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History Repeating: Constantine’s “Rage of Caliban”

November 29, 2014 1 comment

Life is all about connections, relationships, and the circumstances that make the world smaller. On a deeper level, it is also about the people who help make us who we are, for better or for worse – those who stand with us or behind us, helping to shape who we are and the path we take.

This week’s Constantine (Rage of Caliban – written by the wonderfully talented Daniel Cerone) was about looking to the past to inform the future. How actions, once taken, shape the road in front of a person. The episode opens with a classic bit of horror movie madness: a murder scene in a home, a small girl, and a bloodied, levitating man – who then plummets to his death. It’s clear the girl is responsible, but not how or why. Later, when two police officers start arguing about her, the child’s eyes turn black as ink and a coffee mug shatters. Someone yells, “Shots fired!” Shots fired, indeed.

Elsewhere, John’s getting kicked out of bed by a one night stand, with a bit of groggy comedy. She’s got a boyfriend, and the boyfriend’s at the door – and the important item she’s shoving at him is his tie (symbolism – yes, the tie means something). There’s a little frenzied he said/she said about whether Constantine knew she was attached, when he quips, “Should I set the table for three, then?” Shirtless, being shoved out a window, he’s got an incredible amount of sass – which I love. From the woman he was with, though, you get the kind of impression that yes, John is a world of trouble, but that his kind of trouble is also totally worth it. It makes his brashness a bit more endearing. I mean, I certainly wouldn’t kick him out of bed.

Back at the mill house, Chas gives John his best mom face/chiding eyes (I adore Charles Halford in this role), insisting that they pick the next point of trouble/case from the Bloody Map. They do, and it’s Birmingham, Alabama. Which is the murder site we’d just seen. So, off they go, with the cab still in the shop (this episode was intended to be episode two, which is why there’s only an oblique reference to Zed being at an art class).

Arriving at the crime scene, Chas and John give us a bit of backstory about the murder; John’s got his usual bag of tricks (literally a bag – an old medical bag, by the looks of it). What I liked about this episode is that we get to see more of the relationships between Constantine and Chas (as well as Constantine and Manny), which illuminates the relationship John has with himself. More on that later. The dabbler in the dark arts promptly breaks into the house, stiffs around, and then…licks a wall. I could make so many jokes here. But I won’t.

Manny shows up and he and John have a spat. They’re almost always having a spat, aren’t they? There’s a fiercely confrontational, almost adversarial quality to their conversation. “You know, I’ve never punched an angel, but you are begging for it, mate,” Constantine snarks after Manny surprises him. Manny wants to know what John’s planning on doing about the rising dark, what his plan of attack is. Calling him “more of a desperation move” as opposed to Joan of Arc, Manny really seems to take pleasure at goading John and making digs about how not special he is. Constantine needles him right back, using an insult-derived form of backhanded flattery to try and weasel information about the murder from Manny. That works about as well as you’d think.

Using a Mayan spell, Constantine figures out that the girl’s to blame, because she was possessed. He surmises that the spirit that’s done the possessing will be on the lookout for a new host. And a nice cut to the outside of a house lets the audience in on the fact that this episode takes place around Halloween. Inside, we get an earful of a screaming boy, insisting there’s someone in his room,. Being comforted by his folks, Henry seems like a typical kid – until later, when his creepy closet opens, and there’s really someone in his room. Once he’s possessed, he pretty much starts acting like the little kid from The Omen.

We find John in a bar (surprise!) with an unnamed woman, who provides some background on the case. There’s been a series of murders with the same M.O., starting 35 years ago. The woman and John have a history, and he helped her out in the past. It’s interesting to see this kind of bond surface, here and there, evidence of his good – evidence of those he’s helped along the way. We’ve heard about Newcastle – seen its scars on John (and Gary). But true to life, it seems like the bad carries more weight than the good.

Which is illustrated by the sneer Constantine gives when the woman tells him the first murder victim, Marcello Panneti, is at the local mental hospital. When he gets there, John finds a catatonic Marcello and a bit more backstory. Abused as a child by his father, Marcello pulled something of a Lizzie Borden, killing his parents. Upon seeing his frozen, unaffected state, John sits down and gives Marcello an interesting look. He’d thought that Marcello would provide some insight, but the avenue is closed. Which begs the unsaid question: what now?

Meanwhile, possessed Henry (well portrayed by Max Charles) starts acting out in a really effective, creepy scene. This episode pulled from multiple horror story tropes and not only brought them to life, but also made them work brilliantly. The subtle tapping of a lightbulb, while Henry’s dad, Daryl, stumbles around in the dark, was an excellent use of basic fear and suspense. It’s the kind of tension that makes a viewer shout at the tv screen. Not that I’d do that. Nooooo. (Yes, yes, I did.) The actor who plays Henry is reallllly good in this scene. After his father hurt himself, he almost chides, “Hey Dad? Be careful.” Definitely chills up the spine, there.

Once again back at the mill house, John and Chas discuss the case, which reveals the idea of ley lines to the audience – magical trackways that flow with energy that can be harnessed. While they’re looking for something to detect the malevolent spirit, Chas pulls a random sword out of a bookshelf (who doesn’t keep a sword there?), which leads to an honest, but funny moment between the two. It’s basically a sword of truth, and Chas prattles on about how Constantine is too self-involved, how he misses a woman named Renee, and how he can’t even talk to John about it – at which point, John takes the sword away from him. They both look hilariously uncomfortable and a bit sheepish. They dynamic here rings true.

