There are people in life we drop everything for. It doesn’t matter if we haven’t spoken in years. It doesn’t matter what happened or what didn’t. When the nightmare hits the fan and the impossible happens, that’s who we reach out to. And that’s who shows up.
In this week’s Constantine (The Saint of Last Resorts), we meet another of the Newcastle crew, Anne Marie. She’s got a neat trick of being able to protect herself, and she appears in the millhouse, calling on an old debt. She’s not one to mince words or suffer fools lightly, but given the look on Constantine’s face, it’s not just the debt that sends him to Mexico. And it’s not just the monster of unknown variety that compels him to go. No, some people pick up the phone and no matter what it costs, you answer.
Interestingly, when Anne Marie’s bilocation spell’s done, we see her back in her room at the convent, holding a punk rock photo of herself and John. And whoever made that picture happen is a genius. It’s perfect. But the fact that she held onto that photo after all this time speaks volumes. Constantine may owe her, but that’s not all there is to this. For her, he may be her great heartbreak – the one that sticks in your ribs for the rest of your life, never quite allowing for peace. More on that, later.
The conversation between Zed and John (when he informs her she isn’t coming with them) is interesting. When he talks about himself in any capacity, Constantine is hideously uncomfortable. He admits that he and Anne Marie slept together, but the look on his face makes it clear that it wasn’t just sex. No, sex itself is easy. Feelings? Haha, not so much. Anyone who tells you differently is either lying or a sociopath. But back to the point: John also reveals that Anne Marie is who got him involved in the occult scene. Which means she’s a big part of his past and the way that past informs the future. Of course, Zed is rather miffed that Constantine’s leaving her behind. He says that she’s still on R&R, which is why he’s been letting her stay at the millhouse. But something about that reasoning rings a little false to me and falls a wee bit flat. Could it be that John’s keeping her close to keep an eye on her? And that he leaves her behind, because he doesn’t really trust her? Possibly. Time will tell on that.
Chas and John arrive at the convent and are immediately confronted with the fact that neither speaks Spanish. Chas quips, “We should’ve brought Zed” with just the right amount of reasonable sass. But Anne Marie’s there, dressed in her nun’s habit, and John looks both taken aback and amused. Chas sneaks in a brilliant eye roll at John’s face, before they head inside. Anne Marie and Constantine talk business for a moment, until they venture into an awkward bit of parsing out the past. “I always thought one of us would flee to Mexico, but I thought they’re be tequila involved.” Slow clap for that line, because tequila’s my favorite. And slow clap for it, because it demonstrates John’s curiosity. It’s not idle when it comes to Anne Marie. He wants to know when and why she became a nun. But he makes one joke too many and Anne Marie only sees the brash, blustery exterior of a man who doesn’t give a damn. Not the man underneath, who gives too many damns (so to speak). You can actually see him struggle to cobble his walls back together, as Anne Marie hurls some figurative punches his way. It’s not merely salting a wound. It’s tossing Newcastle with gasoline and lighting a bloody match. She lays into him with a quiet, raging fury – spouting off all the members of the Newcastle crew, not stopping to notice the actual physical distance John put between himself and her when she started digging at the exact place of his shame. The body language there was magnificent, and Matt Ryan’s sharp subtlety is well-done
Chas, Anne Marie, and John start poking around the place where the baby went missing. (This is intercut with Zed walking around the millhouse, finding a door that leads to a misty abyss. That comes into play later, of course.) Sister Luisa saunters in while they’re looking around, and she starts flirting with John pretty hardcore. And Constantine being Constantine gives it right back, later calling her Sister Flirtatious and insisting that she started it. That bit made me chuckle. Because holy gods, John flirts with everyone, and it’s rather marvelous. Anyway, John casts a spell with some runes to discover what stolen the child – and the runes promptly catch on fire, indicating that the monster in question has covered its tracks. But the precaution signals that the child might still be alive, so Anne Marie and Constantine head off to unbury the child’s placenta (ew. So much ew. A WORLD of EW) from the family’s yard. That will give them a connection to the baby’s soul, enabling them to find him.
