I’m not a comic book fan and I’ve never read DC Comics’ Hellblazer. I did however watch the Constantine movie with Keanu Reeves when it was released back in 2005, but I’m not approaching the new NBC series with any preconceived ideas on what to expect. In other words, I’m completely open-minded about this particular series and I’m not expecting/demanding to see anything in particular in the show.
With those cards laid on the table, I can say that the series premiere of Constantine which aired on Friday, October 24, 2014 following the fourth season premiere of Grimm has me interested in finding out more of what this character’s all about. It’s not so much the story that’s prompted me to DVR the series as it is the show’s star, Matt Ryan. One episode in and I’m rooting for Ryan as Constantine to succeed.
A Detailed Recap of “Non Est Asylum”
When we meet John Constantine, he’s residing at the Ravenscar Psychiatric Facility where he receives shock therapy along with sessions with a psychiatrist and group therapy, but it’s all for naught. Demons exist and no psychiatrist is going to be able to make him stop seeing one in particular when he closes his eyes. He’s an exorcist, demonologist, and master of the dark arts, although that latter part is something he needs to correct. “I should really change that to petty dabbler. I hate to put on airs,” says John to his shrink while they’re discussing the existence of demons.
Constantine gives up on treatment after following a trail of cockroaches out of group therapy to a young woman possessed by an entity who he commands to leave her body. The message she painted while possessed was meant for him and is the name of a woman who’s going to be in need of his help.
Parking lots can be scary places at night and no one knows that better than Liv, who hears/sees things creeping around behind her car before a huge fire pit opens up where previously there was just asphalt. Constantine pulls up in a cab in the knick of time, and Liv whips out pepper spray but points it the wrong way. He corrects her and offers help, giving her his card. Again, the Master of the Dark Arts title is thrown in his face but he handles it good-naturedly before Liv takes off thinking he’s crazy. After she’s gone, Constantine climbs down to the bottom of the pit and an angel named Manny (seriously, Manny? That’s not very angelic sounding) appears. John was asked to protect Liv by a dead friend and now Manny is watching over John. Manny (played by Lost‘s Harold Perrineau) and John exchange chitchat over the state of affairs down below where, according to the angel, there’s a lot of panic going on because of what’s on the way.
John’s not really into helping the angel and/or who he represents, but he is determined to keep Liv safe. He does that by having his BFF Chas (Charles Halford) draw a symbol on her door to ward off the demon that’s after her, which unfortunately leaves the demon no option but to murder her friend who lives next door. She doesn’t stay dead long as she’s possessed quickly enough to drive the coroner’s van through the office where Liv works, crashing into the desk where Liv should have been sitting. That pretty much convinces Liv to trust John and Chas, and convinces her that there’s something otherworldly going on.
Liv has no idea why anyone would want to harm her; she’s a nobody. John explains she’s definitely not a nobody and that Jasper Winters, her dad who she believed died when she was a baby, actually died last year but not before making him promise that he’d look after her. John’s got a bag that was her father’s and it contains a pendant which when she touches it allows her to see souls trapped on earth. John can’t see them, but Liv can because her father could. Also, he was a scryer and has passed down that ability to his daughter.
Back in Chas’ taxi cab, John’s asleep and Liv asks Chas how her dad died. He says bravely and John groggily says he doesn’t care how or why, he just wants to send whatever is stalking Liv back so he can square his debt with her dad. Suddenly, the music won’t turn down and they crash into a semi-truck. Liv and Chas are trapped in the cab but John’s managed to get out. A downed electrical line is attacking Chas and Liv and John sends it away but not before it kills Chas. But, he’s not actually dead as Liv soon finds out.
Shortly thereafter, John and Liv arrive at Liv’s dead father’s house which is huge and filled with incredibly interesting artifacts and books. John discovers the demon after Liv is named Furcifer, a creature who draws strength via electricity, and John figures out a way to lure him in and send him back to hell.
Manny and John meet up again before the plan’s put in place, with Manny wanting to know who’s hunting the girl. John’s damned to hell but Manny hints there is still a way to save his soul, if he helps him out.