After a rather unfortunate incident between Henry and a pumpkin, a raven/crow hurls itself into a glass door. This is not the first, or the last, time we’ve seen a crow/raven. I get the feeling the symbolism is going to come into play later in the series – that it has something to do with the rising dark. But that’s just a hunch.

John and Chas are walking down the street, waving the kind of incense holder you’d find at Catholic mass. (Because of course.) They stop outside Henry’s house and have a rather amusing exchange about whether or not they should knock, explain who they are and why they’re there. The back and forth here was really charming, but it’s also a bit revealing. Constantine takes the lead, always. He calls the shots. In a way, Chas looks to him to make the decisions. The laidback relationship between the two is really endearing. They’re solid, good mates – a dedicated team.

The next day, Constantine stops by the schoolyard and notices Henry fighting with another kid. He tries to bring it to a teacher’s attention, who is skeptical of John’s presence, asking, “What’s in that trenchcoat?” Constantine replies, “I am,” with a kind of quiet, insistent fury that only accompanies a man whose hands are tied – and not in a fun way. A man who is not used to being ignored and who isn’t accustomed to having to stand back and watch something bad happen. The subtlety bridled rage is an interest tic of John’s – a tell of sorts, evidence of the genuine good in an imperfect man.

The child who was taunting Henry suffers a fractured skull, while Constantine is forced to helplessly watch. Later, Henry is interrogated by his parents, his mom less lenient than his father. Which is of course when John decides to knock on the door, lie to get inside, then announce he’s an exorcist, and promptly gets kicked out of the house. He leaves his card on the way out, but not before getting punched by the father…and thus, thrown in jail.

John in jail is a really brilliant scene, character-wise. He’s antsy, frustrated at being trapped. Helplessness fits him about as well as an ill-tailored suit. Rambling and railing at his current state of affairs, he laments that his stint in an asylum (six months!) affected his skills negatively, verbally castigating himself. Face pressed against the bars, Constantine calls himself a “bloody amateur,” and his sudden bout of self-loathing is clear on his face. He is, almost always, at odds with himself. Sometimes, that motivates him to move forward, do and be better. But in this instance, he’s having a pity party of rather maudlin proportions.

Until, that is, Manny shows up and those two have a revelatory fight. Harold Perrineau is wonderful in this scene, one part antagonistic and one part righteous. He’s got the demeanor of an unaffected parent whose child is acting out again. And John is all sass, snark, and eye rolls – because he’s unimpressed with the angels refusing to intervene in the lives of humans. They’re simply watchers, passionately observing and advising without stepping in. Meanwhile, John’s risking his life time and again – assuming he’s on his own during all his hardships. But as soon as he offhandedly spat that he’s made it through his life without any help from Manny, the angel spins into an indignant rage, looming over him, basically driving home that the opposite was true. This interaction shows a bit of John’s horrifically tortured past, an abusive childhood where it appears Manny kept him alive when John might’ve chosen otherwise. Constantine’s reaction is the emotional equivalent of touching a hot stove with your hand: he jumps up, too many emotions on his face, and has to move. That says a lot about his coping mechanisms, by and large.

Soon after, Henry’s mom (Claire) shows up at the jail, springs him, and they set to work at trying to bind the spirit in Henry to a single spot (she drugs her son so that they can work). The spot is the home that Marcello Panneti grew up in, who is supposedly the first possession victim. The house, I should point out, is a character in itself – creepy, foreboding, and generally where abandoned nightmares go to live. Chas, John, and Claire are unsuccessful – all that shows up is a three-legged baby deer. It was a brilliant moment of comic relief and misdirection, but it failure leads her to ask Constantine to perform an exorcism on her son.

Like a sucker punch, the wound of Newcastle wells up within John, revealing his pain, his lack of self-confidence, and his raging, vicious doubt. Claire tells Constantine something that almost rattles him – that she does trust him. There’s a look of gratitude crossed with disbelief that ghosts across his face. John has a complicated history with trust, and there’s nothing that pains him more than the idea that he might let someone down. But her words might just be enough to balm what’s broken in him, to begin to counterbalance the horrors of Newcastle. If he can swallow the fear that’s raging inside him long enough to do what needs doing. He is, even at his worst, a man who tries.

Returning home with John, Claire and Daryl argue about what to do, revealing conflict as the trigger for the spirit. Without hesitation, Constantine enchants a mirror – which is a typical one you’d find at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. For some reason, that amused me greatly. I like the idea of everyday items being used throughout the show – the enchanted card, the mirror, etc. Using the mirror to deflect Henry’s magic leads the kid to flee house, trapping Chas painfully between two cars, with Constantine in hot pursuit.

