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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.

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.

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.

History Repeating: Constantine’s “Rage of Caliban”

November 29, 2014 1 comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Constantine’s in. I’m in. Are you?

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.