Arriving at night to the creepiest foggy yard, occupied by an equally terrifying tree, there’s an unexpected vulnerable exchange between John and Anne Marie. She reveals how hurt she was when Constantine slipped out of bed to go chase after other girls. The root of her wound isn’t Newcastle – it’s further back than that. The ungodly betrayal of a first love. And John doesn’t have his walls up here. What she says gets through (and I so adore her sass, when she asks, “Do you want that vow of silence back now?” Anne Marie’s got a devastatingly quiet way of chastising John. It’s challenging and not explosive, but the effect is still visceral).
When they begin digging in the yard, John apologizes to her. He doesn’t seem the type to throw apologies around lightly, and his words are spoken with genuine regret. Anne Marie’s having none it, though – throwing his ego in his face, the fact that he tends to use people, snapping that “everyone’s just a port in your storm.” But then John looks up at the tree and grabs the most disturbing pear I’ve ever seen. Cutting it open, the damn thing bleeds and the tree starts bleeding too – and thank you, because THAT will be occupying my nightmares. HUMAN FRUIT, guys. Incidentally, the symbolism of John standing there with blood on his hands did not go unnoticed or unappreciated. Regardless, the father, Hugh, rushes out of the house and John tells him that the baby’s still alive.
We cut back to Hugo, Anne Marie, and John tossing back some tequila (FINALLY), discussing the particulars of the situation. One of Eve’s sisters is what has stolen the baby. The sisters are goddesses of hell, which sounds both powerful AND alarming. During the conversation, Anne Marie asserts something interesting: “Evil wins when we let it destroy our faith in the power of good.” That sums up a main struggle of the show: believing in good, believing in its power, even in the face of unspeakable evil. That’s part of John’s battle – and perhaps Anne Marie’s as well. While she’s talking, though, Constantine’s gone distant again, his body language as rigid as a wall. Perhaps her words hit too close to home.
Hugo gets up to answer the phone, Anne Marie lays into John yet again, saying that his ego is out of control. But it’s not John’s ego that’s the problem here. It’s the pain that seems to overwhelm him, and the guilt, when she’s near. He drank at least four shots of tequila in that short scene. That’s a defense mechanism, liquid courage. When Hugo comes back, we’re told another baby’s been stolen – and to make a long story short, it’s his son’s secret child. This means the baby snatching isn’t random – it’s attached to a lineage. To find out why, they later go to visit Hugo’s grandmother. Who, you know, John also flirts with.
Meanwhile, Zed’s getting art supplies from what has to be the least well-lit and most atmospherically creepy art store ever. And it just so HAPPENS that Eddie, hot model dude with an agenda, finds her. They go have a drink at an equally creeptastic bar, where she has a vision after touching his hand (a white room that looks like a bank vault). Playing it cool, she essentially lures him back to the millhouse, kicks his ass SPECTACULARLY, and we learn her real name is Mary. And that he father (ominous, much?) wants her home. We discover that Zed spent most of her childhood locked in a room, which is a few shades of Carrie. She’s some kind of salvation, supposedly, and the Crusade (Eddie’s word) will also find her. Some crusaders show up, shoot Eddie, and chase Zed around the millhouse. Harkening back to the earlier scene, Zed drops one of them into the abyss without so much as a backwards glance. For all her ass kicking, Zed is surprised by a creeper with a syringe, who is hellbent on taking her home. Which, I guarantee, will make for the world’s most terrible family reunion. I have thoughts about Zed’s family, but I’m going to see how it plays out.
To figure out which goddess of hell is pulling a Jareth at the convent, John casts a spell that will reveal her true reflection in the foundation. Before he starts, Anne Marie gets in his face again, and he flat out asks why she bothered to call him, if she’s just going to give him flaming crap every time he turns around and tries to help. John surmises that it’s because he is capable of making the tough calls that she isn’t, snapping that she should just go off and pray while he does the hard work. That exchange, right there, is preciously two ex lovers still holding on to each other. Only someone who knows you inside and out can hurt you like that.
