RECAP: CONSTANTINE 01×05 – DANSE VAUDOU
This is John Constantine. Leave your name and soul, and I’ll get back to you.
John? Stella. Pick up. I know you’re there. C’mon. Pick up. This magic banana you sold me is a crock. There’s nothing magic about it. Pick up.
Jay: We’re in New Orleans. You know what that means? Yes. VERY TAME TRUMPET SOUNDS. We see a man wandering into an alley to take a leak. He’s a cop, so that’s okay, they are there to protect and pee. A woman follows in afterwards having the kind of fake phone conversation that only people on TV ever have.
Dave: Jazz trumpet in New Orleans is like putting a palm tree in a shot to show we’re in Los Angeles. Classic shorthand. It’s all voodoo, jazz, and gumbo. That said, one of my favorite occult mysteries on film is Angel Heart, so… I’m gonna give it a pass.
Jay: Then…OOOH one of my favourite urban legends. In the legend, a woman in a surgical mask approaches and asks if you think she’s beautiful. If you say ’no’ she kills you. If you say ‘yes’ she pulls off the mask to show a slashed mouth, and then she slashes you to match. Here we get the same set up, but she uses scissors to kill fake-phone -lady. The cop intervenes too late, presumably because up until the scissors he didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.
Dave: You know, I actually didn’t know this urban legend.
Jay: Back to Hogwarts for todays magical map moment. Constantine uses the map and a zoetrope to get a reading from Zed, this leads them to….New orleans, baby. Would have been funny if it had sent them somewhere else. Are we counting the zoetrope as a mystical artifact this week? If so, that puts us on two, counting the map.
Dave: At this point I’ve pretty much accepted that the map is something we’ve gotta live with. The Zoetrope bit was cute, but there are still forced lines here. After she has her vision, John makes a point of saying, “That’s exactly what I wanted to happen.” After a more subtle manipulation in last week’s episode, this line seemed like a sledgehammer, BECUZ CON MAN GET IT?
Jay: Constantine puts on a natty bracelet, it’s like a mood ring but tells us about the presence of spooky things. Artifact numero…uh….three.
Dave: I was calling it a Ghostbusters’ FitBit.
Jay: Brilliant. Then they meet the cop, who is JIM CORRIGAN GUYS, HOLY CRAP, JIM CORRIGAN. He looks a bit like Alex Segura from Archie comics. Maybe Alex and I need to have words, see if he’s ever been in New Orleans.
Dave: I’ve not met Alex, so I’ll take your word for it. Now, I’m a fan of Jim Corrigan and his alter ego, The Spectre, from DC Comics lore, so I’m already interested. I just hope they don’t rush this too much. I think they need to play the long game when introducing characters like this.
Jay: We get a talky bit with ConstanTEEN and Zed where they’re really wanting to build up the mystery about her past. I don’t think this angle is working at all, although I really like Zed in the show.
Dave: I’m going to have to admit here: I think maybe I’m not a huge fan of the actress playing Zed? Maybe it’s still the role, but I feel like she’s got two expressions: sultry pouty, and… not that? And yeah, after a couple of episodes where Zed is like a little sister-slash-apprentice, suddenly the sexual chemistry is back and… it’s okay, but it’s just been terribly inconsistent, like much of the show thus far. This is definitely a show struggling to find its identity.
Jay: I liker her, and I think she could be good in the show, but the identity thing is an issue. It seems like sometimes they have her as the wide-eyed young apprentice, which is probably left over from when Liv was in the show, then other times they have her as more knowing, more of an equal to John. I like the latter version.
So, next up, another urban legend. A classic hitchhiker tale. A young man gets picked up at the side of the road, he’s cold, the driver puts a hand on his leg. Then the young man vanishes and the driver runs into a tree. Zed, John and Chas turn up at the scene which leads to John being arrested by Alex Segura, on the not unreasonable grounds that John seems to know too much.
While Alex and John do the moody crime fiction interrogation stuff, Chas runs into the woman in the surgical mask. He answers that she is pretty, when he says yes she pulls of her mask and shows her scars before killing him. It’s handy that it happened to Chas and not another member of the cast, since he has a knack of not being dead after being dead.
So Alex now tells John who our mystical perps are. A disfigured model and a dead hitchhiker , back from the grave for shits and giggles. It’s a function of the mystery structure they’re using that we need to see our characters discover this information, but we already kinda know it.
Dave: You know, you’re really going to confuse me by calling Jim Corrigan “Alex.” If I ever meet Alex, I’ll be asking to see his green cape.
Jay: He has one. EMT’s find Chas, who is dead, but then he’s not dead. Who saw that coming?
Dave: Something that was mentioned in the comments on a previous recap — I think we really need to work on Chas’ character here. Right now, I think the main reason folks want to keep him around is that damn mystery about why he can’t die. BUT that’s the LEAST interesting thing you can do with a character on a show like this. I really want to know what Chas thinks about his own condition, what Chas thinks of John. What Chas thinks about his role as perpetual victim to supernatural threats. We haven’t gotten any of that yet.
Jay: Zed and John both arrive tab the same name; Papa Midnite. YAAASSSSSSS. Big Papa M is channelling spirits to allow the bereaved to speak to the dead. Just when we needed more voodoo stuff. Funny accents, silly dancing, mumbo jumbo and, hey presto, another spirit comes back from the dead.
