This is no dabbler of dark arts. This is a highly invested man in dealing with the darkness that lurks in the world.
What They Say:
Non Est Asylum – With his soul damned to hell, demon hunter and master of the occult John Constantine decides to walk away from his figh against evil – until a friend’s daughter needs his help.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Though I had missed John Constantine’s originally debut in the comics years ago, I became familiar with him over the years from his Swamp Thing appearances and his own series under the title Hellblazer, which certainly had some of the strongest, darkest work within the Vertigo Comics universe at the time. Though he’s been adapted a bit in the years since, particularly with his New 52 incarnation in the comics that now has him interacting in the mainline comics universe proper, this series is working its own thing and I’m expecting a bit of a blending of the two. I’ve long enjoyed the character and what he represents and there’s a lot of potential with this series with what it can do, both with stories themselves and the character material itself.
The series starts us off in a “fun” way as our lead, Constantine, has put himself voluntarily into an asylum to deal with the demon that he had dealt with that involved the death of a girl. With him making it clear that he’s an exorcist and deals with the dark things of the world, he’s using the time in this place to “get away” from all that for a bit, almost to hide out in a sense. Nobody believes him about the demons and all as it’s easy to see that he’s making it into that as a coping mechanism, but Constantine kind of plays along with them a bit while also having a smart nod and wink about things when you get down to it. It’s an easy way to establish a few things about his personality, and what he’s willing to put himself through, while also establishing the kind of nonplussed way he deals with the absurd things that nobody else in the world for the most part can see.
While he’s trying to forget those things, having seen a nine year old girl dragged to the depths of hell for an eternity of suffering, that’s not going to happen since he’s one that can get drawn back into the dark world all too easily. We see that quickly as there’s a woman in the asylum that he discovers is painting in blood with cockroaches. He doesn’t want to deal with it, but he can’t walk away from such situations such as a possession and he goes at it pretty intently. While the special effects for part of it isn’t all that good, it also has an old school supernatural feeling to it that works well while still going big. All of it is done for a particular reason as those on the other side are making it clear that he either has to get involved as they’ve staked out that a woman named Liv is about to die. He can’t sit in this in between state any longer.
Liv, a young woman living in Atlanta, Georgia, is now having herself quite the time. After getting a fortune cookie with a blank fortune, her attempt to go home after work at night is leading to a lot of things going dark around her – and the earth opening up around her as well. When those from below want to come up, it’s big and not pretty. It’s also a nice bit of timing as Constantine shows up at the same time to help her. While she scuttles off, he heads into the ditch to find out what’s haunting her. That doesn’t exactly happen as instead he ends up coming across someone else, an angel that’s come to watch over Liv. There’s a fun adversarial approach to the two of them with the way Constantine wants nothing to do with those from heaven, especially since the events of the nine year old girl that caused him to have his own soul damned to hell after what happened to her.
With something stalking Liv, we see how it makes its way further into the world by taking possession of a body, after killing the host, before moving on to a bit more chaos along the way as well. Amusingly, as much as Liv tries to stay away from Constantine, he’s a presence that’s hanging around everything and she can’t help but to find out what he knows. And Constantine is the type to know a lot of things as he set things in motion to protect her whereas her friend ended up dead. Constantine is intent on protecting her since he’s a friend of her fathers, a man named Jasper Winters, who died the year prior. That’s a shock to her though since he died years ago, at least as far as she knew, and that means there’s a stronger connection between them because of it. We also get to meet one of Constantine’s associates, a man named Chas that’s a man of few words that has been helping him for some time. There’s a good bit going on with things here now that the demons below are being more open about their attempts to kill Liv and that’s making it a more intense situation for Constantine, especially since Liv doesn’t exactly stand around to see what he’ll do next.
Like a lot of pilot episodes, it’s doing what it can to cram in enough hooks for a viewer to stick with it beyond this episode and that keeps it a busy and moving episode. While trying to help Liv in order to square his own debt with her father, they end up getting attacked again and that in turn gives us a look at the events with Astra, the girl that Constantine couldn’t save before. Again, you can view it as a bit of cheesy special effects, but it also works to just feel different. The way things go in the present though end up throwing things in a bad direction as the demon haunts them again, causing their car to be totaled and Chas to be killed. That all finally puts Liv in a place to trust him for a bit, which brings them to her father’s old haunt. That’s a fascinating place with a lot of things to soak up with what’s in there, including Dr. Fate’s helm which is a great little easter egg for comics fans.
Complicated is pretty much what describes the show in a sense here as we see how Constantine pulls in some favors in order to get what he needs to draw out the demon, one they’ve discovered is part of the Inner Circle. There’s also Manny stopping by to make it clear in his own way that he wants to know what’s going on as well and is using Constantine to ferret out more information. Liv is certainly secondary during a lot of this, but we get some good stuff here as we see how Chas isn’t quite what he seems as he’s survived being killed and Jasper’s old place has a lot of fascinating little tricks and toys in there that could be a lot of fun to explore in general. We also get a little bit of exposition as well, which is no surprise, as a little of Constantine’s past is revealed regarding his birth and the kind of upbringing he had.
Bringing all the parts together for the final act, a confrontation between Constantine and the demon on the roof of a building in the city, definitely works well as it has a good feeling to it with the scale of it, the oddity of the demons themselves and the way Constantine has to work an exorcism to send it back to where it came from. There’s some nice twists to it since we get the push again about how hell is really looking to having him as one of their own. Though they find a way to go without showing a full on demon for a lot of it, it lets it feel more personal with what they want to do, getting us to ride the roller coaster that Constantine is as he deals with the powerful demon while protecting Liv.
While the last couple of minutes are reshoots that deal with evicting the Liv character from the series as she was originally intended as a lead character, our window to the world, are kind of awkward, the episode as a whole is a pretty fun one. I’m a fan of the character himself and what he represents and Matt Ryan has captured a really great version of him that I’m eager to see how he explores it in the episodes to come. The show is a great complement to Grimm and provides for the kind of late night Friday show that I want. While there’s only a few easter eggs for the comic fans here, things are going to grow and expand in some neat ways in episodes to come. The opener here establishes a lot of things and it does a good job of giving us a lead with a mission and a lot to deal with. A lot of what will make this show work is Ryan himself and he’s definitely selling it well here.