By Rich Epstein
Once again, Constantine opens in a place we haven't been (New Orleans this week) with a person we don't know walking along. A police detective this time, Jim Corrigan (Emmett J. Scanlan), walks into an alley to relieve himself. A woman walks past him and is bumped by a woman wearing a surgical mask. They have words, and the masked woman kills the other with a pair of scissors. Corrigan shoots, but the bullets have no effect. For some reason, the masked woman spares him and runs away. Four episodes since the pilot, and each one has started with the death of an unknown person in a new city. The show is basically a procedural at this point where the criminals happen to be demons. I was half expecting to hear the Law & Order theme after the opening scene.
Zed Martin (Angélica Celaya), John Constantine (Matt Ryan) and Chas (Charles Halford) are at the cabin. Zed is trying to sense something from the map that Liv left behind. John uses a (literally) medieval device to hypnotize Zed, who sees a boy being taught to shoot by his mother. She comes to, and the blood spot on the map in New Orleans is running, so the crew heads out. I guess John is going to let Chas come along for a change.
John uses a funky wristwatch to determine that a spirit had recently been present. Corrigan is there and introduces himself. John does the same, saying that they are there to help him with the occult incident. Corrigan doesn't believe, until Zed talks about Corrigan's mom teaching him to shoot.
A teenage hitchhiker gets into a car. Gee, I wonder what can happen next. At the hotel, Zed gets a vision of the car and a scarred tree. John calls to report an accident. Back in the car, the driver hits on the boy, who disappears, only to reappear in front of the car with blood pouring from his face. The driver swerves to avoid the boy and hits a tree. Okay, that was actually not what I was expecting. Chas drives Zed and John to the accident site where they learn that it's the third accident in two weeks to take place near that tree. Corrigan shows up and arrests John for murder, seeing as how he reported the accident before it happened. John tells Corrigan to check the obituaries as Corrigan hauls him away.
Chas goes to patrol the alley where the first murder took place, and just in time. As the masked woman appears, Chas pulls the potential victim out of the way. She takes off her mask to reveal scars all across her face before stabbing Chas a number of times.
Corrigan talks to John to find out that he was right about checking the obituaries. Turns out the masked woman was a model who had her face slashed by another model and then killed herself five years earlier. The hitchhiker was killed by an accident at that tree three years earlier. So, John asks, why are they coming back now?
The EMTs arrive to check on Chas, who has no pulse. He wakes up and his wounds begin to heal in front of them.
John talks to the woman who scarred the model while Zed talks to the mother of the hitchhiker. Turns out, they had both been to speak with Papa Midnite (Michael James Shaw) recently. Now we're getting somewhere.
Midnite is holding a ceremony where he acts as a medium for a woman who lost her husband when Constantine interrupts. John tells Midnite that he isn't just speaking for the dead, he's raising them. Midnite blows some dust onto John who passes out and is stuffed into a car trunk. Midnite then consults with a skull in his office to determine whether Constaintine is telling the truth. He then goes to the house of the woman that lost her husband only to find the husband is back. He tells her this was not his intention and that it will not end well. She is coughing and obviously not well. It seems as though the spirit is stealing the life away from her. Actually, I don't mean it seems like it so much as Midnite tells us that directly, because the show doesn't leave a whole lot to the imagination. Midnite heads back to the car only to find John in the driver's seat. Midnite asks for help, and John agrees on condition that he gets to ask Midnite's sister a question.
Zed and Corrigan try to pickup the hitchhiker. As they talk, Corrigan tells her that he knows her and asks her why she changed her name. Then they pick up the hitchhiker. I'm not really sure of this plan. Okay, they don't want anyone else picking up the hitchhiker, but Zed's plan was to just keep people off the road. It seems like a good plan that doesn't have a strong possibility of them ending up dead. Maybe it's just me, but that seems like a big plus in any plan. I don't know what exactly they expect to accomplish by picking up the dead guy. Neither of them knows much about ghosts, that's John's world. Anyway, the hitchhiker disappears and reappears in front of them, but instead of swerving Zed drives right through and he turns into a puff of purple dust.
