This post originally appeared on Panels, which is now Book Riot Comics
This is John Constantine. Leave your name and soul, and I’ll get back to you.
Hi, Mister Constantine, my name is Sally, and I’m calling today to ask you if you’re satisfied with your long distance carrier. We’re offering a special… promotion… uh… if you switch… good lord, what is that stench? Smells like Sulfur! Randy, did you bring egg salad for lunch again? I’m making calls! Wait… where is everyone? Why are there flames everywhere? Is this why no one ever wants to call this Constantine guy…?
Both Dave Accampo and Jay Stringer were fans of John Constantine, and the comic series Hellblazer. They will be discussing each episode of the new NBC show, Constantine, and assessing the good, the bad, and the demonic.
Dave: A little delayed this week, as I had to shrug off turkey-induced lethargy and a drive from San Francisco, California to Portland, Oregon before getting to the latest episode of Constantine. But I’m here now! Let’s dig in and see how it went…
Jay: We start at a big house, with lots of violence and moody string music happening just off camera. Dead bodies. Blood. Dogs and cats living together.
Dave: I like this opening. It’s that classic crime scene, but it’s just a little bit off. The mantle above the fireplace is smashed in… just a bit too much to be normal human violence. The camera tracks a bloody trail up the wall…
Jay: Then there’s a guy covered in blood and stuck to the ceiling. He falls to his death and we see a scared child watching on.
(I think we all know where this is going.)
Dave: We do, but it’s effective. I like that we don’t see too much. Glad they didn’t over-use the CGI or anything like that. This immediately evokes the end of films like Paranormal Activity, while also still feeling closer to that “X-Files” feel you mentioned a while back. I did think it was a little overdone at the very end of the scene, with the girl’s eyes going black and the coffee cup shattering as two cops argued, but… it definitely sets us in motion.
Jay: John wakes up in a woman’s bed because….I guess he’s just that kind of rogue.
Dave: It does play as a kind of “shorthand” for “I’m a lovable rogue,” doesn’t it? I’m okay with this, as at least it shows John having some kind of life in the interim. He’s not just hanging out at Jasper’s bunker and waiting for the blood map to glow or whatever.
Jay: And DAMMIT she hands him his tie back.
Dave: We weren’t going to get off that easy.
Anyway, we go back to the bunker, Zed is written off with a one-liner, similar to what they did with Chas a couple of episodes back, and now we’ve got Chas playing sounding board for John.
Jay: John basically seems to say what we’re all thinking….he doesn’t see the point of Chas, either.
Dave: Sorry, I’m not paying attention to Chas, because I seem to be hearing—
Jay: TOM WAITS MUSIC. ALL IS RIGHT WITH THE WORLD.
Dave: Two things you and I love — Hellblazer and Tom Waits. Are we having an impact on this production? But seriously… the weird thing is that this is the second TV show in months in which I’ve heard Waits. Feels like I’ve stepped into some kind of alternate universe. But I’m digressing…
John reviews the Blood Map, and they’re off to Birmingham, Alabama to investigate the crime scene. Which for John, includes licking the wall. As you do. That’s not very ConstanTYNE, but it’s a funny, off-kilter touch that sets this version of John apart.
Jay: So Manny the Angel turns up to give some witty exposition. There’s some witty dialogue going on, though.
Dave: “I had a tight horn section back in the day” — that got a chuckle out of me. I really like the use of Manny in the past few episodes.
Jay: As much as I like Zed, it seems that a sidekick-free episode is one where the script has more room to play around.
Dave: I’m less of a Zed fan, but I think I’ve realized one of the reasons Manny works well for me. He reminds me of John’s “ghosts” in the early issues of Hellblazer. For those unfamiliar, one of the tropes developed for the Hellblazer series was that John was always surrounded by the ghosts of the friends that died, usually due to a direct or indirect connection with John. In the comics, they took on a literary ambience — were they literal ghosts or just his guilt? It didn’t really matter; the point was that they served as spectral conscience. Manny’s not quite to that level, but the fact that he understands John on levels that neither Chas nor Zed can — it really works for me.
So, John needs to “see” what happened at the crime scene, so he reaches into his bag, and I’m going to be honest — I was really worried he was going to pull out some, like, haunted tank goggles or something. But he doesn’t.
Jay: Nice little trick with a slip of paper and some Mayan, tracking back the use of magic. I liked that.
Dave: I did too. It’s less “artifact” and more just… casting a little bit of a spell. I’m not even putting that one on the artifact list. We see the coffee cup scene re-enacted, and John realizes that the girl was possessed by an entity. This means… it’s going to find a new host.