This, of course, ends in a confrontation in the creepiest damn funhouse in the world. There, John realizes that the spirit is Marcello Manetti, when Henry appears holding an axe. Employing his usual irreverence and sass, Constantine takes Marcello to task for his actions, as the spirit tosses him here and there with a simple nod of his head. It’s here that John’s own past, his own rage, comes in handy – he draws an implied parallel between himself and Marcello, quipping that “this world’s dark – and full of pain, for everyone – only most people don’t leave a trail of dead bodies and shattered lives and retribution.” Perhaps in Marcello, Constantine is seeing what he might’ve been, if he was driven not to help people, but to seek revenge. If John had given into the dark, perhaps revenge (not protecting others and doing good) would’ve shaped who he’d become. Constantine’s rage and disgust at what Marcello did because of what happened to him illustrates the idea that while a person is shaped by his past, it doesn’t mean he is condemned by it. Everything, every moment is a choice. And for John, he chooses to fight.

Marcello Manetti’s spirit is returned to his body, and a quick glimpse at the asylum shows him going totally berserk. There’s a possibility he’ll find peace at some point, but it’s the closing scene I found more poignant. Constantine, lounging in the back of his truck, is in for the long haul. Lighting up a cigarette (someone get me that lighter, please), he knows that he’s in for a fight against the rising dark, but he’s taken up the mantle. The hardest part, for him, may be overcoming his own flaws, his own weaknesses, but there’s a sharp determination about him. As he spits at Manny in the preview for next week, “You’re either this bloody fight with me, or you’re not.”

Constantine’s in. I’m in. Are you?

Speculation

November 26, 2014 7 comments

This is what I was:
a happy accident, heart
like wolves running
alongside train tracks,
a bomb in every kiss,
a repeated mistake
that split your life
in two. Do you know
how it feels to be somebody’s
shouldn’t? How that revelation
bleeds into not good enough
a reminder than possession
is nine-tenths
of the law, and everything
about me is empty.

This is what I am:
an alarm, a hurricane
without notice, the reason
you can’t go home,
the reason you have no home –
tell me: which one
of us is the arsonist,
which is the impossible fire?
Your bones
are all excuses, so
I hardly think names matter:
you’ll just deny everything.

This is what I’ll be:
gone, left, leaving –
the broken blood
of a clock, unwound,
a prophet
with too many hands
and not enough feet –
it was never in me
to run, no matter
how sweetly you kept
asking – my loyalty
somehow managed to be
a disappointment.

This is what I could’ve been:
a safe house, yours,
heart like a prayer
against the growing dark,
sweeter for the dance
you didn’t know
how to ask for, a blueprint
for freedom
in a body built with the word
love. Miraculous
was my name, once; I knew
how to die, but keep on living,
pain was a parlor trick
of heavy secrets, unnecessary
to explain. But now,
this leaking heart
is a magic to you took
for granted –
don’t you dare forget:
you chose this
and I have to live with it.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , ,

A Brilliant Sense of Fury: Constantine’s “Danse Vaudou”

November 22, 2014 Leave a comment

Everyone is running from something. Sometimes, it’s something/someone we lost. Sometimes, it’s something we did – or failed to do. Experiences like that shape us, like water cutting through a canyon. There can be no mercy in it. Where we come from is a facet of who we are – the past always informs the present – and the present, the future. But what we believe in is a powerful tenant of who we are. A person’s belief shapes his/her world.

And that’s a major theme of this week’s Constantine (Danse Vaudou). In the beginning, we find Zed working on her skills, but only coming up with snake eyes and a migraine. Until, that is, John pulls something out of his magic bag of tricks, forging a connection between Zed and the map. Zed is eager to learn how to use her gifts, and it doesn’t seem like she notices the tone of Constantine’s delivery when he says, “Seems we’ve opened up a physic connection between you and the map, which is what I wanted.” That’s what he wanted. Because there’s an angle to him that is all about a means to an end, people as tools. He seems like he never gets too close. Because he believes that anyone close to him will die. (Which, you know, Chas. Poor Chas. However, Charles Halford is a delight in this role.) John, though, is clearly shaped by the pains of his past. At one point, he tells Zed, “Pain’s good. That’s how you build muscles. Find something that guts you, and do it over and over again.” Is pain the only way to grow as a person? No. Is it an effective catalyst for change/growth? Yes.

This episode takes the gang to New Orleans, where they meet a detective, Jim Corrigan (exquisitely played by Emmett J. Scanlan). Corrigan initially laughs off Constantine’s profession, calling him a con man and delivering a very snide, deadpan bit of skepticism. Clearly, his belief is rooted in accepted norms. Until, that is, he starts to realize that there are things that can’t be explained in easy, simple terms. Trouble is that there are ghosts rising from the dead – a hitchhiker killed in a crash, an ex-model with a scarred face who committed suicide, and a husband who died of cancer without his wife getting a chance to say goodbye. But Corrigan doesn’t even entertain the idea of believing, until much later in the episode.

There’s an interesting scene between Constantine and Zed, when they’re getting hotel rooms for the night. It’s a bit of a cat and mouse, except each thinks they’re the cat and the other the mouse. John makes it clear that he really doesn’t know anything about her, and it’s more than idle curiosity. There’s a glint of suspicion to it. He trusts her gifts, but it doesn’t seem like he trusts her. Not yet. But he couches the conversation in terms of sex, quipping that he always respects the people he sleeps with, but he usually knows more about them first. Despite his tendency toward being ruthless in his decision making, there’s a depth in that moment. A hint of someone who, when he lets his walls down, really lets them down. But for all her psychic abilities, Zed’s as closed as ever, not really giving anything up to John. There’s kind of a sharp, smart edge to her general vulnerability. She seems innocent and sweet, but this episode highlighted her resourcefulness. And we do get a hint of her background. More on that later.

