Constantine episode 2 review: The Darkness Beneath

Constantine takes another stab at a pilot episode this week, one that introduces new Hellblazer character, Zed...

This review contains spoilers.

1.2 The Darkness Beneath

Halloween night brought us the second pilot—er, episode—of Constantine, and frankly, you probably saw scarier things if you went out partying. The plot is rudimentary, with a few unmemorable monsters and even less memorable side characters thrown in. Making more of an impact is new leading lady Zed, but whether she truly shines is yet to be seen.

Constantine divines trouble in the coal mining town of Heddwich, Pennsylvania, where miners are dying in violent accidents and strange creatures lurk in the mines making a telltale knocking sound. These are coblynau, spirits of dead miners who would normally protect the mine but are being driven to violence by some mysterious conjurer. After a brief red herring involving a lapsed priest, Constantine and his new companion Zed discover that the culprit is the wronged wife of one of the dead miners, who is (in a rather racist stereotype of Romani people) using black magic to seek revenge.

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The opening scene in the shower is really creepy, but from then on it’s all tropes and humdrum on the monster of the week front. Far more interesting is the interplay between Constantine and Zed. Zed suffers from uncontrollable visions, and for a long time now she has been seeing Constantine in her dreams. She believes their destinies are intertwined, but he pulls the old “I work alone” card. (Apparently Chas doesn’t count.) Given Constantine’s history of causing the deaths of his friends, this would have been a great time to have him torn between the need for intimacy and the fear of losing more friends. We don’t see that here, though; “I work alone because all my friends die” comes off more as an excuse to get rid of her.

It’s hard to get a read on Zed. She’s got more spark than Liv, yes, but not so much more that it justifies the risk of writing Liv out of the script after the pilot. Like Liv, Zed has powers she doesn’t understand. Like Liv, she relies on Constantine to explain things to her. She manages to be marginally helpful but nothing beyond typical sidekick status. On the whole, she’s rather needy.

Then again, it makes sense that she would feel insecure and would need guidance when encountering Constantine’s line of work directly for the first time. Maybe she’ll be more like her independent Hellblazer alter ego once she adjusts. She’s persistent, she’s willing to break rules, and she doesn’t seem to care much what people think of her. These are qualities that could give her character a lot of life in the future if they’re allow to take root.

Both Constantine and Zed have moments of brilliance. This week, Constantine’s best was the scene where he brought the frozen dinner to the funeral reception and then tried to hide it. Zed’s best was when she broke into Constantine’s suite and stood there staring and waiting for him to notice her; that face she was making, impish and guilty and unabashedly eccentric, was packed full of character. But in between we have to wade through a lot of mediocrity. I can’t decide yet whether the mediocre parts are due more to the acting or the writing, but I’m leaning toward the latter.

The introduction of Zed meant the show was on some level starting from scratch this week, so I am willing to give it some of the leniency allowed to pilot episodes. Integrating Zed was clearly the main purpose of this episode, and the weak plot may be the result of the focus on that. It’s reasonable to allow at least a few episodes for the characters to establish themselves, too. Let’s just hope viewers give Constantine time to make a case for itself.

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