This week’s Constantine goes back to the well and pulls its plot straight from the pages of the very first Hellblazer storyline, in which one of Constantine’s old drug buddies bites off more than he can chew with a hunger demon named Mnemoth and a raging heroin addiction—both of which require help from our reluctant anti-hero.
(There’s also probably an ebola metaphor somewhere in there but I suspect that was entirely coincidental.)
Gary “Gaz” Lester (not to be confused with Chas) is an old friend of Constantine’s from the Newcastle days. He had gone and found himself on something of a bender and then woke up one morning in Sudan, where he came across a young tattooed boy possessed by a demon. Like Constantine, Gaz is still reeling from the events at Newcastle, and he sees this as a chance to redeem himself for Astra’s death. While the exorcism works, Gaz doesn’t quite know what to do with his new demon-in-a-bottle, so he decides to track down Constantine for help.
Unfortunately, Gaz has that heroin chic look about him, so customs cracks his container open expecting to find drugs, and accidentally lets loose a hunger demon on the unsuspecting people of Atlanta. This demon manifests as a swarm of khapra beetles and drives its host into a feeding rampage until they ultimately die of starvation—despite the fact that they’ve been eating everything in sight.
Constantine is not pleased to see Gaz, whom he regards as a junkie and a hanger-on; he even admits to Zed that his friend group only ever hung out with Gaz because he had drugs, money, and a car. But Zed is a bit more empathetic—especially once she touches Gaz and her psychic abilities absorb his withdrawal symptoms into her body.
Constantine leaves them both at the house to sweat it out while he tries to capture the demon, but quickly finds that its too strong to be held in any ol’ container. He enlists in the aid of an African shaman, and during a hallucinogenic plant-induced psychedelic trip in which the two of them swap eyeballs, he learns that Mnemoth can only be contained by a living human vessel, and that the boy whom Gaz so altruistically saved was actually intended as a sacrifice to banish the demon—if only Gaz hadn’t intervened. Whoops.
Gaz and Zed bond as they go through withdrawal, and Gaz reveals some information about Newcastle that made me even more annoyed that the pilot episode exists at all because it made these sequences entirely superfluous except for delivering that same exposition to Zed. Gaz is also annoyed by this, but he deals with it by escaping from the house and searching for another fix, forcing Constantine to save his butt once again. By giving in to his addiction, Gaz proves to Constantine that he is indeed a lost cause. But he’s still desperate for redemption—and to prove himself, in Constantine’s eyes—so the two of them team up to take down Mnemoth once and for all.
Once they track down the hunger demon, Gaz realizes that Constantine has kind of half-assedly tricked him and intends to use Gaz’s body as the binding host to contain the demon. Or at least, Constantine volunteered Gaz for the job, at which point Gaz bravely decides for himself that he wants to be the sacrifice so that he can die a hero instead of getting sober and doing something with his life. (I’m not even being snarky here; this is actually the progress of their conversation.) Constantine, of course, happily obliges—and thus demonstrates in action his constant warnings to Zed about the dangers of being around him. In the end, Mnemoth is contained in Gaz’s body, and Constantine sits with his friend as he dies from the hunger.
Instead of sending Constantine out onto the road to follow one of the bloody dots from the Scrying Map O’Murder, “A Feast of Friends” keeps the action contained to the home base of Atlanta, and really turns the camera in on Constantine himself. While much of the information and character details revealed by Gaz’s presence had already been delivered to us (mostly in the pilot episode), this episode did do a good job of showing that information instead of telling it. It’s one thing for Constantine to say “People around me tend to die” every episode, but it has a different impact when we actually see it happen—especially with such callousness.
Similarly, seeing Gaz’s hero-worship of Constantine also help to exemplify the potentially troubling cult-of-personality that forms around this misanthrope. And of course, we get to witness first-hand some of that infamous Constantine cunning, particularly the way that he maneuvers Gaz into sacrificing himself. Which brings me to…
Look, I am far from a purist when it comes to adaptation. I’m a firm believer that different mediums have different strengths, and than slavish adherence to a source material is often detrimental to adaptation. In general, I think the most important to consider is whether or not an adaptation maintains the heart and intention of its source.
