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.
My dear Mr. Constantine… my name is Lechter. Doctor Hannibal Lechter. I’ve noticed that over the course of the past few episodes, you’ve copied my wardrobe and titled an episode over a rather particular phrase which I brought to popularity in the early 1990s. Now, I should be angry, Mister Constantine, but… I assure you I am not. I’d simply like to invite you to dinner tomorrow night, so I can pick your brains on the matter…
Dave: We begin with the simplest of simple cold opens. New York City at night. A robed, hooded man on a rooftop chanting in Latin. He summons a black smoke that drifts down the chimney and into a girl’s room, where she’s playing with her dolls.
Jay: A room full or children’s dolls can be pretty creepy….but we get a big CGI thing instead.
Dave: Yup, the CGI smoke surrounds her. The doll she was holding drops to the ground. Roll Credits.
Back at the bunker, Constantine is renewing the protections after the Resurrection Crusade made their attempt to nab Zed.
Jay: We get a little back story for Zed. I wonder, will we see this story play out in the next few episodes, or where they saving it for the episodes that didn’t get picked up?
Dave: Good question — it does feel like there’s too much story there for the last few episodes of the season. I do like that John pushes her here — it’s getting more urgent, as it should. I also like the bit where Zed asks John why he’s helping her, and he says he “survives on instinct.” That feels like a good answer for John. I think an outsider might point to John’s anti-authoritarian streak, his need to take the bullies of the world, but I’m not convinced that John would be aware enough of that trait to make that his answer. I like the idea that, in his mind, he just goes with his gut.
Oh… the map is back. Plot Alert! Magic is heating up in New York, and coincidentally Chas is already on his way to Brooklyn because it’s his weekend with his daughter!
Jay: HI CHAS! We’re getting some of the back story you’ve been looking for. Every time I hear “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” I think of Orange Is The New Black.
Dave: Right? It’s a little on the nose for the guy whose role on the show is to die over and over. That said, I suddenly have this funny idea that it’s not actually a coincidence on the radio, but rather a special MP3 mix that Chas makes when he goes on road trips. He calls it his “It’s a Dead Man’s Party Mix.”
Jay: Music to not knock ‘em dead.
Dave: So, the drive turns into a flashback, as you noted, and we go back in time to a bar where John is leaving with a girl. We don’t know if this is before or after Newcastle…
Jay: I like drunken John’s designated-driver spell.
Dave: What I really dig is that we don’t have any sound effects or special music to let us know that this is a REAL spell. This is what it looks like if you’re hanging out with a guy who says he does magic, and you kinda don’t really believe him.
Jay: Hey, a metal gig that leads to demonic goings on. Say, don’t I know someone who has written a comic very much like that…..
Dave: Heh, ahem… yeah, well, I’m still waiting on that one to be drawn, but, anyway… yeah, we have a metal band, and some out of control pyrotechnics that turn into a fire. Chas stays inside and tries to help everyone. Is Chas already resurrectable? We’re not sure at this point, but back in the present…
Jay: Wow, this show is going artifact crazy.
Dave: uh, yeah, is that Aleister Crowley’s… shaving kit?
OCCULT ARTIFACT #1
… and a bracelet made from the actual sinew of Achilles’ heel…
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Which John packs into his kit. So we’re all prepared, as we cut to Chas, who has arrived in Brooklyn to see his daughter. Only it’s too late — she’s in a coma (she, of course, was the girl from the cold open). John and Zed arrive at the hospital soon after, and John uses Occult Artifact #1 to learn that there are “celestial burn marks,” which is what happens when the soul is sucked out of your body.
Jay: How do you separate a soul from the body? Personally, I’ve always found that money helps.
Dave: He’ll be here all week, folks. But, as we’re told, the soul being separated from the body is not possible. It’s the Holy Grail of—
Jay: I cringe a little when characters say “black magic,” that just feels corny to me.
Dave: It almost has to be done tongue-in-cheek at this point. Anyway, from here we go into another flashback: Chas wakes up in the hospital after the bar fire, his wife and daughter at his side.
Jay: “They told us you were dead when they pulled you out of that fire…” aha. Here we go.
Dave: Yeah — seems pretty clear that this is his first brush with resurrection. Back in the present, John takes Zed and Chas to a medium he knows to see if they can contact Chas’ daughter’s (Geraldine’s) spirit, and thus use her as a homing device.
Jay: I do like that John has to go to a medium, that he’s not simply the expert in whatever the plot needs, which is a trap this kind of show would often fall into. Kind of reminds me of a difference between Raiders Of The Lost Ark and the other Jones films; In Raiders, he’s not the best at everything. He’s bad at other languages and he makes mistakes. But in the other films, comics and books he’s always the expert on whatever is needed. This random tangent has been brought to you by: Jay’s Obsessive Brain.
Dave: It’s a good point, though. One of the easiest things to do with magic is to always have the mage know just the right thing.
On another note: I also like that Chas has much more at stake in this episode. It changes the dynamic. Usually, he’s just following John around, which has resulted in him feeling tangential to the stories — popping in just to die or do a thing. Now, we know where he’s coming from, and so that moment when he snatches the gun from the medium and turns it on him? Excellent.
The medium starts a séance using water from the River Jordan…
OCCULT ARTIFACT #3
… I suppose… But the séance doesn’t go well. A powerful entity reaches through the medium, someone who KNOWS Constantine, and then he burns the medium to well done. (Sorry.)
Jay: I liked that the medium gets toasted. The episode has felt a little….subdued so far, and this moment kicked it up a little. The show is sticking to the idea of consequences and permanent costs. A spell has gone wrong here and someone dies.
Dave: Exactly. But this isn’t quite a dead end. Zed uses her psychic abilities to connect to an abandon rail yard. The gang heads to the train yard, only to find an empty lot. Or is it? John frisbees a hubcap at the space, and… whammo, cloaking spell!
