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Decisions and Deceptions in Constantine’s “Blessed Are the Damned”

December 6, 2014 Leave a comment

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.

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