John ends up being arrested by Corrigan for trying to warn him about the hitchhiker killing again. After that Chas ends up on alleyway ghost hunting duty, trying to figure out the dead model’s weakness/purpose. Even in death, everybody wants something right? Meanwhile, Zed visits the hitchhiking ghost’s grandmother, getting backstory on him. But it’s Constantine’s conversation with Corrigan in the interrogation room that is most interesting.

You can see that Corrigan is coming around to the notion that there’s more to work in the world than what can be easily explained. There’s a fierce quiet to Corrigan, a steady kind of strength. It’s the underplay of interested calm that is intriguing. He asks John how he does it, how he handles the darkness, essentially. The reply is a belief that Constantine is desperate to believe: “It marks you. For life. But it doesn’t change who you are.”

John wants to think that what happens doesn’t alter who a person is. That knowing doesn’t turn the world on its axis. But there are always the things we carry with us, the things we are haunted by. Maybe the core good doesn’t shift, but the edges fray. You can’t always be good to do good. But how far does one go before tipping over the line? I don’t think John’s found that moment yet.

Of course, it turns out the ruckus of the dead rising is Papa Midnite. John waltzes into a ritual with all the swagger of an old-school cowboy. He sassily apologizes for coming empty-handed, because he didn’t know what dessert paired with pig’s blood. Make no mistake: that bravado is also one of Constantine’s weapons. He showed up, alone, at Papa Midnite’s home turf. The way he carried himself conveyed a casual, unconcerned confidence. Not fear. He remained remarkably self-possessed, even after Papa blew some sleeping dust in his face. For John, he did what he had to, which was to warn Papa Midnite that he’s not allowing grieving people to speak to the dead. He’s accidentally raising it. Oops. Talk about embarrassing. At least there wasn’t a creepy mask involved. (Again: Buffy shoutout!)

Papa Midnite, with his own bag of tricks, consults…his dead sister’s skull. Which…ew. It seems that she’s condemned to hell, and it was implied that Midnite was involved somehow. Eventually, he’s convinced that his magic’s run amok, when he goes to the house of a woman he helped…to find her dead husband alive and slowly killing her. Talking to John, he eats a bit of crow, and asks for his help. There’s a sense of honor to Midnite, here. Raising the dead was not his intention, and his magic has gone sideways, because of “the growing dark.” A Big Bad’s coming, and it’s messing with the order of things. For helping, John gets to ask Midnite’s sister a question. His sense of duty wouldn’t have let him just walk away and leave the dead traipsing about, but Midnite doesn’t realize that. He agrees.

This leads them to, of course, squabble like wretched children while stealing bodies from mausoleums. Midnite’s snaps that John is “jackass of all trade, master of none,” as they metaphorically measure each other’s magical…well, you know. What I liked most about that scene was a subtle catalyst for Constantine’s actions/strength was his grief. He’s struggling with the stone door that he can’t get open, and Papa brings up guilt and responsibility, throwing a hint of Astra in John’s face. And, without verbally reacting to what he’s said, John takes his anger/blame/rage out on the marble slab – and it’s that berserker show of guilt that gives him the strength to get the job done.

Elsewhere, Zed and Corrigan have teamed up, trying to keep the hitchhiker (Phillip) from killing anyone else. It’s during their escapade we learn the barest glimmer of Zed’s backstory. Remember when Chas asked who would name their kid Zed, because it means zero? She’d spat back that her parents didn’t call her that. Through Corrigan, it’s revealed that Zed is a missing person, whose name was something else. Zed, then, must’ve named herself. And because all names mean something, why zero? My guess is that it’s an attempt at leaving everything behind, going back to the beginning, a reset. Zero is a clean slate. And whatever Zed was running away from, she clearly didn’t want to bring any of it with her. Her belief is that disappearing would let her begin again. But if there’s anything to be gleaned from the past, it’s that everyone carries the past with them, for better or worse.

Papa and Constantine set out to do their joint spell with more than a bit of resentment. Their spell to put the three unruly spirits to rest (a bonfire of bodies that John lights with a flicked cigarette) fails spectacularly. Each blames the other fervently, leading to a snark-filled fistfight, wherein Constantine realizes that it’s not necessarily Papa’s magic that raised the dead. No, it’s the beliefs of those people left living. Those left behind.

So, the hitchhiker’s grandmother, the woman responsible for the model’s disfigurement, and the wife of the cancer stricken husband are brought to the ritual site. Constantine explains the power of pain, belief, and grief like this: “You keep the dead alive, because you can’t forgive yourselves.” The ravaging tide of loss is a powerful kind of magic, and blame is a heavy burden. They agree to the ritual, and the balance of things is restored. But this scene really spoke to the reality of loss – and how those left behind cope (or don’t cope). How the belief that we could’ve possibility done something differently, or done something more, affects our belief in ourselves. It rang true.

