As I sit here writing this review, I’m wracked with the early stages of a January cold. My heater is on full blast and I’m wrapped in a blanket, as well as jacket. But nothing has ever given me the shivers quite as well as Constantine. Okay that’s a bit of hyperbole, but you get the point. It’s just so dark and creepy and amazing. From top to bottom it’s a show that employs great use of allegory and euphemisms to tackle subject matter many other shows leave out.
“The Saint of Last Resorts” story arc is no exception. Part one asked the question, allegorically of course, “Are we willing to go as far as is needed to ensure the best for our children”. Another way of looking at it is: are willing to make the necessary sacrifices to ensure the future? As Anne Marie showed us in the last episode, sometimes those sacrifices can be extreme.
Part Two switches the allegory to one that has been attempted several times but rarely done successfully: Drugs. At the end of Part One- a great mid-season finale, by the way- our hero John Constantine was lying on the floor of a sewer, a gunshot wound in his belly and a particularly scary demon baring down on him. Any of us who have ever turned to drugs or alcohol or any other “demon” can see the relation here. John is the potential addict hitting rock bottom. The gunshot wound is symbolic of the emotional or psychological wounds many potential addicts suffer from. And the demon is the real world- something we don’t want to face. Like many addicts, John turned to a stop gap solution. He employs the demon MacGuffin Izuzu Pazuzu, the antagonistic entity of the last demon he was fighting, to take over his body and essentially out demon the demon.
It works. The MacGuffin demon takes over his body, heals his wound and scares the shit out of the demon and anybody who might have been looking on at that moment. It’s the alcohol, it’s the drugs, it’s the porn, it’s the whatever it is you turn to to make the bad things go away. And like all of those things, there is a price to pay. You can’t expect a demon to help you and not want anything in return. The demon is in John’s body now- he is actually possessed. But one of the big things, in my humble opinion, is something the angel Manny says to him moments later. John yells at the angel that God wasn’t there to help him out, to which Manny replies “You didn’t even ask.” Now, I’ll avoid the possible prickly patch that is religion there and instead use AA’s infamous “higher power”. It was easy and quick for John to invoke the demon. Yeah it made the scary thing go away, but at what cost?
Unfortunately in this series it’s never that easy. Manny has proven to be problematic from the tippy top. Would he, or “the higher power” have helped Constantine in his predicament? I don’t know. But it still brings up a very good point in a way that doesn’t come across as preachy or holier than thou. This is a credit to the writers, as those two things are often very easy to fall into. By the way, before he invokes Pazuzu, John straight up punches the other demon in the face. HE PUNCHED A DEMON IN THE FACE! Jesus H. Christ on a cracker this guy is a bad ass.
After climbing out of the sewer we get the plot of the episode. John knows he fucked up- bad. He has to get that demon out of himself but fast. John, under the employ of the demon, throws (and lets face it, probably kills) Chas. Again. That poor guy. Anyways, after a Huluplus commercial break, we find John lying in a Mexican street with the severed arm of a drug cartel member close by, the bodies of him and 4 others dead around him. Oh shit! Some scary shit just went down! And we didn’t even get to see it! We didn’t need to. One of the things that stuck out about this episode was the mixture of “The Exorcist” style of creepiness with a strict adherence to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Don’t show the violence” idea. And, cinematically, it works. We don’t see John kill those five gang members or the three that attack him later- but the implication that this wiry 5’11” Brit can take out 8 tough, ruthless gang members in the blink of an eye (and with help from said MacGuffin demon) is scary enough in and of itself.
John finds himself in a Mexican prison. Y’know, one of those kinds of prisons. Where the guards are just as unsavory as the inmates and prostitutes are allowed in regularly. John quickly sets to work, employing this episode’s version of Red Redding- “Napolean Dynamite” actor Efren Ramirez. In theory it’s simple what John needs to do- find some holy water, find a mirror and exercise himself. But if it really were that simple the episode would be over in, like, 15 minutes and we’d all be super bored. Ramirez’ Julio betrays John to members of the gang his previous 5 victims had belonged to. Que the arrival of the MacGuffin demon who quickly and brutally takes care of that problem.
Meanwhile, Zed has broken free of her captors from the last installment (convenient, right?) and has made her way down to Mexico at the behest of Chas to help out John. Together the two of them convince catholic nun Anne Marie to help them exercise his demon. If this isn’t the satanic version of an intervention, I don’t know what is. Anne Marie is a bit reluctant because it felt like her role was only for one episode. I MEAN…she felt like she needed to rid herself of John after shooting him in the freakin’ stomach. Geez. Women, huh?
