[Review] - Constantine, Season 1 Episode 6, "Rage of Caliban"

Courtesy of Warner Bros Television
Constantine continued it's creative upswing with an episode that wasn't very good this week. Wait... Sorry, that should have read "with an episode whose dialogue wasn't very good." Because the episode itself, structure and plotting wise, was another step forward. Unfortunately, the dialogue was clunky and exposition-heavy and generally terrible. It is odd how this series and Agents of SHIELD are least well served when their showrunners are writing specific episodes. This week was written by Daniel Cerone, and while the episode was focused on the action of the day it was a highly effective horror episode. When it startled looking at the longer game plan, or when characters had to interact with one another, that's where the troubles crept in.

My notes also tell me that Chas was in this episode. I retain no memories of this.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that often go wrong when kids are involved.

This episode kept with the pattern I saw emerging, the switch between horror-heavy episodes and lighter, more procedural fair. It also saw the return of pilot director Neil Marshall. In every way that the pilot was devoid of Marshall's unique style and creative ability, this episode made up for it. This was 42 minutes draped in atmosphere, and a lot of that was down to the way Marshall structured this episode. The camera angles, the placement of shadows, the way the episode moved, or was made absolutely still. It's no news that Marshall is one of the more capable directors working in television, and his ability to work on a budget to maximum effect has worked wonders in Game of Thrones. Here, he showcases the same dexterity when given a living room, or a hall way, or a prison cell, or something a little more extravagant like a haunted house.

Something I'm coming to appreciate with this show is the subtly it has chosen to use with the supernatural. Rather than go for broke with a twisted menagerie of CGI beasties, it has settled in shadows and smoke. It's still CG, and still conspicuous, but less so than it might be if they were rendering full forms or facial analogues. The upshot to this is that, the truly horrific stuff has to be done practically, with tricks of light and old-school horror techniques, like a child's Halloween costume collapsing, or a bloodied body suspended mid-air. Or, just a creepy looking kid; those are always freaky. It is refreshing to see a series prefer to use practical devices rather than CG, even if it is a necessity born out of a tighter budget (I'm just assuming here that NBC wasn't flooding this series with money).

And here we start to tread on some of the ongoing weaknesses with the series. Half of the season done, and the writers that have demonstrated the weakest handle on John as a character are the showrunners, which is never a good sign. Take for instance, the opening scene of this episode, with John scampering, disheveled clothes in hand, out thew window of some one-night stand. The comic character is known for a somewhat lecherous lifestyle, but thus far that has been entirely absent from the series. He's been occasionally flirty, but this has thus far all lead to nothing, which struck me as his flirtiness being just another part of his conman routine. Considering the rather uncomfortably defensive position the creators took towards eliminating the character's bisexuality, I also took this to mean that they had decided to avoid the character's sexual tendencies altogether. The show doesn't naturally present opportunities to explore them anyway. So not only did this opening scene feel meaningless, it also felt forced.

While the episode was focused on Constantine's despite attempt to save a child (his admitted weak spot) from the trauma of killing his parents, it ran smooth. That material was engaging and benefited greatly from Marshall's ability to build tension in scenes by his own visual creativity. Where the episode fell flatest was when Cerone had characters talking at each other, and Marshall had little to add. To the director's credit, he did make these clunky scenes as lively as possible. The only time the camera stood still this episode was when it was meant to, and during dialogue Marshall tried to make the episode feel like it was still moving. The best and worst example of this was yet again the scene with Manny. the exposition, the grinding over the same plot points and mysteries was as boring as it has been every tie they've hashed this material out. Marshall at least made the scene engaging, by using the camera to sell the angel movements in a far more engaging way than simply shifting the camera slightly to the left and back.

It is a really good sign that, not only is Constantine improving each week, but that I'm enjoying it more (or at least, as much) with every episode. This is the trend that is desirable with a television series, as it shows that the writers are recognizing their weaknesses, and making moves to improve upon them. Eventually, this will level out at a base line of consistency, around with there will be fluctuations, but from which the series can be at least proud to match regularly. And with network television, consistency is pretty much the best we can hope for any more.
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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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