Jay: I liked the idea of the hidden building, but not the reveal. I think -and you’ve said this before- that the CGI is a problem. It always feels like a different show when they use it. I would rather the reveal was done on a cut, or a camera tilt, maybe with some sly joke from John about David Copperfield and the Statue Of Liberty. But having the cgi ripple across the screen just tops the show from feeling spooky or down to earth.
Dave: Yeah, it suddenly feels a bit more Star Trek. I much prefer the subtle stuff like the tree of fruit with human skin from a couple episodes back.
Jay: Totally agree. The show loses something when it strays away from spooky and practical. But hey, we get Felix Faust!
Dave: Indeed, the big bad of the episode is revealed to be longtime DC magical villain, Felix Faust… cast here as an old man who, in John’s words, has always been the apprentice or “second fiddle” to the magical greats. Only now the Rising Darkness has changed things. Faust has figured out how to separate soul from body, and he’s very powerful now. John strikes a bargain — he’ll stop a minor demon from lunching on Faust’s stolen souls, if Faust will return Geraldine’s soul. It’s a horrible bargain, but… it’ll buy them time, How much? Oh, at least another flashback’s worth, as John sends Chas back to the hospital because he needs clear heads to do what’s next.
Jay: Here we go then. John’s drunken protection spell has given Chas the lives of all the people who were in the fire. So he can die 47 times. I like that, firstly that this big mystery is the result of a drunken spell, and also that it has rules, that it makes a kind of sense, and puts a limit on the plot device.
Dave: I also like the Arthurian origins of the spell. It kind of sets up Chas as this gallant knight. He’s been empowered, but there’s a kind of responsibility — to make these others’ lives count.
Jay: Good point. I like that, it gives him a mission In a very compelling way.
Dave: Meanwhile, in the present, John and Zed set a trap for the demon, which is a kind of hellhound-y thing, which John can see using—
OCCULT ARTIFACT #4
— Ahem, well, yes, this thing that looks like a piece of bone with a hole in it, that he can use as some kind of mystical X-Ray monocle.
Of course, the trap doesn’t exactly work, but luckily John had stolen a cattle prod from the Army surplus store earlier in the episode, which does the trick. They go back to Faust, who claims they did it wrong, and he tries to make another deal.
Chas has other ideas. Like punching out John and taking matters into his own hands.
Jay: I like desperate Chas.
Dave: Me too. He has a clear point of view in this episode. It may be an obvious thing, as his daughter’s life hangs in the balance, but… I’m glad they’ve given us something. There’s also a flashback mixed in with this bit where we see the cost of working with John Constantine. This is after he’s become the Resurrection Man (ooh, that’s another DC hero, wonder if they can work him into this show?), and it’s sort of become his job to use his extra lives to help John. I like that his wife knows about this, so we get this weird bit of home life where Chas comes home with stories like, “Ah, sorry I’m late, honey… off slaying the Monkey King with John.” (I kind of want a laugh track here.)
So anyway — Chas plays out his final gambit, which involves handcuffing himself to Faust with the Achilles Tendon bracelet thing, and dropping a grenade on the two of them. Chas loses one life, but presumably Faust is gone.
Jay: “Happy to do it your way, mate.” I like that, for this scene, Chas is the cleverest person in the room. He outsmarts john -which takes some doing- and also Felix.
Dave: I like John trying to console Chas’ ex-wife. “Chas’ line of work is messy.” That leads up to a final flashback, in which we see a scene where Chas had WANTED to reverse the spell that John cast on him. And John’s been trying. But he can’t. So, while he can’t undo what he’s done, he can give Chas a new role.
Jay: Wait…wait….I just realized. Chas’s family lives in New York. He has facial hair. That hat that he wears…..he’s not playing some rustic hillbilly….holy crap…he’s a HIPSTER. It’s HIPSTER CHAS.
Dave: Oh my god. You could be right! Is he maybe one of these Lumbersexuals I’ve been hearing about? He’d definitely be at home here in Portland.
Jay: I hope we see him on a fixed-gear bike soon. I like that he has a photo album of the people who died in the fire, that he knows about their lives. Again with the idea of costs.
Dave: It’s an interesting twist, now that they’ve revealed it. He sort of has to honor the lives and memories of these various souls. And the fact that he’s sharing this with his daughter is a nice touch.
Finally, we have a scene with John and Zed in the hospital, Zed having collapsed after trying to psychically reach out to Geraldine during the climax of the episode. Zed has a message from John’s mother — her death is not his fault. I’ll admit it; I cringe a little when they bring up John’s mother… only because I worry a bit at how that kind of stuff will be handled.
Jay: Yeah, I’d be happy for them to completely forget that plotline.
Dave: There’s a tendency there to make everything sort of pre-determined, an Evil at the heart of things that has been setting John on his course his whole life, as opposed to John just mucking about with dark forces on his own and having to pay the costs of that. But we’ll see. This is the first mention of John’s mother since the pilot, if I’m not mistaken.
Jay: This episode was solid, but after a run of very good installments, it didn’t really match them. It felt very much like a mid-season episode, expect with the truncated first year, and the rating struggle, it comes at a time when we need to keep up the pace. Still, I’m maybe being overly harsh. There was a lot to like. A lot of neat ideas.
Dave: I agree. Not as strong as the last few, but I do think that we got what we needed with Chas, and I’m hoping that moving forward, all three of our main characters can bounce off of one another more and keep the momentum building.
It’s time for the Great Chas Debate! Hipster or Hillbilly? What is Chas? State your case in the comments below!
Include 2 or 3 songs that are on Chas’ “It’s a Dead Man’s Party Mix” playlist that support your case.