Chas has an interesting role in this moment. He knocks John in the shoulder and makes it clear that he’s not okay with his bullshit, before trailing after Anne Marie. Here, he is levelheaded and soft, a counterbalance to Constantine’s brash blundering. He explains what Anne Marie is missing about John’s demeanor and reactions. “He’d rather risk your feelings than any other part of you. That’s how…he deals with the pain. John has one thing that makes his life worth a damn, and he can’t do it if he lets anyone in too close. Like he did…with you.” That it’s not that he cares too little, but that he cares too much. Every snark and every quip is merely a slight-of-hand, the ordinary magic of misdirection. It rings true, because who hasn’t known someone who acts the fool to hide the truth? Who puts up walls with good intentions? Hell, I’ve dated one. At least one. Anyway, there’s a really sweet moment between Chas and Anne Marie, and Charles Halford has a way of melting my heart.
Curiously, when Constantine starts the spell, Sister Flirtatous shows up mid-incantion and tries to shoo him away, raising John’s hackles. He calls out a series of hell goddess names (turns out she’s Lamashtu) until she whirls around and reveals herself in a fit of fury, nearly drowning John, until he manages to stab her. While Anne Marie is bandaging his wound, he explains that they’re dealing with Lamasto (Anne Marie really looks worried). They head off to visit Hugo grandmother, Pia, to uncover the darkness at the roots of this particular family tree.
Pia explains that La Brujeria is back, tracking down their family. Pia’s grandfather was a part of La Brujeria (the literal translation for that, by the way, is The Witchcraft. Totally sounds better in Spanish). Pia’s father had run away from La Brujeria, but it seems that no one can escape his/her past. John steps out on to the porch for a smoke, where Anne Marie and him get to talking. (Again: someone get me that lighter.) John has a small crisis of reality, because he doesn’t want to believe the Brujeria still exists. He doesn’t have a spell to shut them down, to fix things. And for Constantine, there are few things worse than helplessness. If someone wields a power that makes JOHN need a smoke, rant, and a pace – that certainly doesn’t bode well. But he realizes that Pia is right. This is the overarching bad of the season – the rising darkness is La Brujeria. He’s been fighting against it all along.
In the midst of this conversation, Anne Marie admits that she sees the truth in John (that he cares too much), now – and that she came to Mexico as a way of hiding, too. They’re both wearing disguises in their own way. Underneath her habit, she’s still the same scared girl she was at Newcastle. This gives John an idea to bring Lamashtu out of hiding and allow them to find where the babies are being stashed: filling a chicken with Hugo’s blood and disguising it with a glamour to look like a baby. Since the hell goddess is going after his family, it should do the trick. Trouble is, Anne Marie has to make the offering. And unlike Gary Lester, she knows this immediately as John starts hinting about it. Called out, John gives a brilliant turn about how “no price is too high to save the innocent,” which wins Anne Marie’s respect. It also will come back to bite him in the ass not too long down the road.
Before making the offering, there’s a layered, touching scene between John and Anne Marie. Their posture is a mirror of one another (hands on their hips), as they’ve finally gotten to a bit of middle ground. Constantine takes the blame for Newcastle, telling her that she’s got nothing to repent for. It wasn’t her failure – it was his. But that’s when Anne Marie comes clean about the genesis of her guilt: she blames herself for getting him into the occult. He was 15 when they first met – always hiding from his father and longing for a mother, someone to take care of him – and instead of helping him escape it the easy way (sex), she invited him into the underground world of darkness and magic. That is the true blame that she’s been carrying about. But John assures her that it was “a world of wonders” that she introduced him to – there’s a real spark in his eyes, a light that we haven’t seen before. For a few brief moments, there’s no regret in his bones, just gratefulness. He gives her a necklace – the icon of Puzuzu – a demon that used to be Lamashtu’s soulmate before an ugly breakup. This necklace allows Constantine to close the gap, figuratively and literally. He and Anne Marie kiss, a tentative thing at first, a kiss that asks permission and says a million things without a single spoken word. When she kisses him back, it’s a kiss born of a fevered history, a wild bit of wanting that can only be born out of a caged longing. For the barest second, they hold each other’s faces, a tender gesture. Then, she pushes him away, using her hand to create distance between their bodies. And it hurt too look at that moment, for all its vulnerability and John’s almost bewildered agony. Beautifully done – and props to Claire van der Boom.
