05 “Danse Vaudou” (Constantine season 1) [SPOILERS]

constantine title

My reading of the Hellblazer comics is actually quite limited really. I read — and loved — the “Original Sins” collection, and have read odd other instalments. I am, though, better versed than many viewers will be in the backstory.

For many, their primer will be the Keanu Reeves film, which although I quite enjoyed it, is a poor introduction for the comics or anything really based on it. It’s not just that Reeves performance completely differs from the magician of the comics (It might be that Shia LaBeouf is in it… -Ed), but that so many things differ that it is hardly the same thing at all.

One thing, though, it did get right: the sense of heaven above, hell below, and the Earth in between. It’s a battleground, and we’re just the civilians caught in the crossfire.

This week, John Constantine and co face off against ghosts. After a woman is murdered in an alleyway by a strange woman with fabric shears, who escapes despite a cop plugging her with multiple shots, John, Zed and Chas start to investigate. The trail leads to a host of other connected deaths at the hands of other ghosts — and eventually on to a familiar adversary of John’s.

Remember my review of last week’s episode, when I pointed out that the shaman John consults about the hunger demon probably should have been Papa Midnite. Well I don’t know if powder was being kept dry, or someone high up reads my blog (Unlikely… -Ed), but he’s back here. And though I don’t know who this Michael James Shaw is, it’s like he was born to play this role.

It’s a continuation of the frankly excellent casting work which put Matt Ryan in the title role, and honestly the two of them together makes for a great double-act. Their bickering is fantastic, and trading off each other’s past darknesses works excellently.

Which isn’t to do down the contributions of either Charles Halford as Chas or Angélica Celaya as Zed. The former, in particular, gets a few choice scenes confronting the alleyway ghost. And we finally see what happens when he dies — it’s all rather Jack Harkness-esque, with the gasping back to life and the fast-forwarded. And bit by bit we are getting further into what Zed is running from.

The cop, Jim Corrigan, was a neat twist in a couple of ways. Firstly, it gives the audience another “in” on the world from an outsider’s perspective. The scepticism which is necessarily suspended once a character — here Liv, and then Zed — becomes acclimatised to the rules and the weirdness is returned in the novice. It is also a great Easter egg for the hardcore fans, in the mould of other DC series Gotham: of course, Jim Corrigan is the name of superhero The Spectre.

What of the plot, though? Well, ghosts stuck in cycles of vengeance and re-running the events of their deaths, driven by guilt, is a well-trodden path, but it works quite well here. It think I may have found the revelation of the model’s scarred face a little scarier were it not for American Horror Story: Freak Show having comprehensively outdone it so recently.

I did, though, like the idea of Papa Midnite’s powers being hijacked by “the rising darkness”. The fact that it is something afflicting people more generally than just being confined to messing up John’s life lends it some additional weight. And the closing refrain about it being heralded by someone close to him who will betray him, is positively messianic.

This was a strong episode, a little less emotional than last week’s, but still an entertaining and interesting story, well-crewed by an engaging cast of characters. Constantine is well and truly in my watching schedule. It has a sense of fun about it, it knows what we want to see, from John’s inherently fallible wise-cracking to the dancing spectacle of Papa Midnite’s voodoo rituals, this world feels alive and vibrant.

Closing thoughts:

  • How many times is John going to let Papa Midnite get the drop on him?
  • And his business cards still say “Master of the Dark Arts”.
  • I want me Papa Midnite’s suit.

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