Cut to: our next victim — Henry, currently screaming because he’s afraid of monsters in his closet. His parents come into the room, and there’s an immediate and somewhat subtle dynamic between the parents. The dad wants his son to be tough; he doesn’t want his son coddled. But he’s not overly abusive or any sort of cliché like that.
Jay: Wait, they check the window an the closet but not under the bed? It’s like they WANT the kid to get attacked. Wait, never mind, the beastie comes in through the window after all.
Dave: Yep, and we’re given a bit of Demon-O-vision outside the house as the entity heads toward Henry’s window. This quick shot needed to be cut, honestly. We don’t need the entity’s POV here. Keep it on the kid. We cut back to Henry. His closet door pops open. No CGI, just… a closet door popping open. Henry throws a pillow against it, shutting the door. But he hears something at the window, and slowly turns… and we see a tall, thin silhouette in the curtains.
Jay: Hey, for all my jokes that was a really effective scene. I’m getting a good feeling about this episode.
Dave: Oh, totally. Minimal CGI, some really creepy childhood scares. And then once the parents come into the room again, the kid’s reaction immediately evokes a Bad Seed/Damien-from-the-Omen evil calm.
So from there, we cut to a bar, where a paralegal is giving John a whole heckuva lot of information about not just the last possessed kid, but she’s actually connected the dots between similar murders that go back 35 years. I’m totally okay with this woman doing a big chunk of the detective work, as long as it allows us more time for some character stuff with John later. And I do like the reveal that she owes John a favor because she was haunted by her dead husband, and John helped her. This is a great way for John to travel through this world — calling in markers here and there to get what he needs. It creates a rich backstory while giving him new resources.
Jay: Using that information, John goes to see someone who suffered the same possession as a child, but finds the guy catatonic.
Dave: Marcello Panetti. And we notice that this guy is missing several fingers, and we’ve been given enough to fill in the gaps that this guy had a very abusive father who chopped off his son’s fingers with an axe when he misbehaved.
Jay: We cut back to the current possessed kid’s house.
Dave: Dad hears something. The lights are off.
Jay: NICE shot of the lightbulb being tapped on the floor. Good build up. This is good stuff again.
Dave: Kids acting out of a calm malevolence are always suuuuuuper creepy. The light bulb “trap,” in which Henry sets the bulbs up so that his dad will back up into them — that’s pretty good. I’m liking the time they’re taking with the creepy moments in this episode.
We go back to John and Chas in the bunker. Chas fiddles with some kind of… um, car part? I don’t know. Anyway, John figures out that the entity is reaching out across ley lines, and he realizes he can home in on the next suspect if he finds another occult artifact. So he goes digging while Chas pulls out something called the Sword of Night.
Jay: The scene with the sword, and the awkward aftermath, was funny. I mean, okay we needed a magic artifact to get some backstory out of Chas, but DAMMIT I’M ENJOYING THIS.
Dave: It was some nice banter. And while I still want more from Chas, I am starting to like this understated, hillbilly-ish Chas. Even the swap from the taxi cab to the old pick-up truck. What’s next?
Jay: Creepy kid…..knife….what’s the worst that can happen? He messed up some pumpkins, not too bad.
Dave: And he sends a crow smashing into the glass door in front of his mom. That was pretty good. So, it’s night, and John and Chas use Frankincense to track the entity to Henry’s house.
Jay: More nice banter. Even Chas is being elevated here.
Dave: I think what we’ve been finding, over the past few episodes is that when they just let loose with Constantine and the dialogue, they end up with some surprisingly witty stuff. Matt Ryan really sells it here, and you’re right — even Chas works better.
Next, John hangs out outside of the schoolyard, watching Henry. In a pretty effective scene because… a man in a trenchcoat hanging outside of a school is NEVER GOOD. However, as Henry acts out on the playground, it does give John an opening.
Jay: John pretends to be a counsellor, and even when he’s trying to look normal the TIE IS STILL ANNOYING.
Dave: It’s almost worse. Which, in a way is kind of better. Like — he can’t be bothered with a proper disguise, so he just tightens his tie, which is now entirely too short.
(Also: I still do not understand the mechanics of the tie. I’m telling you, there was a previous episode in which it was hanging loose and both ends of the tie were of nearly identical length. There’s no way THAT tie tightens up into THIS tie unless magic is involved.)
Jay: So can we put it on the artifact list?
