Constantine gets its serial on with this week’s NOLA-centric episode, giving us a standard case-of-the-week that ties into several of the show’s overarching storylines simultaneously. The central caper involved several seemingly separate situations that all converged in a way that was somehow both anticlimactic and ultimately refreshing at the same time. More importantly, we got to see Chas finally do something! Oh, and there’s lots of fun team-up action including a certain glowy green vengeance spirit. Spoilers ahoy!
Zed has been struggling after last week’s accidental drug withdrawal overload (I think?), so Constantine helps her kickstart her powers with the use of Queen Victoria’s Magic Zoetrope. With a few psychic flashes, the Scrying Map O’Murder starts glowing red again (Constantine: “Seems Old Faithful’s opened up again.” Zed: “You mean the map?”), and our trio is off to New Orleans, where there have been several strange murders: a young woman in a surgical mask stabbing people with fabric sheers in an alleyway, and a hitchhiking apparition that sends cars crashing into the exact same tree.
It’s Surgical Mask Girl who first brings Constantine and crew into contact with Jim Corrigan, a New Orleans cop who drunkenly witnessed the first murder. He tried to shoot the killer, but she somehow absorbed his bullets, and these mysterious circumstances cause him to be removed from active duty in the streets, relegated instead to routine traffic investigations (hence the hitchhiker). Corrigan is openly hostile to Constantine at first, accusing him of being a con man and a killer himself, but Constantine, for all his friendly faults, tries to work with Corrigan, believing that their combined resources could help solve the case.
Corrigan eventually gives in to Constantine’s charms (after he hilariously slips out of his handcuffs and then drinks Corrigan’s coffee right in front of him), but the team-ups don’t stop there. It turns out that resident voodoo expert / Constantine-hater Papa Midnite had a hand in resurrecting both spirits. See, Surgical Mask Girl was a model named Misaki who had her face cut open by a rival model and then killed herself (“Do you think I’m pretty?” she asks her victims), and that rival model went to Midnite seeking to commune with Misaki’s spirit for forgiveness. Similarly, Phillip the Hitchhiker had been thrown out of his grandmother’s house on the night that he died in a car accident, and grandma, too, had gone to Midnite in search of closure.
And when Constantine crashes Papa Midnite’s big bad voodoo party, he’s offering similar services to a woman who lost her husband to cancer. At first, Constantine suspects foul-play, but Papa Midnite insists that he’s only communing with the dead, not resurrecting them. So naturally, Midnite magically KOs Constantine and locks him in the trunk of a car, only keeping him alive because Constantine still owes for that whole Devil’s Vinyl ordeal.
But remember the Rising Darkness? That Vaguely Defined Big Bad of the Season, that dark omen that is both represented by and indicative of dark omens? Well, Papa Midnite wasn’t lying when he said he wasn’t raising the dead, but it turns out that the Rising Darkness was causing his magicks to go haywire anyway. This realization unites Constantine and Midnite in a tenuous truce, and as they try to put the dead back to rest without any more problems.
Meanwhile, Chas is charged with handling Misaki the Slasher (and also stays at a hotel, separate from John and Zed, supposedly to accumulate more reward points?). The first time around, Misaki slices him to bits and kills him, but his body mysteriously heals—in front of EMTs, which makes for a wonderfully awkward moment. Chas is better prepared for their next encounter, and when Misaki asks “Do you think I’m pretty?” before hacking him to bits, he stuns the spirit by asking her “Do you think I’m pretty? Do you think you’re pretty?” Because sometimes all the spirits want is a little conversation.
Zed and Corrigan team-up to tackle Phillip and the hitchhiker. They try to proactively pick him up on the road so he can’t harm any other drivers, and each time, Zed tries to talk to him about his grandmother. While killing time, Zed and Corrigan realize that they have some kind of connection—Zed because she received several psychic flashes of his childhood, and Corrigan because he was previously assigned to work her Missing Persons case. He does her a favor and destroys the file, but Zed gets one more psychic flash from him, of bloody wounds and a swirling green mist…
(That’s foreshadowing his role as The Spectre, in case you couldn’t tell)
Constantine and Midnite bicker while they rob some graves. They plan to combine their magicks—Midnite’s voodoo and Constantine’s Old World Street-Brit-Creole—to bind the spirits to their respective cadavers and then burn them. When this fails, Papa Midnite blames Constantine, saying that his mish-mosh-hodge-podge attempts displeased the Loa. Midnite accuses him of being a thief, stealing the bits and pieces that he wants from across the magick disciplines without any actual respect for the cultures or their Gods (“Jackass of all trades, master of none!”). He might have a point, but Constantine deflects it with another epiphany: the spirits were not tied to either of their magicks, but rather, to the pure emotional power of those who summoned them back to this plane. They gather the three grieving women (Tammy The Jealous Model, Grandma, and Widow Devereaux, respectively) and help to focus their emotional energy to disperse the spirits and lay them to rest….
