“No price is too high to save the innocent.”
The mid-season finale of Constantine’s officially-not-extended-past-the-initial-13-episode-order-but-not-explicitly-cancelled first season accomplishes a whole lot of things: it takes our hero down to Mexico, offers some solid insight into the whole “Rising Darkness” thing, revisits the disaster at Newcastle, and perhaps most importantly, writes a character out of the journey for in-story reasons that actually serve the plot! Also in general it was just a really solid episode of television, with a decent enough cliffhanger to hold it over until after the holiday break. Was it perfect? Nah. And as much as I enjoy the show, it still hasn’t quite become the “must-see-TV” of NBC’s catchphrase. But from the writing to the performances to the production values, “The Saint of Last Resorts” was still a high-point of this first season of Constantine and gave a good indication of what the show is capable of when it’s not trying too hard to exposit at every new audience member.
“The Saint of Last Resorts” draws heavily from John Constantine’s first appearance in Swamp Thing #37. The main plot revolves around Anne-Marie, an old friend and former lover of John’s (who isn’t?) who dedicated herself to clergy life after the ordeal in Newcastle. Now living at a convent in Mexico, Anne-Marie reluctantly contacts John to ask his assistance in retrieving a newborn baby who was stolen from the convent by a supernatural force and whose mother was subsequently murdered. John and Chas head to Mexico together, condemning Zed to remain at the house despite the fact that she’s the only one fluent in Spanish (more on that later).
As the investigation gets under way, much of the episode is spent on the interactions between John and Anne-Marie, who functions in many ways as a foil to the recently-deceased Gary “Gaz” Lester (from “A Feast of Burden”). Whereas Gaz sought solace from his Newcastle sins in his addictions, Anne-Marie has taken a much more active role in her redemption by joining the clergy. She’s also much less forgiving of John’s transgressions, but she does have some sympathy — as we later learn, Anne-Marie was responsible for getting 15-year-old John hooked on the Occult in the first place, and she is fully aware of her complicity in the disasters which he leaves in his wake.
This relationship is one of the strongest points of the episode, which places it significantly ahead of the rest of the season. Constantine has spent a lot of time telling us about John’s faults and moral hangups, but the writing in “The Saint of Last Resorts” does a fantastic job of showing us just how John Constantine really ticks; we know that his cynicism and humor are a defense mechanism, but now we’ve actually seen it in action, seen him tested. Anne-Marie is interesting as both a complex clergy character, and as an emotionally scarred person from John’s past. The events at Newcastle were certainly traumatic, and while Gaz and Constantine represented two starkly different ways of dealing with that, Anne-Marie presents us with a third means of coping that makes us question our own reactions and feelings towards John and Gaz.
Different people deal with tragedy in their own ways, and none of those ways are necessarily “better” than any other one; in fact, such a harrowing experience might lead people to act in counter-productive ways that are in fact damaging to their own recovery. Of the many great lines in this episode, John explains to Anne-Marie, “Just because I’m not hiding in a nunnery doesn’t mean I don’t know my debts.” It’s taken some time, but Constantine is really starting to challenge the audience with its differing interpretations of survivor’s guilt.
Back to the plot of the missing babies (oh yeah, there’s more than one now). One of the missing babies is the son of a local cop named Hugo, and the other, as it turns out, is his illegitimate grandson. After a little digging and some grossly awkward placenta-fruits (seriously), Constantine recruits Hugo into his motley crew over tequila shots, and we learn that the newborns were taken by Lamashtu, a vampiric demon who also happens to be the younger sister of the Biblical Eve. Lamashtu is working in conjunction with La Brujería, a group of ancient South American warlocks from which Hugo is descended who are determined to combine Heaven and Hell on Earth. Which means they’re also the people behind the Rising Darkness.
Constantine soon figures out that the token flirtatious, sexy young nun at the convent is not just a Latina stereotype, but actually Lamashtu herself. They fight, and she escapes, so they turn to Plan B: douse a chicken with Hugo’s blood to fake the demon out and think that it’s another baby for her to steal. (That feels much more ridiculous when I type it out than it felt on screen, which was still a little ridiculous, but in the self-aware way). This time Anne-Marie makes the hand-off, but not before a little snogging with ol’ John-boy. Lamashtu escapes down the sewer with the bloody-chicken-baby in tow, and John, Chas, and Anne-Marie follow her down to her lair, when they uncover the missing actual-babies.
