11 “A Whole World Out There” (Constantine season 1) [SPOILERS]

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I genuinely expected the preface for my review of the latest episode of Constantine to be a eulogy. But somehow, despite being on life-support, against all the odds, the patient is still alive. Indeed, there’s a petition which has been started to try and persuade NBC to relent and give the show the second series that it, on balance, (probably) deserves.

I’ve signed, of course. I’d sign purely to keep Matt Ryan in a job (in this job), as the most authentic Constantine I’ve ever seen.

At time of press said petition had 16,597, so still a fair way short of the 100,000 target. But fan campaigning saved Farscape, bringing it back for the triumphantly brilliant Peacekeeper Wars. Then Firefly fans jumped on the bandwagon and got Serenity made. And both of those shows had already been sent to the great studio in the sky.

So can fan activism save Constantine from the axe in the first place? I have to believe so…

This week is one of those episodes where everyone pisses off and leaves John to his own devices. Apparently paranormal consultancy comes with full holiday and benefits. John is settling down to mourn for his old friend Gary, when Manny arrives to tell him another friend is in danger. John heads to see Ritchie Simpson, his professor friend from the first episode. Some of Ritchie’s students have been playing with some powerful magic, and now a strange force is picking them off.

We seem to be back to everyday Constantine affairs. Which isn’t necessarily a negative, but the stakes feel lower and less significant than they have in some of Constantine‘s best episodes. That said, last week managed it by transforming into a personal, character-driven story.

The reason that doesn’t work as well here is that I don’t care much about Professor mullet, and I care less about the cast of a 90s teen horror movie who make up his students. And actually, that’s another thing; I genuinely had trouble remembering their names and even distinguishing between them. So it didn’t much trouble me when they started dying, and there wasn’t quite the same urgency John and Ritchie are rushing to save the cute one.

Ancient Egyptian magic by way of a magical archaeologist is an interesting furrow to plough, and the psychotic dreamworld villain was creepy enough to give some value. But again, I come back to the fact that it’s couched in teen horror film cliches.

The core of the episode is clearly the redemption of Ritchie, and it is interesting that we’re going through John’s old crew at Newcastle. We’ve seen Gary, who ended up dead, and Anne-Marie, who had run away to a nunnery. Ritchie, apparently, was the best of them — next to John. He doesn’t particularly seem it, but that’s how it goes, I guess. At the end, when John tries to persuade him not to stay in the dream world, we do get a sense of the fallout of the botched Newcastle exorcism.

All of them hid away. Anne-Marie in the convent, Ritchie at his university studies, Gary in his drugs, and John in an asylum. John’s “mission” from Manny has given him new purpose, and he imparts that to all his old friends who he encounters. It doesn’t always end well: Gary ends up dead and Anne-Marie leaves John to a demon. But Ritchie, Ritchie seems to face his fears and triumph over it.

That’s the paradox at the heart of this episode. As an individual episode, I’m afraid it struck a dead note with me. But the core of the episode, and as a puzzle piece in the overall story arc, it was a solid addition.

I don’t know what more there is to say than that; this is the series’ curse. Two steps forward, one step back. These little stumbles are frustrating, especially knowing that its renewal is largely riding on these crucial episodes. There are two episodes left, and Constantine really needs to make them solid A-grade material.

Closing thoughts:

  • “Repeat after me,” says Adam, before producing a long string of ancient Egyptian. Which they repeat perfectly. In chorus. Just no.
  • They’ve done the “Manny disappears abruptly” thing so many times, that whenever the camera leaves him I expect him to be gone.
  • So John was smoking a cigarette. That happened. I guess he isn’t completely banned from lighting up.
  • Nice imagery there, with John being pinned to the wall, crucifixion style, with nails through his palms.
  • Is there anyone else who was at Newcastle then? Or have we covered them all now?
  • And who was the creepy kid in the house? That was never actually explained…

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