Although NBC announced last week that they will be halting production of Constantine after the filming of the 13th episode, we haven’t yet given up the ghost. The show has not officially been canceled, and is still being promoted (stars Matt Ryan and Angélica Celaya chatted with Al Roker during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade). There is also an online petition to keep the show on the air. Ironically, while the decision to halt production was made after only four episodes had aired, the show had a big bump in viewership the following week, and is doing better than most other programs in the occult detective vein, including Sleepy Hollow and Supernatural. In the sixth episode, “Rage of Caliban,” we learn a tiny bit more backstory about both Chas Chandler and John. No Zed this week (she is at an apparently really long art class), but the angel Manny makes a few appearances.
In one scene, while Constantine is digging through Jasper’s relics looking for a thurible, Chas begins playing with the Sword of Night. (Once belonging to DC’s James Rook, aka Nightmaster, the Sword of Night has the ability to compel its wielder to speak truth.) Chas not only mumbles something about how John is too self-involved to ever listen to him, but also rambles on a bit about Renee, and how she left him:
“Renee—she’s gone. I’m afraid I wasn’t enough to keep her from leaving.”
So now we know a little bit about whatever became of Renee Chandler in the TV story. She did exist, and although it is not explicitly stated that she was Chas’s wife, we do learn that they are now estranged. We are also led to understand that although Chas does a lot of cooking at Jasper’s (he makes Constantine a lovely breakfast in this episode), he does have his own home somewhere in the Atlanta area.
Manny speaks to John about events in his early life, too. He mentions a time during which John’s father burned him with cigarettes, and that John’s sister left John alone with their father, causing one of John’s earliest (though not last) bouts of suicidal ideation. Manny asks Constantine, who finds the angel unhelpful, whether he is sure Manny wasn’t there during those dark times, watching over him. John’s older sister, Cheryl (Constantine) Masters, and her family are Constantine’s only living relations in the books, although they don’t see each other frequently (Cheryl’s husband, Tony Masters, is a devout Christian and is uncomfortable with John’s vocation and lifestyle). For a taste of Constantine’s childhood, see Hellblazer #35, “Dead-Boy’s Heart,” collected in Rare Cuts.
This week’s story takes place in Birmingham, Alabama in late October. A full moon moves across the sky. A young girl named Emily Cooper sits against a wall in her living room and watches as her parents are supernaturally and gruesomely destroyed. After a quick morning scene of John escaping out the window of his date’s bedroom, togs in hand, as her boyfriend arrives , we return to Emily’s house. She is sitting silently in the kitchen with the kindly Officer Sullivan when another cop comes in and tells Sullivan she’s needed at the station. Officer Sullivan is unwilling to leave Emily alone, and the two cops start bickering. Emily gets more and more agitated. Coffee in a mug on the counter starts rippling. As the officers’ argument gets more heated, Emily’s eyes go black and the coffee cup explodes.
After eggs over easy and a look at the blood map, John and Chas drive to Birmingham and break into Emily’s house, now marked with police tape as a crime scene. While John first sniffs, then tastes (yuck!) a cracked and slimy doorway, Manny shows up and tells Constantine for like the grillionth time that it’s time to suit up against the Rising Darkness, and is generally his usual jerkish self. He does drop a hint here or there, though, while John continues his investigation. In the kitchen, John pulls a little scroll out of his bag of tricks, recites a spell, and lights the scroll on fire. The smoke from the smoldering scroll allows John to see the events surrounding the explosion of the coffee cup. He sees Emily and Officer Sullivan walk away, but another child can still be seen where Emily had just been sitting. Emily was not spared in the attack on her parents; she was the attacker, possessed by some malevolent spirit.
Meanwhile in another nearby family home, Henry, also an only child like Emily, has had a nightmare. He believes someone is in his room. His parents tell him it was nothing, but what do they know? When his parents are back in bed, Henry sees the door open. He throws a stuffed animal at the door to close it, but it is too late—someone is behind a gauzy window curtain, and is slowly approaching the terrified child. Henry’s parents once again respond to his screams, but this time when they arrive he calmly tells them they can go back to bed— he’s “feeling much better. You’ll see.”
