Warning: This contains mild spoilers.
Now, where were we? A sister of Eve (yes, that Eve) kidnapped two babies from a friend of John’s old Newcastle flame, Anne Marie, for La Brujería, who are behind this Rising Darkness malarkey – which is a plot to remove the barrier between Hell and Earth and let the good times roll – and also happen to have brought back the invunche from the Bible days to help them, only for John and Anne Marie to be trapped in a sewer with one and for her to shoot him so that she could escape with the baby while he dies. Oh, and she’s now a nun.
When you read it back in one go, you realise just how insanely over-the-top Constantine’s mid-season cliffhanger was, but if Episode 8 of Season 1 showed the series’ ambitions for the first time, Episode 9 proves it can achieve them. It’s only a few seconds until John (Matt Ryan) comes up with a way out of the situation – and yes, it involves a magic trinket – but where other shows might brush that peril off with a grin, Mark Verheiden’s script takes the route we’ve come to expect from Constantine, with everything coming at a cost.
In this case, it’s allowing himself to be possessed by a demon (Pazuzu! Come on down!) to ward off the invunche. Ryan takes to the idea like a duck who has a seriously concerning love of water that makes you go crazy. Red contact lenses and manic grin at the ready, he growls, drools and attacks people like a bull in a china shop. A china shop made of blood. The creature design is fantastic all round, with the invunche’s bandaged faces and freakish fingers also wonderfully weird. But with them out of the way, we get a neat piece of character-led horror, in which Constantine becomes the bad guy.
It’s a decision that demands his friends take action, which gives the supporting cast a turn in the spotlight. “You were so desperate to save yourself from hell that you acted without considering the consequences,” lectures Manny (Harold Perrineau), whose previous claims of being unable to interfere with the story are becoming increasingly complex. Chas (Charles Halford) also gets a chance for some well-timed laughs, as well as an opportunity to get down and dirty. Zed (Angélica Celaya), meanwhile, has to evade the clutches of the weird cult headed up by her “father”, who still insist she is some form of salvation – a storyline that is dealt with in a way that feels like a cop-out, especially compared to John’s costly cliffhanger solution, but does allow her to be an active agent in the main story, while still having her own ongoing mystery.
It is Anne Marie, though, who steals the show. After betraying John at the end of Episode 1 (turning round his “Saving lives requires choices that you’re not willing to make” jab), Claire van der Boom’s reformed dark arts dabbler finds herself increasingly faced with tough choices and leaps of faith; a development that nearly contrasts with Zed’s journey and keeps you engaged in the possession storyline, even as it moves towards the all-too-familiar exorcism route.
If these buzz words are starting to ring bells, it might not surprise you to see Romeo Tirone’s name in the credits. The director also directed The Devil’s Vinyl, which Mark and David S. Goyer wrote, another story centred on the idea of possession that gave an old horror staple an enjoyably occult kick in the balls. While that was trashy fun, this is a larger playing field and Tirone nails the tale’s glib tone, showcasing Ryan’s grim sense of humour, as well as ramping up the stakes.
Is John being selfless to help save those babies, or egotistical by endangering potentially the whole world just to save his skin? “Selfish wanker,” mutters Anne Marie, single-handedly emphasising the contrast between the human world she inhabits and the dark corridors John hangs around in, and also delivering the programme’s most British bit of dialogue yet.
Could we ultimately get a flashback to the Newcastle event Anne Marie, John and Gary have gabbed so much about? It certainly looks that way, which is a promising sign for Hellblazer fans. And while it may be disappointing to not see much of the heavily-trailed opening of the gap between Hell and Earth – and a cameo from the snake (of Garden of Eden fame) is swiftly resolved – Episode 9 demonstrates that Constantine can follow-up a big cliffhanger with a satisfying pay-off, while still building up its characters and, inevitably, leaving room for an even bigger showdown further down the line. Compared to its first few weeks, Constantine really does feel like a show that has found its feet. To think there are only another four more episodes, while Gotham is already green-lit for a second run, makes you wonder what on earth has possessed people.
Constantine is currently available to buy and download on Google Play.