who sold his soul to the devil being dragged to Hell during a recording session. The tale was told in a very effective flashback that was chilling enough to permeate the entire episode. As for Constantine and Zed’s involvement, the series is still using Liv’s map to pinpoint the story of the week. When Constantine heard that an old music producer pal of his was killed by the record, we were off.

A couple of the important parts of Constantine’s past were revealed in this episode, such as his days as an old school Liverpool punk rocker. Constantine’s connection to the punk rock era of London is one of the character’s more important traits but punk isn’t exactly contemporary or hip in these days of autotune and iTunes. So bless NBC for retaining this bit of coolness. Seeing John Constantine spring into action while blasting the Sex Pistols in his headphones was something I never thought I’d see in any form of media, and quite frankly, it’s something Constantine’s usual home, comic books, just can’t do.

The motif of music filled this episode and the idea of a haunted object such as a record made this a very enjoyable, if unsettling, contemporary horror tale cut from the same cloth as Joe Hill’s Heart Shaped Box. The show did deliver a few scenes of gore, particularly the flashback where the Blues singer essentially popped, but most of the scares are classically atmospheric in nature. So far, the series does have claws, but it wields them strategically.

Papa Midnite, the character played by Michael James Shaw, was a bit over the top. He would fit in better in a remake of Live and Let Die than he did in the world of Constantine. It was cool seeing such a semi-iconic Hellblazer character but the whole thing stretched credibility a bit what with Papa leaving Constantine strapped to a table a la Egghead from Batman instead of just outright killing the punk rock mage. The relationship between Constantine and Midnite was a little too clichéd hero and villain, something that wouldn’t work in The Flash much less a series that is in no way a super hero show. I was surprised to such paint by numbers from two comic book vets who should know better.

All that aside, while the episode failed to spark a compelling rivalry between Constantine and Midnite, it did tell one hell of a freight tale, literally. Zed continued to grow as Constantine’s gal Friday, a street tough and capable woman who saved John from the aforementioned Papa Midnite death trap. We also got to see Chas show his badass side as he forced the soul broker who started this whole mess by tricking the wife of a rock star (played by Justified’s Joelle Carter) to sell her soul in exchange for fame and fortune for her husband to eat and swallow the contract. We also got to see how the Hell of Constantine works. How souls are exchanged, how demons interact with the world of mortals through corrupt brokers, and the high price magic has on any human that dares dabble in it. The throwaway line where Constantine confided in Zed that he traded a few days of his life to cast a spell really shows the lengths he was willing to go to get the job done.

After an episode’s absence, the angel Manny popped up again but didn’t make much of an impact on the proceedings. The takeaway from this episode, the first episode to introduce a true Vertigo adversary, is the price of magic in this world and how John Constantine is a man willing to pay that price to help others. It solidified him not as a hero but a blue collar mage that isn’t afraid to get dirty to defeat evil, as evident by the moment Constantine stepped on stage this episode, covered in blood ready to kick some demonic ass. The episode also had two nice nods to Doctor Who. First, Zed discovered that John’s lair, like the TARDIS, is bigger on the outside and that the old millhouse contains almost an endless array of rooms. In addition, John has a playing card that he can make appear to be whatever the spellbound person that views it wants to see the most similar to the Doctor’s trick paper that he has used for decades. John and Zed, Doctor and Companion but in the world of demons and magic, I can totally get behind that.

The series needs to tighten up some pacing and shed itself of some plot convenience if it is going to be considered an elite series, but the smart and subtle scares combined with the wonderful character work makes this particular episode a winner.

According to the Den of Geek review of Waiting for the Man:

Unfortunately, “Waiting for the Man” might have been the final episode of Constantine. The problem is that with certain revelations and character directions that were revealed this episode, it feels more like we’re just getting started.

