You can always tell when a TV series is getting confident: they add a cliffhanger. After seven episodes (and just in time for its mid-season break), Constantine is getting confident.
The clues arrive almost immediately, as we’re introduced to Anne-Marie Flynn. Sister Anne-Marie, that is. The nun finds a baby stolen from a couple on holy premises and the mother brutally murdered. If alarm bells are ringing, that’s not because it requires great power for a demon to walk onto sacred ground without breaking a sweat, but because of the name “Anne-Marie” – someone torn straight from Hellblazer’s pages.
One of the old Newcastle crew, she’s not a hugely prominent part of the graphic novel’s history, but the city is: it’s where the gang got involved with Astra, the girl Constantine lost before the start of our first episode. Now in the second half of Season 1, NBC’s series looks set to steamroll right into Tyne and Wear for its climax, completing the story and delivering a big chunk of back-story straight from the underworld. A TV series directly adapting a comic book arc for the screen? It’s another sign of just how ambitious Constantine is – and how faithful the show is trying to be to its source material. And with this marking the third excellent episode in a row, it’s more than making good on its promise.
Faith remains a big deal in this franchise – not, this time, faith in religion or powers, but faith in other people. The last time we met someone from the Newcastle gang, it was Gary in Episode 4 – Constantine’s first fantastic episode – and we all know how that ended: with John tricking his friend into sacrificing himself to bump off a bad guy. With old mate Anne-Marie on the scene, then, trust levels are even lower.
Matt Ryan is clearly having a hell of a time showing off John’s flaws, from his cocky arrogance to his womanising habits. He’s only been in the Abbey for a few minutes before Anne-Marie castigates him for starting on one of the nuns. “What, Sister Flirty?” he retorts.
Claire Van Der Boom is equally fantastic as his former flame, gradually revealing the nature of their past relationship. While she has reacted in exactly the opposite way to John to the events of Newcastle – shunning the sinful occult altogether rather than dive, blond hair first, into it – she soon raises the suggestion that he is not the only one with a grey area where their moral compass should be.
The weekly evils stem from a delightfully absurd premise to do with Eve (yes, that Eve) – incorporating everything from grave robbing to placentas and trashy lightning forking the sky. But before you can chant “Icon of Pazuzu”, the story stirs up hints of what exactly the series’ much-touted Rising Darkness is.
Combined with the Newcastle teases, it’s perfectly paced to whet the appetite for the second half of the season. While ancient demons from Noah’s days are fun, though – not to mention their freakily realised bodies and faces – the real thrill comes from seeing how much we’re on the same page as our original exorcist. Even a subplot involving Zed (two words: Resurrection Crusade) stems from the books, giving Angélica Celaya a chance to kick butt but also handing her a meaty mystery that leans away from cheesy chase sequences and towards disturbing secrets.
We’re on the same page as John in more ways than one, though. Where he is traditionally the one who takes other off the decent path (and, more specifically, endangers their souls) Episode 8 reveals that he’s not always the one leading the way. Conversations between Anne-Marie and John are full of unsubtle dialogue – it’s not that he doesn’t care, but that he cares too much! – but the potential discovery that she may have been the one who got him into the occult in the first place (as opposed to the other way around) gives John’s conflicted guy just enough sympathy to put us in his position. And, as John’s age-old conviction that any price is worth paying for an innocent life springs back onto our screens, The Saint of Last Resort reveals that, for once, he doesn’t have a trick up his sleeve to get out of it.
Our magician is the king of final, desperate attempts to survive – but there’s a reason why he doesn’t play the saint more often. The prospect of waiting to see what happens next is heart-stopping.
You can watch Constantine online in the UK within 24 hours of its US broadcast on Amazon Prime Instant Video, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription – or, if you want free next day UK delivery, as part of a £79 annual Amazon Prime membership, with the first 30 days free.