The 2014-2015 television season saw DC comics launch numerous television …
Through Rossmo’s variety of cityscapes and their denizens and Doyle and Tynion’s raconteur-style voiceover monologue, Hellblazer #2 continues to establish the urban fantasy picaresque era of the magnificent bastard John Constantine. (The end cliffhanger echoes this theme.) And it also happens to be darkly funny, occasionally sexy, and filled to the gills with mystical worldbuilding.
Even though it is riddled with plot inconsistencies and even some slasher film/supernatural show cliches, Constantine starts to find itself as a show in its final three episodes as it embraces being a mythology lite, episodic show with a few season finale reveals and plot threads that could expand its universe and heighten the threat level of the Rising Darkness from being a silly name that occasionally, almost does something bad every other episode. But its biggest strength going forward is its small, morally ambiguous ensemble cast that really benefited from showcase episodes like “Quid Pro Quo” (for Chas) and “Angels and Ministers of Grace (for Zed and Manny) down the stretch. If it continues (either on NBC or as SyFy’s Hellblazer), Constantine has a solid foundation with these characters and actors along with sense of atmosphere and setting in most episodes.
Throughout Constantine’s first season, Chas Chandler (Charles Halford) has been an enigmatic and sadly underused figure. He plays the voice of reason and comfort to the amoral, twice or thrice damned Constantine (Matt Ryan) and has saved him many times with his special, unexplained powers. Using some carefully selected flashbacks joined to the main narrative with the recurring image of a flame, “Quid Pro Quo” reveals why Chas seemingly can’t die, why he is friends with a man who makes him pick up his bar tab 10 out of 10 times, and explores Chas’ strained relationship with his ex-wife Renee (Amanda Clayton) and daughter Geraldine. Writer Brian Anthony also introduces legendary DC Comics villain Felix Faust (played by a chilling Mark Margolis) a “second fiddle” magician who acts as a nice foil to Chas in his showcase episode.
Beginning directly after the gut-wrenching ending of the midseason finale, ” The Saint of Last Resorts Part 2″ takes one of the series’ biggest risks yet, by having John Constantine (Matt Ryan) literally bond with a demon to save his life after his old lover Anne-Marie (Claire van der Bloom) shot him because she wasn’t willing to have him sacrifice another innocent to save his skin. Constantine’s new status quo is riveting as, possessed by the Assyrian hunger demon Pazuzu, John slaughters members of a pretty scary Mexican gang and gets thrown in prison, where Chas (Charles Halford) and Zed (Angelica Celaya) must enter and exorcise the demon, or kill him if all else fails. There is also the “Rising Darkness”, but over the course of the season, this have become laughable, even if a big name is thrown in this episode. This inconsistency also extends to the characters of Manny (Harold Perrineau) and Anne-Marie, as writer Mark Verheiden possibly uses the former as an example of Heaven’s impotence in the coming struggle (Constantine’s theology and cosmology is becoming sketchier by the episode) and the latter where the plot dictates. There is also a slight dip in the special effects after the heights of the fallen angel a few episodes back.
“The Saint of Last Resorts” breaks the mold of a lot of previous Constantine episodes, which partially set up the character of John Constantine (Matt Ryan) as some kind of cynical, occult superhero instead of the hell-bound bastard and con-man from the Hellblazer comics. Instead of having Constantine initiate the case of the week with Zed’s (Angelica Celaya) scrying, this time he gets a call from his magic tutor, old flame, and member of the Newcastle crew Anne-Marie (Claire van der Boom), who has seen a baby snatched by a supernatural force. Because this is personal, John leaves Zed on her own at the House of Mystery, giving her first solo plotline to show how she has grown as a character, along with revealing a new threat other than the vague Rising Darkness. Director T.J. Scott uses the convent, landscapes, and graveyards of Mexico City to give “The Saint of Last Resorts” a real sense of atmosphere and writer Carly Wray mines world mythology and the Hellblazer to craft a primal horror plot as well as cementing once and for all that Constantine is vulnerable, charming, and occasionally funny, but not a hero.