Anne Marie makes the offering, and they follow Lamashtu down into the freaking SEWER. Because of course. Chas and John go down the rabbit hole, with Anne Marie arming herself with Hugo’s gun. Once in the sewer, they split up – with Chas saying, “If you need me, scream.” Such a small line, but wonderfully delivered. It’s so earnest and so commonplace for Chas.
John and Anne Marie recover the babies. And in a rather stunning bluff, John uses one of them as leverage to pull information out of Lamashtu, getting to the heart of the rising dark’s plan. La Brujeria wants to abolish the separation between hell and earth, which is why Lamashtu has been working for it – purely self-gain. Which, you know, hell goddess and all. Hardly altruistic.
As soon as he knows the game plan, Constantine drops the Puzuzu amulet with a few choice words, igniting blue flame and sending her to meet her old flame. Literally in flames. Nice symbolism, there. Anne Marie takes the second baby from John, who then hands it to Chas. Anne Marie and John hear another baby crying and start to go after it, when they discover a supposedly extinct monster – an Invunche. There’s no way to outrun it and no magic to fight it. So, with all the practiced coldness of survival, Anne Marie shoots John, leaving him as prey to the Invunche. Right before she shoots him, a look of betrayal and respect cross his face, and she repeat his wisdom back: no price is too high to save the innocent.
Is this the treachery that Papa Midnite’s sister spoke of? That John would be betrayed by someone close to him? Perhaps. It would prove the old truth that only those who are closest to use can wound us so soundly. It’s ironic that Constantine spends so much time with his defenses up that once he finally lowers them, that’s what gets him hurt. It would make any sane person think twice about letting anyone in – assuming, of course, that there is a next time.
Belief can be a valuable tool in life, but blind faith is always a dangerous thing. Devotion without questioning leads to blindside moments and surprises. And if it is our beliefs that lead us to fight, to pick a cause, or take a stand – it’s even more imperative that they are well-placed. In this week’s episode of Constantine, a good recurring question would be, “What’s your angle?” Everybody’s got one.
In “Blessed Are the Damned,” a church in rural Kentucky, whose preacher is not even close to the showman his father was, is suffering from low attendance. But with a quick bit (or bite, as it were) of theatrics involving a rattlesnake and what we later learn to be an angel feather, he’s filled with remarkable powers of healing. But with great power comes great responsibility (Spiderman shoutout), which is unfortunately very foreign to Zachary. He simply starts healing people with the holy spirit, motivated by the intense desire to honor his father’s memory. And, let’s face it: he’s on a bit of a power trip. His disregard of potential consequences blinds him to the truth. But more on that later.
Meanwhile, Zed has a vision in art class of snakes. The model in her class casually hits on her, and they agree to go on an eventual date. Nothing about this seems out of the ordinary, but things are rarely what they seem. I will say that Angélica Celaya has really blossomed in the role of Zed. I was a little skeptical at first, but there are a lot of layers and subtleties. Like John, I’m still trying to puzzle and parse her out. Before they head off to Kentucky, she’s entirely alive with glee over her vision, while Constantine makes hilarious quips about etiquette and how she could at least say hello. What’s important about that is she constantly throws him off balance. Her focus on her powers and her art are the only things she’s shared about herself. John’s not one to trounce about blindly, and her secretive nature definitely sets him on edge. He’s not merely curious. For any relationship to work, there has to be a give and take, there has to be trust. Zed’s fierce mysteriousness keeps him from fully letting his guard down. (Side-note: When John was packing his bags for the trip, I laughed SO hard about the condoms. Holy hell. Nice touch.)
Once in Kentucky, John and Zed slip into the congregation, where they argue about religion and belief. Zed wants to believe in a guiding hand, and Constantine’s brief quips illuminate his uneasiness with the idea. His tone isn’t necessarily dismissive. He has trouble seeing the worth in himself, so why would any god approve of him? After this, he discovers that Zachary is speaking Enochian, the language of the angels. Of the preacher, John keenly observes, “Nobody wields that kind of power without consequences.” And it’s true: everyone who has been “saved” or “healed” starts turning red-eyed and a bit murder-y.
