The title of this week’s episode made me think of “A Whole New World,” but the content was more like an ode to Nightmare on Elm Street, with a little more New Age pseudo-babble. But that’s okay, because we got the return of Ritchie Simpson (delightfully portrayed by Jeremy Davies), the resident technomage of the Newcastle crew, and we got to see Constantine partake in one of my favorite hobbies, which is sitting by fire drinking whiskey while listening to Warren Zevon and feeling sorry for yourself. Between that and the episode’s general creepiness (a continuing highpoint of the Constantine crew), I was more willing to overlook the shortcomings of “A Whole World Out There” and just go along for the ride.
But that’s what I love about Constantine: even when I’m watching with a critical eye, it’s hard not to enjoy myself.
In “A Whole New World Out There,” a group of college students get drunk and decide to experiment and project their consciousnesses into another dimension, which is basically all we did in art school. In the Other Realm (as I will continue to call it, for clarity’s sake), they each wake up in separate rooms of a creepy house, with an even creepier man waiting for them in the shadows. The students’ souls are successfully returned to their own bodies, but the creepy man remains hiding in every reflective surface that they pass. Whenever one of them notices him, he pulls their astral forms back into the Other Realm to slaughter them, and the signs of their deaths in the Other Realm leave marks on their empty bodies in our world.
As it turns out, one of these students is a Teaching Assistant to Ritchie Simpson, Constantine’s old friend from the Newcastle days. When Manny comes upon Constantine drinking alone and feeling sorry for himself over Gaz’s death, he gives the most direct and useful nudge that he can to get to John to visit Ritchie. When last we left Ritchie (at the end of the pilot episode “Non Est Asylum”), he had made it pretty clear that he was done doing favors for John Constantine. As such, he is not particularly thrilled when John interrupts one of his philosophy lectures at the university (philosophy? metaphysics?), and even less so when John’s delivers him the news of Gaz’s death.
For John’s part, he’s disappointed that Ritchie has given up on his magical data-mining project—it seems that the Rising Darkness was causing so many spikes that it kept crashing the computer network that was running the project. There’s some more delightful back-and-forth and a few more lies, but the two old friends ultimately agree to put aside their differences to save the students, who are being picked off one by one by the Creepy Guy from the Other Realm, as known as Jacob Shaw.
Jacob Shaw, we learn, was a magician and philosopher who claimed to have discovered a form of astral projection, based on some old Egyptian rituals. Shaw killed his own assistant then fell into a catatonic state, presumably having projected his soul to another place in order to escape his fate in our world. And in this Other Realm, which is represented only by a house, the souls of the dead students reunite, but their celebration is short lived—Shaw kills them all, then resurrects them, and kills them again, and so on. Because the Other Realm is in fact a dimension of Jacob Shaw’s own creation, which means that he creates the rules and reigns there as a God. And when God is a homicidal maniac who wishes to keep you in his house as a plaything to kill for all eternity, well, you’re pretty much screwed.
Unless, of course, a certain curmudgeonly British anti-hero and his neurotic pill-popping friend find a way to send themselves into this Other Realm to rescue the one student whose Earthly body hasn’t yet been killed (“Just like back in the day, huh?” “Yeah. A little too much like it.”). They reach a literal dead-end in their journey through the house, but Ritchie reveals that he’s been doing some heavy reading of his own and finds a way to re-write the rules of Shaw’s world. Using his magic and his brain, he conjures up a door in a wall that wasn’t otherwise there. This leads them to a showdown with Jacob Shaw, who reveals that he has not only the power of a God, but the hubris of one, too. He crucifies John against a wall (a very nice touch), but before he can kill Ritchie and turn him into another one of his homicide puppets, Ritchie out-Gods him by literally creating a sun (“Some God you turned out to be, Shaw. You forgot the sun.”), which… burns Shaw? Something?
Anyway Shaw fades away, all defeated and stuff because Ritchie creates a world outside of the Dream Murder House, full of flowers and grass and pretty things. The Dream Murder House itself collapses because, well, I guess if you destroy then whatever God’s created gets destroyed as well. John rescues the soul of the last living student while the others fade away with the house, since they have no Earthly bodies to return to. Ritchie is tempted to remain in the Other Realm, where he can create and invent things and let a world truly flourish—unlike Shaw, who created another dimension just so that he could destroy things. He’s had a taste of Godhood now, and he’s craving more. But Constantine doesn’t buy it; he thinks that Ritchie just wants to escape from the darkness of his own life.
