NBC’s new supernatural drama ‘Constantine’ got off to a shaky start with its premiere. While the second episode is nowhere near as rushed or disjointed, the show still has a lot of room for improvement.
Episode ‘The Darkness Beneath’ sends Constantine to a small Pennsylvania mining town where a drunken lout of a miner is set ablaze by flames shooting out of his shower. The locals are quick to dismiss this as a gas leak into the water supply, but given that they don’t do any fracking in the area, and that eight other miners have died under similarly strange circumstances in the past year, that explanation seems unlikely. John quickly deduces that the spirits of dead miners are responsible. Normally, ghosts like this stay belowground and only make noises to warn the living away. John suspects that someone is deliberately calling them to the surface and directing their attacks. “Nothing says payback better than death by demon,” he explains.
While in town, Constantine also runs into a girl named Zed (Angélica Celaya), who’s been having psychic visions about him and has been obsessively drawing pictures of him. John assumes that she’s a fraud at first, but soon enough she’s tagging along as his new sidekick, and gets him out of a jam when a demon tries to drown him by flooding a car. Zed does not at all look like she belongs in this town, and none of the locals ever recognize her. It was bugging me the whole episode how out of place she looks, but fortunately she eventually explains that she’s only lived there for a few months.
Constantine’s investigation leads him to a former church pastor (James LeGros) whose son died in a mining accident. He’s still very bitter and has motive to want revenge against the management of the mining operation. However, this proves to be a red herring. It turns out that the wife of the first victim is a gypsy witch. She killed her abusive husband and his friends who enabled him. During their final confrontation, John summons the spirit of her husband to grab her and drag her down to hell with him. If you think about it, that’s kind of a dark twist for our hero to punish a victim of domestic abuse that way, but the show treats it lightly and doesn’t dwell on it.
Before he leaves town with Zed in tow, Constantine seals off the entrance to the mine with dynamite to quell the other spirits.
I understand that the character of Zed is an important figure in the ‘Hellblazer’ comics. Unfortunately, Celaya is a fairly terrible actress whose dead-eyed stare is creepy and disconcerting for reasons that I doubt were intentional. As annoying as I found Liv in the pilot episode, I actually would have preferred that she stick around if this is the alternative.
Although the storyline in the episode is coherent enough, it’s too easily resolved without any real threat of danger to Constantine. The plot is also generic enough that it could have been written for ‘Supernatural’ or ‘Grimm’ or ‘Haven’ or a dozen other similar shows without too many changes. As a series, ‘Constantine’ still needs to find its own unique voice.
The network’s ads for the next episode promise the introduction of arch-nemesis character Papa Midnite. We’ll see how well that plays out.
Miscellaneous side note: The network has apparently decided that Constantine can be allowed to briefly smoke, so long as he’s only seen doing it from behind without a clear view of the cigarette.