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Constantine, Free Will, and Betrayal: Waiting for the Man

February 14, 2015 Leave a comment

Last night’s episode of Constantine (Waiting for the Man) was a masterclass in subtle misdirection, playing heavily on the idea that the monster you can’t see is far worse than the one you can. The characters, each in their own way, grappled with the idea of destiny and fate – none more so than John, who claims that he only plays when he knows he can win. Which we all know is a lie, because he’s going to play no matter what. Why? Because all it takes for evil to triumph is a good man who does nothing – and John may not be a perfect man, but he’s a good one. Good does not equal pristine. Savvy?

The main storyline is this: Jim Corrigan has called Zed and John in. A girl, Vesta, has gone missing in Louisiana. Three creepy-as-hell young girls convinced her to go home with them. You see, they’re all married to the Man. And he’d like another bride. Nothing I say can do the goosebump-inducing trio justice. Suffice to say, they are delightfully alarming – and so is the Man, for that matter. It’s old school horror at its best, and a large chunk of the episode revolves around trying to track down Vesta.

Of course, that’s not the only problem. Far from it. Gary Lester reappears…in the body of a corpse, hilariously springing up to warn John: there’s a price on his head. It was a charming touch to have Jonjo O’Neill back, even for a brief glimmer. But this means that Papa Midnite has gone a bit darkside, because he spends most of the episode trying to kill Constantine in one way or another (voodoo zombie! Shotgun!).

In the light of the morning, the Man’s brides are still creepy, voices soft and haunting, when they happen on Vesta exploring their house the next day. The Man, as it turns out, is a Satanist, and there are questionable symbols painted on the wall and a lot of flypaper hanging from the ceiling. Of course, the Man missed his wedding night, because he had to commit a pesky murder, complete with branding and a whole lot of blood. The Creeper Girls assure Vesta that everything’s okay – their otherworldly presence is the stuff of nightmares, because there’s nothing overtly alarming about them. They simply talk to Vesta, and she’s calm again.

Meanwhile, John and Zed spoke to Vesta’s mother. Zed’s visions are somewhat out of commission. This episode saw a lot of angst and difficult in the ever-so-lovely Zed. She saw Jim Corrigan dead, and that vision rocked her to her core and totally threw her off her game. It also helped to raise the question of fate vs. free will. How much does anyone shape her destiny? Sitting in Vesta’s room, can she really not call a vision – or she is holding back, because of what she saw about Jim? Jim, it should be noted, was flirting with her pretty hardcore throughout the episode. There’s such a softness to him, a complete kindness there. It’s nice to see, because while Constantine is all walls and sparks, Jim is open and overt. But more on that later.

Zed and John have a fight, wherein his logic boils down to: I smoke a lot, but I don’t have cancer yet. Or, more eloquently: “We can all shape our destiny, but none of us get to escape our fate. So, when my time’s up, that’s it.” That’s Constantine: giving it his all, until he can’t anymore. And when he calls Zed on her hesitancy and weirdness, she confesses that she saw Jim dead.

Wandering into the kitchen, Zed ends up talking to Manny (Harold Perrineau is so damn amazing) in the form of Vesta’s mother. There’s an interesting spark between Zed and Manny, almost flirtatious. She confides in him about Jim, about wanting to warn him but not knowing if it will do any good. There’s an earnest vulnerability in Zed. And Manny does something very interesting. He brings up the notion of free will. “I envy you. Truly. You know, it’s not all harps and halos for us. We have rules to follow. But you…you have choices. You can act on your visions if you choose to. Now, that’s a gift.” This show has always had an undercurrent of the importance of choice and action. From John persuading Gary Lester to give up his life to Anne Marie shooting Constantine to save a baby. Free will is a magnificent force, not one to be discounted. (This will come up again, at the close of the episode. Hold tight.)

In an effort to find Vesta, Constantine nearly kills himself using everyday items. That’s a nice touch of the show, employing common things in spellcraft. Of course, since John almost electrocutes himself in the process, it also illuminates his core personality: reckless, but determined to get the job down. Constantly, he puts another person’s safety above his own. Zed lays into him about this, but even as his eyes are bleeding, he shrugs off her concern.

Meanwhile, the Creeper Girls are preparing Vesta (love the symbolism of her name) for her wedding to the Man. She commits a faux pas, mentioning the awful smell in the house, but the girls just say she won’t even notice it once she’s married. Totally nothing to be alarmed about, right?

On their way to the creepiest funhouse in history (an actual place, guys! Basically, the stuff of nightmares), Jim softly, but firmly, confronts Zed about her sudden bout of weirdness. The chemistry between these two is half-spark, half-grief; Zed is all hemming and hawing and angst. And Jim just wants to know why she won’t even look him in the eye. I have to say, the sweetness coming through in that scene was absolutely beautiful. So much concern in a single look. Mad love to Emmett J Scanlan for the delicate brilliance in that scene – and to Angélica Celaya, whose cagey, anxious fear was utterly perfect.

After John fights off Papa Midnite’s voodoo zombie, he tells Zed to cut the crap – he needs her help, and she’s got to deliver a vision. This is another moment of choice, an exercise in free will – and she helps, although not without trepidation. This leads her to discovering the Man’s latest victim, who gives them an address. In the car on the way, Jim asks Zed if her visions always come true. Curiously, it is John who answers, saying that they’re always up to interpretation. This underscores the idea that things aren’t predestined, only roughly outlined. That things don’t fall like dominoes.