So far, the world of Constantine has mostly been filled with frightening demons, cursed objects, and people working under their thrall. “Blessed Are the Damned” looks at the lighter side of the equation, but this episode might be the scariest one yet. Zachary (Patrick Carroll), the pastor of a struggling church, gets healing powers when he is lethally bitten by a rattlesnake while trying one of his father’s old snake-handling routines. This leads to him become a popular cult figure. What seems to be yet another expose about religious fundamentalism becomes an in-depth look at faith, doubt, and free-will, with many trademark John Constantine wisecracks, written by Sneho Koorse and delivered with aplomb by Matt Ryan, in the funniest episode of Constantine so far. After taking last week off, Zed (Angelica Celaya) comes to the forefront, as traces of her belief in a “helping hand” are revealed and rewarded when she meets the angel Imogen (Megan West). Also, Manny (Harold Perrineau) gets something to do other than annoy Constantine and remind viewers of “the Rising Darkness”, and gets a defining character moment towards the end of “Blessed Are the Damned”.
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.
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.
The character of John Constantine is rooted in music as much as he is in magic or being a con artist. Before he was master of the dark arts, he was the frontman for Liverpool punk outfit Mucous Membrane. (Which gets a much needed shout out in this episode.) Even before he was fully fledged and named character, he was a guy in the background of Swamp Thing #25, who artist Stephen Bissette wanted to look like Sting. But enough of the origin story stuff. “The Devil’s Vinyl” is the strongest episode of Constantine to date as David Goyer and Mark Verheiden construct a plot filled with the trickery, double crosses, soul bartering, and exorcisms that were the Hellblazer comic’s stock and trade, especially during Garth Ennis’ run. The threat level is also upped thorough developing the show’s mythology by including voodoo priest and crime kingpin Papa Midnite (played with presence and a spot-on accent by Michael James Shaw) and hinting at a character that will make Hellblazer fans shake in their boots. With this threat escalation, Goyer and Verheiden start to dig beneath the surface of John Constantine (Matt Ryan), Zed (Angelica Celaya), and Chas (Charles Halford) while giving them active and pivotal roles in the plot.
With all the exposition and origin story trappings out of the way in last week’s pilot, “The Darkness Beneath” show readers what exactly John Constantine (Matt Ryan) does, other than con people, go to pubs, and chat with Chas (Charles Halford). This could be a typical case of the week type of episode, but writer Rockne S. O’Bannon manages to connect the monster to John’s past life, as well as some of the socioeconomic critiques that characterized early Hellblazer issues. He also introduces a new, improved female lead in Zed Martin (Angelica Celaya), who has an almost sultry chemistry with Constantine, and shows she can handle herself in a fight with the supernatural and then some. O’Bannon also doesn’t reveal his entire hand when it comes to her character, and the mysterious nature of her powers and connection to Constantine will be a intriguing mystery to follow throughout the season. “The Darkness Beneath” showcases Constantine as more of a con man than a pure spell caster, as well as someone who uses others to further his ends, even though they are positive in this case. He’s no hero. A few criticisms of this episode are that the citizens of the town exist as ciphers to move the plot, including a skeptical preacher (James Le Gros) who has some substantial screen time, and the director’s focus on pyrotechnics instead of terrifying imagery and chills.
The opening shot of Constantine is quite rich. It’s a medium shot, straight ahead of the Ravenscar Secure Facility. This is the mental asylum that John Constantine (Matt Ryan) turns himself in to when he inadvertently damns the soul of his friend’s daughter, Astra, to Hell in the Hellblazer comic. Immediately, there is a nod to the source material as well as establishing that our protagonist isn’t right in the head or the ethical department, but there’s a tiny chance he could change. “Non Est Asylum” is all about how John Constantine isn’t at home in Heaven or Hell, but somewhere in between (Even though he is currently damned). He, his best friend and driver Chas (a laconic Charles Halford), and friend’s daughter Liv (Lucy Griffiths) are constantly on the move trying to take on the demon Furcifer, who controls electricity and lightning, and wants to damn Liv because her father angered him a while back. Along with this mobile exorcism plot, writers David Goyer and Daniel Cerone build the world of Constantine, where demonic activity and magic are everywhere. They also dig into Constantine’s sordid back-story. Unfortunately, most of this backstory is spilled out through exposition at the most random times, and it seems like the character of Liv only exists to be told stories about his past. However, she won’t be appearing after this episode, and Constantine more than makes up for it with a charismatic performance by Matt Ryan, who has the bearing of the working class mage, and delivers the snarky dialogue that Constantine is famous for in the comics.