In the end, Zed has a vision of Corrigan dripping in blood and engulfed in green smoke. John and Papa share a Scotch, and Midnite deliberately pokes at an old wound. We learn that Constantine’s mother is dead, and Midnite offers to let John talk to her. For John, though, he refuses (with a hint of remorse) to let his grief inform his decisions. Instead, he calls in the marker for communing with Zatanna, Papa’s sister. A means to an end, John wants to know more about the growing dark. The choice (this, over his mother) is a practical one. That doesn’t mean it was an easy one.

Zatanna’s message is merciless and clear: Constantine’s fighting a losing battle. What’s coming cannot be bested. And what’s worse: it will be heralded by someone close to John. Someone will betray him. Given that Constantine isn’t close to many people, it’s probably a short list. But this revelation may also reinforce his tendency toward emotional distance and isolation. It’s one thing not to trust easily. It’s another to know that someone you’ve given that trust to is going to put a knife in your back. That might put a damper on all your relationships.

John absorbs this harsh knowledge without a word. But there’s a kind of quiet rage on his face. And you can see, in that moment, that he’s decided to do everything he can to stop what’s coming, to fight even in the face of futility. Again, John is not a good man. He’s not an easy man. He’s brash and he’s unapologetic. But there’s a sense of goodness and honor about him, a grim determination. As he told someone in this episode, “Sounds like your hell-bent on a path to redemption, love.” In their own way, each character in this episode is – but Constantine owns that motivation with a brilliant sense of fury.

Don’t Date a Writer

November 18, 2014 15 comments

If you are looking for simple,
don’t date a writer. Don’t even
flirt with her. While you are talking,
she is considering
how you might look in a story,
or a poem,
or, possibly, in her bed. She analyzing
the metaphors in your smile,
the conjugated verbs
sprinkled in your laugh,
and the way your hands dance
in the air while you talk –
she is writing a story for those hands.

She will have bad days.
She will break dishes and cry
because failure feels like an adjective
for every incomplete sentence,
even though it’s the wrong part of speech –
her heart is always dangling
over a precipice, thoughts
wandering like a hurricane,
no one can swallow that –
but will you try, anyway?

If you are looking for simple,
marry a woman who won’t
wake you in the middle of the night,
full of desire and tequila, flames
foraging through her body
like wildfire made of lightning –
there will be countless paradoxes
and no end to her examinations,
always a heart full of purpose,
a kiss without any questions.

She will have good days.
She will laugh without armor
because you have taught her how to love
in seven different languages,
reminding her of how a river tastes in spring,
offering her inspiration
like fall apples, blossoms
of becoming, and such extraordinary trust.

If you are looking for simple,
don’t date a writer – she will
love you until the gods
stop whispering her name. She will
not be concerned with survival
(hers or yours), and
she will use the burns
and the tears and the floods
without fail. Everything in her
won’t collapse at your touch –
it will explode, creating a universe
unvisited before: only
the brave ever live there,
and nobody gets out alive.

Categories: poem, Poetry, Writing Tags: , ,

The Things They Carry: Recapping Constantine’s “A Feast of Friends”

November 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Everyone has something – an event, a relationship – that they never quite walk away from. They carry it with them, close to the heart. Sometimes, like a talisman. Sometimes, like a curse. Blame, grief, and responsibility are a fearsome combination – and when the price is a child’s soul, the burden is a heavy one.

In this week’s Constantine (A Feast of Friends), we met Gary Lester (excellently brought to life by Jonjo O’Neill) – a junkie, a dabbler, and an old mate of John’s. Through the course of the episode, we learn (as Zed learns) more of what happened in Newcastle. That’s where the previously referenced Astra lost her soul to hell and John’s with hers. Gary’s reaction to Newcastle is wildly different than John’s. He fell back into some serious drug habits, choosing to run away as far and as best he could. Except, he proved the old saying that you can’t run away from yourself. Constantine, the polar opposite, takes what happened in Newcastle and lets it inform his actions. Sure, he did a brief stint in the asylum, but when push came to shove, he stepped up – and he stopped trying to avoid responsibility. For Gary, this episode was an exercise in just that.

Gary had found himself in the Sudan, and ended up accidentally (through a series of well-meaning actions) releasing a hunger demon, Mnemoth, in the States. The plot, taken straight out of the pages of Hellblazer: Original Sins, was pretty clever and hard to watch at times. People, once possessed, were driven to wild hunger – only to be unable to sate the need and ended up starving to death, gruesomely. (Yes, there are a few scenes that will be haunting my nightmares.) Turns out, the only way to defeat this Big Bad (Buffy shoutout!) is to contain it in a charmingly carved up…human vessel. Of course, said vessel will suffer in agony, before eventually dying.

Those stakes – someone’s life – underscore John’s constant refrain of being a loner, of everyone around him eventually dying, and of exactly how ruthless he can be. There’s nothing soft or uncertain about Constantine. His eyes are always wide open, and there’s no point in this episode where the audience sees him flinch. Even when Manny appears toward the end and asks if he’s sure he wants to do what he’s about to do. There’s no a ghost of hesitation. It’s a calculated choice. But that choice – ultimately, Gary’s life – is not one without burden and a stark sense of honor.

