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.
Hiiiiiiiii, John. It’s Lamashtu. So…um… I know there was that whole baby situation in Mexico the other week…? But… I just felt like we had this… connection, you know? I saw how you looked at me in the convent. I still have the nun habit, if that’s, like, a thing for you. So… Call me? Kisses!
Dave: We open on a beautiful convent in Mexico. A woman has just given birth; her husband is holding the baby. A nun named Anne Marie comes in to bring some candy to the woman. Everything is joyous, though comics fans know that Anne Marie is a character with roots in both the Swamp Thing series and the Newcastle incident in Hellblazer, so we’re already curious.
Jay: I have to say, everything else aside, some of these scenes looked great. It’s a well-lit show. Spooky goings on. More effective horror techniques. And how effective was that brief shot of the creepy hands hovering over the baby? This is confident stuff.
Dave: Agreed — they’ve settled into a look and feel that uses special effects wisely, while focusing more on atmosphere. Meanwhile, at the Hogwarts Bunker, Zed is drawing sketches of a biblical nature. She draws an Invunche, which is a creature we first saw way back when John Constantine was introduced in Swamp Thing. They’re definitely hitting the source books hard already on this episode.
Jay: Good catch, I’d forgotten that. I like this scene with John and Zed. They’re just hanging out, the plot takes a pause for a couple minutes and we see them being people.
Dave: Next, Anne Marie appears at Hogwarts using “bilocation” — some kind of astral projection — to ask for John to help.
Jay: Aleister Crowley claimed to be able to do this. More relevant to the episode, though, is that a number of saints were said to have done it.
Dave: Immediately we understand that Anne Marie and John share a past, and Anne Marie would not call John unless she absolutely had to — because he owes her. I like that John isn’t a friend you call when you’re in need. He’s someone you only go to if you have no other option and you’ve got a marker to call in. He’s the titular “saint of last resorts.”
And I also like when they cut back to Anne Marie in the convent, coming out of her trance, there’s a lovely photo of young Anne-Marie and punk John.
Jay: Another nice Zed moment, “you’re not taking the Spanish speaker?” Looks like you were right last week.
Dave: Heh… I’m glad they addressed it head-on. This is already way better than “she’s at art class.” This way she feels a natural part of the show, even if she’s not going on the adventure with John.
Jay: I’m a big big fan of Ryan’s take at this point. If this show gets cancelled, maybe he’d wanna play Eoin Miller? Just a suggestion, like.
Dave: Save your cheap shilling for another Panels post, Jay. Although you’re lucky he’s too young to play Doctor Xander Crowe, or we might have to have a knife fight.
Jay: It’s on. Speaking of knives, we seem to be running without artifacts so far this week.
Dave: I’m sure they’re coming. The clawed creature, wearing a hooded cloak, brings the baby into some kind of dungeon and puts the baby in a cage.
And then we’re off the Mexico City! John and Chas make it to the convent, John learns that Anne Marie is a nun. The two share a tense exchange: “What happened to Astra didn’t change you at all.” Again, this is the stuff I’m really enjoying — it’s John painted through eyes of those who have a past with him.
Meanwhile… is this maybe an actual Zed subplot?
Jay: Oooof was I the only one thinking The Omen in that brief scene with Zed?
Dave: I was thinking more of House with William Katt. I like that the house is becoming a bit of a character. While I think it can be a little cutesy at times, I do like the idea that “home” isn’t exactly a safe house. If you’re going to use it — this is how I’d probably do it.
Dave: So, John casts some runes —
Jay: ARTIFACTS! I’M CALLING ARTIFACTS!
Dave: …sigh… ahem, to determine what took the baby, and he realizes —
ARTIFACT COUNT: 1
Dave: Okay, okay… anyway, the entity is powerful enough that the baby might still be alive — to be used for something. They need a connection to the child, so they decide to dig up the placenta. That’s gotta be a first for television, right?
Jay: I’m pretty sure I saw that once on Quincy. It was how he rolled. I like the scene on the way over, with John and Annie in the truck. They’re setting up nicely that John was a nasty arrogant piece of work back in the day. I hope they keep it that way, and don’t roll back on it and make out it was a misunderstanding, or that he was trying to do the right thing. Just keep it as is.
Dave: I like that she calls out that the problem isn’t magic or monsters or even infidelity. It’s John’s ego. The idea that he uses everyone for his own agenda.