Dave: I’m considering it. John fast-talks his way inside, where he uses a Mandrake root to “prove” that there’s an entity inside Henry. Nice trick, but it just leads to Henry’s dad decking him.
Again, I want to point out the dynamic of the father and mother because I think it’s interesting. The shorthand would be to make the dad an abuser. But they don’t go that route here. He’s secretly pleased his son would stand up for himself on the playground, even if it means the other kid’s skull was fractured. He’s a little too quick to violence, as he decks John, but then again John was a stranger in his house, claiming to be an exorcist. None of this is too over the top. I feel like these are people I know.
Jay: I agree. I’m pretty sure they would have reached for the cliché a few episodes ago, but they’ve raised their game. Then we get a nice scene in a jail cell where we get to see John alone his own with his demons. Until an angel turns up.
Dave: Another nice Manny scene that gives us a bit of good insight into John. He’s had a rough life, but… maybe Manny has always been watching over him?
John doesn’t have to stay in jail for long because Henry’s mom now believes that Henry IS possessed, and, hey, she turns out to be a doctor. That’ll come in handy, as she has to drug her child.
Jay: I imagine the scenes with the mother having to “betray” the kid is pretty effective on parents. For me it was just a little…creepy.
Dave: Y’know, it’s so clear to the audience that there’s this black-eyed entity inside of the kid that it didn’t really bother me. It would have been more upsetting if we just didn’t know what was up with the kid. Also, the kid was drawing super creepy Dad with Axe, which had me pretty convinced that I knew the upcoming twist.
Jay: Good spot. You know, I missed that connection. That’s good writing. Back to the house of the catatonic guy, John wants to use the house to trap the demon. I like that there’s no easy answer here, that he can’t just say hocus pocus and get rid of the demon, that there are decisions to be made about WHERE it goes. And then as they try to summon the demon, there’s a nice tense scene with a three-legged deer, too. It’s a total tease, but I think the point when a show can make that work is the point when we know the episode is definitely working.
Dave: Agreed. I liked the detail of the deer. I like that things with magic don’t always work. Magic has rules, but it’s a system of rules that you may not understand. And that’s what makes these type of episodes fun. What’s the detail we’re missing?
John, Chas and Henry’s mom return home. They are confronted by Henry’s dad, who thinks the mom is out of control. The conflict between the mom and dad activates Henry’s black-eyed telekinesis, and he hurls a chair. Realizing he has the missing piece of the puzzle, John snatches a mirror from the wall, does an incantation, and when Henry tries to hurl some telekinesis at him, it bounces back.
This is a little more overtly magical than classic comic-book Constantine, but I dug it. Henry puts on his zombie mask and runs out into the neighborhood because it’s Halloween night. John follows him into a Haunted House (the Halloween kind, not the actual kind).
Jay: The haunted house stuff is a little hammy, but the episode has earned it by this point.
Dave: One thing I liked is that they weren’t really using the haunted maze gags to scare us, they were just rattling John.
Jay: This demon likes his axes.
Dave: Indeed. Which makes sense, because—
Jay: Nice reveal. The demon is actually the catatonic guy. nice reversal of the cliché.
Dave: It’s a good reversal. I admit I suspected the twist. There was something about the catatonic guy that didn’t add up, and when the kid was drawing the pictures… well, anyway. It’s the thing where whether you saw it coming or not, it all added up and made sense. It’s all about understanding what causes the haunting or possession or curse.
Jay: Okay. It’s official. I really enjoyed that. Of the last three episodes now I think we’ve had two that were very strong and one -last week- that was decent. I think….I think maybe I like the show at this point?
Dave: Some bits I really liked in this episode: The supernatural element was strong and consistent, and while we had more mentions of the “rising darkness,” it actually made sense here. The murders were all too far apart to be connected, BUT… because of the rising darkness, Marcello has more power, and was able to possess more kids more rapidly, and… the dots could be connected. We also got a nice a balance with the procedural elements that still allowed time to let John bounce off other characters. And we not only got bits of backstory to relate to John, but the plot actually tied into some of John’s fears an vulnerabilities — not only his own childhood, but the loss of Astra at Newcastle. Also: there wasn’t an over-reliance on gimmicks.
Mentions of Rising Darkness: 3
Tom Waits Songs: 1
Occult Artifacts: 2 (or 3, if one includes The Tie of Indefinite Lengths)
OK, Question time!
1) What did you think about the lack of Zed? (Also: Art class? Really?)
2) If you came across the Sword of Night, who would you give it to, and what would you ask them?
3) Does Jay actually like the show now?