This week I got a bit sidetracked by all the festivities of Blizzcon and the subsequent massive eSports events tied to it. So, my reviews of Constantine, this week, will be a two-pack! That's right! Two for the price of one! Let's get started shall we?
The Darkness Beneath
The hard swerve at the end of the pilot episode was something I hoped would lead to an interesting setup for Episode 2. What we got, instead, was what looked to be a pretty standard network procedural meets monster-of-the-week.
The cold open has a soot-covered man coming home from a long day spent in the mines. His wife is making dinner and clearly scared of what her husband's reaction might be. It doesn't help he's chugging whiskey like there's no tomorrow. The kitchen-sink sort of drama that is implied here never really comes to fruitition sadly but that's okay as the open is really all just setup. The miner hops in the shower, gets doused with tons of mud/sludge and then the showerhead belches fire like some sort of dragon. Cut to the opening title card which feels a LOT like one you would see and we're right into the thick of things.
Constantine, after having seen Liv off to California, is hot on the trail of the newly charred miner. He comes across a sleepy town off in the backwoods of Pennsylvania for answers and, instead, manages to run across Zed. She's the girl briefly glimpsed at the end of the pilot who has been obsessively sketching out/painting pictures of our titular hero. There's a bit of a meet cute though John is quite standoffish in a sort of charming British prick sort of way.
We find out that she has the ability to delve into memories and see things simply by touching inanimate objects connected to someone or some event. That could be quite handy but Constantine isn't one to just let a new sidekick latch on just so easily. He puts her to the test in his hotel room, having her fall into a trance of sorts where she sees a cross and fire and so on. He soon abandons her through the nearby bathroom window. This could have been a moment that further built the Constantine character as, well, kind of an asshole but the sort of asshole you need to have around. He was, instead, just double-checking her visions. It is one of those small things that makes you wonder if they'll ever truly get to the heart of the character.
The story ends up revolving around the mine, the Coblynau (or Tommyknockers if you prefer) in those mines and the wife of the recently deceased deep-fried one. Turns out there was some abuse going on and, well, being a Romany the wife didn't take kindly to all that after a while. The once friendly spirits were turned into a murderous force thanks to the conjuring done by the abused miner's wife. It could serve as an interesting premise compared to the first episode. There's a decent scene within the mines where John is basically talking down a murderous spirit and seals him back within the ground. It ends rather quickly and hints at the promise of the show but doesn't deliver.
Thankfully there is a scene in the episode that redeems it from being a total bust. John, having pieced it all together finally makes his way back to the wife's house. She is waiting for him, spirits in tow. Constantine is backed into a corner and the tension is ratcheted up quickly. He calls out to the spirit of her dead husband, the one still lingering within the house. It manifests and drags his murderous wife back down into the ground, deep into the dark abyss. That was the sort of resolution I was hoping for.
There are some spooky moments scattered throughout though most of the story takes place in the daylight. Odd choice. The mine set could have been used to great effect but, sadly, it doesn't see much time in the episode. There is a bit at some point where John is stuck in a truck with a local, the doors lock and it begins to flood with murky sludge. Skeletal hands choke the life of out of them both and if not for a last minute intervention from Zed our demonologist/exorcist/perfectly coiffed hero might have been done for. It was another decent moment in an episode full of cliché and tropes.
Zed (Angelica Cleya) seems a bit out of sorts in the role at times. She will, no doubt, settle in to the role whereas Matt Ryan has, at this point, all be slipped into Constantine's skin. The dialogue this time around is far less stilted and exposition heavy which is good though Manny and Chas are nowhere to be seen in this episode.
There are questions of faith brought up throughout as one of the characters is a priest who left the fold after his son was lost to the bowels of the mine. Really, though, the episode is about an abused woman exacting her vengeance upon the man who wronged her and the entire town suffered for it. There was an oppportunity here to say and do something better with the episode but, instead it nearly falls flat on its face. The small town Americana feel of it and having such darkness lingering in the background could have made for a great one-off story but instead it mostly just came off a bit uninspired. I would have expected more from an episode written by Farscape creator Rockne S. O'Bannon. Perhaps the third episode will right the ship.
The Devil's Vinyl
Well this is definitely better than last week's outing. Clearly we're in the more serialized territory at this point with Liv's scrying being replaced by Zed's ability to divine the next place to go and who's involved via her touching things and seenig memories bit. A great visual occurs there with a field of jasmine that is very reminiscent of Pushing Daisies. She also briefly catches a glimpse of a white tiger as well. Very Bryan Fuller-esque touches throughout the episode. That isn't the worst thing in the world.
