Monday, December 1, 2014

[Constantine] "Rage of the Caliban" Review

This is going to sound like a cop-out but I don't think this post will be a review of last week's episode, Rage of the Caliban, at least not completely. I read online that this was originally supposed to be the second episode of the show which explains why Zed wasn't around yet since the actress for the role wasn't casted and Lucy Griffiths as Liv Aberline had just left the story so this is where this episode picks up from which would explain the slower momentum. Given the revelation about the Rising Darkness in Danse Vaudou, one would think that the sense of urgency that episode left us with will be fully realized by the next one but this wasn't the case at all. That's not to say Rage of the Caliban wasn't fun to watch; it was a fairly decent, straightforward, case-of-the-week where we get more of Chas and less of Zed (which, to no one's surprise, is already an added bonus), and some exposition regarding Manny the angel and this Big Bad he and John Constantine are supposed to be united against. The case itself was fairly interesting--the concept of  a vengeful soul having the ability to temporarily separate from a living vessel so it could go on a killing spree would have been convoluted but the performances of the actors kept whatever silliness that cit ould produce downplayed just right. I liked this episode though it wasn't as strong as the last two before it.

On the constant plus side, Matt Ryan continues to excel in the titular role, most notably because he has embodied what Constantine is about; this tormented not-so-quite-hero with a ready snark remark against dark forces, be it to either buy himself some time to come up with a  solution, or to disguise the agony and hurt of his guilt over past actions. In any case, Matt Ryan is what I wanted in a John Constantine although I have yet to see him in stories that will challenge viewers and make them question his intentions and role as the protagonist of the show which is what happened to me a lot of times while I was reading Jamie Delano's run of Hellblazer. This brings to mind the best episode of the series so far: A Feast of Friends which came from the comic book pages itself, but the message and the resolution are entirely different from the source material which was an oddity itself but something I could live with, although I definitely would have preferred they stuck to the original ending which was more memorable and poignantly tinged with moral ambiguity. The reason I mention that specific episode is because that I believe is the standard the show as a whole should aim for. Sure, A Feast of Friends changed gears, ending-wise, going for something more optimistic than that of its comic book counterpart, but the tonality and characterization that episode brought forth were exhilaratingly complex. I look forward to the next episodes operating on the same vein because Constantine can offer that kind of serving if the writers themselves would allow it.

This makes me wonder how they plan on executing the Newcastle-Astra storyline once we get down that road (in this season, I'm hoping). They've buried the lead on that one by the pilot which is a decision I was never completely onboard with only because it deliberately missed an opportunity to shock the non-comic book viewers with its revelation. Everyone knows that the little girl Astra is John's exorcism-mishap from the past and that the demon who took her to Hell was named Negral (again, the name shouldn't be revealed just yet because it's a significant turning point in the plot back in the comics! Ugh, just talking about this shit again is making me nerd-rage so I will shut up about it now).

Now, as I've said at the beginning of this post, this won't be a review solely focused on Rage of the Caliban but it will also serve as my collective thoughts in general for the first six episodes of the series so far. It was announced last week or so that the show won't be getting a full 22-episode order which is the standard format for most American network television shows. This means we are only getting 13 episodes for the first season and a lot of fans of the show weren't happy about it so the hashtag #SaveConstantine has been trending in Twitter lately. Personally, I was fine that the first season is only getting 13 episodes because, quite frankly, based on my reviews and insights concerning the execution and overall quality of its episodes so far, I don't think Constantine deserves more quantity. Perhaps a shorter scope of this season will even allow the writers to deliver something more cohesive and succinct because we're almost halfway now and the level of the stories being told are still fluctuating, mostly closer to average than superb. I only gave two episodes a solid 8-star rating out of six so it's understandable why I'm very lukewarm about this show right now, let alone concerning its future installment. But fret not, Constantine could still get a second season. I'm becoming a fan of Matt Ryan in the role so of course I want to see him more as John Constantine because he was such a perfect casting choice! Still, the show could use more inventive ways when it comes to its storytelling. Visual execution-wise, the direction and cinematography have been exciting particularly when the show lends itself to some bizarre sequences concerning the paranormal (that séance scene while John and a shaman have taken a psychedelic drug will remain a personal favorite of mine).

On that department, I think Constantine has actually been consistent. The horror elements are fundamental and the trivia-like introductions of some rituals and practices are much appreciated. Still, the show needs to really step up its game and Rage of the Caliban, considering it was initially a sophomore episode, has sort of dropped the ball on the momentum and plot development, but thankfully only slightly. Next episode should feature back Zed again, and hopefully more on the implications of the Rising Darkness and why Manny the angel wants John Constantine along for the ride in the first place, other than he was a desperation move/last resort. Also, when will we ever get an explanation as to why Chas Chandler keeps coming from the dead or recover quickly after a serious injury? Does he have Wolverine's healing ability, or is the explanation going to be magic-ky? I look forward to that as much as I want more John/Chas moments. Also, I'm still sticking to the theory that Zed is indirectly associated with the Rising Darkness, given her comic book counterpart's background.


* The show takes an unexpected step backward with this installment which was not meant to be a direct follow-up to Dance Vaudau from last week in the first place, and therefore it also sacrificed the supposedly more urgent momentum that the show must tread upon now, given that it's halfway through its season already. Still, this was a mildly entertaining case-of-the-week

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