Constantine: Season 1 Episodes 1-8 Overview
By Louis Rabinowitz.
2014 saw the trend of comic book TV shows flourish – The Flash and Gotham debuted to huge ratings, and veterans Arrow and Agents of SHIELD hit their third and second seasons respectively (and don’t look to be slowing down). However, there was one black sheep in the crowd of comic book shows – Constantine. Debuting to low ratings and so-so reviews, the adaptation of DC’s Hellblazer comics failed to gain a full season order, with production shut down at 13 episodes.
But did Constantine deserve its almost-certain cancellation? Ahead of the final batch of five episodes beginning this weekend, here is a look at how the other comic book show fared in 2014.
Constantine sports a relatively small regular cast, with only four actors making up Constantine’s regulars. First up, John Constantine himself – and despite some of the trouble the show has had developing the regular characters, Constantine has been one of the major successes of the show so far. Aided by a likeably charismatic performance by Matt Ryan, Constantine has become an interesting, relatively nuanced character with an intriguing backstory and a selfish streak that sets him apart from your standard comic book hero. There have been accusations that the character’s been toned down a little for TV, but so far Constantine has (mostly) balanced the more amoral aspects of John with the heroic tendencies required for a comic book adaptation.
The rest of the cast, however, is a little more mixed. Zed, John’s ‘companion’ of sorts (one of the show’s many passing resemblances to Doctor Who), was airlifted into the show in episode two to replace the slightly dull Liv from the pilot – and while Angelica Celeya’s character is easily more interesting than damsel in distress Liv, the show has only really just started to develop Zed’s backstory eight episodes in. There’s potential for improvement, but for now Zed feels a little like a blank slate. Compared to Chas, John’s faithful (and possibly immortal) friend, however, Zed is practically Walter White in terms of complexity. Essentially, Chas is the definition of a non-entity, floating in and out of stories with very little impact and little to no development. His Jack Harkness-esque ‘survival skills’ have barely been explored, and his family background only mentioned in passing – until Constantine works out how to integrate Chas into stories naturally, Charles Halford’s charcter remains a major weak link. Manny, the enigmatic guardian angel of John, is a tad more interesting – while Manny started off as an irritatingly vague spouter of mystical mumbo jumbo, Manny has developed into an entertaining character with actual motivations of his own (actual motivations!) – and with Manny breaking his race’s rules by killing in episode seven, the character has a neat ‘ticking time bomb’ element.
The guest characters have generally been an a more consistent and interesting bunch. Villain Papa Midnite was a fun character in his two appearances – a slightly more flamboyant character than most – and his ‘unholy alliance’ with Constantine in episode five yielded several very funny moments. Gary Lester, witness to Newcastle (see below), was a slightly more tragic figure, emotionally broken by the stress of Constantine’s botched exorcism – and Jonjo O’Neill’s performance was suitably affecting. Lester’s sacrifice was one of Constantine’s few genuinely strong emotional moments – the show hasn’t quite nailed all of the relationships between the characters yet, but Lester’s relationship with Constantine was established well enough in 45 minutes to get this viewer to actually care about his sacrifice. Fellow Newcastle witness Anne-Marie (who we’ll see more of in this week’s episode) held a more antagonistic relationship with John, but the character was just as compelling to watch – slightly livelier than the broken Lester, but still a reasonably complex character.
Constantine has adopted a fairly episodic ‘demon of the week’ format so far – but a near constant(ine) element has been mentions of ‘the rising darkness’, whereby the barriers between Hell and Earth are being broken down by mysterious forces, letting demons through. It’s not the world’s most original plot element by any means, but it’s provided a much needed ongoing mystery throughout the episodes – and while the revelation that an ancient South American cult called La Brujeria are responsible might not have had the shock factor intended, it’s a satisfying enough revelation that provides a clear antagonist for the rest of Constantine’s short life span. Sadly, the lack of a full series order means that the Brujeria plot likely won’t come to fruition – but hopefully we’ll see a few more revelations before the show concludes.
The other major recurring plot thread has been Newcastle – the major event pre-series where John accidentally damned a little girl to hell. We’ve seen a few characters from Newcastle pop up across the eight episodes (but more on them above) – and Constantine has done a fairly good job of portraying the consequences John’s mistake has had, and the impact it’s made on the characters at Newcastle. It’s unlikely that we’ll meet any more new Newcastle characters this season (though Ritchie from the pilot is set to pop up again), but the Newcastle characters we’ve seen so far like Gary Lester and Anne Marie have been some of the most interesting characters on Constantine as of yet; the shared backstory helping to make these guest characters more complex than some of Constantine’s regular characters.
Constantine hasn’t had the most consistent of runs – kicking off with a so-so pilot and an anemic second episode, the show has lurched between ‘average’ and ‘fun’, with the show never quite reaching the heights that other comic book shows like The Flash have reached. However, in this reviewer’s opinion, the show has become a great deal more consistent as of late – posting a few entertaining episodes with satisfying plot developments in a row. While there’s work to be done on making the show’s ‘demons of the week’ more exciting, Constantine appears to be greatly improving. Despite the fact that there’s only a few episodes left, the show’s seen an encouraging upward curve of quality that shows a lot of promise for the final five episodes.
Constantine has had a rocky start, with poor villains of the week and some underdeveloped characters – but with the episodes improving gradually and characters finally getting some much-needed background, there’s a real possibility the show may go from good to great in its final five episodes.
We left Constantine in 2014 with John shot in a sewer – bleeding out with a deadly ‘invunche’ on the way – and Zed kidnapped by a group of mysterious goons working for her father. Pre-publicity has spoiled a great deal of how John’s predicament is resolved (suffice to say it’ll be an… interesting episode). Zed’s cliffhanger finally promises some interesting development for her character, with a meeting with her father likely on the way…
Cult Fix’s review of The Saint of Last Resorts: Part 2 will be coming this Saturday.