Gary Lester may be a piss poor waste of skin. He’s let John down in the past. There’s no love lost between them, but there’s also the deep bond of a shared history, no matter how sordid. No matter how disappointing. There’s a conversation between Zed and John about whether people change. Zed, looking every inch Bambi-eye’d and hopeful, believes they can and do. But John’s seen too much to even entertain the idea. Gary’s not a good man. Neither is John. But is total goodness necessary for doing good? I think not.

Which is why the scene between John and Gary at the creepiest theater ever was so heartbreakingly beautiful. John knew that the demon needed a human vessel. It was a one-way ticket to torment and agony. He brought Gary with him with only one intention. The turn is not when John knows what he’s going to do – it’s when the audience, and Gary, knows. Playing on Gary’s anguish over being stoned when they were exorcising Astrid, John tells Gary that his life could finally mean something, if he sacrifices himself. And old Gaz, he agrees – desperate, as some people are, to make up for the past. To atone. To finally do something right. And for Constantine, it is a not a decision made devoid of emotion, although he does see it as the only choice. John’s not a total bastard without feeling, and the emotions that Matt Ryan conveys in that scene are masterful. But that doesn’t mean John ever flinches. That doesn’t mean he runs. He makes the tough call. And, right or wrong, there’s something admirable about that.

One thing that touched me the most, though, was the scene in which John sat vigil by Gary’s deathbed. His old mate was writhing in unimaginable pain. Constantine was not merely sitting by and watching his friend die. Although, there was that – a level of personal responsibility. No, he was also bearing witness. It was a nice added layer, too, the Manny the angel came and bore witness, too.

There’s something immensely powerful about connections in this episode. About really seeing things as they are. About stepping up in often difficult ways. Zed, for all her soft idealism, comes to see the necessary cut to the choices John makes. For all Constantine’s darkness and weight, she acts as his counterbalance – and their relationship is one part adversarial and one part student/teacher. Yes, John’s teaching her about her powers – helping her learn. But she’s also teaching him things, parts of humanity that perhaps he’d forgotten along the way. She challenges him. And he is, perhaps, a dose of reality (darkness) for her.

This episode illustrated the heavy burden that often comes with doing good. John’s a character built on strength and regret, guilt and ardent righteousness. There’s no easy path – there’s just the one straight through hell, by whatever means necessary. It raises the question that when faced with a choice, does a person chose the right thing or the good thing? If you pay careful attention, they’re not often the same.

sometimes, there’s magic

November 12, 2014 Leave a comment

The morning was wrapped in fog. There was something beautiful about it, perhaps because the air was so warm. Perhaps it was the mystery that comes without being able to see very far ahead. Anything could be around the corner. And, if you look it just right, the possibilities aren’t finite – they’re endless.

That’s what I loved about the weather this morning. Sometimes, when we don’t know exactly what’s going on, we panic. We worry. We start to dredge up every boogeyman possible. Because if you don’t know, and you can’t see, there’s something almost inherently unsettling about that limitation. We’re often terrified by what we don’t know, or (more accurately) what we have no control over.

A thick fog, obscuring the world after ten yards, might unnerving. But for me, I remembered that there are infinite things possible. Just because I can’t see them, it doesn’t mean they aren’t there. You can call that faith or even hope. In either case, it’s not a blindness. It’s optimism.

For me, I’ve often failed spectacularly at being comfortable with stretches of silence. I am a worrier, so when things are uncertain, my fears start tap-dancing on my more rational self. Yesterday, I found myself reflecting on the idea of empty space – of sitting still and not doing, if only to see what happens. What fills the empty space? In relationships, what happens when you stop doing, stop being the active person? I’m a doer. I am an active participant in all relationships. But recently, I’ve dialed back my efforts in certain instances. It’s a lot like being surrounded by fog. I don’t know what will come out of it. I can’t see a damn thing. But I’m willing to find out what’s on the other side, once the sun comes out and the chaos is lifted. It requires, like most good things, a measure of patience.

But darlings, remember that it’s not always monsters lurking in the fog. Sometimes, there’s magic. Sometimes, there’s everything you ever dared to dream of. You’ve got to let the fog obscure the world for a while – to appreciate the sun.

The Devil Isn’t Just in the Details: Constantine and “The Devil’s Vinyl”

November 10, 2014 Leave a comment

Three episodes in, and here’s what we know about John Constantine: he’s an “exorcist, demonologist, and master of the dark arts” – sorry, dabbler in the dark arts (he does so hate to put on airs). You can tell he’s seen things that would give any sane person nightmares, which explains his stint in a mental institution in the first episode. Granted, he did accidentally damn a girl’s soul to hell…and his own. So, who can really blame him if he’s not all rainbows and sunshine?

His current headquarters belonged to an old friend (the deceased Jasper), and it (like Doctor Who’s TARDIS) is bigger on the inside. Of course, that’s where we find John at the beginning of “The Devil’s Vinyl” – naked, covered in blood, in the middle of a magic circle. As one does.

John’s joined by his friend and longtime mate, Chas (who cannot die…or at least, doesn’t stay dead when kebab’d through the chest by a massive, live electrical wire) – and Zed, who may or may not be an ally. Call me skeptical. She tracked John down using her visions, painting the millhouse of unusual size. But more on Zed later.

