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Old Flames and Old Monsters: Constantine’s “The Saint of Last Resorts”

December 13, 2014 Leave a comment

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.

If you missed any episodes, you can catch up on demand, on Hulu, and on the NBC site.

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

November 22, 2014 Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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