On the D/L – Constantine
Season 1 Episode 4 – “A Feast of Friends”
Constantine really knocks it out of the park this week with a story that is very much informed by John’s past and explores him as a character for the first time.
When Constantine’s old friend Gary (Jonjo O’Neil) shows up looking for help with a particularly nasty demon, John is forced to revisit some uncomfortable habits and memories so that he can put a stop to the demon’s rampage. As I understand it this story was adapted from Hellblazer #1 which might be an indication as to why it comes together so well. I can’t say too much about it as I haven’t actually read it.
The story is nice and simple but very engaging. It seems I got my wish that I articulated in my review of the last episode. John Constantine was very much at the heart of this story and the demonic force was almost incidental. John and Gary’s character history is established very early on and appears fully formed. There’s a sense of richness to their past and I liked that the episode wasn’t dragged down by massive amounts of exposition ensuring that the viewer new every little detail. Lots of it was left to the imagination and it made for a more dynamic relationship.
Gary is a man with lots of problems. The dramatic failure in Newcastle -described in the pilot- seems to be a cause of the lot of them. Gary turned to hardcore drugs after those events and is now trying to rebuild his life. There’s a nice piece of foreshadowing to this particular character trait when we first see him as he is literally carrying a demon in a bottle. I found this to be a really clever physical representation of his internal struggles and the idea that he believes that beating this demon will help him with his personal demons is very much at the heart of the story.
John is pretty unsympathetic towards his old friend, telling Zed that he’s a perfect example of a wasted life and that people can’t change themselves no matter how much they think they want to. It’s pretty intense and pessimistic stuff but it really fits in with John’s character and the way he sees the world so it absolutely works. Zed is a fantastic counterpoint to this attitude with her more compassionate and optimistic viewpoint. All she sees is a man in pain who needs to be helped and her nature allows her to believe that such a man can be helped. It’s a great contrast that gives the characters defined roles in the show.
I was genuinely surprised by how dark a turn this episode took. A scene that seemed like standard fluff where Constantine comes round to the fact that Gary is worth saving and suddenly realises that people can change turns out to be a more sinister plan of manipulating his friend into self sacrifice. It nicely reinforces the idea that John Constantine does whatever needs to be done in order to make sure that most people survive. Even more surprising is that the episode doesn’t pass this action off as right or wrong and allows the audience to make up their own mind about what he does. The moment where John reveals his plan is nicely handled by Matt Ryan who wears a face full of regret and sadness but remains determined in doing what he thinks is right. It was a wonderfully subtle performance and worked really well.
It’s great that the show gave us a less than optimistic ending and showed the audience the real consequences of what John Constantine does on a daily basis. Using an old friend to exemplify this gave the story some really well defined emotional stakes and actually illustrated the often referenced warning that Constantine issues. People tend to wind up dead around him and it’s something that he has accepted as an inevitability. The use of Manny worked in this regard too, his arrival was well timed and drove home that Constantine wasn’t backing down in his difficult decision.
The demonic force in this episode wasn’t featured a lot but what we did see was impressive. It plays on one of the most basic fears that many people have by using bugs and doesn’t shy away from lots of visuals depicting them doing the things that people hate about them. Possession causing the victim to have to constantly eat gets to be pretty grotesque after a while. It feels like a formidable threat but doesn’t overpower the story so it’s a nice fit.
Zed’s role in the episode is something of a subdued one but she is used very well. Her psychic abilities allow them to do some really unique things with the character. In this case she suffers from the withdrawal of drug addiction without any of the highs prior to that point. She is seen to be struggling with it when she is afflicted and it gives her a renewed perspective on what Gary is feeling. Where Constantine is subdued and clinical she is vibrant and emotional which gives us some great outsider perspective on Gary’s situation. The scene where she confronts John about sacrificing his friend is a perfect example of this but I feel that she backed down far too quickly. Maybe the argument isn’t over yet and it’ll be brought back up soon.
A fantastic episode that acts as an intriguing character study for John Constantine and explores the true consequences of the life he leads. The demon story was in the background with the central story surrounding John and his friendship with the wayward Gary. As a relationship it feels dynamic and real with lots of their past left to the imagination rather than being spelled out.
Zed acts as the emotional counterpoint to John in almost every way. He is very set in his ways and has a defined way of seeing the world where she’s optimistic and compassionate. She brings things to the table that Constantine can’t which makes her a pretty indispensable asset to him and this show.
A dark ending to the story really outlines the stakes inherent in Constantine’s way of life and bring some truth to the claims that he continually makes surrounding the risks people take on by being near him. If we have more episodes like this then we will be onto a winner.