By Richard Epstein
This week, Constantine begins in a house decorated for Halloween. Does it really matter that the episode ran the day after Thanksgiving? We pan into the house and find the walls broken, the lamp covered in blood, and a woman buried under a ton of bricks, arm twitching. The ceiling is covered with blood, and a man, his face covered in blood, hovers inches from the ceiling begging for life. We see a little girl, maybe nine years old, huddling by the wall as we go into the credits. It's good to see the show changing it up a bit. Rather than a demon being freed in the opening, we see the aftermath. A nice opening sequence. I don't know if it was intentional, but it did feel like the show could be going for a fake-out, with the blood and destruction being part of a Halloween decoration, which gave the man suspended in mid-air a little extra shock value.
The police show up, and a female officer tries to console the girl. Another officer interferes, and the girl scares intently and a coffee cup starts to shake. The girl's eyes turn fill with black and the coffee cup explodes. Constantine does have some nice visuals. Rather than the girl's eyes just turning black, they take a second to show the demon taking over. Not a huge deal, but a nice little touch.
John Constantine (Matt Ryan) and Chas (Charles Halford) head to Birmingham to investigate. While John is investigating the house, Manny (Harold Perrineau) shows up, looking to draw up battle plans. Wow, is the show actually going to move the rising darkness plot forward in this episode? Unfortunately, no. Manny basically says that he is there to help, but not directly and that is pretty much the end of it. John does a spell and sees the little girl being possessed by the spirit of a child. Then he tells us exactly what happened, because this show can't resist spelling everything out for the viewer. This is now the sixth episode. Anyone who is watching this show expects there to be a demon involved. We then saw the demon enter the girl. Why exactly do the writers feel the need to take the time for John to tell us that a demon possessed the girl?
We go to another house, and a boy, Henry, is screaming in the night because he sees somebody in his room. The parents check but there is nobody there. For now. The mother is consoling, while the dad wishes the boy would toughen up. The spirit enters the house, and finds Henry. Something tells me that the dad is about to wish he was a little more understanding.
John meets with a woman who gives him the file on the girl that survived the attack. It turns that out there has been a string of similar attacks throughout the southeast going back 35 years, including three in the past month. Kinda makes you wonder why Liv's map didn't point John in the right direction a little sooner.
John goes to see the survivor of the first attack at a mental institution, only the man is catatonic. Except for his index finger moving. Did we just get our first glimpse of the bad guy in this episode?
We switch back to the possessed boy to see him terrorizing his father. He's shut off the lights and is makes some noise so that his father think someone else is in the house. He puts a bunch of light bulbs behind his father, then appears in front of him. The father steps back, onto the now-broken glass and the boy says that he thought he heard a noise, but he's going back to bed now. It was actually a bit freaky how the boy appeared, my wife actually jumped when it happened. There is a little more actual horror in this episode than we have seen in the past, and it works.
Back at the cabin, and John maps out the previous victims along a mystical way-line and figures out where the next victim will be. Chas unknowingly picks up a sword of night, which forces the holder to speak the truth. Awkwardness ensues.
Henry carves two pumpkins into oblivion. His mother is less than thrilled that he was playing with the knife and demands that he gives it to her. He does, although it did seem for a moment that he would carve her up as well. Instead, he takes out his frustration on a poor crow, causing it to fly into the glass door as the mother is about to enter the house.
John and Chas figure out who the newly possessed boy is and begin to follow him around in order to prevent an attack. John sees a boy picking on Henry at school and tries to alert the teacher, but for some reason the teacher doesn't listen to the strange man in a trench coat lurking around an elementary school. Henry ends up using the merry-go-round to put the kid in the hospital.
Henry's mother is chewing him out at home when John comes to the house, pretending to be a school counselor. He puts mandrake root into Henry's face and Henry reacts rather strongly. John tries to convince the parents that their kid is possessed, but that doesn't really work. In fact, the dad punches John out then calls the cops.
Manny appears in prison, offering John guidance. He lists times in John's childhood when he needed help and tells him that to help a child he needs to remember what it was like to be a child.
Henry hears his parents arguing, and promptly explodes everything in his bedroom. Maybe now the parents will believe. At least the mother seems to, as she shows up at the jail to talk to John. They talk, and John offers to help.
The mother shoots her son up with something, and he freaks out and his eyes go black before he passes out. She meets John and Chas at the home of the first attack. His plan is to summon the spirit to the house and trap it there. It doesn't work. The mother asks for an exorcism, only John is reluctant, given his less than stellar track record with exorcisms and little children. He reluctantly agrees, and they go to the house. The father is reluctant, until Henry freaks out and psychicly throws a table at him. Henry flees, and John chases after him into a haunted house at the Halloween carnival.
John finds Henry, who has a fire axe. That's when he figures out who the spirit is. Henry throws John around but John doesn't stop talking about how everyone has pain, but not everyone goes out and kills people. He refuses to pity the spirit, and ultimately succeeds in freeing Henry. Then we get a voice-over explaining who the spirit was. Ugh. Again with everything being spelled out. We know what happened. We just watched you fight the spirit, and call it by its name.
The show's insistence on hitting you over the head with explanations about everything is probably the show's biggest flaw right now. This was a good episode, with some scare value and the typical great acting. But it still isn't a great episode, mostly because it feels dumbed down. If you want to be an intelligent show, then you need to rely on the intelligence of your viewer. Constantine refuses to do that. In making sure that we understand everything that happens immediately, the show leaves us without much to ponder over after it's done. Worse, it constantly pulls us out of the story with these unnecessary voice overs.
The other problem, is that there is supposed to be a unifying central plot to these episodes, but it doesn't go anywhere. The words "rising darkness" must have been uttered eight times in the episode, but we didn't learn anything about what that means or what is causing it. And with the order being cut for the first season, I don't know if this ever will be resolved.
And then there is the other mystery, Zed (Angélica Celaya) who was unseen in this episode. Supposedly she was at an art class. You kind of have to wonder just how important she is if she can disappear for an episode without any repercussions to John.
I do want to be clear that this was an enjoyable episode. There were several good visuals, some genuinely startling moments, and Matt Ryan continues to nail the character every week. It just continues to leave me wanting more. This episode in particular could have been really good if they had just laid off the silly narration telling us everything that we are seeing on screen and stop referring to the rising darkness unless they are ready to do something with it. I really hope that the show gets renewed for season 2, because I feel like these are things that can be corrected pretty easily.
I was listening to the X-Files Files podcast with Kumail Nanjani recently, and he commented about how X-Files didn't really find itself until season 2. It was then that it began to get a balance between the monster of the week episodes and the central mythology. A lot of people feel the same way about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I hope Constantine gets that same chance. Right now it is a good show, but it has all the elements of a great one.
Rich Epstein writes for Bleeding Cool. He can be found on twitter at @kaspe_r11.