John? It’s Cassie. Hey, I want to throw a really cool party for Halloween this year, would you be able to get Jimi Hendrix to play for us?
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.
Jay: Okay, we start the story at Ravenscar, a dubiously named psychiatric facility in “Northern England.” Our hero, John ConstanTEEN is receiving shock therapy. He’s paying for it himself, because he’s fun like that.
Dave: This is our first deviation from the comics, where Ravenscar was neither voluntary, nor staffed with caring physicians. But this is ConstanTEEN, so what do you think of the idea that this man is an exorcist, who basically holes himself up in an asylum to “forget” the bad stuff. Are asylums the day spas for exorcists?
Jay: That does feel an odd choice. On the one hand, they want to establish him as a tortured hero, and having choose top be there out of guilt helps to do that. But as you say, an asylum is not a day spa, and surely there would be other ways to make the same point? Still, there’s a lot of exposition to get across in a pilot, so I’ll trust them on this one.
Dave: So, demonic roaches lead him to a woman, painting a message on a wall. I actually like his reaction when he discovers the vacant, empty eyes and realises -because the roaches weren’t enough- that she’s possessed. We also get John’s first “Bollocks.” Did he use it correctly?
Jay: Yes, that was well played. I’m a sucker for that kind of reluctant hero stuff. It also gave John a Save The Cat moment nice and early, so we know which scriptwriting books the crew have read.
Dave: John looks at the cryptic message that has been left for him – “Liv Die.” Which turns out not to be so cryptic because we immediately cut to a woman in Atlanta, Georgia, who works for a car rental place. Her nameplate identifies her as “Liv Aberdine,” so, I guess she’s in trouble. Then the ground tries to swallow her. She runs, but a yellow cab stops in front of her, and John pops out. He warns her that she’s in danger but….naturally she doesn’t believe him. Maybe weird mystical parking lot craters are normal for Atlanta.
Jay: I was going to throw the cross-cultural questions back at you and ask if that kind of think is normal over there. Because I’d be pretty freaked out. There are a few things I noticed at this point. Firstly, the joke about the business card wasn’t really gunny enough the first time, so it didn’t need a callback. Secondly, I think Matt Ryan could really do this. In the few brief moments when he gets to let loose some attitude, he pulls it off nicely. Finally, the tie. That silly shirt and tie. It looks like a cosplay. It takes a lot of effort to wear a tie that loosely, and it makes me imagine that John spend time in front of the mirror arranging it to look that way. Also, I have to ask you, if your friend who lives across the hallway from you was murdered, and you found an occult symbol scratched into your door, would you think it worth repeating to the cops at the scene?
Dave: We’ve established that Liv doesn’t make the best choices when it comes to noticing occult-y things. Yeah, the tie really bothers me. That tie was never tied up and then loosened. This feels more like the ties we wore in the 1980’s….in John Hughes movies. Anyway, we don’t have much time to worry about Liv’s reactions because we cut to her friend being reanimated in the medical examiner’s van.
Jay: I liked that sequence.
Dave: Then Liv get’s a police escort to work where, surprise! John awaits her. This time, we’re also introduced to John’s friend, Chas (in a brief bit of slow-mo to show his importance,) the man who carved the protective symbol into Liv’s door.
Jay: And it’s all so clean and new. The coat. The taxi. The sunshine. Couldn’t they have cast a grittier, more “lived in” sun? Okay, I need to let go of some of these. So John gives a few hints that Liv’s father was into magic.
Dave: And again, we don’t have much time to think about any of this because the medical examiner’s van crashes into Liv’s workplace! John tried to talk to the zombified friend, but gets no answers…although we’re left with a quick hint as the “Endeavor Car Rental” sign blacks out, leaving only three letters lit for a brief moment. “D E V” I think this must be a clue. A chap called “Devin” perhaps?
Jay: I was thinking maybe an elaborate advert for a new DEVO album.
Dave: Product placement has gone too far! Anyway – at this point the plot is moving fast. Too fast. We cut from this scene to Liv at her mother’s house, where she asks about her fathers death. She touches a magical pendant that John had given her, and she sees her grandmother stroking her mother’s hair. This is actually a nice scene for a moment. It’s subtle and spooky when you realise that Nana’s not alive, but I feel like they ruined it with the whole black eyes and oily mouth effect that comes a moment later. Apparently, this freaks Liv out, and so she leaves her mother behind.
Jay: Alone in the house with a ghost. As you do.
Dave: Only to almost run over…you guessed it, John Constantine. John helps Liv see all the spirits around her -a gift her father had- and the two get run over by a ghost train, while John makes his point…which is I guess that ghosts of trains are less dangerous than oily mouthed nana.
Jay: I felt like she wasn’t really committed to escaping the train as it rushed towards them. She tugged weakly on John’s hands a couple times and that was about it. Why not step one foot to the side, off the tracks?
