Second episodes are always going to be hard. It’s a well-known fact that it’s tough to counter the flash and action of the pilot, as the show attempts to settle down and establish what it’s going to be from week to week. Still, even allowing for that, Constantine‘s sophomore outing is pretty weak.
We open in Heddwich, Pennsylvania, a small mining town where a disgruntled foreman is immolated in his shower. Chas (Charles Halford) tips John off to the unnatural fiery death but bows out of going due to an outstanding warrant, so our favourite exorcist/magician hops a train and starts poking around. He’s not the only one with an interest in the occult, however, as Zed Martin (Angélica Celaya) has had visions of his arrival. Together, the artist and the self-proclaimed “dabbler in the dark arts” try and figure out why normally peaceful spirits would turn against the miners.
Constantine’s pilot was inconsistent but it was tremendous fun, a great display of light and sound that worked (a little too hard, maybe) to establish a personality for its hero for those who hadn’t read the comics. We’re barely minutes into ‘The Darkness Beneath’ before the episode starts feeling like a storyline cribbed from Supernatural (Or hey, The X-Files, if you want to go back a bit) Gruesome weird thing happens in American town, John goes (briefly) undercover to investigate, there are a couple of red herrings and a lot of one-liners, and there’s some talk of a greater dark force rising.
The burden of giving the show its own identity seems to have been given entirely to Ryan this week, who, to give him credit, is working very hard throughout, despite the fact that the accent seems somehow worse than last week (That’s not the way to Liverpool) and he’s given an unnecessary barrage of British idioms to use. There’s a drinking game to be had in the number of times he uses the words “mate,” “love,” oh, and he even refers Zed lifting “90 quid” from his wallet. In Pennsylvania. Sleepy Hollow is the other supernatural show using its fish out of water Brit for comedy effect, but they’ve managed to find a way to make Tom Mison’s Ichabod Crane’s Englishness feel a lot more natural. Hopefully this will come with time.
But enough “that’s not how we talk” nitpicking. Let’s talk about the introduction of Zed. Brought in to replace Lucy Griffiths’ Liv, Celaya’s character is clearly meant to be the opposite of that skittish, wide-eyed reluctant participant. She seeks out Constantine and essentially hounds him until he agrees not to run away from her any more. To give the show credit, at no point is she tied to a chair and in need of rescue, but her general “I’ll break into your hotel room and nick your wallet,” persistence is followed by a series of snark-before-honesty confrontations with John, which deliver the requisite “everyone who trusts me dies” lesson but are a chore to get through. The final moments hint at the possibility that she’s not as good as she claims to be, and there’s definitely potential in Ryan and Celaya’s back-and-forth, so we’re hopeful that the show finds a better way to develop her going forward.
Despite the waste of the creepy mine location, there are some nice touches. The effects are good, it’s always good to see veteran character actor James LeGros even when he’s this badly wasted (and the second Justified alum to guest star following Jeremy Davies), we loved Constantine bringing a Hearty Chicken Dinner to a wake, and the final confrontation has a dark and nasty edge that the rest of the episode was sorely lacking. Leisha Hailey (The L Word) has fun playing the revelation that the foreman’s wife was the angry demon-summoner all along, although if you didn’t pick that up early on, you weren’t paying attention.
Any guess that the Romani mention was a red herring designed to catch out those given to profiling was incorrect, as John states “There’s nothing blacker than gypsy magic.” It was never about the mine, it was about revenge, which makes it easy for Constantine to save himself by summoning the spirt of the murdered husband to drag his wife down to hell with him while she screams that she’s the victim. That felt like the Constantine we know. He’ll do the ugly thing that no one else will.
So, in general, a weak second episode that was probably compromised by trying to introduce a character as important as Zed while playing out a monster-of-the-week story. There’s still a lot of potential here, and we’re hoping that once Zed settles in and the show has the chance to find its feet, it can be something to challenge shows like Supernatural and Sleepy Hollow, rather than just reminding us of them. It’s early doors still.