Sunday, November 2, 2014

[Constantine] "The Darkness Beneath" Review

There were only three things I thought about while watching the second installment for Constantine. First: Matt Ryan has been really entertaining to watch as he interprets John Constantine on screen. Second: the story wasn't scary but it was definitely fun in unexpected ways. And third: I wonder when John and Zed are going to have sex (because it happened with little preamble in the comics; and Zed in the show has a damnable coquettish body language that makes the attraction on her side painfully obvious to watch). On that mildly dreadful note, let's start with this review.

The episode's story will be discussed so spoilers ahead.

I suppose the case-of-the-week procedural formula would be okay for a supernatural-adventure genre that NBC's Constantine quickly sets up to define itself for this week's episode. And I didn't mind. I revealed in my pilot review that I'm a fan of the CW's Supernatural and I feel that I can associate this more with that show than the actual comic book series it was based from. The earliest Hellblazer issues have a certain eighties feel to it and it's very British which is why I think that it would be unfair to make comparisons between these two at this point in time, seeing as this adaptation does feel more Americanized more or less. The plot for this week's case was not necessarily a complex one. After Liv Aberline scryed many places across the country before she left for good, John decides to make his way on investigating some of them. He starts with a small mining town in Western Pennsylvania that suffers a series of untimely deaths perpetrated by ancient Welsh spirits called Coblynau who were supposedly harmless ghosts of miners who passed away. However, they have been summoned by dark magic to kill. The revelation of who was commanding these spirits was a surprise turn though not far-fetched. By the time I realized that Coblynau are being controlled by someone else, my money was not on the priest character who lost his faith but already on the bereaved housewife (I instantly stored that tidbit about her being of Romani descent in my memory banks and retrieved it by the time John eliminates the priest as the perp).

Like I said, it was an okay enough spook story for an episode that came out around Halloween. We don't get any pressing updates about Manny the angel and whatever evil is on the way (which I believe may be the important main arc of the series). Chas only appears in the opening scenes. We have a new lead female who will be accompanying John in the succeeding episodes. Everything is generally okay and I'm simply reserving my expectations and allowing the show to grow on me given that it's still finding its footing. I'm patient enough to see it through and I don't let my preconceived notions of how I wish the show would b get in the way of me enjoying what it's currently offering. I'm sure we'll get to the better parts soon.

Let's not rush the journey, eh?

Matt Ryan gets more material to chew on for this episode and it's nice to see him playing the sleuth role quite actively especially for someone who just got out of a mental hospital and is also still reeling from his traumatic experiences from Newcastle. Suffice to say, I thought this was a believable direction enough, considering John is just one of those men who can always push through whatever miserable thing that ails them in the present so they can function for the work ahead of them. That's basic Constantine stuff and Matt Ryan plays it with a glibness and sincerity that I think non-comic book viewers will find themselves warming up to. Now I can't say for sure at this point if he's everything I ever wanted in a John Constantine as portrayed on screen, but I certainly think he's growing on me though for a different set of reasons than his comic-book counterpart. I think he's a lot more affable and honest about his demons than his more cynical version in the comics. There were many instances in his interactions with Zed that he would always make a point to address that being around him is dangerous. He doesn't say it to simply scare away any potential companionship just to be an asshole; he seemed genuinely concerned of the other party's welfare. I couldn't really recall John doing the same in the comics; I don't think he even bothered to warn anyone who attempts to get close to him. He just kindda let it happens until it ultimately blows up in his face. John has the uncanny ability to care a lot and care too little all at once when it comes to relationships with people. It's what makes him very difficult to read and figure out.

Meanwhile, TV-Constantine is more apt to express his apprehension and distrust toward Zed, often directly if not subtly steering her away from him so she could go to the opposite direction and not get into further trouble. He would drop hints that it's in her best interest to stay away. He basically shows her what he does as a job, hoping it will discourage her to associate with him. None of it works. What I like about this characterization is that it shows a softer side to John that doesn't really come out until later on in the comics when he has experienced too much losses and fuck-ups. In a solely viewer perspective, this is a good decision because it will help me like John as the protagonist if he isn't overtly callous and dismissive especially toward someone he clearly has a special connection with. In the perspective of someone who read the source material, I'd take anything that tones down John's grimness (which I acknowledge is a contradiction to what I said so explicitly in my pilot review). I suppose I don't mind the lighter hues in John's characterization in this show so far. It makes him endearing considering that as much as he tries to keep Zed in a distance, there's also this unmistakable hopefulness on his part that she does stick around which just validates how lonely he is and in need of company.

I have nothing particularly definitive to say about Zed Martin for now nor do I have a strong opinion for or against Ang√©lica Celaya's acting chops. I thought she was moderately pleasant. I liked that sultry vibe she has going on. I didn't think she was bad for the role nor was she amazing for it yet. I want to know more of her "clairsentience" and how it works. It seems to be more potent than Liv Aberline's because Zed can channel it more fiercely and with more precision without the use of any instrument  like a magic necklace. She intrigues me in that sense.

There is obvious physical chemistry between her and Matt Ryan too which I quite liked, considering that John and Zed will eventually hook up. I'm sure that the show will find some ways to make that eventual relationship more romantically-inclined as oppose to purely visceral and sexual which was how I've always seen it in the comics. I don't think there was anything wrong about the quick way John and Zed got it on in the comics, honestly, because that does fairly happen in real life anyway. It didn't diminish Zed's importance as a character (though, personally, she got better and more interesting only after she and John were no longer a thing). But I have a strong feeling based on how much the writers talked about Zed that they want her character to have a more nuanced relationship with John which could only mean that there's going to be some unresolved sexual tension interplay for a while, as well as some old-fashioned "will they, won't they" in the mix.

Again, I'm not opposed to it if it's handled with taste, and as long as the stories/cases in the next episodes will be more interesting, and that their characters will have plenty of action to do as they go about hunting and purging evil together. I honestly want more character development from John than from Zed though as a woman I would certainly hope that a female lead like Zed will have a more pronounced presence and not just act as a sidekick to the male protagonist. I read in an interview somewhere that the writers aspire to write Zed in equal terms with John where she would challenge him in a lot of ways. If that is the case, then I hope to see that relationship unfold. As I've stated early on, I'm not going to be critical of this show for now because it's only been two episodes. I'm giving this a chance to surprise me. In the meantime, my ratings will remain unchanged like for the pilot episode because I want to set a bar and so far Constantine has yet to prove itself above it. But I'm counting on it. We should all hope for the best the next time around.


* The episode is spooky enough to sustain interest. It also introduces a promising female presence who will hopefully contribute a lot to the upcoming stories. Matt Ryan excels in the role though the characterization for the titular hero should be expected to get better in the long run.

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