Constantine ‘The Saint of Last Resorts’ part 1 review (spoilers)
Constantine is one of the new genre shows that have struggled to find its footing this season. Along with Gotham and Forever, Constantine has gained a forgiving and loyal fanbase willing to give the show time to resolve its issues. Perhaps the biggest issue is that following the show’s premiere, the creators decided to “re-pilot’ the series, choosing to refocus the story more on John Constantine himself, instead of the character of Liv, meant to be the “in” for an audience that isn’t familiar with the “Hellblazer” graphic novels. For the most part, the early change in direction has worked, however some vestiges of the show’s early conception still pop up in occasional episodes. Because of this, this season carries a tone that is uneven.
The best episodes this season so far focus on John’s past, his friends and acquaintances. The first episode to really do this was “The Devil’s Vinyl” which used a demonic blues recording to draw parallels to Constantine’s short-lived music career in his punk band Mucous Membrane. The scene of John avoiding the demonic broadcast by listening to The Ramones was a wonderful insight into this character’s punk rock mentality as well as his haunted past. “A Feast of Friends” is a story taken straight from the first “Hellblazer” solo arc. Telling a tale of John’s old friend and bandmate Gary Lester who has unwittingly unleashed a hunger demon onto the world. After the events of Newcastle in which a young girl was dragged into hell, Gary fell into drugs to deaden the guilt. His asking John for help to defeat the demon, and John’s eventual sacrifice of his former friend, showcases the best and most interesting parts of Constantine’s character and the series as a whole. The best of this series is about John and his demons, both real and metaphorical. This is a concept that is showcased rather well in “The Saint of Last Resorts”.
Something the series has always been consistent on throughout every episode is its opening teaser. The opening horror shows, often act as self contained short films leading into the larger narrative. The prologue for “The Saint of Last Resorts” begins at a convent in Mexico. Following the birth of their child, parents Martina and Hugo are thrilled with their new baby. Sister Anne Marie, the nun in attendance to the couple, is sent away to get Martina a glass of water. Upon hearing the scream of her charge, Sister Anne Marie returns to Martina’s room only to find her lying on the bed with her throat torn out and the baby missing. This opening is sufficiently terrifying and mysterious, reminding me of both Guillermo del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone and Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell in both style and design.
Following a brief discussion with Zed concerning her biblically-inspired artistic muse, John gets called upon by Sister Anne Marie in the form of an astral projection. She tells him that much to her dismay, she needs his help discovering the reason behind the kidnapping and murder. Unsettled by yet another person from his past calling in a favor, John tells Zed to stay put while he and Chas sort out this problem in Mexico.
It is at this point that I have to discuss the impetus for Constantine’s involvement in the supernatural escapades. The scrying map that tells the gang where to go is a contrivance held over from the pilot and is one of those vestiges I was talking about earlier. John’s character and the show’s plot work best when people come to him. The part that makes his involvement so great in this episode is the fact that he feels like he owes Anne Marie. He is put upon to solve this problem for her because they have a past. The relationship and plot threads that develop from this are organic, believable and interesting.
Despite her being a native Spanish speaker, John makes Zed stay at the “House of Mystery,” giving the excuse that she needs more rest and relaxation after being exposed to the angel in the previous episode. The reality, which Zed calls out immediately, is the fact that he doesn’t want more female company because he’s hoping for a hook up with Anne Marie. There is some truth to both of these, however the overarching vibe is that John is dealing with a situation that is very personal and is only comfortable sharing with older friends. This situation lets us explore John and the Newcastle group a bit more deeply, but also leaves Zed open for an adventure on her own, which we’ll get into in a bit.
Upon his arrival in Mexico, John is treated to the stunning realization that “Annie” Marie Flynn, his old flame and the person who introduced him to the occult, is now a nun in the Catholic church. The two have a serious conversation following their new introduction, which is one of the many great parts of this episode. The best part about this episode is its quiet, intimate character work. The monsters in this episode are great, but they’re secondary to this haunted conspiracy of people who travel in circles both mystic and mundane. Matt Ryan is an ideal John Constantine, the lines on his face show deep life experience, which he balances with a sneer of which Sid Vicious might be jealous. This is in perfect counterbalance to Claire van der Boom’s Sister Anne Marie, who is stern but also haunted by her former involvement with this dangerous man. She isn’t turned on by his charms anymore, they’ve both seen too much to fall for each other’s tricks.
As the crew tries to uncover the mystery behind the murder and child disappearance, Zed spends time exploring both the magic house, as well as chatting with Eddie, the art class model that we learned in the previous episode who has motives beyond romance. Angélica Celaya plays the part of Zed with strength and charisma. She is a joy to watch in each episode, however, I never totally buy her as the John’s protege. The scenes of her on her own aren’t perfect from a narrative perspective, but it is fun to see her and Constantine work independently. I hope the writers find more organic ways to integrate her into future episodes, but for now it works. I should also mention the scenes in which we see portions of the house’s magic are pretty great and do come back into the story later on. The composition of the Dutch angles and doorways to nowhere echo the Vertigo comics from which the characters began. As a matter of fact there were certain moments that reminded me of Sandman.
