At what point in the lifetime of a procedural should an overarching plotline begin to emerge? Because that’s what Constantine has quickly become—a largely uninspired, supernatural procedural that is saved only by the occasional cool effect or horror moment, and maybe by a funny quip from the mouth of Matt Ryan as the titular character. But even those are few and far between.
Four episodes in, and we’ve made no progress towards learning anything that’s going on in the wider world of Constantine. Episodes have gained a format similar to House M.D.—opening segment where someone we’ve never met before discovers something spooky; Constantine arrives; the hero fails his first attempt to combat the menace; further research provides a working solution; conclusion. It’s as if every episode is an entry into a Hellblazer anthology film.
This week’s plot is ripped straight from a comics story, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a promise of quality. That’s one of the odd things about Constantine; it can simultaneously be a very faithful adaptation while not making for the most compelling television, and yet it’s not the fault of the exemplary source material. Rather, the issue has quickly become how disjointed the whole thing feels when incarnated in the form of a weekly TV series.
The monster-of-the-week in “A Feast of Friends” is a “hunger demon” of African origin, which a former Constantine bandmate and current heroine junkie named Gary Lester is dumb enough to attempt to smuggle through the Atlanta airport. How he thought he was going to get a demon in a bottle through airport security when I can’t bring a non-travel toothpaste, I have no idea. Regardless, the demon is soon on the loose, possessing the bodies of bystanders, and forcing them to consume any food within sight, until it transfers to another host in an explosion of CGI insects. As in previous episodes, the FX for Constantine are actually top-notch. The show’s horror scenes have a suitably cinematic visual quality, which makes them the program’s saving grace.
The weakness of the show’s central plot, though, has only intensified. Manny the angel shows up several times here, once again, but even a character one would expect to be deus ex machina does nothing but observe, make an obtuse quip, and leave. It’s as if Harold Perrineau’s contract requires him to appear in every episode, whether or not he has anything to do. The random, faceless villains are another problem, as most have had no time to be imbued with any kind of menace or personality before being easily dispatched by Constantine. Never have I seen a show that more desperately needs a “big bad” to focus on.
Instead, we get dialogue like the following: “It may be the rising darkness, but it’s stronger than any hunger demon I ever encountered.” Let me wholeheartedly agree: I sincerely hope “the rising darkness” is involved, because that would at least imply that this show is going somewhere. Now, if you have a moment or two to spare, perhaps you could do a little bit of research into why the darkness is rising in the first place? Yes? Thanks.
The one other positive we get from “A Feast of Friends” is a greater audience understanding of the sacrifices Constantine is willing to make in his work, which is a vital aspect of his comics characterization. In short, you’d better hope you’re not an old chum of Constantine’s who shows up with a demon problem, or you’re likely to end up dead, damned, disemboweled, or otherwise disposed by the end of the hour. That’s the field John Constantine radiates: Everyone around him dies, either because of association, or because he directly sacrifices them. Once again, we wonder as viewers whether he or Zed will betray the other first, as inevitably must happen by the time this season closes.
As it currently stands, Constantine is hamstrung by its own lightweight attitude and lack of a developing plot, which clashes uncomfortably against the dark tone and imagery. The series deals with life and death every week, but none of it feels like it means anything, because none of the events have been imbued with any wider significance. It’s time to raise the stakes, start developing these characters, and give Constantine a villain worthy of the ease with which he deals with most problems.
Jim Vorel is News Editor at Paste and a long-time Hellblazer reader. He hopes they’ll eventually adapt the storyline where Constantine convinces the devil to drink some holy water.