Dave: I have to admit that I liked the editing of the dual investigation between Zed and John arriving at the same name. I think they’re getting a tad better at pacing the procedural elements. With the reintroduction of Papa Midnite, I like this a bit more than our previous introduction in that, while I wouldn’t call this nuance, I think we’re starting to build up the gray area around Papa Midnite. Is he genuinely trying to channel a spirit, or just bilk the widow for money? Or both? And then John jumps in and they banter, John accusing Midnite of bringing the dead back to life. Before Midnite blows some dust at him, of course.
Jay: ConstanTEEN has the annoying knack of turning into an idiot when he’s around Big Papa M; that’s two meetings in a row when John has fallen for a really basic trick to captured.
Dave: Agreed, BUT… I loved the sequence right before it:
Midnite: “You think you can run your game on me?”
Constantine: (smug smile).
I also like the solo bit with Midnite speaking to his dead sister’s skull (first introduced way back in those first couple issues of Hellblazer), asking her if Constantine was correct in his assessment that it was Midnite causing the dead spirits to return. That one moment does two things: it shows Midnite as a more rounded character (he actually cares), and it shows that despite their banter, he does respect John.
Jay: Alex and Zed both meet on a road at night, both with the same idea of trying to keep other drivers from picking up the ghostly hitchhiker. The only logical answer here is for them to agree to go cruising for a young boy. Seems fine.
They pick up the hitchhiker after a brief talk that actually makes Zed’s backstory intriguing. Odd that it gets interesting the minute they take it out of the John-Zed dynamic. At this point I expect Alex and Zed are wondering what their big plan is. Before they can figure it out, the hitchhiker does is vanishing act and then appears on the road in front of them, Zed drives straight through his ghostly form. This happened during the day, but the next time we see Zed it’s night time, and she’s still on the road. Did she just stand on the spot of for several hours?
Dave: I assumed they were just driving for hours, waiting for him to return? Not sure. As for Zed’s backstory, this was probably the most I felt she’s “worked” in the context of the show. Her bit about her being “new” to this, and then being forced to confront a ghost — well, now we can see how she’s different from John. I do think they maybe needed to get her away from John to give her a chance to have her own story.
Jay: Zed and Alex pick up the hitchhiker a second time, and he seems to remember Zed. Meanwhile ConstanTEEN and Big Papa M start a big messy spell to try and release the spirits from this realm. I like the tension between John and Papa, though. The idea that John is a messy, improvisational magician who makes it all up….that’s ConstanTYNE. A very brief, welcome flash of ConstanTYNE.
Dave: This is my favorite bit of the whole episode. All the stuff with John and Papa Midnite, the sort of rivalry, the backstory between them, two views of magic. We understand Midnite quite well here. It’s reminiscent of Gary Lester in the previous episode. A different dynamic, but still more interesting to me than anything done with, say, Chas.
Jay: Chas turns up, because he’s been missing for about ten minutes and needs something to do. He get’s all deep and meaningful of this homicidal ghost. Does she think she’s pretty? That confuses her somewhat. Confuses me, too, I didn’t know Chas had it in him.
Dave: Well, we didn’t know because Chas isn’t really a character yet. How could we? The questioning bit was a clever moment, though.
Jay: They try the spell a second time, and this time it works, the spirits are released and driven back to their rest. I’m inclined to count these dead bodies as occult artifacts since they were a specific part of the magic. And there’s three of them. What say you? John’s mood ring seems to have been forgotten, though.
Dave: This reads less to me like artifact than just part of the sacrifice and ritual of magic. It’s not as gimmicky at the FitBit, you know?
Jay: FINE. Have it your way. STRIKE THEM FROM THE COUNT. I’ll just sit here and sulk.
Dave: Anyway, what I like about this is that John and Midnite argue about magic, but they both are wrong. They needed to understand. Magic in fiction is never about incantations or proper ingredients: it’s about understanding why this is happening. And, to his credit, John even tells us that at the beginning of this episode. What he realizes here is that this is a ghost story. And ghosts in fiction are often representative of our own baggage, the ghosts we carry with us. Which is the case here. It’s a recipe for disaster: three haunted women, one man calling down spirits, and the secret spice: “The Rising Darkness.” Once, they’ve got all of this, they can make the spell work.
Jay: We get a little expansion on Zed’s backstory, with Alex revealing what he knows, then Zed see’s a foreshadowing of his future. He’s going to be editing some really great super hero comics. Also, possibly, Jim Corrigan is going to be The Spectre. Then we get a similar small scene with ConstanTEEN and Big Papa M, where we’re reminded that this season as a big ol’ story arc. And a voodoo skull, which makes….Four artifacts this week?
Dave: I’m definitely calling Cedella’s skull an artifact. But I still like it.
Jay: And Chas is….ummmmm….I don’t know where Chas is.
Dave: He’s a bit odd that way.
Jay: I enjoyed this for what it was, but it never felt like there were any real stakes at play. Stuff happened, our heroes turned up and fixed it, but there was never any real danger or tension. It’s cliched. It’s formulaic. It’s not as good as last week, which was a massive step forward for the show, but I think it was better than the first three episodes.
Dave: I agree. This is probably my second favorite episode at this point, and largely because of the two points we brought up: the interaction between John and Midnite, and the fact that Zed got to own a little bit of her own story this week. It’s definitely formula here, but… maybe they’re getting a little better at the formula?
Artifact Count: FOUR
Cameo by ConstanTYNE: ONE
Homework Of The Week;
1. What did you think of Jim Corrigan, and how long do you want to wait to see The Spectre?
2. What is your favourite urban legend?
3. What do you think of the ‘mystery’ surrounding Zed?