[Review] - Constantine, Season 1 Episodes 11 And 12, "A Whole World Out There" And "Angels And Ministers Of Grace"

Courtesy of Warner Bros Television. 
Before we begin discussing the penultimate episodes of this season, let us turn our attention to the potential of future seasons. Ever since NBC's announcement that Constantine wouldn't be getting it's back nine, fans have been waiting for the official declaration of cancellation. This was premature, as the network would never formally announce a cancellation until at least the finale had aired, for fear that even more viewers would desert a sinking ship, leaving the broadcast to air in an empty house. A new report, however, suggests that NBC has faith, as it were, and intends to move Constantine over to it's cable sister ship SyFy, where the horror and supernatural aspects of the series would be more natural, and expectations for viewership would be lower, and fall well within what Constantine has been able to produce thus far.

This is entirely a case of I'll believe it when I see it. The report falls too hard on NBC acting out of deference to the fans, which is ridiculous to the extreme. The networks, and NBC especially, aren't in the business of doing favours for the minuscule number of people who have watched the series. When Hail Mary plays like this succeed, it is almost always because the producers have made the effort. Chuck getting extra seasons because the producers convinced Subway to fit the bill, Community getting extra seasons because Sony fired whomever they thought was causing the most trouble at the time, that sort of thing. So while the idea of Constantine being a Syfy show makes a degree of sense, I feel it is far more likely that next Friday night, NBC will issue a short press release, exorcising the programme from their midst.

But we're not done just yet, and these two episodes were emblematic of the highs and lows this show has had to contend with. It's been a fun run, but it hasn't been perfect. Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that

I've been saying this since episode two, but these episodes really provided the best evidence for it, but Constantine should have been a one man show. Not that I don't like Zed and Chas. When the show focuses on them and gives them something to do, they are interesting and occasionally engaging characters. The problem is, the writers don't know what to do with them. Chas was in episode 12, initially. And I watched that whole episode, stem to stern, and paid attention to it, but can someone please explain where Chas went in the back half? He just.. left, and that was it? In Episode 11, the writers thankfully didn't even try to force Chewie and 3P0 into the plot, leaving Han to drink on his own. When they've got an episode that focuses just on the sidekick (one at a time, mind), they are fully formed and interesting as John. But if the plot isn't revolving around them at all times, the writers seem to think that it's perfectly acceptable to just let them languish, or tuck them away in the corner of the plot where the viewers will forget about them. Which is just bad writing, and bad use of resources.

Episode 11 however, was perfect proof of a formula that would have made Constantine a much more stable show. In fact, both these episodes hinged on a simple principle: John investigates a crime with the help of a friend. Remember when Jeremy Davis showed up in the pilot to do nothing and that was it? Well, he's back. And his students have found themselves trapped in an alternate dimension with Freddy Kruger's better dressed cousin. Then, in episode 12, John locks his angel buddy to the Earthly realm while they attempt to reassemble the Heart of Darkness, and wacky angel hi-jinks ensue. The strongest episodes of the season have been those where it has been John and someone else, hunting down some horrible thing, and usually with a less than happy ending. Even within the procedural framework (which Manny happily dispensed with in episode 12, burning that stupid map), John acting as the lone wolf, wading in where Angels literally fear to tread, with a reluctant accomplice, really works to the show's benefit more than the buddy cop thing they've got going on now.

It kind of boils down to the problem of Zed. She's a macguffin, a thing to move the plot along rather than being a character in her own right. Certainly, when it's her turn up at bat, the writers have done a fine job constructing a damaged and frightened woman, questioning her role and faith in turn, while facing horrible evil. But week to week, she is little more than a tool in John's bag of tricks. And the most "use" they get out of her tends to be in the first act, when she looks at the map, gets a headache, and points John in the right direction. A mystical compass or a cursed Madame Zorra's Fortune Machine would fill the exact same role.  Once they are on the adventure, more often than not, Zed either tags along and does nothing, or plays the damsel. Neither of those make for an engaging character. Neither of those serve a valid purpose, or are fair to the actress. Because they throw her a touching scene every now and then, like the one that closed episode 12, with her looking upon Manny and feeling her faith recharged (which was a genuinely touching scene), doesn't make up for all the nothing she's had to wade through to get to those moments.

Manny is another example of someone who shouldn't be on the show all the time. Episodes like 7 or 12 make use of the character. They challenge and expand them. The rest of the time, he's just there, filling the air with repetitious threats. And companionship doesn't really work for John. That isn't the point of the character. His self destructiveness and self imposed exile are what sets him apart. And that is the morass that the character would evolve out of, over the course of the series. Learning how to work with others, learning how to let others in. As it stands, his little team runs counter to the character's central thesis. One thing the show has shown well in the last few episodes is how much John is realizing how much he does need other people around, to help and to ground him. But that realization would have much more poignancy if he were alone when he realized it.

The pacing of the show is beginning to show it's flaws, and that is entirely down to the writer's expecting a 22 episode season and only getting 13. All this season, the rising dark has been name checked, and some of the players engaged, but there has been no sense of emergency or imminent threat. It has been 12 episodes of warm up, with the back half presumably meant to contain the fireworks (though, an additional 9 episodes would have featured the exact same amount of decompression and filler, thus reducing the effectiveness of the threat). As it stands, I don't know how many fireworks there will be next week. We still haven't gotten a great picture of what this Rising Darkness is, what it means when it gets here, and how exactly things will be different. Will it be Hell of Earth? Will demons abound? Or will it be one of those imperceptible incursions, where the Darkness rising is the darkness living in the hearts of all man kind? These are the sorts of things that the show should have been moving towards all season, rather than jawing on and using talking points, without dealing with specifics. I suppose we'll find out next week, and whether this has all been for naught.
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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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