John and Midnite go to an old crypt to open the grave of the woman's dead-but-back husband. Midnite is against it. The plan is to retrieve the bodies, bring them back to Midnite's temple, bless them and burn them. John and Midnite do the spell, while Zed and Corrigan pick up the hitchhiker again. She talks to him, and instead of trying to kill them, he asks them to let him out. Meanwhile, John and Midnite are doing the spell only the bodies won't burn. They argue and fight and John says that Midnite didn't raise the dead, it was the women that went to him. And from that offhand comment in the middle of an argument, Constantine has his solution. Did I say Law & Order before? I should have said House.
Chas saves another person from being stabbed, and he confounds the spirit by asking it questions. Really? This spirit hell-bent on vengeance is that easily confused?
Back at the site of the ritual, and Corrigan has brought the three women who sought Midnite's help to speak to the dead. Turns out the women brought the dead back because their own guilt is keeping the spirits alive. That, and the rising darkness that we keep hearing about. The women consent, and the ritual is done again. This time the bodies burn before Midnite can even get the words out. The spirits vanish in a puff of smoke.
Corrigan goes back to talk to Zed, tells her that he remembers her from a missing persons file. He tells her he destroyed the file, then takes her hand. She gets a vision of him with blood all over his face, pouring out of his mouth.
It's time for Midnite to pay up for his help. He offers John a chance to talk to his mother, but John turns him down. He wants to talk to Midnite's sister, the skull, to find out what is happening with the rising darkness. Midnite speaks with the skull, then tells John that his efforts are in vain. The darkness is coming, heralded by someone close to John, someone who will betray him.
First, the positive. I really like what they did with Papa Midnite in this episode. He wasn't a villain. He was portrayed as a devout man who sincerely believes that he is helping these women (albeit for a price, in cash). He is truly disdainful of Constantine, not because John is on the side of "good" or anything, but because of John's magic. He calls John a "jackass of all trades, master of none." Midnite is a master of voodoo. He believes in it. He respects it. In some ways, he is more sympathetic than John as a result. The problem, however, is it becomes very difficult to square that with the character that we saw two episodes ago. In The Devil's Vinyl, Midnite was a typical bad guy looking to retrieve a powerful artifact and showed no remorse for the people who died as a result of his attempts.
Now, the bad. The show is in a rut, even though it is only the fifth episode. It is a monster of the week show that isn't going anywhere. Someone dies, John finds out about it, goes there, and solves the case thanks in large part to coincidence (they gypsy woman in The Darkness Beneath mentioning she is from Romania, Zed happening to touch Gary's hand and see the markings on the face of the possessed man and being able to perfectly draw them, his comment about the women in this episode).
We are starting to get hints that the show is building towards something but it needs to play out a little faster. Zed obviously ran from an abusive family, but we want to find out more about her. And the rising darkness. It needs to rise already. Knowing that someone will betray John is a nice little tease, but right now we aren't invested enough in the characters around him. The only characters that we know at all are Zed, Chas and Manny the angel and we know almost nothing about any of them. It's difficult to speculate on who will betray him. He has only known Zed and Manny for a short time, and we know absolutely nothing about Chas or why he is with John or what their relationship is. It's ominous to hear that John will be betrayed, but without knowing about the relationships in his life there is no emotional impact.
That said, this week's news (that production is halted at 13 episodes although the show has not been cancelled) is disappointing. The show has a lot of problems, but it is still superior to most things on network TV right now. And there is a lot of potential here. It wouldn't be the first time that a show started out slowly. Season 1 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a mess at times. X-Files didn't really find itself until the second season. Constantine is intriguing enough that I want to stay with it in the hopes that it can correct its problems. Constantine himself is a great character, and Matt Ryan is absolutely nailing the role. There is the core of a great show in there. Hopefully, the writers will be able to sit back and see what worked and what didn't and the show can come back stronger in the back half of season 1 and into season 2.