02 “The Darkness Beneath” (Constantine season 1) [SPOILERS]

constantine title

My comments on the premiere episode of the new Constantine series basically boiled down to: a great start, but a long way to go. It also needs to calm down a little if I’m going to be able to keep up for several — hopefully — seasons.

The bizarre thing is that, having set up so much in the first episode, they’ve taken an editorial change of tack and dumped a lot of the establishing material that it featured. Specifically, the female lead, Liv. Entirely. You have to feel for the actress, Lucy Griffiths, but my understanding is that they wanted to pursue a different direction, cleaving closer to the comics.

Quite why they couldn’t have made a new pilot episode, rather than tacking on a scene to the end which negated a lot of the set up, I have no idea.

So for those familiar with the source material, it might well be wise to simply treat this second episode as the real pilot.

This episode sees Constantine go to a mining town in Pennsylvania, where mining bosses are being picked off by…something. Predictably, it’s not black lung disease. John investigates the deaths, and what is behind them, and picks up Zed along the way — the woman seen drawing picture after picture of him at the end of last week’s episode, who is apparently linked to him in some way.

In its second episode, it has lessened the pace a little, as I predicted it would. Which isn’t to say that it is slow or dull, or in any way not an adventure from start to finish. If it casts off some of the exposition of the pilot, it retains the quirky sense of fun.

Again, it is in large part down to Matt Ryan’s portrayal. It goes beyond the trenchcoat and tie, but embraces the sarcastic, grumpy nature of the character. Tha irreverence seeps from Ryan’s every pore, and it what makes this a delight to watch.

Zed, as the new female lead, and is a bit up and down in her first appearance. On the one hand, Angélica Celaya’s chemistry with Matt Ryan is excellent, but then she never really moves beyond the role which Liv served in the pilot. I’m sure she’ll distinguish herself in episodes to come, but right now the main selling point as far as I’m concerned is the plotlines to come at which her character’s involvement hints.

This story provides an interesting investigation into a serious of demonic deaths, and a whodunnit in terms of conjuring the nasties. It’s also an interesting modernisation of some of the social themes — the comics date from the 1980s, and so the inclusion of a mining community being ravaged has certain parallels. Which aren’t overworked either; the story remains about the deaths.

The actual whodunnit element I figured out very early on. The combination of very odd behaviour and something which is left unexplained but will obviously be significant later on combine to make it clear, but that doesn’t really damage enjoyment of the story. There are a lot of other things going on as well.

One pleasant surprise: the special effects were pretty good. The demonic mine spirits were well designed, and didn’t have the cheap air that I might have expected. I hadn’t thought that a particularly large sum of money had been sunk into this show, so either I was wrong, or they are being creative with it. I would be happy with either, I think.

Overall, this was another very strong episode. It entertained, and had the obligatory overarching story arc hints littered throughout — something dark is coming, ooooooh, etc, etc. It suffered from many of the same problems as the last episode, though, in that it was essentially a second pilot and so it’s hard to make any real predictions as to the quality of the series-to-come as a whole (Which you probably shouldn’t be doing anyway, judging books by covers, etc -Ed). I am still impressed with the acting, the characterisation, and the writing, and throwing genuinely good production values isn’t going to hurt exactly, is it?

So I’m still watching, I’m still enjoying, and I’m still hopeful that this has every chance of turning into compulsive viewing.

Closing thoughts:

  • So Chas can’t go to Pennsylvania because of a train derailment? That sounds like a story I want to hear…
  • I rather liked the new title sequence. Short, punchy, and a little flashy. A nice new addition.
  • And there were cigarettes in this episode. He hasn’t actually smoked one on screen — nor, I suspect, will he — but as character props they are making appearances.
  • I don’t really understand the embargo on him lighting up. It’s a key point in the comics, and whilst I don’t like or agree with smoking, the fact that later on in the comics he contracts lung cancer could have been a potent in-series message.
  • From beneath you, it devours…
  • And actually, Constantine already has a similar feel to Buffy. That quirky sense of humour, with the adventure-esque narrative. And the writing sparkles like a Whedon screenplay too. Which is pretty high praise, no?

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