In which case, “A Feast of Friends” fails miserably.
Yes, it retained essentially the same plot (although why they wrote out Papa Midnite after introducing him just last week is beyond me, especially because their tenuous alliance could have been really interesting to watch). But the similarities were entirely aesthetic, and the core of the story was basically neutered. Absent was any thematic exploration of the relationship between hunger and addiction, or between addiction and magic/power. Serials with fantastical elements are most ripe when you exploit those metaphors, but here, it was just set dressing.
And then there’s the ending. Without any comparison to the source, I was annoyed with the ease of Constantine’s deception. He could have just as easily found a death-row inmate, or a dying body in a hospital, to house Mnemoth. Instead, he did the altruistic thing by letting Gaz help him on the case, and then manipulated Gaz into martyring himself and dying as a hero. And the only motivation that Constantine for that decision was that the plot demanded it, so that the audience could see the kinds of questionable choices that Constantine makes. Certainly it was a difficult choice, as demonstrated by that tender moment they shared by Gaz’s deathbed. But that sacrifice didn’t really track for me. It was given weight, sure, but it never felt necessary—probably because Constantine didn’t actually do that much to deceive Gaz (seriously, Gaz just could have run out of that theatre and lived), and also because Gaz did have some redeeming qualities. So while as a viewer, it was certainly sad to lose him, it also didn’t feel necessary.
Some might argue that that’s the point—that Constantine made a sacrifice that he didn’t have to make. Which is valid; I get it. And we certainly see Constantine grappling with his decision. Maybe it’s the fact that I literally read the source material just last week for the first time, but that resonated much more strongly with me. In the comic, Gaz is much more a self-serving addict, more concerned with finding his next fix and letting Constantine clean up his mess for the umpteenth time. So Constantine uses Gaz’s one-track mind to trick him, using Gaz against his will as bait to catch Mnemoth. It is not a noble sacrifice; it is Constantine taking advantage of a junkie’s own addictive qualities to clean up the mess that the junkie himself left. In the end, Constantine also gives Gaz the heroin fix that he’s been hankering for, so that at least he dies happy.
There are no heroics in this version. Constantine does what has to be done, and essentially kills his friend. Gaz has no choice in the matter. What’s remarkable about this is that it demonstrates Constantine’s pragmatism, and also the fact that, well, he’s a right bastard. But he’s a right bastard that you can kind of understand. Comic book Constantine is a horrible person who often finds himself in situations where he’s forced to do altruistic things (or not). TV Constantine is just kind of a man-feels misanthrope, like every other prime time supernatural noir protagonist out there.
The lighting / choreography during the scenes where Mnemoth’s hosts are rampaging around and eating things. I can tell you where the budget on this episode did not go…
Manny the Angel shows three times in the episode, and in the first two, he freezes time and addresses Constantine for literally no purpose. In fact, the very first time, Constantine asks him point-blank what the point of their cryptic conversation is, and Manny doesn’t have an answer for him! His only function is to fill time in the episode by freezing time at dramatic moments. Oh, and then he was there by Gaz’s deathbed at the moment that he died.
Also, poor Chas was written out of the episode yet again—this time, with the excuse that he had to get his car fixed. Poor Chas. Maybe you’ll save a purpose some day.
THE OTHER REMARKABLE MOMENTS THAT I COULDN’T REALLY MAKE FIT ANYWHERE ELSE
- Mnemoth possesses a worker at a meat-packing plant, and when Constantine arrives, he’s already too late; the host body has died and Mnemoth has moved on, but not before killing someone else at the plant. Constantine sees the sign that says “ Days Without Incident,” and very nonchalantly erases the number “126” and replaces it with a “0.”
And finally, when Constantine and Gaz are bonding at the bar:
Constantine: “You know what I always say. Everyone has the capacity to change.
Gaz: “I’ve never heard you say that before.”
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.