Capturing That X-Files Feel – Recapping Constantine Episode 2: The Darkness Beneath

By Rich Epstein

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[*Spoilers for Constantine Episode 2 below!]

The second episode of Constantine starts in a rural Pennsylvania town, a very different feel to last week’s episode.  It’s a coal town, the day’s shift is ending and dirty miners are returning from work.  We follow a miner, Lannis Cadogan (Carl Palmer), home.  He tells his wife (Leisha Hailey) that three more people quit today, afraid of the noises in the mine.  The man’s wife seems to be afraid of him, he obviously has a temper, and things haven’t been going well.  He goes to shower and a shadow passes behind him.  The shower starts and the water is black, thick mud, almost like tar.  Flames shoot out, burning him alive.

I don’t think any show has come this close to capturing the feel of X-Files.  It isn’t just that there is a supernatural mystery in a small town, it’s the way it was delivered.  There was a nice bit of misdirection going on.  My first thought was that something was infecting the husband and the wife was in trouble.  Then you expected the shadow to attack him the husband while he was in the shower.  The fire was a complete surprise when it happened.

After the credits, we see John Constantine (Matt Ryan) doing card tricks in his lair, and Chas (Charles Halford) appears. One of the spots on the map that Meg left last week is wet with blood.  John looks at it and says that they are going to Hedich Pennsylvania. But Chas won’t go with him.  There is a warrant out for his arrest in Pennsylvania, apparently hijacking a train is frowned upon.  Kind of a waste of a scene in my opinion, but not a show killer.

John goes to Hedick alone.  We see him walking down the street interspersed with shots of Zed (Angélica Celaya) sketching him.  “Who are you?” she says to the sketch, “You are really starting to piss me off.”

Constantine - Season 1John is watching the funeral when he bumps into Zed.  He tries to flirt and she recognizes him.  He doesn’t believe her, insisting that she is a con, trying to distract him while she grabs his wallet.  He tricks her into looking away and disappears, but she has the last laugh as she took his wallet.  This was a fun little scene, with John, despite knowing that the supernatural is real, being skeptical of Zed.  The fact that she was still able to pull one over on him speaks well for her.  So far, she seems like a step up from Liv (Lucy Griffiths) last week; already Zed has done more to help herself than Liv did in her entire episode.

Constantine - Season 1

John has questions, so he goes to the one bar in town to get answers.  According to the local drunk, Lannis was something of a bastard that nobody liked.  But, they closed the mine after his death so everyone is toasting to him.  John learns that nine others gone in the last year, mining accidents.  The workers are saying that they mined too deep.

Of course, after hearing that there is something dangerous in the mine, John sneaks in.  Interestingly, he uses some of the equipment outside of the mine to cause a distraction rather than using the dark arts.  As he descends into the mine, we see something moving along the rocks on the ground behind him.  It looks like a shadow, but the rocks are moving with it.  John taps the walls with a pickaxe.  Something knocks back and the whole mine shakes.

John goes to Lannis’ house for the wake, bringing a frozen dinner and setting it on the table.  He sneaks into rest of house to look around.  There is a handprint by bathroom. John examines the medicine cabinet, and empties out a pill bottle in order to collect the goo from the showerhead. Mrs. Cadogan walks in.  John tells her that he is working for a Philadelphia paper, writing about the incident and wipes some coal off of her arm.  He offers to write a favorable story about her husband if she tells him about the mine.

Instead, she tells him a story about a young Romani woman who met a man claiming to be a leader of industry.  Only that industry turned out to be coal, and the woman ends up in a small, dying town.  John asks to talk at a later date, and she flirts with him, telling him “I’m free now.”  He turns her down and she chases him out of the house, yelling for help from the miners present at the wake.  Some of the miners take hold of John.  He nearly fights his way free, but there are three of them and one of him.  One of the men is president of mine, Thad Bowman (Michael McGrady).  Constantine tells him that there is something unnatural that has come above ground.  They kick him out and warn him not to come back.

For someone with a lot of power, John chooses not to use it until he needs to.  He can fight, but still he takes a beating from three men that he probably didn’t have to.  Even after taking the beating he still taunts them, you can definitely tell that this is a man whose mouth has gotten him into trouble before.