This week saw a synthesis of the entire season thus far. Other than the absence of Chas (boo) and no call back to Liv, just about every major plot point from the series was touched on. First, we had the Rising Darkness reaching somewhat of a crescendo. No, we still didn’t find out what it really was, but this amorphous coming evil did combine with a very human evil to present Constantine, Zed, and the returning Jim Corrigan with a twisted human serial killer darkly blessed with demonic powers so he could wreak havoc on Earth in the name of his dark masters.

The killer of the week, a bayou redneck simply known as The Man was a special brand of twisted. He would have felt right at home in Deliverance or The Hills Have Eyes. The Man kidnapped young virgins, dressed them in wedding finery, and strangle them to death after a faux wedding. And yeah, he kept their decaying corpses all cozy in a bed surrounded by strips of hanging fly paper. If Constantine is to leave us, at least it’s going out on one of its most twisted notes yet.

Constantine was none too happy with this twisted new killer but things were complicated by a price put on John’s head by the Brujeria, a price that the returning Papa Midnite was more than happy to collect. Papa has been the only recurring Constantine villain and it is always good to see his special brand of voodoo chicanery. Midnite is only hunting John because he was promised by the Brujeria that they would raise his sister from the dead if he did their bidding. So right there, we have two or three intersecting storylines. We got to see Papa create a voodoo zombie and utilize more of his voodoo powers until some sleight of hand involving a corpse allowed John to take Papa down.

Further complicating Constantine’s hunt for little Amberly, the latest of The Man’s chosen victims, were the complications between Zed and Corrigan. Now, Corrigan was a great help, a real, hard nosed detective who bought into all the magic jibber jabber that John was selling and who wasn’t afraid to thrust himself into the heart of darkness to help solve the case. It was Zed’s vision of Corrigan dying and going full Spectre that complicated things. Zed just didn’t know how to confront Corrigan with the foretelling of his dark fate.

I suspected Corrigan would buy it this episode, and actually hoped for it a bit, so I could get a least a little TV taste of this classic Golden Age character in case Constantine doesn’t return for another season, but it wasn’t to be. Story wise, I was glad as it would probably have better served the character if Corrigan died in the midst of an episode focusing solely on him and not as a byproduct of helping John, but man, this might have been the only chance we will ever get to see a live action Spectre and we might have just missed it.

We didn’t get to see the death of Jim Corrigan but we did get to see him in action helping to take down The Man. We also got to see a taste of some vengeful foreshadowing as Corrigan agreed to kill The Man instead of arresting him. Corrigan was disgusted by the brutal nature of The Man’s crimes and decided that vengeance was a better course than arrest. Maybe we did get to see Corrigan go a bit full Spectre after all.

We also got to see Corrigan and Zed share an intimate moment after Zed finally told him about his fate. I applaud the series for not going the obvious route and by having constant sexual tension between Zed and Constantine. Theirs is a relationship built on duty and respect. Seeing Zed and Corrigan hook up just added to the coming tragedy of the future Spectre’s fate.

The show and possibly the series ends (#saveconstantine!) with the revelation that the Rising Darkness is combining with human hosts to form unholy unions of evil, a union that Constantine swears to stop even if it damns him. So John stands tall, and if and when he returns, he will have Zed and her visions, Chas and his almost immortality, and Corrigan and his willingness to do what it takes to combat evil. It seemed that Constantine would also have Manny the Angel in his corner until the final moments of the episode where Manny reveals to Papa Midnite that it wasn’t a demon or a devil behind the Rising Darkness, it was an angel.

Manny was the force commanding the Rising Darkness and the one who put a price on Constantine’s head. After all, the devil is a liar and what better lie for a devil to tell than convincing people he is an angel. We’ve had hints of the Spectre, Eclipso, Dr. Fate and Psycho Pirate in past episodes of Constantine, but tonight, we may have seen the first appearance of Lucifer, the liar, the deceiver, the fallen angel.

#saveconstantine, it just can’t end here. Not after that.

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