John then goes to visit Ritchie (Jeremy Davies, another Lost alum) to find out if he’s still trolling the internet for things that go bump in the night. Ritchie’s not at all happy to see him, but says he’s been data mining and there’s a lot of bizarre stuff out there. John wants to know if he can hack a power grid, but Ritchie’s still torn up about seeing John in his home since it’s a very real reminder of when they were together while a young girl, Astra, was dragged to hell. They were responsible and now Ritchie can’t get through a day without drugs. John threatens Ritchie with telling the cops he killed the little girl, and Ritchie wishes the demon would have taken John instead. Touché.
Meanwhile, back at the house Liv sees a man in the mirror (not Michael Jackson). John explains it’s not her dad’s ghost, but that instead she’s watching the past because time’s out of joint.
It’s time to get on with the business of sending Furcifer back to hell and John pays a security guard $500 to allow he and Liv access to the rooftop (the guard thinks it’s because they want to have sex). An extra $100 earns him the security guard’s promise to keep a light bulb by his side. If it glows, he’s told to call John immediately.
On the roof John paints a demon seal. The plan’s simple: using Liv as bait John will lure the demon into it and he’ll be able to send it back to hell. Passing the time, John tells Liv about his family. It seems John had a horrible childhood in which his dad called him “Killer” because he killed his mom in childbirth. His dad would punch his head and say, “That’s for what you did to your mom, Killer.” John reacted to this abusive relationship by teaching himself spells, rituals, and curses, just to find his mom. The trip down memory lane is interrupted when the now-possessed security guard shows up. The demon walks through the circle, John chants at him, and the demon seems to be doing it’s Wicked Witch of the West impression by melting but then stands up and looks like a demonic version of John. They have a heated exchange and then Furcifer attacks Liv. He says on earth he’s a god, as electricity crackles in the air. But Ritchie’s hacked into the power grid and shuts everything down after John fires a flare into the sky. John lights the circle on fire, and he and Liv watch the demon John – along with Astra who’s now shown up and is by his side – prepare to burn up. Furcifer tells John that if he releases him, the little girl’s soul will be free. But, it’s a trick. Liv sees the little girl isn’t actually Astra so John sends the demon back to hell, burning up in the circle in a whirlwind of fire.
On the ride home, Liv asks Ritchie about Astra. He says a demon possessed her and John conjured up a more powerful demon to drive the lesser demon away, but that demon wasn’t controllable and now Astra’s soul is damned to hell.
The Bottom Line:
The pilot introduced us to Liv who, without knowing the character’s backstory from the comics, seemed like a pretty interesting character. However, viewers can forget all about her as actress Lucy Griffiths won’t be back. The decision was made to focus the story elsewhere and while the pilot set Liv up as a character we want to get to know better, the powers-that-be opted to look elsewhere for Constantine’s supporting players. The Liv character’s gone and in her place will be Mary “Zed” Martin (Angelica Celaya), who, according to those who know about these things, is Constantine’s female companion in the comics. Why did the pilot spent so much time setting up Liv when it would have been best to concentrate on really letting the audience know who Constantine is? Because it was shot before the decision was made to alter the future of the series. Still, it’s a bit confusing for audiences to spend so much time with a character who’s made to seem integral to the plot only to have her vanish after the first episode. A rewritten ending to the pilot episode explained that she’s left town, but with so much of the episode dedicated to setting her up as a key player, the ending felt disjointed and out of place.
Ryan’s a solid choice to tackle the title role, showing in the first episode he can handle the dark humor and the action, and he seems comfortable reciting spells. Ryan’s ruggedly handsome and he’s got a charming con man’s smile. He’s also charismatic enough that he plowed through the rough spots in the first episode, of which there were quite a few, fairly easily. Granted, John Constantine’s backstory is important for viewers to understand, but this episode spent a lot of time with supporting characters telling John facts he should have already known, dialogue that served no purpose other than to feed out facts about the main character.
Still, even with its rough start, Constantine could end up being a quirky cross between Supernatural and Grimm if the writing sharpens up. It’s certainly got the right actor leading the way.
-By Rebecca Murray
-By Rebecca Murray
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