[Review] - Constantine Season 1 Finale, Episode 13, "Waiting for the Man"

Courtesy of Warner Bros Television.
And now the show has endth, and what is the lesson? Well, never assume that you'll get more than you're promised seems to be the biggest take away from all this. If the strength of a series were judged solely on it's finale, than Constantine wouldn't have legs, because this wasn't a finale at all. This was just another tale for the telling. There were no trapping, no climaxes, no indication from the editorial staff that this would be anything but another step in Constantine's journey, rather than the end of it. Is that bold or naive optimism? I suppose we should be thankful that it didn't end of a cliffhanger, beyond the fact that none of the various plots introduced this season came anywhere near conclusion. In fact, even if the series had gotten a back nine pick up, at this stage, the writers were still heaping new developments onto the pile.

As an episode, it as as nondescript as you can get. It was a procedural, monster-of-the-week, whose defining attribute was that it brought back two recurring characters, and fell victim to the worst habits this season had. On the plus side, John full on smoked. As if, light the cigarette, inhaled, exhaled and continued. I've had this admittedly bizarre obsession with the character's smoking throughout the run, and exactly how much NBC's censors were letting the procedures get away with. Apparently, here at the potential end of things, they stopped giving a damn and just let him puff away. Maybe that is a metaphor for the series. More likely it was just a sign that they were tired of being clever and in perfect John Constantine fashion, said "fuck it."

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that work for me.

As an episode, this was humdrum. The satanist, wedding, bedding and murdering virgins, was likely the most unsettling and uncomfortable plot the writers managed this year, and more than once during the hour I felt like I was watching a True Detective fan fic. As a plot, it advanced nothing. It didn't even have to do with the Rising Darkness storyline. It was just a dude doing really messed up things. Any effect it might have had on the larger and continuing storyline was auxiliary, as they used this flimsy procedural to bring together a couple other flailing plot points. As a middle of a season episode, it would have been utterly forgettable, not even bad enough to rank among the season's worst (though, as we'll get to, it was a perfect episode to highlight the increasing laziness of the series). However, it isn't a middle of the season episode, It's the default finale. It will now receive undo attention, form now until whenever this short lived experiment is forgotten about. And in that case, it is a miserable, flat note on which to end.

Perhaps it's worst sin is the constant reminder that there is more to come that will likely never come. Every step the episode took, in character development, in plot development, in mythology, was designed to add more, not answer. And that made it actively less engaging, because as I was watching it, I was keenly aware that this was is. So every time something was brought up that I knew would never pay off, I retracted slightly. And so much of this episode concerned what happens next that by episode's end, I was completely emotionally removed from the series. In that regard, I suppose, it was the perfect break-up episode. Unlike other cancelled-too-soon series, I harbor no ill will, resentment or clinging desire to see the series return or resolve. I might have in past weeks, or if the series had ended with a nun shooting John and leaving him to die in a sewer. But this episode did a more than fair job of pushing me away through it's own stubborn refusal to accept it's very nature (which, I understand is a side-effect of the show being shut down prematurely and the producers having no ability to go back and make it feel more like a finale). I came out of this episode feeling completely divorced from Constantine, and ready to move on with my life.

Which is great, because our relationship was beginning to suffer. The late nights, the cancelled dates, the switching time slots without telling me. It was getting to be a bit much. But mostly, the creep was getting to it. The signs of editorial laziness. Things were getting forgotten, in the fog of disinterest, and the characters were suffering for it. Remember when Zed was an artist? When did that stop? This episode had Zed unable to activated her visions, which I had thought were forced upon her, but apparently she was able to summon whenever she wanted. Except when she had an emotional block preventing her from doing so, that only took half an episode before she was able to move past them and get back to the vision questing with one half-hearted attempt. These sorts of character developments, in the hands of a more patient writing staff and more serialized series could have resulted in a few episode's worth of really engaging, emotional storytelling. Here, they feel cheap, like buying time. And that's what they do: they are mini-arcs meant to move the characters from act three to act four. Otherwise, everything would be resolved in half an hour.

Its the old cliche of never introduce a ranting hobo in the first act if hes not going to go off in the third, but it's exactly those sorts of problems that have plagued this series for a while, were all the more obvious in this episode. If the decision had to be made to cancel or renew based on this one along, of course you'd cancel the show. It wasn't horrible, but it wasn't good. It was the sort of mediocre that frankly you'd expect from NBC, but even they said no. The horror elements were the best thing the series had going for it, and not nearly enough episodes used them to nearly enough effectiveness. Nor did it ever develop it's own mythology to the extent that it might have done over 13 episodes. Devoting some of the time they endlessly repeated the phrase Rising Darkness to building up a world we could be frightened for never seemed to enter the equation. Instead, they opted for that CW style decompression that is the bane of so many full-season shows and is more and more the strongest argument that 13 episodes should be the maximum episode count, across the board.

What did this series give us? Well, it gave us Matt Ryan as John Constantine, which as the inaugural live action version of the character (Keanu doesn't count) was pretty spectacular. I know the world of film and television doesn't work this was, but if Justice League Dark ever actually happens, they'd be wise to look to Ryan to fill the role again. Despite some unease with the character at first, he inhabited the role, and at times perfectly peeled the character off the page on put him on screen. It may seem hyperbolic, but Ryan was a perfectly cast as John as Robert Downey Jr. was as Tony Stark. The difference being, that Downey had the perfect role in a good film, while Ryan was saddled with having the perfect part in a series that did not live up to his performance. He was working with what he was given, and cannot be blamed for the larger issues of the series. He did his part, and did it well. In fact, I have trouble finding fault with the acting at all, from the principle cast. Everyone did the best that could have been expected from them, considering the material they were given, which ran the gamut from pretty good to just terrible. Take Zed, who I was far more engaged with than any of her development demanded, simply because of the way Angelica Celaya played the part. I especially liked the way she were developing her relationship with Manny.

This could have been something. No comic book franchise has yet successfully broached the veil of magic, and for DC Comics especially that is a crime, because a not insignificant part of their material is born from magic. Constantine was the first salvo in what could have been the only battle between Marvel and DC where DC has the superior weaponry. Characters like John, or Zatanna, or Deadman, or Spectre, or The Stranger, or Etrigan have the potential to introduce the audience to an entirely different kind of superhero, one that would seem ripe for the picking considering the continued cultural fascination with Harry Potter. With a motivated and engaged producer behind the series, editorial oversight to provide a clear and creative direction, and a network willing to take chances, the realm of comic book magic is a well brimming with potential. Instead, we got this, whose failure may well strangle this infant in it's cradle. Which the biggest shame of all. If the series is resurrected, I hope it comes with a creative overhaul. They've already got Rockne S O'Bannon and Mark Verheiden on staff, so it wouldn't have to be that big of an overhaul. Just putting someone in charge who is not only capable of seeing an end game, but is capable of playing towards it.

Chas meanwhile, as apparently was his lot in life, was absent.
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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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