[Review] - Constantine, Season 1 Episodes 2 And 3, "The Darkness Beneath" And "The Devil's Vinyl"

Courtesy of Warner Bros Television
So, three episodes and one "creative redirection" in, and can we determine what kind of series Constantine is going to be. Honestly, it seems like an inconsistent one. Within these two episodes at the very least, there is a sharp dichotomy of quality at work, that I chalk entirely up to the persons responsible for the script. But before we get to that, let's settle a moment on the idea of the "creative redirection" that saw the empathetic Lucy removed from the long term, and replaced by the psychic Zed (Angélica Celaya).

It would seem that the crux of this redirection began and ended with these actresses, because the fabric of the series remained unfreyed. Perhaps there was a long term plan that Goyer and co. had in place that had to be dramatically altered, but we'll hopefully never see the vestiges of that. All we do know is that they swapped out their leading lady and little else.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers which did good earlier.

Let's talk about a few elements that entered play in these two episodes, and first among them is the title sequence. I struggle to call it that, as it's really just an extended title card. That it is extended is what is puzzling. The name of the series appears, followed by a few extra seconds of demons writhing in misery, only to cut back to the title and disappear at exactly the moment you feel it's going to become a Game of Thrones style cast list, whilst we tour the depths of Hell. My immediate feeling was that it was a pointless extension, and that feeling did not relent in episode three. If it went full length, or cut straight after Constantine's name appears wreathed in flame, it would work. But the lingering extra seconds play like an actor who has delivered his final line, then pauses awkwardly before he makes his exit.

Next is the character Chas, whom in my review of the pilot I suggested had lost all purpose in his adaptation. As it turns out, three episodes in and the writers haven't found a use for the character beyond being an exposition machine, a character to include at the start of each episode so that Constantine isn't having to rely on contrived coincidence to get his missions, or have to talk to himself. Now that Zed is part of the team, and Constantine seems to be doing considerable explaining to her anyway, and Chas has pointedly avoided field work in two sequential episodes I now wonder what point of the character is at all. Is it to avoid clunky narration? Because every episode already ends with a bit of that. Three episodes in and they haven't explained the purpose of one of only four cast members; that's not a good sign.

A good addition to the series is Rockne S. O'Bannon, creator of Farscape, as a consulting producer and writer. Episode 2 was all him, and the stark contrast between episodes two and three was worrisome. O'Bannon's episode was all about tone and character, and set up both quickly and with apparent ease. His episode, concerning a malevolent spirit killing folks in a small mining town, was big on horror, and effective network horror. It built things up, adding elements and misdirection so that the audience never learned anything ahead or behind the characters. It was a low rent mystery to be sure, but for NBC, it was better than you'd expect (outside of Hannibal). The final chilling scene, where the slurry-formed spirits of miners lost, rose up to claim another victim was properly frightening, thanks in no small part to some excellent and original direction from Steven Shill.

Episode three, on the other hand, despite featuring a guest spot from Justified's Joelle Carter, was bland. It was Goyer at work, and laying more of the quite obvious and forced layers to his creation. It introduced Papa Midnight, gang leader and voodoo priest, and not at all a friend offering a hand in need. It also brought back Manny the Angel, to stop in and be willfully obtuse. The episode itself, from a plot perspective, was utterly forgettable. A cursed record and a deal with the devil were involved, but frankly after the credits rolled very little about the episode stuck with me. The only scene with any tension was when Constantine, bleeding out in some dingy and abandoned part of Chicago, tries to talk a homeless ma into untying him. The acting hasn't gotten better in three episodes, but the dialogue in episode two was at least workable. Episode three was clunky and hamfisted.

The series has potential, episode two proved that well enough. If it applied a little more subtly to its intentions and relied more on the horror elements to build the world, it might have a chance. If it focused on the characters, and informed us of their motivations rather than just having them work from bland tropes and having to rely on contravenes, then they might be more engaging to watch.
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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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