Episode number two for Constantine has come and gone and I must say, there was a lot to like but still plenty of bugs that need to be worked out. With that in mind, let’s look at the ups and downs of “The Darkness Beneath”.
Oh yeah, there will be SPOILERS. You’ve been notified.
Pro: A Mixed Bag Of Hell
Hellblazer has always been a wonderful mash-up of demons, mythology and magic from all over the globe. It has always been open to the concept of demons, spirits, gods and devils from every walk of life. We get a nice little taste of this in Episode 2 with Romani magic, Welsh spirits and what appeared to be an incantation related to Saint Patrick. This was a strength in the comics and can, if used properly, could be a wonderful strength for the show. IF. USED. PROPERLY.
Mixing things up with magic has a good history with movies (Hellboy) as well with television (Supernatural, Buffy) but it can be confusing for the audience if it’s not spelled out well. Constantine executed it well in this episode. John explained his history of being from a mining town, giving the audience a plausible reason why he would be familiar with these spirits. We already like him so it’s easier to relate and understand.
Later in the episode though, the final confrontation was a bit shakier. John’s dealing with the evil behind it all, the widow of the mining boss (played to creepy perfection by Leisha Hailey), felt a bit like an episode of Columbo with its “oh there’s just one more thing” style. The strength that holds it together though, is how well John addresses the magic and in the end defeats it.
So, the tally for the series so far with the supernatural stands at:
Welsh mining spirits
And with the teaser that next week’s episode will involve both a deadly mystic item and Papa Midnite it only seems as though they are going to expand the mystical universe that John lives in. As long as they continue to give the audience a quick understanding of what’s going on with the magic itself we’ll be fine. If not, it could be a confusing ride.
Con: Zed’s Meh Baby…Zed’s Meh
I’m not too familiar with Angelica Celaya as an actress but I’m guessing someone on the show must have been and was impressed. Sadly, I didn’t see it in this episode.
Yes, she did have a few nice moments of chemistry with Matt Ryan, but for the most part she just felt very awkward. Despite the fact that she has visions she is still a relative neophyte to this world, there should have been more of a sense of fear and terror at play with her as she encounters some monsters. When she and John are down in the mine and casting out the mining spirit there should have been a much bigger “what the hell was that”. It felt much more like she bit into an appetizer and wasn’t sure about a flavor (“is that cilantro…or a Welsh spirit”).
At one point John tricks her into a vision that involves serious pain and shock but her response was in no way befitting the situation. There should have been anger, some reaction to express just how painfully she was used. It should have been a bigger moment showing that she’s not sure she can trust this guy. Again, there was nothing at play.
I’m hoping that as the series moves forward she’ll get more comfortable with the character and her surroundings but if the level isn’t raised I fear that she’s going to be a bit of an albatross for the show.
Pro: Where There’s Smoke…
I am not going to get on a soapbox about smoking on television. I mean…I want to but I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to praise the way the show addresses it.
John, in the books, is a chain smoker, a flat out puff fiend. It is part of who the character is and opens the story up to at least one amazing arc based on it (“Dangerous Habits”). BUT THIS IS NETWORK TELEVISION AND SMOKING IS EVIL AS ARE THOSE WHO SMOKE! ALL SMOKERS ARE BAD PEOPLE is what they want you to think. (Okay…little soapbox.)
So, how do you stay true to the character and not make him an EVIL SMOKER? You hide it. You nod and wink to it but you never actually show him smoking. We can see an ashtray with a lit cigarette. We can see smoke coming from John while he has his back turned to the camera. We can show an unlit cigarette in his mouth with preparation to light it. All of these are tricks used in this episode and I loved every one of them.
I’m sure that the show runners were given a very strict dictate on not showing smoking on the show and their response was to find the loopholes to still give the fans what they want. If they are willing to go to those lengths to keep the fans happy and stay true to the character I feel like this show really has a chance.
Con: A Neat Little Bow
One of the hallmarks of Hellblazer is that not all who die are villains and not all who survive are heroes. The book, much like the titular character, has always been a mix of good and evil, black and white. I have always referred to John as “the greyest character in literature”. The stories should reflect that and, so far, there’s been very little of that.
All of those who have died have been shown to be bad folk, especially in this episode. The first victim gave hints to being an abusive alcoholic and the mine bosses were keeping an operation going despite knowing that it was dangerous for those working under them. I’m not going to defend them, don’t worry. I am, however, going to point out that not all of those who die need to be the bad guys.
John is tortured by Astra’s death and torment but she’s not the only one who gets chewed up in the hellish machine that is our hero’s life. He even goes so far to mention in this episode that everyone who trusts him gets killed. We need to see this in practice, we need to see the collateral damage of his works. By tying everything up in a nice little bow, with the bad guys getting what they deserve and the good guys walking away relatively unscathed, strips away a layer of who John is. He’s a broken man who somehow manages to carry on despite being so fractured all of those he failed.
Show us his failure as a human and not just his failures as a master of the dark arts.
Pro: It’s The Little Things
This episode is a lot funnier than you would think and to that I give a lot of credit to how Matt Ryan sells the little instances where humor can come in to play.
Showing up to a wake with a TV diner, and upon seeing what everyone else has brought tossing the cover aside on the lawn, made me laugh out loud. Later, when Zed lets her broom dip from being turned upright, an unconvinced John takes a beat to right the angle of the broom with a skeptical look.
This is a dark show for network television but that doesn’t mean that it should be all dour blood and guts. The book was rife with moments of levity in some of its darkest times, whether it’s a laugh over having made the First of the Fallen drink stout based on holy water or messing with a would be journalist searching for the secret history of London. The book had chuckles and it looks like the show is going to follow suit. It’s those little things that help sell a character and so far I’m very impressed with the way they are doing it.
On the whole, I feel as though Constantine is off to a good start. I do think that they will need to enter into a deeper narrative arc in the future aside from the idea of points on the map. If it truly becomes a purely episodic show based around bouncing from place to place you could lose viewers. On a long enough timeline I’m going to need a reason to tune in every week. Based on what I’ve seen in the first two episodes however, I know I’ll be tuning in. I just hope that the rest of the world will do the same.