Constantine: A Feast of Friends


Yes, here we are again. Bumps in the road come and go, but favourite (and obsessive) shows are forever. I’ve done the first three episodes of Constantine, but I’ve fallen behind in so many things. John Constantine will not be one of them. Onwards and upwards, my friends - it’s time for three themes:

Warning! Danger, Will Robinson!
Here be SPOILERS for Constantine series 1 episode 4!




Hellblazer

We start with Gary Lester, and the purr wee lamb trying to get through US Customs (that’s doesn’t look like Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, but whatever) with a reeeeaaaally dodgy bottle from Khartoum. It takes about a minute for it all to go Pete Tong and Hellblazer fans will already recognise the storyline from, funnily enough, Hellblazer #001. And John ‘teaching’ Zed how to let go and use her psychic abilities to travel a network - like John floats the synchronicity highway? We get a mention of Newcastle early on, and the showrunners don’t gloss over the fact that Gary is still a skeevy drug addict. (Excellent casting, by the way - JonJo O’Neill is the perfect hapless shifter who just wants to do good - and if that’s by way of another fix, then all the better.) John comes over as a bit of a hardass on poor Gary - he’s judgemental of his addict ways, he refuses his help at every turn, he tells him to his face that he’s the last person he’d ever want to help him with anything. If this were the comic, it’d be because he either (1) knew he couldn’t trust Gary, or (2) wanted him as far aways as possible in a bid to keep him out of danger. From Matt Ryan’s face and body language, I’m going to go with option 1 here. It works.

Gary gives us the story of Newcastle, and inadvertently shows how everyone - the ‘crew’ they ran with back then - thought John was the dog’s bollocks and no-one could resist ‘a bit of black magic with the John Constantine’.

I like how the whole story has come out of bad luck - Gary just happens to be on the chore for a fix, so that he comes across the boy containing the demon in the first place. It’s typical Hellblazer for some poor soul to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Tropes

We get a full-on exorcism, a bug-fuelled rescue of a young lad’s soul - not by John, but by needy Gary. He’s so made up with the fact that he succeeded it’s so sad to see that the complete numptie at the airport smashed the bloody thing and let the demon out. This is what a show about demonology and dark arts should have, right? Ticks a box, and preps the audience for later episodes containing the premise.

John’s speech about Gary and himself as younger men - people who use, people who run away, people who lose their way after shit hits the fan. This sets Gary up as both the story’s everyman who couldn’t take the big time (which is fair enough, considering what that actually was back in Newcastle) and also the waster character who just wants to be redeemed by coming through for once in his life.

Zed: she wants to see the good in people, she wants Gary to turn over a new leaf and impress John, I think so Zed can show she’s right and John is wrong about people being unable to change. It’s an interesting thought from both sides - even though she appears to be hiding out with John and Chas from her ‘real life’, she still thinks the best of people until proven wrong. John is used to the shittier side of people’s natures though - he’s fully prepared for everyone to be bastard-coated bastards with bastard filling (something I have to agree with).

And Nommo is the mysterious shaman dude with all the answers. (I like this character, and the actor, Charles Parnell. It’d be nice if he were to come back at some point.)
We have Manny and his sudden appearances, to first of all check that John is still on the path to tracking down the series arc the Rising Darkness, while simultaneously giving us some insight into Zed’s abilities and where they may or may not stem from. Sowing the seeds for much later on, as it turns out.

Using

Gary: being the addict is obvious. But he’s also using people to find some way to atone for running away and hiding at Newcastle. John, the manipulator of people, using small victories to make himself feel some tiny amount of satisfaction that he’s managed to erase a little of the red in his ledger. Zed, the psychic, using her abilities to help, but also perhaps using Gary’s presence to get some answers about John’s past. Mnemoth the hunger demon is the only straightforward one here, who isn’t using someone or something else for ulterior motives. You could argue that it’s the only pure character here. Even Nommo uses psychotropics to get his answers, and in doing that perhaps cements John’s trust in him and what he can do. I’m sure Nommo would have no qualms about leaning on John for a favour in the future based on this episode.

But who is Manny using and how? During his second appearance he’s apparently not convinced that John is up to the task of what he’s planning for the demon. Funny how he’s not at all against John’s actual plan (that will be revealed in the last act). Odd that an angel would have no problem with what he knew John to be planning. It appears to be the first indication that Manny either doesn’t understand or doesn’t believe that John would actually go through with it. Of course, it’s good that Manny didn’t say anything to that effect or The Big Reveal would have been ruined.

When we do get to the last act and we see what John’s got up his sleeve, Gary is not angry. In fact he seems appreciative; is he awed by John’s offer of a point to using Gary’s life (and death) for good, or is he just glad of a way out, a way to be off the hook for Newcastle, in a way that makes him a hero?

The third time Manny appears he comes to sit with John over the agonising death that Gary is going through piece by piece. Does he want to help John, or does he want to be there at the end for poor Gary, to maybe take his soul when it’s freed? Perhaps he’s just using this opportunity to see what John is capable of, for future adventures? It certainly is ambiguous, and anyone who grew up on Farscape will see the potential for mass mood whiplash around the corner.

Obligatory quotes

Zed: People can change, you know.
John: Bollocks. We are who we are. Eventually.

John: You know what I always say, Gaz. Everyone has the capacity to change.
Gary: I’ve never heard you say that before.
John: Exactly.

Zed: Gary loved you and you betrayed him!
John: You think I wanted this? I told you: people around me die. If you can’t handle it, then go.

It was a full episode, and it was a well-planned one. This was not a procedural drama in the sense that it did not seek to solve the problem of the demon Mnemoth, but rather open up the can of worms that was Gary’s life and John’s part in it all. Gary was a very welcome addition to the mill house, and JonJo O’Neill was very well used. We got a range of pissed-off expression from John, and the oh fuck no face that is starting to become a warning that he’s about to lose patience with the turd-burp part of his universe. He also unleashes a few new epithets (and I am enjoying the Englishness of his swearing. It’s so nice to hear it being used in US telly) without being a stereotype. I liked Zed’s two cents, questioning John where other people may not have felt educated enough on the context, or perhaps intimidated by all the shit he pulls with magic (like randomly having the original Taba’at Shlomo at his disposal to carve the seal of Solomon into a handy glass bottle). When she feels she has to step in she’s not afraid to do so, and I like that about her. She also has to deal with Gary’s come-downs first-hand, and she copes pretty well for someone who’s never ‘dabbled’ with drugs. She continues to challenge and question, and that’s forcing John to evaluate things more clearly. I like it.

So, marks out of ten? I’d give this one an eight - for not shying away from doing what it had to in the end. I wish it could have gone a little further, but this is NBC not HBO (or AMC). Pity. Still, we have plenty more episodes to go. I may even do another one tonight.

Peach and lube, everyone! Peach and lube.

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