Who made the mine owner? Say the black bells of Rhondda. And who robbed the miner? Cry the grim bells of Blaina. —Idris Davies, Gwalia Deserta, 1938
Although set in the Welsh tract of Pennsylvania, the second episode of Constantine, “The Darkness Beneath,” might just as well have been in Wales itself. The mining town of Heddwich (Heddwich iw lwch is essentially Welsh for “RIP”) has a dragon for a town symbol, as John points out while gesturing toward one of many Welsh flags on the walls of the local bar. Miners have been dying, and the latest one was barbecued in his own shower, so hey, maybe there’s a dragon about? Constantine later even refers to Heddwich as a “Welsh mining town.” Perhaps all of the flags made him forget he’s now living across the pond.
“The Darkness Beneath” has some groundwork to lay, as things have changed since the pilot. Liv Aberdine, who featured prominently (though uninterestingly) in Episode 1, ran away, leaving the magical medallion once belonging to her father, Jasper Winters, behind for John. She must have also left him Jasper’s house keys, which John had sworn to deliver to her, because John and Chas have made themselves comfortable in the vast secret basement of Jasper’s little Cottage of the Occult, surrounded by dusty artifacts, taxidermy and grimoires. The blood-dotted map of the contiguous US states that Liv made for Constantine before leaving also remains—a drop of dried blood on the map that becomes liquid indicates where the latest supernatural shenanigans are going down.
The episode opens with a surly miner having his usual slug of after-work whiskey and intimidating his beleaguered wife before getting in the shower—where the water turns into muddy oil, then flames, igniting the aforementioned bathroom barbecue. Then the new opening titles come on, and they are hella creepy. Scorched bodies writhe in the agony of hellfire. Ouch!
We next see John in Jasper’s cottage, a lit smoke in the ashtray. He’s practicing close playing-card magic when Chas comes in with an envelope full of horse-betting winnings, which we guess is how they’re supporting themselves this week. We see Heddwich, PA on the blood map, and Chas reminds Constantine that he can’t come with him—something about a succubus, and the law having a long memory when it comes to train derailments. Of course the real reason Chas has to stay behind is that we need room to get to know a new character.
Zed, the woman who’s been frantically drawing and painting pictures of Constantine with no understanding of why, or who he even is, literally runs into John on the street. Throughout the episode, John tries to ditch her and she keeps popping back up—she’s not about to let the guy from her drawings get away before she can understand why he’s in her head. She does, however, make herself useful. Although she says she has no control over her visions, which seem to come to her most readily by touching people or objects, Constantine can get the information he needs by guiding her via hypnotic suggestion. She’s also shown to have grifter skills—while Constantine distracts her in order to slip away, she’s in turn lifted his wallet, and later, comes and goes at will from his small-town hotel honeymoon suite.
John attends the post-funeral wake at the home of the recently barbecued miner, TV chicken dinner in hand. He sneaks to the Murder bathroom, and collects a sample of black slime from the shower head. The nameless widow discovers him, and tipsily tells the story of a Romany girl who agreed to marry a “captain of industry” amorous correspondent, only learning too late that the industry was dirty, filthy, coal, and that the man is not so much a captain of industry as a shift boss. When she makes a pass at John and is refused, she loudly chases him out of the house.
Constantine’s Northern England roots give him a little extra insight, as he grew up in a mining town. He quickly learns that the creatures that have been killing mining bosses are Coblynau, although these faceless mud-apparitions are protection spirits, and have up until now only been warning the miners with their scary knocking when danger is afoot. Coblynau would never normally come above ground, though, and certainly wouldn’t kill. Someone must be summoning them for the attacks, and John and Zed’s first suspect is Ellis McGee, the ex-priest of the now-abandoned St. Asaph’s Church. The priest lost his will to continue his pastoral work (though apparently not his faith) after his son was killed in a mining accident. Through Zed’s visions, they find him out camping, but he’s not the baddie, so the bristly broom Constantine gave to Zed to ward off evil (as long as you keep the bristles pointing up!) wasn’t needed, nor was John’s Latin recitation of St. Patrick’s Breastplate as another protective against evil, which the priest merely starts singing along to.
Eventually the big mining boss gets taken down by the Coblynau, Constantine blows up the mine (but lets the priest push the plunger button), and the barbecued miner’s Romany widow is found to be the one with the juju needed to summon the protective spirits aboveground to do her bidding. But before the Coblynau under her power can kill John, he summons the spirit of her dead miner husband, who exacts his vengeance and drags her down to join him in the darkness beneath.
The episode ends back in the pink honeymoon suite, where once again Zed has let herself in while John’s been out confronting the gypsy conjurer. Zed makes it clear she’s sticking around, and Constantine quits arguing and tries to sleep, meanwhile wondering whether Zed can be trusted. Father McGee goes to his church and starts to clean up in preparation for his apparent return to the fold. Good thing, as he and Charlie the bartender are probably the only people in town with jobs now since the mine’s been blown up, but that’s somebody else’s problem for another day.
This would have been a Monster-of-the-Week episode were it not for the revamping of the series following the pilot, so it’ll take at least another episode to see what kind of a show we might be able to expect going forward. Although Zed doesn’t look much like the character from the comics, she’s not that unlike her, either. Of course she’s got the same automatic drawing abilities—and it’s pretty cool to see all the drawings and paintings in her apartment, especially with Constantine himself in front of them. Many of the paintings are close reproductions of original comic book cover artwork, and when Matt Ryan sits amidst them he really does look the part.
The smoking thing is almost funny now, too—the writers are clearly doing everything they can to make it clear that John’s a smoker while never actually showing him in the act. We see him smoking from behind, so we can’t see his face; we see lit cigarettes in ashtrays in front of him, we see Chas crush them out and make griping comments about John’s filthy habit; and of course we see the Zippo-flicking. We’re not sure if this is going to end up being more distracting than had he not smoked at all, but we’re going to try to enjoy watching the writers somehow sneak the verboten vice into each episode.
The heavily Welsh aspects of this episode (note Matt Ryan is himself Welsh) make us wish the show were set in Great Britain, as well as suspect that the writers may feel the same way. When Supernatural first started all those years ago, many of the small towns they ended up in had odd, Biblical names. We wonder if Constantine will likewise use American parallels to English locales, or if this is just wishful thinking on our part. Regardless, we appreciate the attention to detail of all of the Welsh references: the flags, the names of the church and the town, and even the accurate placement of the town in the Welsh Barony of Western PA. Although we’d prefer Zed to be only an occasional character, and hope that Chas doesn’t turn into a manservant/den mother (he’s thus far done more fetching and cooking than driving), we’re still firmly on board for Episode Three.
I rewatched the opening credits after reading your comments. They are pretty hellish. It’s surprising network TV allows them.
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