…and it works! Hooray! But wait, there’s more: Midnite and Constantine share some scotch to celebrate the end of their truce. Midnite forgives Constantine’s debt to him, but Constantine asks him for another favor: to convene with the Loa, and find out more about this Rising Darkness. Midnite learns that all of John’s efforts are for naught, and perhaps more ominously, that he will be betrayed by someone close to him…
(we’re meant to think that’s Zed, obvi)
Ladies and gentlemen, we had ourselves some wonderful ensemble work here! Instead of just the Zed & John show, we had five-person team-up, with every character being given a chance to shine and show his or her worth to the overall goal. The interpersonal drama between these characters was particularly effective as well, pushing everyone beyond their comfort zones in order to show the audience how they really tick. Constantine is skeptical of Zed, who is hiding something from everyone; Corrigan is skeptical of Constantine; and Papa Midnite and Constantine have to put aside their own differences and work towards a common end. The only person that’s without complication is Chas; but then again, he does get killed, so it’s not like he doesn’t have problems of his own.
In a lot of ways, “Danse Vaudou” reminded me of some of the more dysfunctional episodes of Angel, particularly in the fourth season, where everyone’s working together to solve a case but none of them really get along.
And that’s great! Even the “Rising Darkness” Big Bad background was advanced organically through these character interactions. I’m still having trouble deciding if I’d rather watch the Constantine-Corrigan buddy-cop drama every week, or the Constantine-Midnite one. Either way, I was generally pleased.
When I look at how the story was structured, I find myself torn: one of my favorite parts about the plot was also its biggest problem. Ambiguity is of course an important part of any noir-ish story, and I really enjoyed the fact that this week’s episode was not based around a single conquerable antagonist, but around good intentions gone magically astray. Our protagonists didn’t unite to overcome a villain, but rather, they had to learn to put aside their differences to help people, in a way that only they were capable. That being said, when I think about it critically, it starts to fall apart: the only real reason that Papa Midnite’s spell went awry was because of the vaguely defined Rising Darkness. That this Big Bad Antagonist of the season is so vaguely defined means that it’s not actually something conquerable. It’s not an external threat. Rather than having to uncover the source of Papa Midnite’s ill-functioning magick, things went wrong just because The Plot Demanded It.
On one hand, it’s somewhat anti-climactic, not to mention narratively counter-intuitive, to plot an episode around an obstacle that cannot be externally overcome. On the other hand, I didn’t mind it, because the writers did a good job of giving everyone a purpose, and even the sentimentality of the final solution to the problem made sense within the context of pop-culture magicks.
A few other things to note:
- While my voodoo knowledge is admittedly rather limited, this episode seemed to handle it somewhat appropriately (at least compared to that awful, awful Gypsy racism in the second episode).
- Chas didn’t stay at the hotel with Constantine and Zed, supposedly because he likes to stay at the chain hotels to accrue more reward points. This was both a humorous line, but also adds to the greater mystery of Chas’s healing abilities; clearly, these flippant excuses for Chas’s absence are more intentional than we’d previously been led to believe.
- Zed doesn’t like champagne. Who doesn’t like champagne?! Especially when it’s free?! I completely understand why Constantine doesn’t trust her.
- I also liked how blunt and unabashed Constantine was in jumpstarting Zed’s psychic powers. He is making quite plain the fact that he is using her.
- I similarly appreciated Papa Midnite’s criticism of Constantine’s “street magic.” I hope that continues to play out.
- While the whole Rising Darkness thing is still so frustratingly ill-defined, I suspect that Zed’s backstory is going to play out similarly to how it did in the comics. She will come to represent the bad side of Team Heaven (or at least, of its earthly agents), and her inevitable “betrayal” will resonate thematically with the totalitarian politics of God & co, leading Constantine to cooperate with the Rising Darkness / Forces of Evil in order to obtain some sort of greater good. That’s my spoiler-lite theory, anyway.
- Will we ever see the Spectre again?
- Where did Constantine find that sweet Deus Ex AppleWatch, and where can I get one?
- Oh, and also, this happened:
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.