It’s an interesting dilemma, which is why I was so disappointed when Ritchie returns to his own body and ends the episode with a lecture about Nirvana and human suffering while John gets drunk with Gaz’s ghost again, meaning that the entire journey ended in the null set. Oh well.
THOUGHTS & THINGS
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way: that ending kind of went off the rails, and then it chickened out when it had a chance to go somewhere interesting. I liked the idea of Ritchie outsmarting Shaw in a way that let him re-create the rules of the Other Realm—but if the whole dimension was created by Shaw’s mind, wouldn’t the entire thing fall apart once his mind was gone? In which case, how could Ritchie stay there (there is a suggestion that Ritchie’s desire to stay behind is a form of suicide or punishment for his past sins)? Why can’t Ritchie just create a new dimension in his own head and stay there? Unless, that’s something that’s being seeded for the future of the show (as bleak as that may be)?
All that being said, it would have been a more powerful ending if Ritchie had indeed stayed behind in the Other Realm, because then we as an audience would be left wondering. It would be reminiscent of Gaz’s pseudo-sacrifice at the end of “A Feast of Friends”—except in this case, it would actually be noble, and deserved. There’d be the interesting philosophical component where it might not have been a sacrifice at all, since Ritchie would essentially be a God (if he survived). Maybe John could have kept Ritchie’s body in some special part of the House of Mystery for him to later return to.
Of course, the whole situation did have shades of Ritchie’s comic book storyline, where he uploads his consciousness into a computer (which is hinted at in this episode). Which also made me wonder: why was this the episode chosen to highlight Ritchie’s character? Based on his appearance in “Non Est Asylum,” as well as his comic book counterpart, Ritchie is more technological than theological. I was even confused as to why he was lecturing on philosophy, as I could have sworn he was a physics or computer science professor (maybe I was just thinking of Jeremy Davies’ role on LOST).
That being said, I did enjoy the theological themes that permeated the episode, and the ideas of destruction versus creation, and where a soul goes, and so forth. It wasn’t all teased out as much as I would have liked. I suppose that any single episode of television is limited in the time they have to explore their themes, and “A Whole World Out There” also had to deal with themes of guilt and grief, particularly as they related to the friendship between John and Ritchie. There were a lot of great moments between the two of them in which they discussed responsibility and blame. At one point, Ritchie says to John, “I know what you pretend not to feel. You know why? Because I’m feeling it right now.” Ritchie was partially responsible for exposing his students to the idea of astral projection, and it was through his research that they first found Shaw’s ritual. Even though the blood wasn’t on his hands, he still carried the blame and thus the urge to right it—which is pretty much how John lives his life (only worse, because John is usually much more directly involved in the things that go wrong, even when his intentions are pure).
Other than that, my other favorite part of “A Whole World Out There” was its generally creepiness, particularly in our world. One of the best moments was when Miranda was in the dance studio, and Jacob Shaw’s eerie visage kept appearing in each mirror panel as she danced past it, completely unaware that he was watching. Similarly (and maybe this was where Ritchie’s technological prowess could have come in?), when John and Ritchie bought Lily, the last surviving student, back to the House of Mystery for protection, and even though the mirrors inside were all protected, Lily made the mistake of taking out her smartphone, allowing Jacob Shaw to appear in her reflection on the screen. I also squirmed when Adam projected himself into the Other Realm, and when John and Ritchie came upon his Earthly form just in time to see the cuts form across his body as Shaw hacked him apart in the Other Realm.
And last but not least, simply because I have to: you finally make some progress on both Chas and Zed’s personal story arcs, and then write them out of the next episode again?! I’m sure there are practical production reasons behind it but come! on!
- Who was that Other Guy in the Other Realm? Was that supposed to be Shaw’s former assistant, whom he murdered in the real world? Or someone else who happened upon Shaw’s ritual?
- What was that tape deck that Ritchie was tempted to play during his lecture at the end of the episode? Did I miss something there?
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.