So they dig under the placenta tree, which is at Hugo’s house — he’s the baby’s father, who is also a cop. John realizes something has happened. He plucks what looks like a pear from the tree, and it’s covered in human skin. He cuts it, and it bleeds red, which in turn makes the tree bleed.
Jay: Wonderful scene with the tree. Wonderful. It would have been a hammy mess in the first few episodes, but they play it right this time.
Dave: Again, it’s something I’ve not seen on any of these supernatural TV shows. American TV shows like this often use supernatural elements as a part of the action (we’re fighting a werewolf! We need silver bullets!) or as part of the mystery procedural (it’s a ghost — we need to understand what it wants!), but I think it’s fairly rare to revel in sinister, horrifying ideas like a tree of human fruit. That’s stuff that evokes Alan Moore’s “sophisticated suspense” in Swamp Thing — or something you might find in a horror novel.
Jay: It feels a bit Clive Barker-ish, in a good way.
Dave: Ooh, good call. Now we know who is behind the baby snatching. One of the biblical sisters of Eve — one of those who rejected Adam.
Jay: Eve’s sisters, I like that. And Annie’s reaction, pulling John up on his arrogance, niiiiice.
Dave: And then find out another baby has been taken. Meanwhile, Zed’s subplot continues.
Jay: So the ONE THING John told Zed was not to leave Hogwarts. What’s the ONE THING she’s done? Horror Cliché School 101. But you know, I buy it with these characters. Specifically I buy it with characters involved with John, because nobody trusts him, so they might not always listen to what he says.
Dave: She’s shopping for art supplies. I guess that need to draw overrules John’s guidelines? She runs into the art-class model who is secretly a pawn of someone else. I guess he trolls art supplies stores looking for Zed? They go for drinks, she touches him, and gets a weird vision of a white room with a vault door. She offers that they have the next drink back her place, which I liked. I figured, “she’s going to use the house to mess with this dude!”
Meanwhile, back at the convent, we learn that missing baby #2 is actually the child of Hugo’s teenage son. The two babies are from the same bloodline.
Jay: Oh jeez-o another Gypsy reference? Why? Why? Why? It’s not needed.
Dave: We were doing so well, too. But the line is quickly dismissed as John decides to go to a fountain to summon the goddess in question using his bowl and some worms, while Chas tries to smooth things over with Sister Anne Marie.
Jay: Nice scene from Chas? Did I miss a meeting where we’re letting him be a character now?
Dave: I think he’s slowly becoming the one guy who understands John’s motivations — in a sea of haters. Which is a start. I’d still like to understand Chas as his own man a bit.
Jay: Chekhov’s nun turns up just as John is casting a spell to reveal who is behind the baby-snatching.
Dave: Chekhov’s… hah. I see what you did there. Yeah, we knew something had to be up with her, right? The only other nun with speaking lines, and… she was kind of a foxy nun. That’s usually a tell. So, yeah… Sister Flirtatious turns out to be Lamashtu, the youngest sister of Eve. And… again we get some pretty good effects in this scene. Nice and creepy. John stabs her. Nothing like bringing a knife to a demon fight.
Jay: Gotta ask, while John is fighting with the demon in the water fountain, would it not be easier maybe to bless the water than to stab her? Though I prefer when he uses real-life things over mystical ones.
Dave: You know, I wondered that. Early on, we got the set-up with the purification bowl—
ARTIFACT COUNT: 2
Dave: All right, already! The bowl counts! Anyway… I thought for SURE he was going to scoop up the fountain water, which would bless it, right? Then throw it in her face? Although, she’s a goddess hanging out in a convent — maybe holy water has no effect?
Back at the bunker, Zed gets a badass moment, and we get a big reveal — Zed’s father is behind the art-class model’s stalking.
In Mexico, Hugo’s grandmother, Pia, tells them about La Brujeria — which is also from Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing run. So we’re coming back to the early mention of the Invunche, which is nice… it’s all connecting. The Brujeria are powerful prehistoric warlocks… Is this the Rising Darkness?
Jay: Also making me wonder, since this show seems to be the entry point to the occult side of DCU, if we would see Swamp Thing himself eventually, providing the show gets a second season?
Dave: He DID have a TV series once. They’ve probably still got that rubber suit in storage. Now we get the final gambit. John hatches a plan: a chicken filled with Hugo’s blood, a glamour spell to make it look like a baby. Bait for Lamashtu.