So they hatch a plan- break into jail, get John and do the exorcism themselves. Anne Marie waltz past the guards. I mean, she’s a nun- what’re the gonna do, say no? Zed, played by the versatile and ridiculously sexy Angelica Celayan, poses as a prostitute on her way for a conjugal visit. Chas? Well Chas just punches a guard in the face, gets himself killed and wakes up in the morgue. As gorgeous as Zed is, I really preferred Chas’ approach. Direct, no bulshit. I like that.
The there’s this entirely unnecessary subplot revolving around the British consulate and the snake demon guy from The Garden of Eden. Really that whole part felt forced and unnecessary. I mean, even when the snake demon guy confronted the group, Anne Marie just punched his heart with a spear and he was gone. That guy literally accomplished nothing. It was sad that they chose to use The Tempter- the snake from The Garden of Eden- as this episodes baddie. It really felt like an idea that could’ve been better developed over a few episodes. But, thankfully, the part wasn’t that big or important.
After a failed first exorcism inside the prison, the group realizes they need to get John back to his shack of spells to weaken the demon. The only problem? It’s a 24 hour drive and John is hanging by a thread, barely able to contain the demon as it is. So the groups solution? Shoot him up with a stupidly deadly dose of heroin (thanks to Pedro. Pedro will protect you), smuggle him out of prison and do the exorcism with home field advantage. I want to take a moment to applaud the writers and producers for having brass balls. In the course of this one episode, we have a main character posing as a prostitute, the main character shooting heroin and, as they sneak out of the prison, a naked nun. It’s nothing HBO hasn’t show a hundred times, but for network television this is ballsey.
Back at the shack, we get a clear homage to “The Exorcist”. I mean all they were missing was the group shouting “The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you!”. The mood lighting is great thanks to Chas having to break a few glow sticks, but the entire moment feels a little bit underpowered. I get that you can’t outdo the original, but instead of having John/Demon John revealing stuff we basically already knew about the other characters, they missed a golden opportunity to further a few seasonal subplots. Did Izuzu know anything about the coming darkness? How did Chas get is powers over death? WHO THE HELL IS ZED AND WHO’S HER FATHER? I feel like we need Arnold in there playing “Who is your daddy and what does he do?” with this woman!
All in all, the episode was solidly good, if a bit underpowered at times. But anything it lacked in plot elements or the occasional wooden acting (I’m looking at you, demon snake dude) it more than made up for with its allegories. John hitting rock bottom and turning to a “demon” for help. His friends wanting to get that “demon” out of him in a sort of intervention. Without actually saying it, the writers of this episode even show how “demons”- drugs, alcohol- hurt those around us. Though it was hinted at in the last episode, in part two we really feel like Anne Marie was his first enabler, who feels guilty for ever having introduced him to the world of dark arts. There’s the mention of the Newcastle incident, where John lost the soul of a little girl trying to fight a demon. All of these things can be drawn as direct parallels to the journey of an addict. And, the thing is, it’s done so beautifully that we can nitpick the one instance of wooden acting or the parts where it was underwhelming. That’s what you get with Constantine- a truly beautifully made show. To me it’s everything that is right with science fiction and fantasy stories- it’s not the demons or the magic or the heaven and hell aspect. It’s what those things represent.
Even though the episode had several speaking parts, it was- in truth- a great ensemble performance by Matt Ryan, Claire Van Der Bloom, Angelica Celayan and Charles Halford that truly made this episode hit hom.
Matt Ryan is to John Constantine what Michael Keaton was to Batman. He is the definitive article, the one who no one will ever be better than.
The producers do a torturously good job of leaving everybody except John’s past open ended.
John Constantine is a bad ass. It is officially official.
Though under-utilized in this episode, Harold Perrineau’s intensity in the role of Manny is palpable.
The allegories of drugs and addiction in this episode are first rate, truly.
Wooden performances by the Snake Demon Dude and Pedro were a bit distracting.
Zed getting out of her predicament so early seemed like a missed opportunity.
At times it felt a little bit underpowered. I’m not talking a lawn-mower driving a semi underpowered. No, it was more like taking the engine from a Volkwagen Jetta and putting in a Lotus. Yeah, I mean, sure it can get the job done. But it’s not the same.
Holy Jesus, I have such a celebrity crush on Angelica Celaya. She is HAAAAAWT!
I wanna use Chas’ beard to scratch this itch. It’s between my upper and lower back and I just can’t do it. I’ve tried a back scratcher and all that, but I just thing his scruffiness would do the trick. No homo.
WHO THE HELL IS ZED AND WHO’S HER FATHER!!!!!
Okay, I’ve said this before, but the previews for “Blackhat” look just awful. I mean, he’s Thor! Hackers don’t look like Thor!