A woman (Jasmine) unearths a suitably creepy record, which appears to have a complicated, evil-leaning history. She goes to a man named Bernie to have it authenticated and insisted that under no circumstances does he listen to the record. Of course, you know what happens next: he listens to the evil record. I’m going to go ahead and assume he wasn’t one of John’s brighter friends. Because he dies, horribly, in a fit of frostbite and blood. We do get a taste of song, and while lovely, it’s hardly a song worth dying for. Poor Bernie.

On the case, John asks Zed to help out via her powers/visions, and the only clues she unearths are the smell of jasmine and the feel of cold. John tries to brush her and get rid of her – because really, who has time for groupies? Except, you get the feeling that he’s used to pushing people away. It seems like he’s always been self-isolating and rough on the outside as a defense mechanism, but I imagine since the damnation of that girl’s (Astra) soul, he’s only gotten worse about it. He promised to help Zed learn about her powers, but all of his words and mannerisms feel more like a challenge than an invitation. He’s not letting anyone close if he doesn’t have to. Repeatedly in this episode, he refers to Zed as being “useful,” which is the same descriptor you’d give to a crowbar or a screwdriver. He’s deliberately characterizing her as a tool, a means to an end. Why? For one thing, she hasn’t earned his trust yet, has she? And for another, keeping her at arm’s length is easier on him. In his line of work, in his world, caring is probably a liability. And, understandably, he doesn’t seem like the type to trust easily. Probably wise.

John and Zed sneak into the morgue, after she steals a keycard from some poor, random bloke on the street. Lighting up the creepiest hand (specifically, the pickled left hand of a hanged man – yum!) this side of “The Monkey’s Paw,” John temporarily resurrects his dead friend Bernie, although it doesn’t go as smoothly as he’d hoped. The other bodies start to flail and wail, and it’s basically every nightmare I’ve ever had about a morgue.

Bernie indicates that the “voice” killed him, mumbling about acetate, and capping it off with a final whisper of “moon rise.” After that John blows off his feels (literally walking it off), and admits that the spell cost him a few days of his life. I have a feeling that’s going to come up later, basically like the Machine from The Princess Bride.  John brushes aside the fact that he just shaved days off his expiration date in the same way most people brush off stubbing their toe.

Elsewhere, Jasmine, the woman who retrieved the hell record, decides it’s a smashing idea to bring it home and put in on her record shelf. Because, clearly, nothing can go wrong there! Especially not after her adorable daughter, Julilah, wanders in and asks what she is doing.

John and Zed track down Marcus, the man who owned the record company (the aforementioned Moon Rise, which Zed Googled) that made the evil record, and John uses a charmed playing card to trick their way into see him. (That’s one hell of a fake ID!) Marcus observes that Zed is kind, while John has a shadow guarding his soul. No truer words, my friend.

Marcus explains the origins of the record. Willy Cole was a musician who’d sold his soul to the devil. The voice of the deceiver (Ol’ Lucifer) was recorded when Willy’s number was finally called in a very bloody way. Marcus tried to destroy the record, but as with magical objects, they’re not exactly easy to break. He did the next best thing: hid it where he thought no one could find it – a wall. (I mean, maybe dropping it into a volcano would’ve been wiser?)

Once Marcus finishes his story (and whispers the name Fell, which John recognizes), an angel pops up (am I the only one who finds it difficult to take an angel named Manny seriously?) and whisks him away into the afterlife, while John watches. There’s nothing easy about watching someone die, and even though you get the feeling that John’s seen more than his fair share, the old man’s passing still manages to get through. It’s the vulnerability underneath that gets me about Constantine – he’s not a one-note character. He’s damage, flawed, and not what you’d call good. But there’s still goodness about him. I mean, he is fighting monsters, after all. For someone who seems to be so flip, he’s certainly fighting hard, isn’t he?

During a car ride, John explains why the devil would give two immaculate damns about taking human souls. Being the first of the fallen, each soul taken is a bit of revenge, taking something pure – retribution for being cast out of heaven. And of course, while John is explaining this, we see Julilah sneak out of her room and caress the creepy record, proclaiming that she DOES want to hear it. Because nothing says DANGER more than speaking to the voices.

John tracks down Ian Fell and accuses him of making a soul deal in exchange for success (he’s a musician). Except it turns out that it wasn’t him – the blonde woman, Jasmine, is his wife. She was the one that sold her soul– in exchange for saving her husband’s life. Twenty years ago, Ian had cancer, and she saved him. When that’s revealed, John’s face quickly drops from righteous and pissed off to affected and a bit sheepish.

But there’s a twist, which is how the devil’s vinyl came into play. Anton, the soul broker in question, had reapproached Jasmine – and said that he could get her soul back, if she retrieved the record for him. This, of course, was a wretched lie and impossible thing, which given the fact that Anton deals in tricks and soul – that doesn’t exactly come as a surprise. John dashes off to meet with Anton, but not before giving Jasmine an out-of-character hug, allowing him to slip a nail from the coffin of Saint Padua. Retaining a second nail, it’s basically holy relic GPS; one nail will always seek the other.

John corners Anton, who is something of a cowering, slim of a man. As soon as John says Ian Fell’s name, the “underworld ambulance chaser” has a fit, and a creepy laugh comes rolling out from behind an equally creepy curtain. It appears that John is intimately familiar with the entity belonging to the laugh, and his name is Papa Midnite. And to say that this confrontation goes poorly is an understatement.