Zed touches Zachary’s hands and has a vision of an angel. Her expression in that scene is beautifully done, because it’s just the right shade of awestruck. But later, when she and Constantine are discussing the situation, she offers that “Blind faith can be a dangerous thing.” It’s a small, half-reveal, and she doesn’t give up anything else personal. But the weight of how Zed says that conveys that, for her, faith is a heavy thing.
Circling back to the idea that power is never without consequences, John reveals that these so-called miracles are taking the toll on the land. There’s an entire lake of fish is dead, which reaffirms that the magic happening in the church is dark, dangerous. And John calls on Manny for help, using dried myrtle (not drugs!), tossing in a ‘please’ and a shrug. It was very John Constantine moment. Manny arrives and John explains the situation, and Manny tells him that “It will only make sense if you stand facing the sun.” It’s clear that, by whatever rules the angels operate by, this is flirting with the line. But Constantine is all rage and frustration still, because he’s all about action, not words. However, Manny’s advice bears out, and John and Zed discover a beautiful angel, Imogen, who’s manifested on the mortal plane because of a missing feather, which happened when she came to take a dying mortal to heaven. It’s killing her.
Manny arrives, looking almost curious. His appearances holds a bit of comic relief, since Zed can’t see him, and she spends several minutes trying to figure out where he’s standing – while John is having a conversation/sparring match with him. These two squabble like siblings, and it’s really excellently done. Manny fervently reminds John that it’s basically impossible for a mortal to remove an angel’s feather, but that she will die if it’s not restored – her soul simply snuffed out, as if she never existed.
So, Constantine and Zed leave Imogen stashed in a barn, with Manny sitting watch. Before leaving, John sets up a protection spell using a garden hose (I love that he constantly uses everyday objects – it’s resourceful and charming). It will keep evil out. Constantine observes that Zed is gobsmacked, and her awe is positively radiating off her. Curiously, though, this is what she says, “I believed everything I was told as a girl. The older I got…the more lies I uncovered.” This shows that Zed has deep beliefs, but in what? We’ve seen her with a pretty impressive cross, but whatever religion she once practiced, it hasn’t shown itself as anything other than lapsed. And her statement also begs two questions. One: what lies did she uncover? And two: do her childhood beliefs inform her movements/decisions/actions now? Only time will tell.
Her curious unease with her powers – that she’d want to ask the angel where her powers come from if she could – is great moment. There’s an undercurrent of fear when she tells this to John. He offers her a practical, honest bit of advice, “Doesn’t matter where they come from. What matters is what you do with them – and what it costs you.” For Constantine, this is a brilliant, almost offhand revelation. He believes in the power of choice, in deciding your own fate. That it’s what you do with what you have that matters. That, I think, is why he fights. And in that moment, you have to wonder what it’s cost him. Because all magic, as we’ve heard time and again, is not without consequence.
Zed is a person who seems like she’s longing for faith, desperate for a reason to believe. She confronts Constantine about his cynicism, even in the face of proof – even with the evidence of angels right in front of him. And, again, in a stunning turn of grim honesty – and the look of a man who has seen and done too much – John counters her wide-eyed, hopeful naivety. “Could’ve been a better man if I hadn’t seen it all. Yes, angels exist – sound the bloody trumpets. As for religion, yeah, alright – be nice to your neighbor and all that. The world isn’t all puppy dogs and rainbows. Can’t just pray evil away. You’ve still go to fight.”
That, right there, is Constantine in a nutshell. That’s why he fights. That’s why he wages a war against the growing dark, even though he’s just one man with a couple of friends and a bag of tricks. What’s the saying? “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Constantine will be damned if he lets that happen (no pun intended). He’s not waiting around for someone else to fix things. He’s not leaving it up to fate. He’s in the thick of it all, using everything he’s got to maintain the balance. He might be a guy who brings condoms to church, but he’s also a guy who does what’s right. (Plus, it’s hard to argue with the whole ‘safety first’ idea.)
Later, John tries to take the feather off of Zachary (who had a spectacular falling out with his sister). When he gets close, the feather pulses out a magical blast that knocks him on his ass. Zachary, in true crazy religious zealot fashion, says that this indicates that John’s an evil force, which is why the feather reacted that way. More on that later.