Zed is waiting for John in his hotel room, the Honeymoon Sweet. John says he always gets honeymoon sweet, there’s a good energy to it.  He seems unimpressed by the fact that she tracked him down.  He tells Zed that he had searched her out as well and found her name on credit card receipt.  She thinks its destiny they met and tells him she has visions.  He still seems to not believe her until she grabs him and senses his pain, desperation.  These are the things that motivate him.  She senses how much guilt he has. He decides to test her, so he sits her down and starts to hypnotize her.  He puts the black goo from the showerhead in her hand.  She sees the shower burning, fire burning through her hand.  Then a flash to a tall cross.  John tells her they will get to bottom of it together after he changes.  He goes into other room to change, but instead leaves on his own through the window.

There is some decent chemistry between Matt Ryan and Angélica Celaya that makes this scene work.  Celeya in particular does a nice job portraying Zed as someone who doesn’t know the source of her visions and is more than a little afraid of them.  You can sense that she wants to run away from John, but the desire to find out what is happening is stronger.

John goes to a church that has a big cross out front, like the one Zed described in her vision.  He is lucky this is such a small town, one bar, one church.  Makes his job a heck of a lot easier.  The church is closed, broken down, abandoned.  There is an image burned into wall, roughly the shape of a man but more demonic.  People are having sex in the church.  This seems to upset John, rather than amuse him.  I hope at some point the show explores John’s relationship with religion.  He believes in demons and the afterlife, is reluctantly working for angels, but doesn’t seem to care much about religion.  He doesn’t seem to pray, wear any religious talismans or attend any type of services.  I am sure comic readers already know the background, but I think it will make for an interesting story in the sow.

Anyway, John asks the couple about the image and is told that the image is part of a story intended to frighten people away.  Constantine does some kind of spell with his blood and water, pouring the mixture (which looks like plain water) over his head as he chants.  A demon detaches itself from the image and comes after him, but before it can get there the water runs out and the demon disappears.

We switch to Zed at the bar.  She asks about John, finding the drunk that John had been speaking with earlier.  The drunk complains that John stuck him with the tab when he was there and the two talk.  It turns out the drunk used to be a priest, he left the church when the mine swallowed his son.  He says he never had much faith in the first place.

Well, this explains why the church was abandoned.  Again, thank goodness for small towns.  I get the feeling that faith will be a recurring theme in the show.

Zed goes home, only to find John passed out on her couch.  She’s more than a little peeved that he leaves without a word and shows up without warning.  She tells him to leave, and he tells her that he had to verify what she saw.  He says he’s an exorcist, demonologist, and occasional dabbler in dark arts.  I guess the show has a catchphrase for him.  He found her lease, it’s for only three months.  He tells her that the only people that sign three month leases are on the run from something.  She says she knows what she is running from, does he?  He tells her that demons are real and they will come for her if she steps into his world.  With that in mind, he asks if she wants to stay with him and figure out her visions or keep running.  She says she isn’t going anywhere.  Their talk is interrupted by sirens, the mine has collapsed.

Zed is a huge improvement from Liv.  Whereas Liv ran at the first opportunity, Zed is given the choice to do so and stays.  She also has something to contribute.  Besides the visions, she is someone who has been on her own, running, for some time.  She is street smart, as she showed by stealing his wallet.  More on this later.

At the mine, the men heard the knocking before the collapse.  Bowman’s son gets into a car, John steps in.  John says that it’s a rogue operation, they are digging too far.  The son says that the town was dying before company came in.  John tells him that people will keep dying until they shut down the mine.  The son doesn’t get to respond, as the doors lock and the car begins to fill with mud.  Hands reach up, pull them down.  Zed gets the door open in time to save John, but Bowman’s son is dead.

Constantine - Season 1

Zed and Constantine leave. John talks about the mine in the town where he grew up.  Spirits of dead miners live in mines, warn miners of danger.  They don’t usually come to the surface or kill.  Something is bringing evil up to the surface in waves.  Somebody is conjuring them up.

