Constantine – Full Series
It’s taken me a while to get around to this so I’m not exactly sure how relevant people will find this on the whole but my style is to cap off the season in some way so I’ll give this a shot.
As before I’m not quite sure how to approach this so I’m trying different ways to put across the information. Any feedback anyone has will be most welcomed.
Constantine is a show that had it rough pretty much from day 1. A pilot was made where John Constantine meets a woman named Liv (Lucy Griffiths) who gets her introduction into the world of the supernatural and struggles to keep up with the insane pace of it all. Basically this gave the audience the standard fresh perspective angle so that they can learn the rules of the world of Constantine through the eyes of her character. Think Fry in Futurama for a clear example of somewhere else this has gone on.
At some point between the pilot being made and the series starting production properly Lucy Griffiths left the series for reasons that aren’t really clear so right away the work that was done establishing her character became something that would make little difference as the series progressed.
Her departure from the series lead to the casting of Angélica Celaya as Zed Martin, a character from the Hellblazer comics who has psychic abilities. She takes Liv’s place as the one new to this world and offers John Constantine access to an ability that will be of use to him on his missions.
After this it was decided to cut the season order from 16 down to 13 so straight away 3 episodes of potential development were lost forever. It was recently announced that the cast and crew of Constantine have all been released from their contracts so these 13 episodes is all we’ll ever get it seems. There’s some talk of having John appear in Arrow next season but I won’t hold my breath.
Despite all of the issues plaguing the start of this series I thought that they did a really good job with this show. The shining beacon at the center of it all was Matt Ryan’s portrayal of John Constantine. He was the perfect choice to play this character and really feels like he has just jumped off the page and come completely to life.
Matt Ryan plays him with lots of outward arrogance and a playful nature but hides a darkness beneath that occasionally comes to the surface. In the comics John Constantine was famous for his quick wit and self deprecating humour and this version had all of that in spades. Even in the episodes that weren’t quite as strong Matt Ryan always managed to elevate the material.
It was a clever touch to have this series start in the midst of John Constantine’s career rather than have the audience sit through another origin story. It made him something of a knowledgeable constant who brings other people into this dark and fantastical world. He knows his way around very well but others don’t and there’s a real sense that he has been doing this a long time. As a result he has a lot of baggage that partially defines his character. One event that is continually brought up is the events in Newcastle. It marks the major regrettable mistake in John’s life and it led to a young girl being damned to hell.
This guilt weighs heavily on him as it appears to be the catalyst for the constantly referenced “Rising Darkness”. John is at least partly responsible for it so he has to stop it. It’s established that his soul is also damned so his plan is to take down as many supernatural creatures as possible before this debt is collected. I also liked that the series managed to hint at him smoking throughout while rarely actually showing it. It’s a tough one to have a character famous for chain smoking not being allowed to smoke due to network limitations.
The character of Zed was something of a mixed bag but that comes from a lack of time developing her. One major contributor to this was the problems the series had in general and the fact that she was a late addition to the canvas of the show. I liked Angélica Celaya in the role and Zed was a good character when she appeared. She had a good dynamic with John Constantine and they had great on screen chemistry.
Her psychic abilities created some really powerful imagery in certain episodes and her visions were at times really impressively cryptic. For example in the episode “The Devil’s Vinyl” her vision has her standing in a field of Jasmine giving her the clue that they were looking for someone called Jasmine. This sort of thing was used a number of times and I always found it really effective.
It was a nice touch that everything she ever did comes from a place of compassion which makes sense given her pyschic abilities. She feels a close connection to the world around her and those who feature in her visions but I always got the impression that she really cares about other people. While John Constantine was rushing around trying to work the problem she always made sure that the people involved had a sympathetic ear.
The show had started to delve into Zed’s past and how that ties into the overall arc of the Rising Darkness but -as with everything on this show- the whole thing ended before it was properly explored. What we know about her past wasn’t all that interesting but with more development things might have been a bit clearer. We will likely never find out un
Angélica Celaya’s performance was slightly uneven at first but she got a lot better as time went on as she got used to her role. Her chemistry with Matt Ryan was always on point but in the early episodes she struggled to seem believable. By the end of the series this wasn’t really an issue but there was definitely a rocky start for her.
This series was light on main characters but Chas (Charles Halford) was prominent throughout. John refers to him as his oldest friend and it’s made clear early on why that is. Chas has the ability to resurrect himself no matter the circumstances of his death so there is no risk to him being around John’s colourful lifestyle.
How he came by this ability is left mysterious until the episode “Quid Pro Quo” which reveals that it was due to a spell that John cast on him while he was drunk. The spell allowed him to absorb the souls of 47 people who were killed in a fire. Chas was able to absorb these souls because he was selflessly trying to help and the terms of the spell called for a noble knight -0r the equivalent- to be worthy. This episode told a lot about Chas’ character as it shows how devoted he is to his daughter and explains that his sense of responsibility is what caused his marriage to fall apart.
The concept of having 47 lives to use is an interesting one as it informs Chas’ motivations in some interesting ways. He feels that he owes those 47 people the opportunity to make their sacrifice count so he is driven to use his ability to help others in whatever way he can. It also manifests in the way he approaches problems such as in “Danse Vaudou” where he adopts a trial and error approach when dealing with a ghost that initially gets him killed. He can afford to take risks since his ability allows him to have the chance to try again so it’s good to see that informing his methods. He doesn’t see death as a failure because he knows that he’ll always come back from it.