Zed is attacked while lying in her tent, but John comes to the rescue in the nick of time, saving her from a ghoul. Ghouls are formed from magic gone wrong, and this one (the first parishioner healed) appeared to be looking for something. Zed cozies up to preacher Crazypants, telling him that she “wants to believe.” For a split second, that confession of Zed’s rings true, and you have to wonder more at where she came from.
Zed agrees to be baptized by Zachary. In doing so, she takes the feather from him. Keep in mind that this feather wouldn’t let John near it, but she could steal it without a problem. The feather starts protecting her, just as a gaggle of ghouls appear. Constantine, Zachary, and Zed barricade themselves in the church, but John sends her to restore Imogen’s feather; it’s the only way to stop the ghouls.
We cut back to Imogen and Manny, who are having a bonding moment. There’s something sharp and calculating about her gaze, as Manny is asking her what it’s like to be manifested. Poignantly, he asks what pain feels like, having never felt it before. In a heartbreaking turn, he also asks what it’s like to feel the sun. There’s a deep longing in his face, in the cadence of his questioning, and Harold Perrineau is exquisite in this scene. There’s a depth to Manny that we haven’t seen before; for the first time, we see his wants and desires. And what’s more basic than the desire to feel the sun on our faces?
While Zed’s gone, Constantine and Zachary have a conversation about the angel, and it comes to light that Imogen is not an angel from heaven. No, she’s fallen. She was taking a soul to hell – Zachary’s. He killed a man the night he got her feather. The realization hits John in the stomach like a sucker punch. And we cut back to Manny and Imogen, whose conversation has taken a curious, almost contrary turn. She’s subtlety challenging his beliefs about the purpose of angels, about humanity as a whole. Before Manny can really absorb the lilt of her words, Zed bursts in with the feather and restores it. This turns the ghouls John’s grappling with back to regular old humans, revealing Imogen as a dark angel to Manny. Zed, meanwhile, has no idea that she’s dark, until John shows up.
Presumably, Zed can still see Imogen the same way John can see Manny, but I have to bring up another possibility. Zed could take the feather – a thing of darkness. John couldn’t touch it. John sees Manny, a creature of light. I think that Zed’s ability to touch the feather revealed that there’s darkness in her, a mortal sin on her soul, like Zachary’s. Constantine may have committed many sins, but it looks like there’s more good in him that darkness. Like John, we don’t really know anything about Zed, but I think this scene revealed a whole hell of a lot. Okay, pun intended, here.
Now, John’s protection spell served to keep Imogen in. It looks like the growing dark has thinned out the barrier between worlds, allowing darkness easier access to humanity. And you know THAT is never a good sign. Imogen gave Zachary her feather so that she could break through to earth, which, as far as evil plans go, was quite clever. Turns out, Imogen was also just really desperate to get out of Hell, and she’s just as desperate not to go back. She grabs Zed by the throat, confessing that she fell because she killed a mortal just to see what it felt like (I’m guessing this is the angel equivalent of “I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die…”). John starts angrily pleading with Manny, because he’s the only one can stop Imogen. But Manny, always acting by the rules, reminds Constantine that he can’t step in. In a passionate plea, John says something that rings very true to anyone who is deciding whether or not to fight. There’s always a moment where you choose. And for Constantine, choice is paramount. In a barely contained passionate fury, he tells Manny, “You’re either in this bloody fight with me, or you’re not.”
And it looks like Manny disappears, leaving John in a lurch and Zed to die. Except Manny takes possession of Zed’s body in a brilliant move, ripping out Imogen’s heart in one unexpected move. Absolutely beautifully done scene by everyone involved, with just enough surprise and fierce words to be impressive. Constantine doesn’t tell Manny thank you, but there’s a barely perceptible nod. I can’t help but wonder if he expected Manny to flee, to let him down. If, perhaps, even Constantine was surprised by Manny’s actions. Zed comes back to herself holding Imogen’s still beating heart, which is apparently concentrated evil. John wraps it in burlap for temporary safekeeping.