This time around it's time for John and Zed to drop in on yet another location throughout the US, sort through the horror there and solve the crime. Hurray. This is about what I expected the show to be in the first season as, well, when you're dealing with this sort of character its easier to move forward in a serialized nature then offer an overarching narrative. It also gets a chance to fully explore the strange and weird trappings of magic/demons/angels and so forth in all sorts of locations.
We're off to the Windy City (Chicago) to find out just why John's long-time friend and record producer, Bernie, offed himself. The cold open was actually surprisingly well done with a record being brought in, him listening to it and being bombarded with awful voices and screams. He takes a screwdriver off the nearby table and jabs it directly into his ear. Well, alright then, Constantine isn't screwing around.
The record, it seems, happens to be a recording done in the 30's of a Delta bluesman who sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for talent/success. The Fallen One comes a callin' for his due and, well, the acetate of the vinyl captures not only the dulcet tones of the Blues Guy #1 but also the very voice of the Devil along with the screams of the damned and so forth. It has a horrible side effect, if played, of driving people absolutely mad, driving them to maim and murder. Bad news that LP is.
It would be one thing if that were mostly it for the plot of the episode but, well, there's a whole lot going on in here. There is, in fact, so much plot being driven through that there's scarcely any room to breathe, let alone really sink into the spooky nature of some of the settings the characters are all in. Jasmine Fell, wife of industry superstar, Ian Fell, made a deal about twenty years ago with a soul broker (you don't deal directly with the Devil) to cure his cancer in exchange for her mortal soul. Usual paperwork gets filled but the broker, Anton, wants to offer it back in exchange for the cursed record. This is where Papa Midnite comes in. He wanted the record for a, well, Get out of Hell free card. Much like Constantine has been searching for eh? His thugs, however, don't handle the thing with care and, instead, want to start playing it for all to hear to cause mayhem and destruction. Jerks.
Yes that's right! The first episode in which Papa Midnite shows up is in Chicago. The voodoo priest doesn't show up in New Orleans.. but whatever. His entrance, or rather, appearance is tremendous. John finds Anton in a dilapidated warehouse and is shaking him down for answers when a very loud laugh can be heard in the following room. All we see is a crack in the door and a black and white image on a television. Michael James Shaw makes his presence known immediately as a truly strong potential adversary in Midnite to Constantine. A great potential villain doesn't make a grand entrance necessarily but, rather, makes the hero come to him. Also I gotta say that coat he sports in the episode is REAL fly. Midnite is already a great character and this show needs another one besides the titular Englishman.
There isn't a ton of magic done by Midnite in the episode though he does have plenty of magical items that get made use of like a blessed Winchester rifle forged by a mystic in the old West and a voodoo doll he burns (It looks like Constantine of course). Those small things can be the sort of connective tissue and necessary odds and ends that keep a show like this barreling forward. It was one of many magically imbued items in the show. We've got a nail from the coffin of St. Anthony of Padua, an enchanted playing card, pixie dust and the Glory hand. The story tied to it is interesting, the shot in which its used kinda unnerving in a humorous way and all the better it demonstrates that using magic has consequences. Small details, sure, but they matter as the show continues to build and give us more of the overarching story.
What we got this week was far better than the second episode. There are few scenes that begged for more breathing room but the plot needed to move forward and not all the magical contrivances worked as well as hoped. It did, however, continue to further hint at the greatness this show could possibly strive for. Right now, though, it feels far more like Supernatural and less like a network version of something far more mature like True Blood. The more I think of it, though, perhaps that is for the best as True Blood collapsed in on itself in the end and somehow Supernatural continues to be entertaining ten seasons in.
Definite high point of the episode comes when John puts his earbuds in, blasting the Sex Pistols and busting into the college radio station where Midnite's rogue henchman are trying to spread the Dark Music to the masses is when the voodoo priest busts in with the Winchester and destroys the loud speakers blaring the awful Satan speak. This is followed by an excorcism of sorts that sends the henchman off in a spray of viscera and the acetate with it. Midnite was PISSED.
A much stronger showing this week as we had members of the Battlestar Galactica team along with Goyer and Cerone help with writing duties. The building blocks of a show that could be very entertaining week-to-week are starting to show up. How good was it that the tie on the voodoo doll of Constantine at the very end had a loose tie?
Perhaps this is just the first jitters of a show finding its footing. The first episode of Buffy were, wow, a trainwreck and other shows like Supernatural also suffered from the same sort of thing. I think my rating reflects that. There is potential here. This episode showed it to me. Give me more. Iron out the details and come back with more spook loaded into the chamber folks.