Dave: Chas drives John and Liv off in his taxi, by they get hit by a truck. We flashback to a scene with Astra -the girl that John damned to Hell- as he relives the moment he tried to save her from a demon. I thought the demon was pretty creepy here. Anyway, John wakes up, but then one of the power lines impales Chas. I thought this was them maybe saying, “heh, this ain’t your father’s ConstanTYNE, kids.” But we’ll get to that, because the plot keeps MOVING.
Jay: Right. So we get to Hogwarts. In a shed in Georgia. I think a trailer park would have been a better choice. An old, run-down, normal place. They enter one of the trailers and find themselves in this huge occult house. We get some nice Easter eggs here, like Doctor Fate’s helmet.
Dave: The DC nerd in me loved seeing Fate’s helmet, which I wrote about recently.
Jay: I liked the scene where Manny stopped the rain. That was nicely done, and again I thought we got a few flashes of what Ryan could do if given the material. Then we meet Dickie Bennett, who has decided to tone things down since leaving Harlan, and goes for the more down-to-earth option of dabbling in the occult. John blackmails Dickie into helping, with some cryptic references to what happened to Astra in Newcastle, then we go back to Hogwarts where, hey, Chas isn’t dead.
Dave: UGH. Okay. I’ve tried really hard to separate ConstanTEEN from ConstanTYNE, but this one was really tough for me. Chas not only isn’t dead, they wave it off to Chas’ special “survival skills.” So there’s something mysterious and supernatural about him. That’s a huge departure from the comics. Chas is very much the everyman, the London cabbie who has no interest in the craziness that John finds himself caught up in. As a note to viewers, Chas shows up in the first issue of the series when John calls him to bring some heroin to shoot up an addict and calm him down enough to get some answers.
Jay: It’s certainly a different Chas.
Dave: I actually like the next scene, in which John pays a guard to let he and Liv go the rooftop of a building, pretending it’s to have sex. That feels a bit like our John. And when Ryan pulls out a lightbulb and tells the guard to call him if it lights up – that had just enough of that comic book weirdness that I dug it. Especially the exchange: “It’s not screwed into anything.” “Neither am I, mate.” More of this Constantine, please.
Jay: Yeah, I liked that.
Dave: Then things slow down to get some exposition. Liv asks John for a personal detail, and he tells her that his mother died in childbirth, and he was raised by an abusive father who called him “Killer.” This was good.
Jay: I thought Ryan nailed the delivery. I’m not sure it was the right reveal for that moment, though. You know how I would do that? Have John drunk in a bar, telling that story, then the camera pulls back and the audience sees that he’s drinking alone.
Dave: And then they ruin it with the next bit where John basically tells us that the whole reason he got into the occult was because he still intends to meet his dead mother. I do not like this. It kills a lot of the mystery.
Jay: I agree. It felt a bit Fox Mulder. I liked a lot of the confrontation, though. Having the demon take Constantine’s form was a good choice. I know an earlier version of the pilot had a CGI monster, but this version led to a more grounded scene. It let Ryan show some range, too, by playing the demon version. And, actually, the demonic John had a grubbier coat, couldn’t they have swapped? And this is where Dickie Bennett comes back in, because he does, I don’t know, a thing?
Dave: He blacks out the whole city. Because, see, it’s an electricity demon, so…yeah I don’t know. And then John, our “petty dabbler” who identified the electricity demon out of thousands of them in a big dusty tome, believes the demon’s lies. Then Liv touches her pendant and can see that the Demon is lying, and John finishes the exorcism.
Jay: Then we get the re-shot ending, the new coda that writes out Liv. She’s gone to stay with her aunt in California, because a day of ghost trains, demons and Hogwarts was too much. I wonder why her aunt? Is her mother still sat in the kitchen, with oily-mouthed nana?
Dave: my secret hope was that they’d kill off Liv. Show how dangerous it can be to be acquainted with John. Like, what IF he sacrificed her to exorcise Furcifer? What would that have done? Or what if she ran off because she realised that John let that poor boy on Edgewater Avenue get killed because exorcising the demon was more important?
Jay: I think they tried to aim for the latter, but it didn’t quite work because it was such a rushed re-edit. I’m actually interested to see where this goes next, almost, dare I say, optimistic. I don’t think they got it right with this episode. There were some strange choices, and it looked rushed. But I was impressed with Ryan, and I think there was just about enough in there to make me think they can find a good show, once they get The Dresden Files out of their system.
Dave: I’m curious about that coda at the end. I’m left feeling unsure of where this series is headed, while really enjoying Matt Ryan’s take on Constantine – when he really gets to let loose.
Okay Panelteers, homework;
1. What did you think of the show?
2. What do you make of Chas and his “survival skill.”
3. Pitch me a sitcom with Liv’s Mum and ghost granny.