I think it’s a requirement for all supernatural / horror-based television shows to take a stab at the “Creepy Child” trope. These often pop-up in the earlier seasons of the show—Angel’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” from its first season comes to mind, which has always been a personal favorite. At worst, they play at pale attempts to grasp for a new take on The Exorcist. At best, they play well with the obligatory unevenness of any first season, with youthful blunders making an almost accidental metatextual comment on the show’s green status.
In the case of Constantine’s “Rage of Caliban,” the episode most certainly falls in the latter camp. Much of its bumpiness comes from the fact that it was originally intended as the second episode of the series instead of the sixth. Fortunately, Constantine’s already-traumatic history with children (both as established in the show, and as hinted at in this episode) help it to transcend the typical “Creepy Child” tropes and offer a solid and insightful psychological thriller.
Much of the strength of “Rage of Caliban” lies in the direction by Neil Marshall. The episode was originally slated to air on Halloween night—which at first made for a weird post-tryptophan-coma viewing, but made a lot more sense in hindsight, considering that the episode itself takes place at Halloween. Constantine has done a pretty good job so far of amping up the fear factor in most episodes, but Neil Marshall does some truly fantastic work in this particular offering, with a long, slow, creepy cold open, and genuinely chilling moments (like the pumpkin carving scene with the bird smashing into the window, or the whole funhouse scene. So good!). If you want to watch a random episode of Constantine for some fun scares and don’t want to be bogged down too much with plot, “Rage of Caliban” is the way to go.
Speaking of plot, you’ll notice that I’m mostly foregoing my obligatory play-by-play that starts out most of these recaps. That’s because “Rage of Caliban” is, again, a fairly typical “Creepy Child” episode: a seemingly-sweet child becomes suddenly sociopathic and the parents don’t realize that s/he is actually possessed by an evil spirit; ultimately, someone shows up to save the child’s soul, or not.
While it is a color-by-numbers plot, it’s still full of fantastic moments as Constantine tries to figure the best way to handle the creepy little kid (for example: showing up at the boy’s schoolyard while wearing a trench coat? Not so smart). I was surprised—and also surprised that I was surprised—at the twist-ending of the episode as well. Constantine spends much of his investigation looking into a pattern of brutal family slayings, which have been occurring with more frequency as the Rising Darkness has, well, been rising.
He’s also, understandably, still reeling from that whole Astra ordeal, and is nervous about making more mistakes around children and demons. He pays a visit to the first of these child-murderers, Marcello Panetti, who he finds at an asylum in a catatonic state. After Constantine various attempts to identify and exorcise the demon responsible for the slayings, he realizes that it’s actually Panetti’s soul that is possessing the children and sending them each into a murderous rampage.
It turns out that Panetti was never possessed himself, but rather, was abused by his father and took revenge. The experience was so traumatic that his soul left his body and he was rendered catatonic. In the end, Constantine is left with no choice to bind the evil soul back to its original host, since apparently live spirits cannot be bound elsewhere.
I found this to be a pretty interesting psychological-horror take on childhood trauma which resonated well with Constantine’s previous failings—and his own traumatic childhood, which is hinted at here as well. Admittedly, some of the writing was clunky (especially that closing monologue, oof), and some of these themes weren’t teased out quite as much as I otherwise would have liked them to be, but overall, it was an enjoyable hour.
- I’m not fully convinced that The Tempest’s Caliban was the most appropriate allusion for the title, but that’s okay.
- This time it’s Zed, not Chas, who’s lazily written out of the episode—which is understandable, because it was supposed to take place before she joined the cast, but still. Also, “she’s taking an art class…for the entire week” is an even more absurd excuse than Chas’s “fixing his car.”
- Speaking of Chas, we get teased with a little more of his backstory this week. While handling the Sword of Knight, Chas starts rambling about his ex-wife Renee, and how he pushed her away (the Sword apparently compels its holder to speak the truth). The most telling moment of this scene, however, was Constantine’s absolute ambivalence towards Chas’s rambling revelations. Has he heard this story before, and already grown sick of it? Or is he just that bad of a friend? Maybe both?
- Manny also reveals the source of his general uselessness: angels are not allowed to directly intervene with Earthly affair. This makes sense, and is in keeping with lots of established Heavenly lore, but it would have been a nice thing to explicitly mention earlier (like when this episode was originally slated to air). It doesn’t change much about the overall story, but it does explain why Manny keeps showing up, doing nothing, and disappearing again. That being said, this information could have been more easily inferred if Manny’s cryptic ramblings actually seemed to hold any weight beyond very slight wordplay.
- Constantine sleeping with a girl and rushing out of her house before her boyfriend gets home.
- Constantine being accused of being a pedophile for watching kids on the playground in a trench coat.
- Constantine (poorly) impersonating a school guidance counselor.
- More smoking Constantine!
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.