This Constantine review contains spoilers.
The showrunners of Constantine couldn’t have known it when they filmed “Rage of Caliban,” but this episode marked a very important broadcast for the series. This was the first episode since NBC announced that the show would cease production and be limited to thirteen episodes. Ratings have been low during the initial broadcast, but the series shows promise in later viewings via DVR and streaming so the remaining episodes will tell the tale whether we will be treated to the adventures of Constantine, Zed, and Chas next year. I, for one, certainly hope so as I can’t just have the promise of a TV version of the Spectre and Dr. Fate not fulfilled.
So, this week, to possibly decide the future of Constantine, we have a generic but rather well executed little one-and-done dealing with the old salt of a vengeful spirit inhabiting the body of an innocent child, but with a twist. Other than just treading that familiar ground, the episode gave us a look into the psyche and motivations of one John Constantine and exposed the rumpled wizard in a way that other episodes just haven’t been able to pull off.
First off, “The Rage of Caliban” looked amazing. Probably because it was directed by the great Neil Marshall, the mad genius behind The Descent and Dog Soldiers, not to mention a few episodes of Black Sails and Game of Thrones, plus the Constantine pilot. Marshall provided the class and the atmosphere that let this episode sing despite its familiar story beats. The first time we met the possessed boy was particularly scary with the evil spirit that eventually would take hold of the doe eyed lad hiding eerily behind a sheer curtain. That’s some serious primal childhood nightmare stuff right there and Marshall nailed it.
This standalone episode dealt with Constantine and Chas dealing with the aforementioned possessed young boy. The opening of the installment was particularly effective with a young girl, possessed by the demon, slaughtering her parents. This established the demon, so when we saw a kid afraid of the monsters in his closet, we knew exactly where it was all going. All the basic elements of a good child possession story were here, the doting mother, the doubting father, and the world weary exorcist out to make things right. Except this time, our exorcist was Mr. Constantine out to save this child where he failed Astra so many years ago in Newcastle. Astra seems to be a binding plot element, Constantine’s main impetus for helping people, but episodes go by with nary a mention of the damned little girl. If the writers want to make sure the viewers know how important Astra is, they better keep her front and center, something this episode certainly does (although it helps that this was actually the second episode produced for the series, hence Zed’s absence).
So Constantine spent the episode trying to convince the parents suddenly frightened of their recently turned nasty little son that the boy hasn’t just turned into an asshole and was in fact possessed by a demon. The obstacles Constantine faced showed what a lonely road he walks as he is humanity’s protector against demons and evil spirits but everyone just looks at him as a nutter. When he tried to disguise himself as a school counselor and went to the boy’s home, he failed miserably and got knocked out by the father and locked in prison. This leads to the episode’s most effective scene, Constantine in prison being visited by his angel pal Manny. Like most of the supporting cast, Manny’s appearances are spotty at best. The angel popped up early in this week’s episode and then paid Constantine a visit while the wizard cooled his heels in prison. What followed was a look into Constantine’s heart, as Manny spelled out his mortal charge’s greatest failures and told John how badly he is needed because of the Rising Darkness. The scene in the cell was the first time the character of Manny didn’t seem tacked on or forced since the series began.
Meanwhile, the little demon child’s mom began to realize there was something wrong with Junior and sprung Constantine from the hoosegow. This set up the climax where Constantine realized that the spirit inside the boy wasn’t a demon, but the ghost of the first child to kill his parents in the town, a boy who lashed out at an abusive father. It was nice twist that saved the episode from seeming like a typical exorcism yarn as Constantine never actually got to perform an exorcism although we did see some cool spells from the wizard.
The boy was saved, the spirit went back into the comatose body of the tragic killer it once inhabited and Constantine stood victorious. There were some atmospheric scares and a nice twist on a tired subgenre. I don’t know if it will get new viewers on board to a series that desperately needs them, but it was a nice, dark distraction on this holiday weekend.
Those Magic Moments
In Constantine’s headquarters, Chas was seen wielding the Sword of Night, a mystic artifact that compels whoever wields it to tell the truth. In the comics, the Sword of Night was the weapon of Nightmaster, a hyper obscure magic based character created by writer Dennis O’Neil and artist Jerry Grandenetti in Showcase #82 (1969) Modern fans might know Nightmaster as a member of the Shadowpact. I guess this could be a tease of a television version of the Shadowpact forming at some point, but that possibility seems really remote at this point with the series barely able to juggle its three regulars. But, Nightmaster? What a deep freaking cut he is. Bravo