Constantine: The Darkness Beneath review

Constantine gets a new companion with the introduction of Zed. Here's Marc's review...

This Constantine review contains spoilers. 

Well, I guess this is going to turn into a supernatural procedural. OK, that could work, I suppose.

First, the good. As an old time Vertigo nut, I find it rather surreal that I’m watching a faithful adaptation (well, as faithful as a show not produced by Bryan Fuller can be on network television) of Hellblazer on Halloween. For the most part, NBC has not tried to put a gloss on John Constantine or his world. It’s a dark, gritty, working class horror that matches the general tone of the classic version of the character. Matt Ryan plays the character with such flair it’s almost eerie.

Last week, we were introduced to Liv, a character that seemingly was supposed to be part of the story engine of the show. There was a sort of Doctor/Companion vibe between Liv and Constantine, which did give the whole thing a sort of been there done that feel. This week, we meet Zed, who is much more worldly when it comes to the realm of the supernatural. She isn’t a wide-eyed innocent that exists so Constantine can explain stuff to the audience through her.

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Zed has the power of prophetic visions and is able to help Constantine solve supernatural problems by stepping into the spirit world, something this episode did to nice effect. The only issue with Zed so far is, she is kind of super model-y, she does not match that slice of life feel the rest of the show has. Angélica Celaya plays Zed well, with a confidence and a quiet sensuality that underplays the actress’s statuesque good looks, but part of the horror of Constantine’s world is the averageness of it all, a motif that is hard to hit with a character that looks like she stepped out of a soap opera. But I’ll give Celaya the benefit of the doubt because she totally sold Zed’s confidence and toughness and she has chemistry with Ryan, and hopefully the series will focus on Zed’s more story driven attributes rather than exploit her looks.

So as for the story itself, the episode sort of served as a second pilot, solidifying Constantine’s abilities and purpose while establishing his partnership with Zed. It was a total standalone and, while not being actively bad, a bit throwaway. In fact, nothing in the pilot had any impact on the second episode. Chas was written out early, there was no mention of the little girl John sent to Hell, nary a mention of Liv, and no visit from John’s angel pal, Manny. Other than John himself and his mission, it seemed like a whole new show.

We did get a peek at Liv’s map which will provide the weekly cases for John and Zed but that was really the only connection to last week’s installment. This week, John was sent to a Philadelphia mining town where a demonic presence dwells in the mine. The resolution of the case was obvious from the first commercial break but the episode did a good job with the claustrophobic atmosphere needed to totally sell a haunted mine mystery. The murder that kicked off the story was horrific and appreciated on Halloween and the demons of the mines were sufficiently creepy.

The whole thing did bring up an issue that many fans have had with the series since details of the show became clear early this year, though. The show really needs to be set in Europe. A haunted mine with an ancient restless spirit inside kind of only works when the country of origin is, you know, old. There was a bit of a Lovecraftian vibe to the small town nightmare scenario, but Constantine is best when he is gallivanting around ancient lands ripe with druidic potential, not rural Philadelphia.

But there we were in the not close to ancient confines of the American East Coast with Constantine and Zed facing down some admittedly creepy spirits, Our favorite exorcist and his new pal won the day, saw the real bad guys get punished (bad capitalists!), solved the murder (it wasn’t the capitalists nor was it surprising), and formed a reluctant bond with Zed. I guess now with take two of the female lead, we will be able to get into the meat of the show with some myth and world building coming up. At least, I hope so.

You’ve seen this episode before in many forms. The character work done with John and Zed kept “The Darkness Within” from becoming a complete paint by numbers yawnfest. I hope the series doesn’t become a case of the week type of thing because it has thirty years of comic mythology to borrow from to give it a distinct identity instead of being a more serious Grimm with a British accent. It has the actors, it has the characters, it knows how to scare, and it has the source material to be special, now that we have our leads settled, let’s hope Constantine takes the steps to get there instead of being as disposable as it was this week.

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Those Magic Moments

Zed’s gallery was like a Hellblazer museum with some of the most iconic comic covers in Constantine’s history. If the whole supernatural problem solver thing doesn’t work out for Zed, she certainly has a bright future in comics. Not everyone can draw like Tim Bradstreet AND Dave McKean.

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2.5 out of 5