Constantine Season 1, Episode 4: “Feast of Friends”
Written by Cameron Welsh
Directed by John D. Showalter
Airs Fridays at 10 pm ET on NBC
In an incredibly faithful adaptation of Hellblazer #1, “Feast of Friends” brings all the disparate elements that have been floating around the first three episodes and fits them together in a coherent whole. John D. Showalter gets to work with a lot of grotesque visuals having to do with this episode’s Big Bad, Mnemoth the Hunger Demon ranging from body horror, creepy bugs scurrying everywhere, and even a drug trip. He doesn’t flinch from showing the disgusting nature of this demon and even zooms out to show the extent of its destruction. Aside from the technical aspects, Matt Ryan continues to play John Constantine as the consummate con-man, who isn’t afraid to piss off angels or use the people around him, but feels bad about it at the end of the day. Irish actor Jonjo O’Neill puts in a nice guest spot as Constantine’s old friend Gary Lester, who was at Newcastle with him and is now a heroin junkie. Gary is Constantine without the charisma or magical ability, and he sheds light on Constantine’s amorality and penchant for getting people around him killed. “Feast of Friends” takes John Constantine to some very dark places, and this is where the show can thrive.
On a surface level, “Feast of Friends” is a subtly satirical and well-structured bit of horror storytelling. (Well, maybe the victims’ acting isn’t so subtle.) The Hunger Demon symbolizes humanity’s obsession with consuming anything in their path whether food, possessions, drugs, or other people. The Hunger Demon will possess anyone, which shows that all humans have latent desires and appetites that remain unsatisfied. Director John D. Showalter uses quick cuts to show the insatiable appetites of the people possessed by the Hunger Demon and lingers on some particularly unsettling moments, especially in the latter half of the episode. This is when the drug trip happens, and Showalter restrains his Lynchian tendencies and returns to the well of body horror to visually show the high price for defeating Mnemoth. But what makes “Feast of Friends” a successful and arguably the best episode of Constantine so far is how Cameron Welsh connects this episode with the characters.
Welsh gives John Constantine, Zed (Angelica Celaya), and Gary Lester interlocking character arcs that fit in with this “Feast of Friends'” theme of addiction, desire, and different kinds of “using”. He also explores the conflict between cynicism and optimism as Constantine ends up playing on Gary’s desire for redemption in the wake of the Newcastle disaster for his own ends. And making its lead character a manipulative bastard (like in the Hellblazer comics) sets Constantine apart from the other supernatural/paranormal/horror shows flooding the television market. The multiple meanings of “using” are at this episode’s core. When he was younger, Constantine used Gary’s money and car so he and his mates could get loaded and have a good time. Obviously, Gary uses heroin, and then he uses Zed’s psychic ability to absorb people’s thoughts and memories to offload his withdrawal symptoms. And this is what sets her apart from Constantine and his old friends, Zed doesn’t really seem to have an ulterior motive for hanging around Constantine other than helping him stop supernatural threats. However, she isn’t immune from “using” as she finally learns about Newcastle and how John damned a young girl to Hell from Gary after their psychic link. Even Manny the angel (Harold Perrineau) just wants to utilize Constantine’s magical skills against the forces of Hell even though he knows that he will never be able to save his soul.
This cycle of manipulation from flawed, broken characters, who supply the occasional snarky one-liner to break up the tension, mixed with a frightening monster that has its roots in human weakness, is what makes “Feast of Friends” such a compelling episode. There is also Bear McCreary’s haunting score, which transforms into Baroque sacred music during pivotal scenes. Cameron Welsh also continues to develop Constantine and Zed’s relationship and digs into his back-story in a plot relevant way. (Without Newcastle, there would be no episode.) “Feast of Friends” is a successful adaptation of the first Hellblazer comic in both scares and characterization while using acting, cinematography, and atmosphere to make it work in the Constantine television show.