Jay: Is John manipulating Annie into being the “mother,” or is he genuinely intending to do it himself? We get our answer, and in a good way, I think, that speaks to his character.
Dave: Absolutely. And I like that Anne Marie is different from Gary Lester. She doesn’t need John’s lies. She demands his respect. In return, John is honest with her. They must do ANYTHING to save innocent children. It all comes back to Astra. This is good stuff.
Back in the bunker, Art Class Eddie starts referring to “our father,”… this is clearly a cult thing now. He’s a follower… Yep… the Crusade! That ties back to early Jamie Delano Hellblazer issues. So, we’re really drawing from two comic book sources now.
Jay: I think we’re getting a sense here of how Zed will play into the season arc and the rising darkness.
Dave: We get another scene with Anne Marie and John. She introduced him into the occult — a world of wonders, which John “followed into hell.” So she bears some guilt.
Jay: It’s good to hear talk of a younger, confused John, of a time before he was the all-skilled manipulator we see in the show.
Dave: John gives Anne Marie an icon of Pazuzu a demon who doesn’t like Lamashtu.
ARTIFACT COUNT: 3
Jay: Pazuzu, isn’t that the demon involved in The Exorcist?
Dave: Yup. I’m not sure if he’s named in the original film, but he’s definitely called Pazuzu in the sequel with Richard Burton and James Earl Jones.
Jay: I’m pretty sure the name is used in the original book, too, but it’s been years since I read it. I’m buying into the tension in the scene that follows it, the fake sacrifice. It’s working.
Dave: It’s a tense, spooky scene….
Uh-oh, Hugo tries to shoot the demon, and the chase is on! Luckily Lamashtu left her manhole cover open, so down into the sewers they go! they have to split up… because, you know, Chas… and then Anne Marie and John find the babies!
John questions Lasmashtu to find out the reason she’s stealing babies and the nature of the Rising Darkness. This is another tense scene; John threatens to snap the baby’s neck if Lamashtu doesn’t talk. This freaks out Anne Marie, even though we know he’s bluffing… right? We hope. Either way — it works, and then John invokes Pazuzu.
Jay: Using one demon to defeat another, fighting fire with fire.
Dave: Very ConstanTYNE. But… we’re not safe yet. The Invunche appears. In a nice twist, Anne Marie realizes that she can sacrifice John to save the baby. “You’re a quick study, luv,” says John.
Jay: And seeing John with no idea what to do, suddenly the stakes raise again just as the episode is winding down. And a great reversal of John’s own words, used against him.
Dave: Anne Marie shoots John and leaves, leaving our protagonist in a dire situation. But, hey, at least Zed is okay, right? Well… not so much. Zed’s struggle with Art Class Eddie led to two other Crusaders invading the bunker, and while she’s able to trap one, the other gets her… injecting her with a sedative…
Damn. This was a dark ending. A little bit The Empire Strikes Back, isn’t it? The show itself is really gaining momentum. Not only do we have a better sense of both John and Zed, we also have a better sense of this season as an arc, which I think was mostly just lip service before — mentions of the Rising Darkness to explain why there was MORE supernatural stuff happening. I think we’re witnessing the gears shifting here…
Jay: Agreed. A very strong ending. The kind of ending you go with when you’re very confident, or very desperate, or both. Cards on the table, I’m not sure the show will make it. I’m really enjoying it now, but I wonder if those first few episodes left too much ground to make up. Casual viewers who tried the first three episodes might not give the show a second chance, which is a shame.
Dave: I overhead some Constantine talk in the comic shop the other day, and it seemed that — at least amongst comics folk — there was an understanding that the show improved with the fourth episode. Of course, comics readers aren’t enough to make up a TV audience. So, I find myself actually hoping that this show finds viewers because at this point, I actually want it to go on a bit… I want to see if they can really turn this into must-see TV.
Artifact Count: 3 + an ordinary Knife of Stabbing
Moore Swamp Thing Elements: 3 (The Invunche, The Brujeria, Sister Anne Marie)
Delano Hellblazer elements: 3 (Zed, The Crusade, Sister Anne Marie)
1) Do you like the inclusion of elements from the source books, or would you prefer the show to carve its own path?
2) If they make it to a second season, which DC occult characters would you like to see?
3) If Lamashtu made an eHarmony dating connection, who would it be? (Remember, past failed relationships include Adam and Pazuzu)