An insanely creepy crow – bewitched by Papa Midnite – sets the scene in the murder house, where they find the Man’s victim, strung up like a barbed wire Jesus. Constantine sends Jim and Zed out of the house and readies himself to confront the bounty hunter on his tail. Which turns out to be Papa Midnite. You see, the Brujeria offered Midnite what he wants most in the world: to save his sister’s soul. A fight ensues, and through a brilliant sleight of hand, Constantine comes out on top. He steals Midnite’s phone and car – and meets Zed and Jim at the house of a man who murdered his wife six years ago for being “impure.”

The Man, apparently, is saying his prayers to Satan, while Vesta is wearing a wedding dress from the 1970s, possibly regretting ALL OF HER LIFE CHOICES. He turns to her and instructs, “Time for the devil’s benediction. Kneel down,” and she ends up fleeing, but not before knocking over a candle and lighting things on fire. What is creepiest about the Man is his lack of anger. He’s utterly calm. There’s no rage, no fury. His calm is chilling, even as he chases after Vesta, who finally had the good sense to RUN, looking for help. Of course, she runs into a creepy…fairground. Between that and the blood moon, this episode has an almost Twilight Zone feel to it.

John uncovers the source of the smell, by the way. The Creeper Girls? Actually dead. They’re all lying in the bed, seriously and most truly dead — so not even close to mostly dead. Jim, Zed, and John search the house and then fan out, looking for Vesta. Hilariously, Constantine insists on going first, quipping that his (gun) is bigger. Totally chuckled at that line, which was apparently an ad lib from Matt Ryan. Bloody brilliant if I do say so.

The Man recaptures Vesta, except he’s got Constantine and Jim to contend with. Only, the fiercest one in that moment is Zed, who goes all badass and hits the Man with a shovel. Repeatedly. Possibly due in part to whatever she’s been through in HER past, but it is always nice to see her kick ass. In fact, Jim had to take the shovel away from her. Zed leads Vesta away, while Jim and Constantine have a pointed conversation about what might happen if the Man were to…run away. A moment of choice, certainly, because if he runs…it would be understandable if the Man were shot – instead of going to jail and being arrested. This is vigilant justice at its best. There’s a moment where Jim wrestles with the possibility before him, and the way Scanlan delivers the single word (“Run”) with such quiet fierceness…it sent shivers down my spine. Between fate and free will, there’s a moment of choice. And he made it. All we hear is a single, loud gun shot. And then John releases the spirits of the poor Creeper Girls, while Hozier’s amazing “Work Song” plays.

Cut to a bar, where Zed and Jim are having a drink. (I’d need about eight after that kind of day.) There were some major sparks between the two, and Zed finally comes clean about her vision. There’s this moment of honesty and vulnerability here that was beautifully arresting – the kind of pain that comes with knowledge, both having and sharing it. Because who wants to know what their fate will be, and what kind of hardship comes with that? It raises the issue of destiny – can we change what’s been seen? Perhaps we change our fate simply by knowing it. Jim takes a searing carpe diem stance, responding to Zed’s earnest doe eyes – resulting in a kiss. And not gonna lie, I kind of ship them a bit. But poor old Johnny boy happened to see them, and while nobody said a word, the tension was palpable. Almost defiantly, he lit up yet another cigarette – harkening back to that moment in the middle of the episode where Zed lectured him on the dangers of smoking.

Alone, John walks into an alleyway, out of the rain. A gorgeous shot, except I burst out laughing when he unzipped to pee. Of course, Manny shows up and John lets out a perfectly written quip. Constantine mentions that Manny had spent time with Zed, and this line had a wonderful dual meaning: “You know, I feel betrayed – I didn’t realize we were seeing other people now.” Jealousy, pure and simple. That’s not really just about Manny talking to Zed – it’s also about Zed and Jim. Constantine may have walked out into the night alone, but that doesn’t mean he wandered off unscathed. Manny assures him that the can win the war they set out to wage, that John should trust him. Constantine’s response is so on point: “Of course we can. You know me. I don’t play if I can’t win.” Are we supposed to believe that the mark of Newcastle just vanished from John’s heart? No. But it is, quite often, his bravado that saves him, his ability to leap without looking.

But her’s the major turn of the episode: Manny. He pulls Midnite out of the cop car and cancels the hit on John. Why? How? Well, it turns out that Manny is the one the Brujeria report to. Which is the exact moment my jaw hit the floor. Because…WHAT. Midnite did warn that John would be betrayed by someone close to him. And I’m completely curious and a bit on edge to see how that will all play out.

Which brings me to this: the fate of the show is up in the air. And I’d really like a second season. So, if you’re inclined, stream the show. Tweet about it. Make a little noise. After all, don’t you want to see what Chas does with the rest of his lives? Or how Zed gets those white streaks in her hair? It has been an absolute pleasure watching and tweeting with the entire cast and crew – I’ve never encountered such a great lot, from the brilliant production design by Dave Blass to the producers/writers, Cam Welsh and Christine Boylan. Sure, I’ve got a girl crush on Angélica, and I find Charles Halford totally adorable. The guest stars have been wonderful, including Jonjo O’Neill and Emmett Scanlan. And yes, of course, there’s Matt Ryan, who’s brought Constantine to life with such depth of emotion, broiling under such a thick bravado. He gives a truly great performance as a man with nothing and everything to lose.

So, maybe give Constantine a call, won’t you? If you find yourself in need of an exorcist, demonologist, or master of the dark arts – sorry, dabbler – he does so hate to put on airs.

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.