Constantine, Season 1, Episode 5: “Danse Voudou”
Written by Christine Boylan
Directed by John Badham
Airs Fridays at 10 pm (ET) on NBC
At first, “Danse Vaudou” seems like a supernatural murder mystery with some added flavor from Emmett Scanlan’s Southern-fried police detective Jim Corrigan, but writer Christine Boylan’s script quickly takes a turn for the better by connecting the case of the week to the personal lives of the victims as well as of John Constantine himself, Zed, and Papa Midnite. The episode uses New Orleans’ voodoo tradition as well as jazz and reggae music to drive the plot and differentiate it from the other settings Constantine and Zed have investigated throughout the series.
Probably the most interesting part of “Danse Vaudou” is the conflict between Constantine and Papa Midnite, which initially derives from the events of “The Devil’s Vinyl” but ends up being a battle between Midnite’s more traditional uses of magic and Constantine’s “jackass of all trades”. Boylan writes hilarious dialogue for the two characters, which gives some relief from the darker subject matter. “Danse Voudou” casts its net wide with eleven characters playing big roles in this episode, but Boylan and director John Badham try to unite them with the common thematic thread of guilt to make sure the episode doesn’t slip out of their control. Unfortunately, they aren’t successful.
Except for a few choice comebacks from Papa Midnite (who gets a much more active role in this episode), “Danse Vaudou” takes the focus off Constantine’s personal guilt and problems and turns it toward other characters. He plays more of an occult hero/investigator role, but his moral ambiguity is firmly in place as he gets sloppy with magic and continues to use his friends as pawns while he goes after the root of these mysterious murders. This splitting up is where the plot of “Danse Vaudou” gets a little thin. It introduces Jim Corrigan and starts to flesh him out while also dealing with three ghosts and their families’ backstories. Plus Zed finally gets a bit of character development, but this feels inconsequential in the light of Constantine and Midnite’s magical duels and verbal sparring.
This episode, like Constantine as a whole, has some great moving parts (especially its titular witty, guilt-ridden, con-man protagonist), but these parts don’t make a well-oiled machine. Emmett Scanlan brings an enjoyable salt of the earth quality to Jim Corrigan, but the character is somewhat inconsistent. Despite Corrigan saying that everyone thinks he’s crazy, he doesn’t demonstrate any kind of insanity and we don’t see his peers talking about him. Showing this would have stretched the guest cast even thinner, but it’s disappointing to see such a disconnect between the dialogue and performance.
Director John Badham utilizes the setting of New Orleans to good visual effect and Bear McCreary even opens the episode with a jazz-tinged rendition of “When The Saints Coming Marching In”. The voodoo ritual feels authentic, and there is a good use of dissolve transitions when two disparate characters (a former model and an elderly woman from rural Louisiana) connect over a similar feeling of guilt for their loved ones. However, some bits of the episode seem to be shot in Constantine‘s house style, which is lots and lots of shadow with bits of flame or bright light on the edge of the frame. Even though it features yet another magnetic guest performance from Michael James Shaw as Papa Midnite, some New Orleans ambiance, and much needed Zed backstory, “Danse Vaudou” tries to juggle too many balls at once and drops more than a few of them.