There is an emergency meeting for the miners at the bar. Zed tells him about ex-priest.  She sits where the priest sat and John hypnotizes her again.  Her feet are cold.  They are in a river with a waterfall.  There is a tent with a sofa-chair in front.  They ask around and are told of a campground near a river.  They find the priest at the campsite.  Constantine starts chanting and the priest recognizes it.  Priest says you need faith to raise evil, he has none.  The men killed above ground were not miners, but rather the men in charge.  Someone is making them pay.  Bowman is the only one left.

This is the obligatory red herring.  You know that the priest is innocent because it is way too early in the episode for them to find out who it is.  One of those tropes that I can really do without, if all the evidence points one way, it’s the wrong way.

Bowman is going to open mine but insists on inspecting it first.  It looks clear, but then they hear something behind them.  A demon comes up out of the rocks.  Zed and Constantine show up while the demon is strangling Bowman.  John tells Zed to paint while he begins chanting, in English this time.  He reminds the spirit that it was a peaceful spirit, that it is there to protect and not kill.  The spirit departs, but too late.  Bowman is dead, although his (other) son is alive.  John sees marks on the body that he has seen before.  They need to make sure nobody ever goes down into the mine again.  Zed brings the priest to see it and John tells her that she did good. John gives priest the detonator to blow the mine.  Now, John needs to find who summoned the spirits in the first place.

John goes back to Cadogan’s house.  He asks to come in, Mrs. Cadogan says she has guests. He tells her he knows who killed her husband, so she invites him to meet her guests, which are of course the spirits. They rise up out of the ground.  He gives Mrs. Cadogan a chance to banish them on her own. He tells her that the coal mark on her arm at the wake and the fact that she was a gypsy gave her away.  Another trope, the villain that gives themselves away by needlessly talking.  Seriously, why would someone using gypsy magic tell someone that they are a gypsy?

John tells her that there spreading darkness and it is infecting her.  She orders the spirits them to kill him.  They grab him.  He says that these were spirits of miners, her husband was a miner.  He summons the spirit of Cadogan to take revenge, which it gladly does.

Zed is waiting in his hotel room again.  She saw what happened, knew he almost died.  He says he works best alone. So does she.  He puts himself first. So does she.  Everyone who puts their trust in him dies.  She says “you got me. Truth is I’ve been waiting for you and you’ve found me.  The question is what have you found.  Are we going to work together or not?”  He goes to sleep

We see the priest fixing up the church, while a voiceover talks about finding comfort in taking leap of faith.  Zed watches John sleep.

I liked this episode.  It wasn’t amazing or earth shattering, but it was enjoyable and had a few surprises.  Going back to the X-Files comparison, Zed is a much better match than Liv was.  One of the reasons that Mulder and Scully worked, other than great acting, was that they were equals.  Despite the fact that she was skeptical, Scully was a trained FBI agent and a doctor.  In the pilot episode, Liv had nothing.  She was an anchor for Constantine, a job, not a companion.  Zed saves John in this episode by prying open a car door.  She steals his wallet, tracks him down, breaks into his hotel room.  She accomplishes things.  She is still playing the same role, the entry point for the viewer.  She is the one who doesn’t know anything, the one we can identify with as we watch.  But she already seems to be a complete character on her own, something that is important.

Still, there were a couple of moments where the show bogged down a bit.  The wife was a bit of a cliché villain, totally evil for no good reason.  Why exactly was she taking revenge on all the people in charge, not just her husband who dragged her to this town?  Why didn’t she just leave him?  Why did she tell John that she was a gypsy?

I also would have liked to have seen some mention of the overall war between the angels and demons.   Like X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I think Constantine will work best when building towards something.  Not every episode needs to advance the overarching plot, but I think dropping that entirely in the second episode was a bit of a mistake.

That said, the show is promising enough that I will keep tuning in.

Rich Epstein writes for Bleeding Cool.  He can be found on twitter at @kaspe_r11. 

About Hannah Means Shannon

Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. Independent comics scholar and former English Professor. Writing books on magic in the works of Alan Moore and the early works of Neil Gaiman.