This week on Constantine, our titular hero travels to Western Pennsylvania to uncover the strange case of setting viewers up for the standard case-of-the-week format while also introducing us to a new feisty femme sidekick, after our previous audience-surrogate was unceremoniously removed from the end of the pilot episode. Oh, and there’s other plot stuff that happens too, but whatever.
In “The Darkness Beneath,” Constantine follows a wet drop of blood left on Liv’s Scrying Map O’ Murder all the way to Heddwich, PA, a coal mining town originally settled by Welsh immigrants. Miners have been dying, as miners are wont to do in TV procedural episodes set in mining towns. The foreman in particular has an inclination towards domestic abuse, and he combusts in the shower — which further supports the theory of the other small-minded small-town miners that they, in fact, dug too close to Hell.
Constantine bumbles about his investigation in ways both flabbergastingly foolish and yet mostly still endearing—like showing up at the local pub and asking “Hey anything crazy gone on in town lately?” and sneaking into the miner’s wake with a frozen TV dinner and a bad cover story about being a reporter. He also comes across the only non-small-minded-small-town miner in the town: a “Chica Bonita” by the name of Zed Martin, who has been feverishly drawing Constantine from her dreams despite never having met him. Zed has a leather jacket and a mysterious past, and she’s determined to figure out why their lives seem to have been fated together. She also demonstrates some latent psychic abilities, and despite Constantine’s initial attempts to give her the slip, she persists on helping him out with the case.
Despite the fact that the dead foreman’s wife tries to seduce Constantine after telling him that her husband took her from her Romani family and made her very sad, our hero is still more suspicious of the company’s owner, Mr. Bowman, and Ellis, the ex-priest who lost his faith when he lost his own son in the mines. Constantine eventually figures out that the mines are haunted by coblynau, also known as knockers. Coblynau are the benevolent spirits of deceased miners who protect the surviving workers, but for some reason that can’t possibly be related to the Romani wife of the abusive foreman, these knockers are vindictive.
(Coincidentally, “These Knockers Are Vindictive” is also my new band name. I think Constantine would approve)
With help from Zed, Constantine saves Mr. Bowman and son, provides Ellis with some literal closure, and confronts the foreman’s Romani wife, who reveals that she used some old Romani magic to summon the coblynau to do her bidding and protect her from her abusive husband—who, as it turns out, is now a coblynau himself, and Constantine watches as he drags the murderous wife whom he abused down into the ground with him. “I am the one who knocks,” indeed. In the end, Constantine gives one last warning to Zed that people who hang around him tend to suffer for it. She heeds his words, and agrees to stick with him anyway, because something big is coming and she wants to be part of the good fight….or does she?
While I obviously can’t speak to the behind-the-scenes reasoning behind Liv’s abrupt departure from the series, I can say that Zed is a much, much more interesting character. Like Liv, she has some kind of psychic powers, and is somewhat new to Constantine’s supernatural world. Unlike Liv, she plays an active in the show, and serves a greater purpose than just asking questions for the sake of exposition. She also has her own ominous backstory, which helps put her on the same level of mystery and intrigue as Constantine himself. She might not be as experienced as him yet, but she wants to be there—she wants to help out, she wants to learn more, and if he’s not going to have her, then she’s going to go and do it herself anyway, so he may as well play fair with her. It’s a good relationship because both characters have something to gain and something to give to it, and their budding trust for one another isn’t entirely blind and is far from simplistic. And the ominous voice-over ending suggested that things were not quite as they seemed, feeding into the greater conspiracy of the angels and coming war going on in the background.
I also quite enjoyed Constantine’s bumbling, how his lack of social graces were a problem in his investigation. Since the case-of-the-week format inherently makes for a contrived setup, Constantine’s lack of foresight—like showing up at a wake with a frozen TV dinner and a clumsy cover story—goes a long way in endearing the character to the audience, and bringing us along with him. It may have been a bit over the top this time, but that’s okay. He wants to do the right thing; he just happens to be an idiot, as well as a jerk. We can all relate.
As for the rest of the episode, well, it was fine. The plot was fairly standard for a procedural, although I was glad to see it exploring the myriad of complications around small town blue collar life. Granted, it failed to transcend any stereotypes whatsoever, but I at least appreciated the effort in portraying a dying industry town where people need money and feel trapped but have no other means of getting out than to just keep working.
That being said, I found the final reveal of the Romani Revenge to be a little problematic (aside from, well, blatantly obvious). I realize that the Romani community might not have the same vocal standard bearers as other diverse groups, but Gypsy Girl Forced From Her Nomadic Home Who Resorts To Magical Gypsy Curse is a little too stereotypical. And while I understood her desire to protect herself from her clearly abusive husband, I was uncomfortable seeing the oil-caked spirit of that same abusive husband ultimately overcome and kill her. Like, he was evil, so she did a morally questionable thing in retaliation…and was then punished for it, by the exact same person that had initially punished her and drove her to her decision? To top it off, she was literally credited for the episode as “Lannis’s Wife.” The main villain can’t even get her own name in the credits? I guess domestic violence is okay, but Romani-Welsh Oil Demon Protectors are not.
Unless that moment was intended to portray some of the uncomfortable moral ambiguities of Constantine’s character and world, in which case, well done.
- Apparently the mining community in Western PA really did grow out of Welsh diaspora, so that’s a nice bit of historical accuracy. Learning is fun!
- While I enjoyed Chas’s vague reasoning for why he couldn’t accompany John to Heddwich, I am curious about the show’s decision to include a friend for John as a cast member…and then write him out of the episodes, and focus primarily on John and an audience surrogate character instead.
- Speaking of, does Chas drive a cab for a living in this world? Or, put another way, does he have a work? Is he just Constantine’s token American friend who happens to live in Atlanta and just kind of hangs around on a cash retainer from Constantine?
- Chas appeared for all of 5 seconds in this episode, but I guess I just feel bad after he, ya know, died last week.
- Assuming we’re going to continue in this episode-of-the-week format, following on the trail of Liv’s scrying blood dots, I’m not sure if Atlanta is the best spot for a central headquarters.
- Father Ellis was the man, and I actually want to see more of him (though I’m certainly not counting on it).
- The visuals of the coal-and-soot covered knockers was pretty cool.
- Heh. Kids having sex in a church. Heh.
Thom Dunn is a Boston-based writer, musician, homebrewer, and new media artist. Thom enjoys Oxford commas, metaphysics, and romantic clichés (especially when they involve whiskey and robots). He is a graduate of Clarion Writer’s Workshop at UCSD, and he firmly believes that Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” is the single worst atrocity committed against mankind. Find out more at thomdunn.net.