Constantine: 01×02 – The Darkness Beneath
This is John Constantine. Leave your name and soul, and I’ll get back to you.
Hey John. It’s Ray. So, we did a seance last week at my mom’s house, and ever since then, my mom’s been bugging me to do another one. The thing is… she passed away back in 2006.
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: We open with a miner coming home to his wife. Upset that his dinner isn’t ready, he takes a shower… which turns into sludge batch and finally a flame thrower.
Jay: The cold open seems more muted and restrained than the pilot. An immediate tonal shift. More X-Files, less Dresden Files. Willing to play on tension and suspense than the the ham of the first episode.
Dave: My only issue really is that it’s a fairly generic cold open. You mentioned X-Files… this could easily be tacked onto the beginning of an episode of Supernatural, and you’d never know it wasn’t that show. Oh, and the fact that the title sequence now looks an awful lot like a Supernatural title sequence? It invites comparison. But: I kinda get that we need these bits in the cold open, so I’m good with it.
Jay: You’re probably right about the Supernatural thing, but I’ve not seen that show to compare them. That may well be the audience they’re going for with this, the show still doesn’t have a settled identity in the way of, say The Flash, which knew what it was straight away.
Dave: There’s a procedural aspect to this show; there’s no getting around it. The real question will be: when we get into the thick of it, what does John do that’s different from every other supernatural detective?
Jay: Absolutely. This is very much a retooled PI show, with the same structure. I wonder how quickly they’ll get confident enough to start breaking that structure?
The tie is REALLY annoying me now.
Dave: The tie is SO bad. I want to grab it and yank it up. On the flip side, I do like the bit with the cards and the lottery. Chas is just a sounding board here, nothing new to the character.
Jay: It was a fun scene. And I liked the reference to Chas not being able to travel to the town because of a previous adventure. I hope it stays as a throwaway, just an added wrinkle. Is this scene set in the Hogwarts Holiday Spa from the first episode? It looked a bit like it, so is ConstanTEEN crashing Liv’s magic bunker since she’s out of the way?
Dave: I think that’s the implication. The other thing we get here is another scene with the blood map supplied by Liv. This is the “guidebook” to the show. Again a very typical for this kind of series. You mentioned a PI show, but this is where it deviates slightly from, say, Rockford Files… he’s got a mission carved out for him. He’s driven. Though, it’s worth noting that no time is spent here re-identifying that mission. Why’s he following the map? To save his own soul? I think that’s it, but… anyway.
Jay: His Welsh accent is showing through more, but I don’t really mind. My accent’s mixed up from living in England and Scotland, and so John’s would be a bit muddled from living in Liverpool, London and America. Okay, to recap the recap; we’ve seen a guy burned alive in a shower in an old mining town, and ConstanTEEN has used Liv’s strangely unlabelled map to visit the scene of the crime. Along the way, we get to meet Zed. She’s an artist and seems compelled to draw John and not happy about it.
Dave: OK, I’ve got to deviate from the recap to talk about something from Hellblazer. When we see Zed’s apartment, we see all these Constantine drawings, but amidst them is a shot of a four-headed demon-y looking thing. This is a reference to an early Hellblazer issue — from roughly the time Zed was first introduced. This creature is actually made up of four London skinheads who have been stitched together by a demon. But the catch is that while they commit crimes and vandalism during the week, this foursome is actually split when it comes to their football allegiance. And how does John Constantine take them down? By laughing in their faces and noting the rival tattoos on the arms. “What do you do on Saturday?” asks John. And the Franken-skinhead then tears itself apart.
No incantations. No amulets or artifacts. Just wits. And let me tell you, one scene like THAT is worth a thousand “cards tricks and lottery winning” scenes.
Jay: Agreed. That’s the kind of scene that may unfortunately remain ConstanTYNE rather than ConstanTEEN. I’d hoped for some of this episode we may have a human show down, that the demon aspect would be cast aside as a symptom of the problem and then the finale could be about ConstanTEEN facing off against some corrupt bosses, or dealing with a criminal, rather than a big supernatural ending.
There’s an instant difference to Zed. She looks a little wiser, and little less wide-eyed that Liv. And, in fairness, that’s not the fault of the actor who played Liv, it just speaks to her not being the right choice for the material. Zed and John have something, a chemistry.
Dave: I will say, they’re realllllly pushing the chemistry on us. The actors are in kissing distance in every scene, looking at each other’s lips, before something interrupts them. That said, I instantly like Zed more than Liv. As you say, it’s not the actor, it’s that Zed seems to have more of an active role. She’s chasing John, but she has her own abilities and secrets. I like that she picks his pocket even though she’s denying that she’s a con artist. That instantly puts them on a more level playing field.
Jay: They’re definitely pushing it quite hard at us. I think it’s telling that they can, though. If they’d tried these scenes with Liv they wouldn’t have worked, so I think they’ve got the casting right now and they’re kind of doing a victory lap, “hey, look at the chemistry these two have, can they borrow your bedroom while you watch the rest of the show?”
Dave: Agreed. So, Constantine goes to the local pub where the miners are drinking to their fallen comrade, Lannis. I do like Constantine’s dialogue: “Have you considered actual dragons as the guilty party?” Feels more like a Neil Gaiman Constantine, but… I’m with it.