We cut back to the preacher, who is no longer crazypants. He is speaking on the power of choice, which is a major theme of the entire show, not just a main belief of Constantine himself. Choice matters. What a person (or an angel) does when faced with a point of no return or dangerous situation. There’s no puppetmaster pulling the strings. There’s only what you do and what you don’t do. Which brings us to the closing scene.
In final twist (I’m taking this out of order), it looks like Zed skipped out on her date with the model from her art class. And it turns out Hot Naked Guy has an ulterior motive, and that someone whose face we can’t see is pulling his strings. I’m curious to see how that mystery is unraveled and revealed. I wonder if it has anything to do with Zed’s hidden past. Only time will tell.
John and Manny are hanging out in the mill house. Manny admits that he doesn’t have all the answers, looking almost ashamed. John realizes he’s kicking himself about Imogen, about not seeing her for what she was. In response, Constantine offers comfort, “She fooled us all, mate. And that’s not something I admit to, lightly.” It is an endearing moment. But, for me, it makes me wonder if, down the line, that same sentiment won’t also apply to Zed. She could touch the feather of the fallen angel. Something about that is going to come back around again. It’s Chekhov’s loaded gun.
During their conversation, John puts Imogen’s heart in a nice jar with a lid, adding it to the curiosities housed in the mill house. Incidentally, I have that exact same jar (no rust), and I keep coffee filters in it. Gave me a bit of a chuckle. Constantine comes very close to thanking Manny, telling him he saved that day, that it’s the kind of faith he can get behind. Manny admits that he’ll face consequences for what he did to Imogen, confessing that what she did shouldn’t have been possible. He vanishes without a word, like some sort of heavenly ninja.
This whole incident seemed to further ignite Constantine’s tenacity, his desire to fight. John uses his pain, his passion, to fuel his actions. It doesn’t consume him. It spurs him on. He may be a jackass of all trades, but that kind of impassioned will is something to be admired. Constantine may question his beliefs. He may question himself. He may have doubts. But when it comes down to it, he doesn’t walk away from a battle.
You’re either in this bloody fight – or you’re not. And no matter what fresh hell appears, John Constantine is all in.
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?
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.
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.
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.
So, Scandal, guys. For me, I’m having some problems with the show. It’s not as problematic as last season, but a lot of the carryover from that is affecting this season. Instead of a recap, I’m going to talk about things that are bugging me. Because, you know, it’s my blog and I’ll cry if I want to. Wait…
I don’t know who to root for anymore – but not for the reason you might think. I’ve been a Liv and Fitz shipper from day one. I’ve loved the moderately dysfunctional Scooby Gang at OPA. But the dynamics between each character feels off, and not in a character growth/potentially-awesome-plot-point kind of way.
Last week’s episode finally had Liv and Fitz in the geographical region of the Feels. Their theme started to play, and it could’ve both been redemptive and romantic. Instead, it made me want to hurl things at the scream and yell obscenities. I DID yell obscenities, but I like my TV too much to wound it. Fitz, even wrapped in his grief, should never have used Liv as means to prove his manhood. He couched the entire conversation in terms of his rampant failure (pity party, Presidential party of one!) – and instead of it being about their reconciliation, about them as a couple, Fitz was one shade away from Drunk Elevator Fitz. He tried to use Liv as some kind of sex bandaid, and it was all kinds of wrong. This wasn’t some kind of emotional reunion moment. And while yes, they always have that spark – that physical chemistry – that scene made me cringe so hard. Because it wasn’t about them being together; it was about her filing a need. It undervalued her as a person AND their relationship on the whole. In summation: it was not motherfucking Vermont.