Papa Midnite is a voodoo practitioner, who very much wants the evil record. And I’m fairly certain it’s not to DJ a tea party. Unfortunately, Papa gets the best of John, who wakes up tied up with zip ties. He quips, “All this to get me alone. I’m flattered. You’re going to have to respect my boundaries – I don’t do zip ties without a safe word.” As someone who uses humor when she’s nervous, that’s just what John’s doing – his wit is a weapon in his arsenal, and his bravado is probably one of the things that’s helped keep him alive all these years. Plus, you know, that was kind of a hot reference. MOVING ON…

Papa cops to waiting the acetate as a kind of get-out-of-hell free card, an insurance policy of sorts – and reveals his plan to John (perhaps he’s been taking cues from pretty much every Bond villain ever), having sent his men to retrieve the record. But, wait – there’s more. He drugs John with a blood thinner, the cure which he places nearby, and cuts him – which would cause him to bleed to death over four hours. Good times.

Meanwhile, Papa’s goons burst into the Fell residents with all the tact that gun-wielding wackos tend to have. Which is to say…none. Zed warns them not to touch the record with bare skin, and they simply…leave. Of course, they don’t heed her warning, and not only do they end up dead, but they bring it to a club, resulting in a pretty substantial massacre. But more on that later.

Of course, while tied up, John is robbed by a homeless guy. And the aforementioned Manny basically taunts him for being less than himself (lacking in balls), and even bleeding to death and bleary-eyed, John rages like a righteous prick, which he somehow manages to make appealing. The angel, on the other hand, has taken a Watcher stance…which kind of makes him a special kind of asshole. But he’s the least of John’s problems, because the homeless guy is about the murder him. Zed shows up (using the Padua nail) and saves his ass. Because, you know, she’s useful.

John and Zed arrive at the scene of the massacre (the next morning), and Chas meets them there with headphones, mp3 player, a clean shirt, and orange juice. Chas pulls a mom with the OJ, chiding that John’s got to get his blood sugar up. So, at least if John has a death wish, someone else is trying to keep him alive. Of course, this provides a convenient opportunity for Chas to inform John that Zed has no arrest record, which doesn’t seem to comfort him. A person without a discernable past can be anyone.

Freddy, a deaf busboy, is the only survivor of the club massacre. He explains what happens and John asserts that Papa Midnite’s lackeys have gone off-book. And Zed hallucinates a white Bengal tiger, leading Chas to spy a poster with a tiger on it. John’s knickers are a bit twisted when Zed’s powers are what uncover where the acetate is headed: a radio station. She just takes the lead and leaves both guys gawking. It’s kind of hilarious.

When they get to the station, John straps on a pair of headphones and instructs Zed and Chas to find a way to kill the signal, while he wades in armed with the Sex Pistols and earbuds. As far as weapons go, that’ll do.

Chas drives the car through key component of the radio station, disrupting the signal. At that exact moment, John loses his earbuds and it looks as painful as you think the devil’s voice would sound. Just shy of spontaneous ear-bleeding. Saved by Papa Midnite (not out of benevolence; he’s still a Big Bad — he came to recover the record), John has just enough time to drag out the magic and the Latin and send the record back to hell. Midnite stops just short of shouting, “I would’ve gotten away with it if it weren’t for those kids and that mangy dog,” but as far as villains go, he’s fairly compelling.

At the close of the episode, John drags Anton to the Fell house to undo the deal that Jasmine had originally struck. Anton literally has to eat the contract, which was hilarious to watch. During that scene, Chas is pretty menacing with a knife.

We’re left with two distinct images during John’s final voiceover: Zed holding a beautiful cross and Papa Midnite with a murderous look and a John-shaped voodoo doll. Whatever happens with that, you know it won’t end well.

A couple of bits and bobs. When Chas questions Zed’s name (it means zero), he asks what kind of parents name a kid that? She intimates that isn’t her given name or that, perhaps, someone else named her. Consider my interest piqued. Even with all the good she’s done, I don’t quite trust her yet.

An interesting thing about John Constantine is that he’s an odd sort of anti-hero. He’s almost made peace with his own brokenness – or, at least, that’s what he wants you to think. His sense of wit is almost as well-developed as that soulful look that ghosts across his face from time to time. It makes you wonder where he’s been. In the first episode’s ending voiceover, he made a quip about walking through his life alone – who would be crazy enough to walk it with him? While his loner persona is well-developed, it is (at least partially) just that: a persona. There’s a vulnerability underneath the veneer that is more than just appealing (though, it’s that, too) – it’s humanizing. There’s a desperate, dangerous quality to him, which balances out his seemingly flippant personality. It’s a precarious balance that shows in the way his lines are delivered, with a crooked smile and more than just a hint of a dare.

I’m curious to see what’s revealed about the man underneath the trench coat (but let’s be honest: Matt Ryan wears it so well). I suspect it’ll take a while for the audience to get a real naked moment, the emotional kind – not the bloody circle dance. But like the stigmata (as the show puts it) on the map, I want more of the story. I want to see how the danger plays out.

Give ’em hell, love. Or, as it were, give hell something to talk about.