After a tense confrontation, John summons Pazuzu, Lamashtu’s literal old flame (and also the demon from The Exorcist), who, well, burns her. But before they can escape from the sewers, they see an Invunche — which, coincidentally, Zed had been drawing earlier in the episode. Anne-Marie remembers John’s claim that, “No price is too high to save the innocent,” and so the nun totally shoots him in the gut with Hugo’s pistol and leaves him to die to distract the Invunche while she saves the children. Dun dun dun!
Oh yeah and then while all of that was happening, Zed was still hanging out back at the International House of TARDIS, GA. She disobeys John’s orders and leaves to pick up art supplies, where she once again runs into Eddie the Sexy Nude Model. But a surreptitious graze of the finger gives her enough of a psychic impression to realize that he’s working for the Resurrection Crusade, who’s after her. She brings him back to the House for a quick make-out sesh, which soon becomes a painful interrogation sesh. But even this is interrupted when two more Resurrection Crusaders show up in the House because apparently John’s boobytrapping of the outside was completely useless (because Zed had previously left the house when she wasn’t supposed to?). So then they shoot Eddie and there’s a big ol’ chase and Zed is captured, the end.
As glad as I was that Constantine’s writing staff finally wrote someone out of the adventure while still giving them screen time (instead of a random throwaway line to explain their absence), the Zed-plot was not quite as enticing as the story down in Mexico. The laziest part was Zed’s arbitrary exploration of the House, and how, conveniently, the two magical rooms she discovered also served her in evading the Resurrection Crusaders, at least for a while. This was a bit too neat and convenient; it would have been much more exciting had she discovered the elevator and Infinite Chasm Room during the chase, therefore increasing the risk of danger to itself. Oh well. At least we got some more Zed backstory, like how her real name is Mary and how she spent her entire childhood locked up in a white room and that her Father has some creepy religious plans for her. And that maybe Sexy Eddie is also her brother? I assumed that was meant metaphorically, that Eddie referred to their “Father” as a term of affection — like one might do in a religious cult — but then, I can’t be sure.
OTHER THINGS OF NOTE
- With the exception of the cliffhanger ending for both Zed and John, this didn’t feel so much like a “mid-season finale,” not in the way that most shows do. This is probably because the show’s larger season arc has been so sparse thus far. That being said, it was a pretty fantastic episode, in a way that I think that every episode of this show could be as good (as in, its quality was not dependent upon the build-up of what came before).
- Where the hell was Manny?! He was great last week, and now here we are thrust right into the throes of the Catholic Church and… he’s nowhere to be seen. What a jerk.
- Although apparently Zed is still reeling from the trauma of being taken over by Manny and punching out a Fallen Angel’s heart. The heart has been giving her all kinds of nasty visions — like that Invunche, which I’m sure will do a great job of tying the two disparate plot threads together. Right?
- Just to re-iterate: I loved everything between John and Anne-Marie. Especially how she was the Anti-Gaz, and made the Constantine-esque hard decision to shoot Constantine and leave him for dead. He’ll be fine, of course, when the show returns in January, but that was still exciting. Anne-Marie is a badass pragmatic nun and I might have a crush on her that’s making my residual Catholic guilt even worse.
- The moment between Chas and Anne-Marie was really sweet. In some ways, I don’t understand why Chas still puts up with Constantine when everyone else hates the guy, but I’m sure we’ll get there some day. For now, he’s just the best bro ever.
- I like the idea of La Brujería and having a Third Party Wild Card to really screw things up between the otherwise Dualistic nature of Heaven and Hell. Although, couldn’t John also be seen as that Third Party? Will he team up with La Brujería? Tune in next time!
- “I always thought that one of us would flee to Mexico, but I thought there’d be more tequila involved. Or skinny dipping.” Well, John, you got half your wish.
- “It’s not just the sex or the séance, John. It’s your ego.”
- “Now you’re standing in for God. Make way for John Constantine.” Anne-Marie is awesome.
John: “It was a world of wonders.”
Anne-Marie: “Which you followed into Hell. You are my failure, John.”
John: “It’s a matter of perspective.”
- Okay fine it’s definitely the House of Mystery at this point.
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.