If I hadn’t recognized the opening scene of “Waiting for the Man” as being pulled from the Hellblazer issue of the same name, I would have thought that this week’s Constantine episode was actually a leftover one-shot script from True Detective. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; like most episodes of Constantine, it’s still a blast, offering up some nice thrills and a few moments that inspired uncontrollable audible reactions. But as far as a season finale for a show that’s been waiting for its own cancellation announcement since before it ever aired, well, “Waiting for the Man” still leaves us waiting.
I know I say this every week, but I really enjoy Constantine on the whole, and my only consistent criticism is that there’s nothing about it that makes it “Must-See TV.” It’s a done-in-one procedural detective show, for better or for worse, but at least it’s a good one. A viewer can tune in for an exciting hour of television, and either come back next week, or not. Sure, there are tiny threads weaving through the background—the Resurrection Crusade coming for Zed, and the vaguely defined Rising Darkness—but it’s definitely more Law & Order than Orphan Black. This is not dissimilar to the original Hellblazer comic that inspired the show, which, like most open-ended, ongoing comics, wasn’t building towards any singular climax. But this is a strange approach to take with non-sitcom television, which by nature is built upon a narrative movement towards a finite endpoint (the season finale). If I hadn’t known that “Waiting for the Man” was the season finale, I would have been very confused next week when I tried to find the next episode on Hulu. Again, this makes it a friendly show for the casual viewer, but it doesn’t necessarily retain an audience, or give a compelling reason to renew the show for a second season (even if I personally want to see another season).
The original Hellblazer run was deeply rooted in British social politics, especially classism and Thatcherism (at least in the early issues). This made sense, of course, because John was living in the UK where he’d grown up. This setting also served the series’ various writers because it made it easy to up the stakes in any story by giving John some kind of personal connection it—your case-of-the-week could always be connected to an ex-lover or former neighbor or an uncle’s ex-boss and suddenly you’re invested in the story because it matters to John.
These are two things that the Constantine TV show lost in transferring the action to Hotlanta, and this difference is readily apparent in “Waiting for the Man.” Both in the comics and the show, the main plot involves a young girl being recruited by three other creepy (dead) girls to join them as sister-wives to a mysterious pedophile known only as the Man. In the TV show, the girl is Festa Whitney, who is, well, just a Louisiana girl who’s gone missing. Jim Corrigan is on the case, and he recruits Constantine to help him once he realizes that there might be some kind of magical component to it. But in issue #4 of Hellblazer, it’s John’s niece, Gemma, who is capture by the Man and prepped to become one of his new wives. This gives John a personal stake in the case. Furthermore, John’s sister and brother-in-law also turn to their local church for help finding their daughter—and by “church” I mean the Resurrection Crusade, the same fanatic cult controlled by Zed’s father, and who have been trying to re-capture Zed all season.
If the Resurrection Crusade had been part of “Waiting for the Man,” it could have provided the episode with the climactic tension that it needed to serve as a season finale. The missing girl could still be Festa Whitney instead of John’s niece, but it would make for an even more exciting story if Constantine, Corrigan, and Zed were racing against the Resurrection Crusade to both rescue the same girl. This creates a sense of moral complication as well—two opposing sides working towards the same end, with Zed fully aware of what might happen to the girl if she falls back into the hands of the cult, because it’s the same reason that she ran away from them.
Instead, we were treated to Zed’s repeated visions of Corrigan’s death, surrounded by a ghoulish Spectre of green mist. Which for the most part was fine. But it was given a lot of focus, suggesting to me that we were going to see Corrigan’s death and transformation into the Spectre. That’s what foreshadowing does, right? So it’s a little disappointing that nothing bad ends up happening to Corrigan. Although he does get some lip action from Zed, which is nice.
Even though “Waiting for the Man” squandered its chance to employ the Resurrection Crusade, it did bring us back to the Rising Darkness sub-plot, which does intersect with story of the missing girl. It seems the Brujeria have put a hit on Constantine’s head, and everyone’s favorite voodoo priest, Papa Midnite, aims to collect the prize. If he can deliver Constantine’s soul to the Brujeria, he can trade a life for a life and save his sister’s soul from damnation. The Constantine writers always do a great job with Midnite’s multi-layered motivations. He’s a recurring antagonist, but he’s never explicitly evil; in fact, he’s basically the flipside to the coin of John Constantine, which is precisely why they find themselves at odds with one another so often.
Midnite sacrifices a man and resurrects the corpse to use as a zombie-puppet (a fun little cultural callout to the actual etymology of zombies) that he remote controls to go after Constantine. There’s a great scene where Constantine, Corrigan, and Zed are investigating the abandoned carnival where the missing girl was last seen, when they’re attacked by Midnite’s zombie in the Funhouse / Hall of Mirrors. The zombie almost gets the upper hand on John, but Corrigan shows up right on time to put a bullet in its undead brain, forcing Midnite to get personally involved in the bounty hunt. One of my other favorite moments was when Midnite blew Constantine’s head off with a shotgun. It turns out that it was just the resurrected corpse of one of the Man’s other victims that John casts a glamor spell on in order to trick Midnite, but it’s still a pretty shocking moment (and the reveal makes it even more satisfying).
