“Congratulations. You’re part of the act now.”
Episode 5 of Constantine marks the introduction of a new character: Jim Corrigan. For DC fans, that name will already be triggering the excitement alarms, as he’s the one who will ultimately become The Spectre. Introducing the cop now, then, sets the stage for big things in the future, should NBC’s Constantine prove a success. While it’s impressive to see the ambitious writers expanding the show’s horizons, though, they forget to focus on problems closer to home.
This week sees the re-appearance of another DC staple: Papa Midnite. After his brief introduction in The Devil’s Vinyl, here he becomes something closer to the man on the page: a voodoo king with powers that can rival, or even surpass, John’s. It turns out, though, that he has something to do with a wave of malevolent spirit attacks.
Enter Jim, whose police nose picks up the murderous scent. “These walls are way too clean,” murmurs John, looking for blood in a brightly lit alleyway. “Not bad,” comments Corrigan. But Detective Jim does curiously little detecting in this episode. In fact, no one really does.
It’s partly a problem of plot: there is no surprise, given the context, that the deaths involve something otherworldly. The only person that would be surprised by this is Corrigan, but he’s far from the central figure. Instead, Chas and Zed get more screen time to carry out the enquiries into the incidents. Yet they arrive at their conclusions not by methodical puzzle-solving but through little leaps in logic – a habit that troubles the narrative all the way to its finale.
It’s also a problem of character. It’s nice to see Chas’ unnatural gift up close – the effects in the TV show remain top-notch – but he ends up coming across as blandly invincible. Zed and Constantine, meanwhile, relish the chance to spark some more sexy chemistry between them, but we’re still waiting to find out more about her. Even an intriguing hint that Corrigan might recognise Zed is unmasked in a rather disappointing reveal.
“Master of the Dark Arts,” smirks Emmett J. Scanlan with an immediately likeable skepticism, when handed Constantine’s card. “Wow.” Were the episode to unfold from Jim’s point of view, eventually encountering Constantine and co, the mystery itself might feel more compelling. Or if Constantine were absent, leaving Chas and Zed to work with the stranger to comprehend the situation. With occult investigator John already capable of jumping to conclusions on his own, though, Corrigan becomes a distraction rather than an essential part of the episode, and Constantine’s supply of magical gizmos becomes a little too convenient for moving the story along.
One person who does come out as more interesting than before is Papa Midnite. Starting in New Orleans mid-ceremony, the voodoo stereotypes might be questionable in the 21st century, but the episode comes alive when Michael James Shaw’s priest is on screen. The best moments see Papa and John bicker about the relative merits of their schools of magic. “Jackass of all trades and master of none,” Shaw spits with passion. “Like a child with your daddy’s spellbook, you steal from other people’s cultures to suit your own ends.” Matt Ryan sneers, laconically. “Whatever works, mate.”
It’s a fascinating insight into the idea that belief is as important as anything else in the Hellblazer universe – but even that is undermined by an all-too-easy solution. And so we’re left with the tantalising future promise of Jim eventually having his own spin-off show (one vision of him in green is eerily effective), but little else back in the present day to separate this from the supernatural TV pack.
Halfway through the episode, Papa and John chat in the car about why bad things keep happening. “It’s The Rising Darkness,” says Constantine matter-of-factly. Then he continues driving. Whatever works, mate.
Constantine is currently available to buy and download on Google Play.