Sadly the show didn’t last long enough to deal with the finite nature of his resurrection ability. I think it’s around 30 lives he has left by the end of the last episode so there was still plenty to get through before he has to deal with his own mortality. I do wonder what the approach would have been once he was on his last life. Would he have welcomed death or be afraid of it? I guess we’ll never find out but it is interesting to contemplate.
Charles Halford played this role well. He exuded the right levels of mystery and confidence as well as being a match for John Constantine’s wit. He and Matt Ryan played off each other well and there seemed to be a genuine friendship in there. Chas was definitely the “serious one” but Charles Halford managed to bring a dry sense of humour to life throughout.
The last main character is the Angel Manny (Harold Perrineau). Throughout the series he served in something of an advisory capacity to John. In most episodes he would show up, say something cryptic that would spur John on in some way and then he would leave. One thing that was always done well was the mysterious nature of this character and how frustrated John was at the vague information he was being given. There aren’t many shows out there where the lead character would refer to anyone as a “celestial wank” out of pure frustration.
John and Manny’s interactions were always a joy to watch as there were shades of a deeper respect that neither of them were showing. Manny seems bound by some non interference rule which means he can only go so far when interfering in the affairs of mortals but there was always a sense that he wanted to be doing more than he was. Whether there was a higher power physically stopping him or if he just feared the consequences was never made clear but it was interesting to see him bend the rules just enough so that John would have more of an edge.
Naturally there were plenty of examples in the show of Manny breaking the rules in ways that moved the story along. The first of these was in “Blessed Are The Damned” where he was forced to involve himself in the situation once the Angel Imogen showed her true colours Manny had to intervene rather than watch John and Zed die. It was predictable but interesting all the same. It could be argued that this would be classed as an internal matter for him but still it was clear that he did something that he shouldn’t have when he got involved.
Later in “Angels and Ministers of Grace” he was forced into the body of a doctor by John so had no choice but to get involved. I found it interesting that there was no reluctance on his part beyond his initial frustration with John. I really got the impression that he enjoyed the rare opportunity to break the rules in this instance.
It was revealed at the end of the season in “Waiting for the Man” that Manny is behind the Rising Darkness for reasons that are never made clear. Considering it’s a revelation that comes at the very end of the episode it’s no surprise that it’s left completely open. I’ve been trying to figure out if this was hinted at through the series or if it came out of nowhere and as near as I can tell there are strong arguments for both.
On one hand Manny is always mysterious but he seems to have a deep respect for John when it comes to his desire to help him but beyond that we don’t really find out much else about him. He does destroy the scry map and claims that John is leaning on it too much which could suggest that he was getting close to sussing out his plan or it could simply be him working in mysterious ways.
The counter to that argument comes in “Angels and Ministers of Grace”. He reveals to Imogen that he doesn’t think that humanity deserves to rule the Earth or have free will. He seems to have a hatred for God’s apparent favourite creations and even stops just short of outright blasphemy against his creator. It’s a line he never crosses but it’s clear that he resents God most likely because he feels abandoned in favour of the weak humanity. This is probably the biggest hint that Manny might not have the noblest of intentions. I wonder if it would have been later revealed that he killed Imogen because she was about to reveal his secret. There are some theories that Manny is actually Lucifer due to his hatred of humanity and his rebellion against God which would fit in some respects but as with everything else, we will never know.
As mentioned above the overall story was that of the Rising Darkness. In the first episode John remarks that such blatant demon attacks are very uncommon and mark a real change in something. As the series begins he is in new territory and doesn’t quite know how to handle this increased threat level so there’s a nice level of mystery about the whole thing. John Constantine still has the skills to deal with whatever comes his way but he’s not prepared for the ferocity of the attacks.
The story was developed quite clumsily overall with each episode mostly following a case of the week formula where John and a companion or two would go somewhere, deal with a problem and then leave while periodically mentioning the Rising Darkness and how what they have dealt with might tie in. The series never quite got to developing the overall plan and what the endgame was beyond the Apocalypse. It was clearly going somewhere there just wasn’t enough time spent on developing it due to the series being tragically cut short.
That’s not to say there weren’t memorable villains. The best one was definitely Papa Midnite (Michael James Shaw) who showed up periodically thoughout the series to get in John’s way. There was a preexisting history between the characters that is referred to but never explicitly detailed. I always liked that aspect of this show; it’s interesting to be thrown into the world of a character who has done things before the series begins. It really adds a sense of scope and helps intensify the adversarial relationship between John Constantine and Papa Midnite.
Their relationship was always a complex one. They clearly hated each other while having respect for one another. Midnite was never too proud to admit when he had made a mistake and always did everything he could to help fix it. This leads to team ups between John and Papa Midnite where they both work towards a common goal. Midnite is very self motivated but occasionally his goals mesh with John’s so they suck up their hatred and work together. It would have been great to see this relationship maintained if the show had ran longer as it was definitely engaging at all points.
Naturally a magical world like this has to have a very defined set of rules to show what is possible and what isn’t otherwise there isn’t any tension and I think this show built the world really well. A lot of it was established through John starting to do something as he explains to Zed what it is he’s doing and what the significance of it is. It’s a little clunky but it works well enough and is certainly a lot better than having characters that should know what they’re talking about explaining things in detail. Fans of the TV show Supernatural will be familiar with how a lot of this works as the rules are very similar in many ways. Supernatural actually borrows heavily from the Hellblazer comics to establish the rules of that world so it’s no surprise that there is some overlap here. It’s not something I have an issue with at all but it’s just interesting to point out.