While the Papa Midnite/Brujeria bounty plot isn’t quite as climactic as I was hoping for a season finale, there is a pretty remarkable moment at the very end of the episode when Manny cancels the bounty on Constantine’s head…and reveals to Papa Midnite that the Brujeria have been working for him all along. The implications of this are quite enormous, and will make it that much more disappointing if the show does not receive a second season (I’m not holding my breathe). Is Manny actually the First Fallen himself? This does explain at least why he never actually helps John. But what has he been guiding John towards this entire time, and why? Is this why the Rising Darkness has been such a vaguely defined threat—because it’s all been part of Manny’s manipulations to some mysterious ends? How intentionally has all of this been?! This is exactly the kind of must-see-TV compelling plot twist that the show has been missing—until literally the last moment of the season finale. Sigh.
Anyway, Constantine and co. eventually manage to find the missing girl before the Man can choke her with a wire (his “wedding rings” are to mark a garrote ring around the girls’ necks—I have some minor quibbles with the way this all was played but it’s not worth getting into right now). Corrigan and Constantine have a very True Detective conversation when they realize that for all his Satanist artifacts, the Man is just an evil human with nothing supernatural about him, and that sometimes humanity can be more evil and cruel than Evil itself, thanks to the Rising Darkness (Corrigan: “He ain’t no demon, ain’t no ghost. He’s a man.” Constantine: “Is he, Jim?”) Instead of arresting the Man and handing him over to the legal system, Constantine convinces Corrigan to let the Man go…then chase him through the woods and blow his brains out so he can never harm anyone again. Good ol’ John, twisting all his friends to his own sense of moral ambiguity…
OTHER THINGS OF NOTE:
- Apparently the fate of season 2 will be decided in May, after their other new pilots are in. So if you want to see more Constantine, tell your friends to stream it all between now and then!
- I loved the lighting in this episode, and the blood moon imagery was a real nice touch.
- The carnival setting was cool and all, but I didn’t actually understand why it was there—if it was closed, abandoned, operative, or what. But that’s okay.
- Okay I’m going to get into it: the “wedding ring” reveal came way too soon, which made the ghost girls way too obvious. The story is even crazier when you think the Man is just a pedophile marrying young girls and providing them with pretty dresses…until he’s about to marry the missing girl with the garrote and you realize that he’s even worse than you thought. The seeding of the smell of rotting corpses was a nice touch though.
- I was genuinely delighted when Constantine and Corrigan pulled out the corpse of the dead detective, and Gaz’s soul jumped into the body to warn Constantine of the bounty on his head. Who’d’ve thought I’d be excited to hear from Gaz again?
- There’s a nice scene where Manny shows up to Zed, instead of Constantine, to offer guidance on how to use her visions. This, of course, gets increasingly complicated when viewed through the lens of the end-of-the-episode twist.
- Constantine uses a crazy Tibetan ritual in order to divine the location of the missing girl. It involves eating her hairbrush and electrocuting himself with her bedroom lamp and it’s so weird and I loved it.
- The house where the Man hides the body of the security guard is on Delano Street—named in honor of Jamie Delano, the inaugural author of Hellblazer.
- We may have had our first hint at John’s bisexuality! He’s having a leak under a bridge when Manny shows up, and John says, “Be an angel. Come over here and hold it for me, will you?”
- And finally, for the last freaking time…WHERE THE HELL WAS CHAS?!?!?!
MY MANNY THEORY
If the Manny reveal was an intentional and fully planned thing that the writers had in mind from the start (not like, say, the Dollhouse Season 2 reveal of the good-guy-as-secret-villain), and not just a last-minute twist tossed in at the end of the episode to keep the audience on the edge of their seats (in which case, it’s probably too little too late), here’s what I’m thinking. Heaven and Hell are of course diametrically opposed—it’s the black-and-white Manichean binary of good-vs-evil, and Constantine himself inhabits that grey area in between.
This is classic Constantine philosophy, and part of the appeal of the whole Hellblazer universe: the extremism of Pure Order (Heaven) is not necessarily better than the extremism of Pure Chaos (Hell). When Manny speaks to Zed in this episode, he suggests that her visions make her more powerful than the Angels, because she has the ability to make a choice and take action (whereas they are silent omnipotent observers, unable to interfere). So basically, Manny is the Biblical First Fallen, manipulating events on both sides because he’s sick of God’s commitment to inaction and/or the static ennui of his own angelic life.
What’s your take?
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