[This is a review of Constantine season 1, episode 11. There will be SPOILERS.]
University isn’t just a place where people go to learn, improve themselves and get into crippling debt for the rest of their lives. It’s also a Darwinian proving ground where youngsters who haven’t learned to stay away from spooky magic rituals or to not say things like “Who’s there?” in dark, empty rooms are violently purged from the gene pool. At least, that’s what the proud tradition of horror movies would have us believe.
In this week’s episode of Constantine, ”A Whole World Out There,’ it’s John’s turn to take a trip to the noble halls of higher learning after lurking angel Manny informs him that his old friend Ritchie Simpson is in a spot of bother. This week both Zed and Chas are completely absent with a blithe excuse each (Zed is getting “bed rest” for some reason and Chas is spending time with his family), which means that it’s left to Ritchie and John alone to help a group of students who did a spooky magic ritual and are now being picked off by a killer from another dimension.
Whether it’s the lack of John’s regular sidekicks, the return of Jeremy Davies as the jittery, neurotic Ritchie, the introduction of director Thomas J. Wright or a combination of all these factors is unclear, but ‘A Whole World There’ is easily one of the best Constantine episodes so far. It feels nicely structured, uses the neat trick of beginning and ending with virtually the same scene, and the pacing is much smoother. It helps that the latter half of the episode contains what is probably half of the total special effects budget for this season.
This episode’s victims-to-be are Carter, Lily, Adam and Miranda, four friends who decide that going to a cemetery and performing an ancient Egyptian ritual inside a mausoleum is a fun way of spending an evening and are proved wrong when they’re transported to a house of horrors where the consciousness of a killer called Jacob Shaw is waiting for them. Although they initially escape, Shaw continues to stalk them and draws each of them in for a killing by using reflective surfaces as a doorway.
By the time John and Ritchie have figured out what’s going on, three of the students are already dead thanks to Shaw’s efficiency, which means that all that’s left to do is go Saving Private Ryan on Lily, the sole survivor, and try to purge Shaw from his dream house. The set for the house is honestly kind of uninspired considering the fact that it would have been a perfect opportunity to sneak in some impossible space. Few things are scarier than impossible space.
The death of John and Ritchie’s mutual friend Gary Lester is also brought up, but in a very half-hearted sort of way. It’s a shame, since there are a few glimmerings of subtext related to the reflective surfaces that Shaw uses and the mirror in John’s hideout that shows a past version of Gary, but this parallel really doesn’t get explored enough.
The central concept of this episode would be a solid basis for any horror film. Shaw’s victims cannot be killed in the dream world, and instead are left to live on with their fatal wounds as Shaw kills them over and over again. That’s a pleasantly grim horror story, though some of the impact is lost when the episode ends with the three dead friends having their souls freed and Shaw’s house being turned into a vast, pretty meadow filled with flowers and dappled with sunshine.
Yes, ‘A Whole World Out There’ unfortunately suffers from a bad case of the Happy Ending Syndrome that’s been plaguing Constantine throughout the season, and as such, the ending lacks the weight that it could have had. Even the possible heartbreak of Ritchie deciding to stay lost in a dream world is avoided when he comes back to fight the good fight after all. The showrunners’ reluctance to have any of Constantine‘s adventures go really, really badly wrong – as they so frequently do in the comics – is ultimately what’s keeping this show in firmly generic territory.
Constantine returns next Friday @8pm on NBC in ‘Angels and Ministers of Grace.’ Watch the promo below: