Constantine S01:E02 - The Darkness Beneath
Rockne S. O’Bannon
Rockne S. O'Bannon
October 31, 2014
Deep in the mountains of Western Pennsylvania, John is the small mining community's only defense against an ancient Welsh spirit. In the course of protecting these isolated innocents, John finds a vital new ally in a mysterious young woman named Zed.
In its sophomore episode, Constantine proved that its great pilot was not a fluke. While it was almost a different series entirely in its second episode, the show once again was full of well-written dialogue, a compelling story, great characters, and a level of restraint that isn’t often showed in horror television shows.
The show opens with a tense scene between a man and wife arguing about when supper will be ready. Quickly learning that when his wife says it’s not ready, it really means supper is not ready, the husband wanders off to take a shower after a long day in the coal mines. Surprisingly enough, he isn’t too thrilled when the water coming out of his faucet turns to a black sludge (it looked tragically brown at first, but that would have lead to a different show entirely), then eventually caught fire presumably killing the supperless husband instantly.
From there on out, the rest of the plot revolves around Constantine having to track down and solve a string of other similar murders happening in the town. It definitely had a completely different feel than the pilot episode – and it dragged quite a bit in the middle – but it still worked wonderfully. As you’d expect, the pilot was all about setting up the world and back story of John, and this second episode wasted no time going from that into what the rest of the show will be like, and it’s very promising. Melodrama was replaced with interesting investigation scenes, and there was a lot less of John and friends talking about terrible past events of the past.
One thing I was kind of disappointed in was the total lack of continuity between the two episodes. Other than a quick scene between Chas and John as they read the blood-filled map that Liv scribed, there was almost no connections to the previous episode. This sophomore episode was clearly more world-building and setting up for the rest of the series so it’s far too early to tell if this lack of continuity will be a permanent thing, but it’s a worry that resides in the back of my mind for now.
Early on in the episode, he also runs into the next major character in the series, Zed, who also happens to be the woman scribbling pictures of John during the last few seconds of the show’s pilot episode. The two have some great chemistry and constant one-upsmanship that really built both characters nicely. Whether they are trying out-snark each other, or trying to get information about one another, they are constantly in battle even when they are going towards a common goal and it gives the script a lot of opportunities to build both characters in interesting ways. For one, I now know that John is a master at garbage can sifting.
The episode never got completely explained how Zed’s powers work (only that they are activated when she is touching something) or why exactly they’d be useful to John, but that’s O.K. Some of the best attributes of the show have been that it knows what to show and tell you and when to do it. So far we know that Zed has some kind of vision, and that John is able to leverage that ability to solve these mysteries, which is really all we need. It’s a nice level of story-telling restraint that will allow the writing to span their character arcs over several episodes without anything every feeling forced.
Speaking of restraint, Constantine has a tremendous understanding of horror and tension when it comes to having a “boogyman” type of villain. Being that John deals with demons who should be terrifying, but the show is on basic cable, the story does a great job of hiding the demons until they actually need to be shown. There is always a lurking horror, but it is never right in your face. You never see the man in the rubber suit, as it were. This episode handled its main demon, which was essentially coal monsters coming to life and killing people, very well. Overall, the level of horror and creepiness in this episode were way less than the high-octane pilot, but I get the feeling that those real level of scares are going to be spread out over episodes, and not a constant thing. Which is a positive in my book.
One scene in particular that was very well done was in the church. John, still investigating the murders in the town, finds himself in a small church with a spooky drawing on the wall made with coal. He hears what he thinks is a ghost, but it turns out to be a couple of teenagers having hot and heavy basic cable dry humping/love making while still wearing their underwear. Once they leave, John is left to McGuyver himself up some demon visions by putting a few drops of his blood into a coffee travel mug-looking canister filled with holy water and dumping it on his head. The camera rapidly switches between first and third person and, when in the former, you see the visions of the demon inhabiting the church as John sees it. It was genuinely pretty creepy and well done. If they had just flat out showed you demon wandering the church, it would have been comical, but the show really understands imagery and horror well and it showed here.
While this episode was pretty standard “monster of the week” fair, similar to that of Supernatural or Charmed, the monster that John was chasing satisfyingly took a backseat to the characters. Other than maybe the one-dimensional priest character – who was suffering the loss of his son and leaving his church – every single character, no matter how minor, was well developed. The big final demon being killed in the end was almost comically easy, as if the show writers were pointing out that the main part of the series is not going to be the villains that Constantine has to dispatch.
Chemistry was well built between John and Zed, and John had some great character building on his own. Particularly during an early scene when he is investigating the murder during the burning shower victims funeral. For starters, John brought a frozen dinner to a potluck-style buffett at the funeral, which was delivered in a surprisingly funny way. On top of that, he blatantly ignores a “Family only, do not enter” sign – further showing the disconnect he has with the people around him and desire to just get stuff done.
Performances were all really solid as well. Matt Ryan is a fantastic TV actor and absolutely lived up to the expectations after a great pilot. His newest co-star, Angélica Celaya (Zed), was pretty good as well. Not as good as Ryan – some of her lines and mannerisms were way more awkward than they needed to be in situations – but still you can’t ask for much better in a television show.
Overally, this was a really solid episode. There was a definite lack of continuity from the pilot to this episode, but that’s to be expected to a degree so you can’t fault it too much. John and the newest character were great together, the main antagonist was satisfyingly mysterious and creepy, story was engaging, and overall I’m just excited of the direction this show is going to take as it moves forward and everyone gets more comfortable in their roles.