A local paralegal who owes John a favor brings him information on the case, and other similar cases going back 35 years—children with no siblings who survived witnessing the murders of their parents. While past cases only occurred every few years, there have been three such events in Birmingham in the last month. John has little hope of getting to speak to any of the recent child survivors, but at least one of the now-grown children from the previous events is still around. Marcello Panetti killed his parents (via axe and thresher) in the first attack 35 years ago, and has resided in a high-security mental institution ever since. Constantine goes to see him, but Marcello is completely catatonic. He is also missing many of his fingers—an orderly at the mental hospital suggests that Marcello may have been punished as a child with finger-removal-by-axe by his father. Meanwhile, Henry is at home acting super creepy. It is the middle of the night, and he’s removed all the light bulbs from the lamps and scattered them across the floor. He crouches beneath a table and taps a light bulb on the floor as he watches his father wander around in the dark trying to spot a prowler. When Henry suddenly appears amid flashes of bright light, his father stumbles backwards, cutting his bare feet on the bestrewn bulbs. Henry denies having done anything and says he was only investigating odd sounds. He seems to be trying to bait his father into getting angry, but his dad believes Henry, and only says he was doing the same thing. Henry says he’s going back to bed, but not before menacingly warning his father to “be careful.” The next day, Henry is still acting like a changeling—his jack-o’-lantern carving is more of a pumpkin massacre, and when he gets mildly irritated with his mother for taking the carving knife away, a bird flies into a glass door in front of her, spattering bird blood everywhere.
It’s the next night, but there’s still a shot of another full moon. TV loves full moons. Back at Jasper’s, Constantine is marking the locations of the attacks and overlaying them with a ley line map. All of them follow in sequence along the same ley line, so he digs up the aforementioned thurible and some frankincense to follow the line and find the home the spirit has most likely moved on to. Once they find it, Chas’s suggestion that they just knock on the door and say something like, “hey, your kid is possessed; mind if we come in for a quick exorcism?” is kiboshed, and they instead fall back to observe. The next day, John is watching Henry being bullied at recess in his schoolyard through a chain-link fence. A teacher hassles him—trenchcoat-wearing men are now always considered suspect when anywhere near schoolchildren.
John: Hey teach—you’ve got a couple of kids getting shirty over there. Teacher: What’s in that trenchcoat? John: I am. Now go and stop that row, will ya, before someone gets hurt. Teacher: You got a kid at this school? John: No, I don’t ‘got a kid at this school.’ Will you just turn around?!
But the teacher won’t take his eyes from John, even though he is on the other side of a tall fence, unable to get anywhere near the kids. When all of the other kids start screaming, the teacher finally turns around, too late. Henry passively stares at nothing while behind him his classmates gather in a circle around what must be the badly injured bully.
We next see Henry at home being admonished by his parents for giving a kid a fractured skull at school. The kid was brought to Henry’s mother, Claire’s, hospital—she is a doctor. Henry is about to get all black-eyed when the doorbell rings. It is Constantine, with his tie uncharacteristically and hilariously tightened up, pretending to be a school counselor. He is let in, and promptly holds a mandrake root in front of Henry, who screeches and recoils. Mandrake is anathema to indwelling spirits. John gives up his pretense, and tells Henry’s parents that he’s actually an exorcist. When this announcement is not taken well, he tries to leave his infamous business card and exit, with instructions to call if things get weirder. But Henry’s dad has “a better plan”—he gives John a nice fat punch to the face. Now in the pokey, sporting a fresh shiner and sharing a cell with a taciturn drunk, Constantine moans about how he has nothing to drink and doesn’t know how to deal with children. Manny, doing that thing where he takes over a nearby body, is now where the drunk cellmate used to be. He tries to tell John that he has been attempting to help him in his own irritating angelic way, and advises him on how to help Henry:
Manny: You didn’t have it easy, John. If you want to save a child, just remember what it was like to be one. John: Well aren’t you a regular little clever clogs? You know what I think of that dog’s breakfast?
