[Review] - Constantine, Season 1 Episode 5, "Danse Vaudou"

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Television
As a personal aside, life might be swings and roundabouts, but that doesn't mean the roundabouts suck any less.

Yesterday, NBC announced that they would not be extending Constantine past their initial 13 episode order, though retaining the right to renewal the show for a second season if they so decide. The internet promptly declared this the deathblow to the series which, as is no surprise on NBC, is struggling in the ratings. I choose to take a more pragmatic and optimistic approach. My personal opinion is that no season of television should be more than 13 episodes, as few writer's rooms are able to extend any plot beyond that without falling victim to bloat and padding (there are, of course, exceptions to this but they are few and far between). I look at a 13 episode order as the best possible thing for Constantine, because it'll reduce the opportunity to spin its wheels.

And, it deserves 13 episodes. The series has been getting better with each episode. We're not yet out of the initial six, the truest proving ground for any series (I also admittedly believe that any series should be given at least six episodes before judgement should be past on future viability). There was a rocky start, and some behind the scenes turmoil, but on screen things seem to have found their footing. At the very least, it has settled into a range of tone.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that knows exactly the kind of dessert that pairs right with pig's blood.

This episode played more towards the procedural end of the spectrum Constantine has established for itself, which after last week's hard horror bent, which probably for the best. Rather than continually ramp up into increasing horror trends that it wont be able to maintain, or would be unwilling to embrace (Constantine will never be Hannibal, I've accepted that now), the switching back and forth between horror and mystery is an excellent way to defuse the audience and seem like it is making progress without ever having to leave it's comfort zone.

This episode saw the gang head to Louisiana, where ghosts are murdering people. And the writers remembered that Chas is part of the cast. He still wasn't given anything to do, but he had scenes, and lines! It has been two episodes since we've seen him, and five episodes since we saw his come-back-from-the-dead shtick, so some viewers might have been forgiven for forgetting that he can do that. It is a childishly empty way to utilize the character though, being the main cast member who can consistently be put in harm's way to racket up tension, without there being any actual danger. Ultimately, that is empty. While the audience is rarely under the illusion that a main cast member will be killed, knowing that they can be is part of how drama is created. Constantine bleeding out a few episodes back felt more tense because if he goes, he's gone. If Chas goes, he just has to wait until he reboots.

The episode also introduced Jim Corrigan, which I felt was the weakest element in the episode. I won't spoil things for those unfamiliar with Corrigan's character from the comics, but Constantine's assertion that an ally within the Boys In Blue will presumably be something that comes up again this season. However, I felt that the introduction to the character was shoehorned into the episode, and with so much else happening, what should have been a focus on a presumably recurring character coming to terms with his entire world view being spun on its head amounted to a few forced scenes. And ultimately, Corrigan didn't add anything to the episode. Remove Corrigan from the story, and everything happens exactly the same way. His police connections provided Constantine with special access or information. For most of the episode, he tagged along with Zed, provided a few oblique references to her mysterious past (because everyone on this show has a mysterious past). If Corrigan is meant to play a larger role, a stronger introduction really should have been attempted.

Of course, weak introduction and strong second showings seems to be the working principle for this series. Everyone gets the lackluster episode one, and improves upon themselves in their follow through. This week was Papa Midnight's time to be impressive after the weak soup that was his first interaction with our ghostbusters. While I liked the characterization in his first appearance, the urban magician gang leader, this episode went full on with this voodoo styling. It also humanized Papa, showing him to be a flawed and vulnerable human being rather than a straight up villain, which is a complex characterization and thus shouldn't have been expected in an episode written by David S. Goyer. Here, he was shown to be not morally different than Constantine. He was using magic to bilk the desperate out of their money, while hiding behind altruism, and suffered genuine remorse when everything went bad. It also served to highlight that, in the fight against the supernatural, there ultimately are no friends or enemies on Earth, just various degrees of willing allies.

The series hasn't grown beyond being an obvious Supernatural/Grimm pastiche, which is likely what NBC directed them to make. The show has the ability to be more than that, but will likely never do so. As it stands, the writers have managed to find that happy medium that allows them to exist within confined parameters, while also doing the best they can to make it as interesting as they are capable. It is, however, without flavour. The episodes are getting better, and the character are becoming more interesting, but there is nothing to set the series apart. When an episode is done, it never lingers in the viewer's mind. Because we are surrounded with marvelous television that spoils us with it's depth and quality, we struggle to find purpose with rice cake offers like this network fair. If NBC wants better ratings, if they want more positive word of mouth, then direct your producers and writers to make series of substance. Constantine can be meaningful and entertaining at the same time. right now, it's just a bit of fun on Friday nights, and that is no longer enough.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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