Additionally, there was Liv and her highly insensitive reveal about her Sex Vacation. I still have issues with her up and abandoning Fitz, right after his son died, regardless of ANY extenuating circumstances. Because you do not FLEE someone’s life who just lost a child. Immediately and without looking back or even trying to check in. NOPE. NOPE. NOPE. So, she ran off with Jake, who seems to have been Fitz’s only friend. (Cyrus is not his friend. He’s everybody’s monster. Except for that thing that died on his head. That thing has managed to upstage him. Seriously: WHY?) Jake and Fitz have a history. And Jake went after Liv. That’s shitty. Then, Liv dashes off with Jake for MONTHS, and she then (with all the grace of a two-legged elephant) blurts out that Jake went on her escape with her. How is that even remotely sensitive? (Hint: it isn’t.) It was done purely for shock value, and I don’t like it. Liv is not that callous. And yet…
So, this week’s episode. Jake is being held in the Pentagon, because Shady Tom pegged him for the murder of Jerry Grant. He stops eating in an effort to force Fitz to show up. He eventually tells Fitz that it was Rowan. And knowing exactly how slim-tastic Rowan is, of course Fitz believes him. Oh, wait – no he doesn’t! Because we’re supposed to believe this far-fetched plot point that Fitz suddenly has no understanding of how Rowan operates. Hi, believability? I’m going to need you to take a vacation, mmmkay?
I can’t root for Jake at all either. While I liked him when he first appeared, and he seemed like a relative white hat in a sea of grey hats at best, he’s well beyond being redeemable. And therein lies a big problem: nearly everyone on this show is a murderer. Once he killed James, that was it: he crossed the line. He also has the maturity of three-day-old roadkill, because of his constant nagging about Olivia not being his girlfriend/their relationship being only about booty calls/how amazing he is in bed – then bragging to Fitz about their sexcapades. Is he five? I mean, really.
That aside, let’s talk about Davey Crockett’s Raccoon Hair himself: Cyrus. He goes and tells Liv what’s going on with Jake. He gets his gloat on. And she tells him that no one should believe Rowan. Also, guys? THE EMEPEROR IS NAKED. Meanwhile, we had a previous scene were Rowan and Liv have a majorly awkward father/daughter chat, wherein he chides her for not spending a kidney on her wine. Speaking as someone whose wine has often come in a box, you’re on very thin ice, sir. Annnnnyway, Liv can tell CYRUS never to believe her father, and yet we’re supposed to swallow this tentative relationship between the two? I don’t think so. It is inconsistent at best. The fact that any of the characters believe anything Rowan says is infuriating.
Next up, let’s talk about Mellie. Now, I loved the hell out of Drunk Mellie. I felt like it was real and honest, plus an interesting character turn. You can identify with Mellie not giving an immaculate damn about anything, after losing her son. Except, she was getting better there for a hot minute. She had a good heart-to-heart with Karen last week. Put the pearls back on for personal appearance in the episode before that. And now, she’s back to swirling around her vodka cup. Um, NO.
The exchange between Fitz and Mellie about the death of their son…it rang hollow, to me. It felt false that Mellie would offer up that their son died for a reason, a cause, like a solider – and find solace in that. Because she doesn’t really believe in anything right now. And to think that she’d see Fitz’s election as a silver lining for Jerry’s death? Not buying it at all. Of course, when she gets in the shower toward the end of the episode (after learning the supposedly murderer is in custody), we’re now supposed to see that she’s on the upswing. As if knowing that his murderer was caught is somehow the key to her mental state. That implies that her mess has been tied to not knowing who killed Jerry, not necessarily the loss of Jerry. That seems problematic to me, given the nature of grief and Mellie’s character.
Lastly, I want to talk about Huck. Huck, who apparently confessed to his ex-wife everything that ever happened to him, is a flipping mess. Don’t get me wrong: Guillermo plays the hell out that character. I am constantly astounded by his facial expressions, which convey multiple layers of feelings. The fact that he isn’t believed feels like it’s nothing more than a plot device. Maybe it’s to set it up for him and Quinn to be together, again. Maybe it’s just to put him through the ringer with another tragedy. But all the crazy crap that’s gone on in his character’s life, this reunion/reconciliation going wrong, too? It’s too much. It’s also easily avoided if Huck asked Liv to speak with his ex. Or even Quinn. ANYONE to back up his story. Instead, he just plods along like the saddest trombone in comedy of errors in which NO ONE is laughing. His ex also comes off as an unfeeling bitch, so congratulations for making me NOT root for them to be together, ever.
That’s it. That’s my rant. There’s no eloquent ending, just my slowly fizzling displeasure.