Jay: Unless they’re holding something back, and John is ageing slowly, they’re judging his cultural references wrong. The actor is a year younger than me. Last week they had him talking about how great the Sex Pistols were. In the comics it makes sense, ConstanTYNE was around at the time of the pistols. But I grew up in my local punk scene and nobody my age would cite the Pistols above The Clash or The Ramones. It’s an odd affectation. They do it again here, having John talk about growing up with coal dust in the air. I can just about remember the miner strike, which happened when i was three or four. My generation grew up with the economic and social problems in our communities from the loss of a mining industry, not from living and breathing mining.
Oh, hey, James LeGros. They seem to be picking up their supporting actors from Justified. And I’m not complaining.
Dave: How soon can we get Dewey Crowe on this show?
Jay: THE DARK DEWEY SAGA IS BACK ON THE CARDS.
[Note: “Dark Dewey” was discussed at length on the Fuzzy Typewriter “Justified” podcast with Jay, Dave, and Paul.]
Dave: Next we have a scene in which Constantine sneaks into a mine, which is guarded by one guy on a folding chair. It’s silly. He goes into the mine, and we see that something is under the rocky surface. He knocks, and the Thing knocks back.
Jay: The demons are polite, at least. I still can’t hand-on-heart say this is good, but so far it’s settled down a lot from the pilot, and there are signs that they’re homing in on something that works better.
Dave: So John goes to the miner’s house for a wake. He brings a frozen TV dinner.
Jay: The TV dinner was a nice touch.
Dave: It almost distracts from the tie.
Jay: Uh oh. “Romani”. My ears are picking up here. Please get this right. Please don’t be a foreshadowing of turning a culture you don’t understand into a cliché.
Dave: I’m going to let you handle this one. But yeah, I noticed that right away, and instantly knew this was where the procedural would eventually take us.
Jay: It’s a pet peeve of mine. I should declare, I have a personal stake in it, but I’m fed up of the gypsy cliché. Writers need to start accepting that the Romani are a real, living, breathing ethnic group and not just a Hollywood cliche.
Dave: The widow makes an advance, John rebuffs it, and the widow turns on him. The guy who owns the mine takes John to task. There are some fisticuffs… I do like that John is trying to joke his way through everything here, but isn’t afraid of a good head butt. He’s not a fighter, though, and I’m glad they didn’t take this too far.
We go back to Zed, who has found John’s room and is holed up there. What I like about this scene is that once John learns that she has visions, he hypnotizes her and then pours some of the miner’s shower goo on her hand to prompt a vision. He uses her to get what he needs.
I also like the next scene where he goes to the church, does a little mumbo jumbo and pours water over his head — and is able to see the shadowy figures.
Jay: That was a very good touch. I like that they seem to be keeping him as a magician who is more grounded and tactile, he uses the things around him rather than just chanting a few magic words.
Dave: Then we get scene with Sad Sack Barfly James Le Gros and Zed, where we learn that he was a preacher. Then John is waiting for Zed at her apartment where they continue their almost kissy-face game, interrupted this time by klaxons that alert us to a mine disaster!
Jay: Ah, the old “mud in the car” trick. I hate it when that happens.
Dave: the hands rising from the oily mud were pretty effective.
Jay: That reminded me of The Fog. In a good way. And an odd way, since there was no actual fog.
Dave: I was thinking the SAME thing!
Jay: The coat is nice and grubby after the trip down the mine. Can they keep it that way, please?
There’s a conflation of two different kind of British folklore here, I think. The Coblynau are short, gnome-like creatures who work in mines. But the knocking that we’ve heard described in the episode is more in line with Knockers (or Tommyknockers in the US) who would knock on the walls of mines to warn of their impending collapse.
Dave: And, of course, the kicker: these are not vengeful spirits. John realizes that something is changing them. He suspects human interference. Which leaves us with only a couple of suspects. The fallen priest is the most obvious, so they go after him first. I do like that John gives Zed a broom and tells her to keep it “bristles up” to ward off evil. There’s even a funny gag later when she starts to drop the broom and he silently grabs it to keep the bristles up.
Jay: That was good, I laughed.
Dave: But it’s not the Barfly Preacher, so that means…
Jay: Oh dear. They’re going for the Gypsy angle. I was all set to say this episode has taken some big steps forward from the pilot and then they go and throw in the clumsy and needless Romani angle. Hurm.
Dave: In the big climax, the Gypsy bride tries to kill John with her minions, and John escapes by summoning the spirit of the widow’s husband, who is pissed off that he was BBQ’ed by his wife’s magic. My only thing here is… man, it’s a little easy to raise the dead, isn’t it? I mean, I get it; magic is all just mumbo-jumbo, serving the same purpose as the rapid-fire jargon spouted on medical shows, but I feel like you’ve got to set up some ground rules early on so that John can’t just raise the dead every time he’s in a pickle.
Jay: There at least needs to be a cost to it, that it takes something from him each time he does it.
Jay: So, there was a lot more to like, but still a lot of clumsiness. That glimmer of hope I had after watching the pilot is a wee bit brighter, though.
Dave: Agreed. There’s more to like here. Zed’s an improvement, and John gets a few good moments.
And that wraps up this episode! We’ll be back next week, but in the meantime…
1) What do you think of Zed? Better than Liv, or do we need a new three-lettered companion?
2) What’s the story behind that tie?
3) If “Dewey Crowe” (actor Damon Herriman) from Justified ever does show up on this show… who does he play?