This is the third time breakfast has come up in this episode—and it comes up a literal fourth time as Manny disappears, and the drunk cellmate reappears—and vomits. “Nice. Lovely.” Henry’s mother, Claire, comes to bail John out, just as he’s having a jailhouse wee. She has looked into her child’s face and seen something else looking back, and wants Constantine’s help. John considers casting the spirit out or binding it, but casting it out will only send it along to take over the next hapless child victim. And binding a spirit without a known name or place is problematic as well. Exorcism is called for, but Constantine has flashes of Newcastle and Astra, and fears attempting another exorcism on a child. It is decided that with help from Chas they will hold a séance and try to bind the spirit.
Claire arrives at home to find her son making horrifying drawings. She shoots him full of tranquilizers (being a doctor has come in handy) and heads off to perform the séance. She and John meet Chas at the childhood home of Marcello Panetti, the first child in the sequence of filicides. John hopes he can bind the spirit to the house—it clearly holds remnants of the malign energy of the murders that took place there. The summoning fails, however, and the only creature that appears is a three-legged deer. This is baffling—our best guess is that this represents some sort of evil-location-based Lamarckian evolution wherein the trait of chopped-off body parts is transferred, cross-species, amongst the cursed local fauna. All it means to John is that the séance didn’t work because the spirit is not of the dead—it is Marcello Panetti himself, the first child, still living in a soulless stupor in an institution.
It is now Halloween night (probably another full moon, too), and Henry is awake and dressed in his very scary zombie costume. Constantine and Claire enter, and Claire and her husband start fighting about the fact that she’s bailed John out of jail. Henry starts in with his telekinetic shenanigans, and John sees that conflict is the trigger for his deadly outbursts. He quickly charms a mirror and holds it up just in time to reflect Henry’s own paranormal thrusts, sending Henry flying down the hall. He quickly recovers and runs out of the house, putting on his Halloween mask along the way. John pursues. Chas also tries to help, but gets squished between two parked cars by Henry’s powers with a disgusting crushing sound. Oh, don’t worry about Chas; he’ll be fine. He just won’t be of any help for a while. Constantine, still clutching his charmed mirror, chases Henry the little zombie through the trick-or-treater-filled streets to a Halloween carnival House of Horrors. And it is indeed horrible. We wouldn’t go into a spectacle like that one for love or money. Strobe lights flash, speakers blare screams and groans, creatures lurch and grab, and walls of skulls loom while John searches for Henry.
John does eventually find him, but not before a haunted house ghoul breaks his mirror, for which John can’t help but punch the prop monster in the face. Henry’s got a fire department in-case-of-emergency axe, the weapon his possessor spirit is most skilled with. He uses his telekinetic powers to throw John around like a ragdoll for a while. But once he’s swung and missed with the axe, lodging it firmly in the floor, Constantine is able to grasp the child, speak the indwelling spirit of Marcello Panetti’s true name, and cast him out—back into the no-longer-catatonic body at the mental hospital whence it came. The episode wraps with Henry safely back at home with his parents, and we hear Constantine’s closing narration, in a very Hellblazer-like moment, as he leans back on the hood of his truck, drinks a beer, and lights a smoke with his trusty Zippo. Costumed children run around behind him in the street.
What of my rotten inner child? If humanity’s what can save us, then overcoming the damage and weakness in my nature may be the part of this battle that I dread most. I don’t have the answers—I only know that a darkness is rising, and unless I can stop it, the world will change forever.
While it has more and more of a Hellblazery feel as the show improves and we adjust to the change in format to TV, we remain curious about the direction it’s going in. With this week’s cameo by Nightmaster’s Sword of Night; last week’s guest star, Jim “Spectre” Corrigan; and the brief appearance of Dr. Fate’s helmet in the pilot episode, are we going to see more a more mainstream-DC trend? No Vertigo characters beyond those in Hellblazer have even been mentioned. Meanwhile, Arrow and The Flash, both Golden-Age DC titles, have gained relative success on the CW (along with Gotham, a third DC-based show), and DC has got to be looking at the Marvel Cinematic Universe juggernaut and making big plans of its own. We are hoping that NBC is not just jerking our chain with their recent announcements about Constantine, and that they see the potential value of holding on to this show. Hellblazer was a DC title before Vertigo came into existence, and is back at DC proper as Constantine with the New 52. Now that Vertigo will be rebranded following the recent resignation of Executive Editor Karen Berger, The Constantine television show might help chart a whole new course for DC, in both print and TV—if it can only avoid the Rising Darkness of cancellation.