After a ritual meant to reveal the child’s abductor doesn’t work, Constantine and Sister Anne Marie go in search of something that would connect to the child’s soul to prove whether or not the child is still alive. Anne Marie suggests the child’s placenta, which was buried in the back yard due to local tradition. We get another intimate scene between John and Anne Marie, in which we learn that Newcastle isn’t the only reason that he’s lost her trust. The fact that he was chasing women the morning after they slept together put a rift between them long before the botched seance. Hearing this, John tries to apologize, but Anne Marie will have none of it, calling him out on his behavior. “It’s not just the sex or the seance, John. It’s your ego. Everyone’s just a port in your storm.” That line describes John Constantine perfectly. He is a dangerous man, with dangerous habits and not all of them have to do with sorcery. Bare in mind that these two are having this poignant conversation while digging up afterbirth in someone’s backyard, which is perhaps the most Hellblazery moment in the entire series so far. However, before the two find what they’re looking for, John discovers a tree bearing fruit made from human flesh.
Following this grotesque and poetic moment, John explains to Hugo, the father of the missing infant, that the entity behind his son’s disappearance is the sister of Eve…as in Adam and Eve. This expository scene between a distraught father, a nun and John could have been just a regulation info-dump if it weren’t for the fact that John is smoking. JOHN CONSTANTINE IS SMOKING! The director doesn’t cut away, or force him to put it out immediately. This character moment is huge for setting up one of the best “Hellblazer” story lines ever written*. We then get news that another child has been kidnapped, revealing that the child disappearances are family related, and it’s not long before the real monster reveals itself. There really is no secret revelation as to who the monster is. If you’ve ever seen a Scooby Doo episode, you should be able to figure it out. When the name of Eve’s sister is revealed to be Lamshtu, we get a full frontal shot of a demonic vampire in a scene that is quick but effective.
After more talk of “the rising darkness” overplot, John creates a trap that would lure Lamashtu to them and let them rescue the children. As John explains his plan to offer Lamashtu the fake child (a chicken coated in Hugo’s blood), Anne Marie calls him out once more on his attempt to get her to volunteer for the dangerous task. Finally, in an intense moment of honesty John tells her, “No price is too high to save the innocent.” This moment is perhaps the lynch pin to the entire episode as well as what happened in Newcastle all those years ago. Anne Marie thanks him for his honesty and it appears as though the two now have better understanding of each other.
Zed’s side story is fun but flawed. Given the intense and weighty storyline involving John and Anne Marie, Zed fighting cultists in the “House of Mystery” is kind of weak. The scenes are intense, but we already have tension coming from the main plotline, and this scene connected to the aforementioned ”rising darkness” just isn’t necessary. However it is fun watching Zed use her knowledge of the house’s many traps to foil these would-be captors, as is watching Angélica Celaya kick some ass. Although it just seems like fluff even with hints at supposedly important revelations to Zed’s past. However, fun or no, this scene does slow down the pacing of the main plot as it is intercut with John’s trailing of Lamashtu. When Zed is put down by one of the attackers, we barely have enough time to register her danger before we snap back to John and Sister Anne Marie.
In an inevitable showdown between Constantine and Lamashtu in the sewers underneath the convent, the group learns of the plot to make Hell on Earth as the barrier between the planes is thinner than ever. Lamashtu explains that these demons will rule the planet and there will be nowhere for the group to hide. Having a final trick up his sleeve, Constantine wards off the demon with a totem of her former lover and the group makes their way back to the surface. However, hearing what they believe is another child’s cries, they stop only to be faced with the demon sketched by Zed at the beginning of the episode. On an artistic note, the design of the demon is brilliant and echoes Clive Barker’s Nightbreed. It is otherworldly and terrifying. Recognizing the danger, John explains that he has no idea what to do and tells Anne Marie that if they run, the demon will attack them. Sensing they are out of options, Sister Anne Marie point her pistol at John telling him, “No price is too high to save the innocent,” before shooting him in the stomach. As she runs down the corridor, child and pistol in hand, John slumps downward, gut shot and bleeding, as a ravening demon screeches behind him.
As a midseason finale, “The Saint of Last Resorts” is a great one. We’ve gotten some of the best character development in this episode than we have in all the other episodes previously. We understand more about Constantine and his past, and we are left feeling the shot to the guts ourselves. It’s hard to disagree with Anne Marie’s call, but it was still an awful call to make. Thematically, the two characters switch roles in that final moment. This is definitely one of the strongest Constantine episodes in the season so far, hitting all of the right notes for me despite the extraneous story with Zed. I would be happy if Constantine remained a “monster of the week” show, at least for now. By putting the apocalypse on the back burner in order to focus on small intimate horror stories, the writers can illuminate John and his crew as real characters, something that this episode does extremely well. In an entertainment climate filled with supernatural detective shows, I hope that Constantine continues to develop what makes it stand apart. John is not sensitive and bromantic like the Winchesters, or delightfully befuddled like Ichabod Crane. John Constantine is a right bastard. He drinks too much, he sleeps around and he’s not above trapping demons inside his friends if it means saving the world. However there are very few people you’d rather have in your corner when the forces of evil come to collect. I can’t wait to see part 2 when it airs in January.
Rating: 4.5/5 Atoms
*Dangerous Habits follows John as he’s dying of cancer.