[This is a review of Constantine season 1, episode 5. There will be SPOILERS.]
John Constantine is no stranger to being haunted by the ghosts from his past, so New Orleans is in good hands as the master of the dark arts rolls into town with Zed and Chas (who has returned from another one of his episodic disappearing acts) to investigate a series of deaths caused by restless spirits. Upon arrival in the city they run into seriously confused cop Jim Corrigan (in his pre-Spectre days) as well as John’s frenemy Papa Midnite, whose sloppy but lucrative voodoo rituals are the source of all the bloodshed.
‘Danse Vaudou’ is another enjoyable episode that’s held together by the back-and-forth between John and Papa Midnite as the two are forced to work together. Part of what makes it interesting to see the two characters interact is their similarities; John is a con artist who uses magic to give himself a bit of an edge, while Midnite is ostensibly out to help grieving women but is sure to take a big wad of cash off them first.
Despite their faults they also both seem to think of themselves as both morally and magically superior to the other. John mocks Midnite for his exclusive reliance on voodoo magic, while Midnite despises John as a “jackass of all trades, master of none” and a “magpie of magic” who “steals from other people’s cultures and traditions to suit [his] own purposes.” Perhaps it is just the addition of a perfect foil for John, but the dialogue definitely seemed to sparkle more than usual in this episode.
Zed also gets an opportunity to do more than just tag along, as she and Jim go after the ghost of a hitchhiker who can’t seem to stop crashing every car he hitches a ride in. The ghost’s backstory and its similarities to Zed’s own mysterious past allows for some surprisingly subtle exposition that those who are unfamiliar with the comics might miss. Jim’s familiarity with her missing persons file adds a little more detail, though it looks like the full reveal of Zed’s backstory is being held back to draw out the mystery. It’s a pretty good incentive to keep watching.
The same is true for Chas and his uncanny ability to get back up after being murdered by an angry undead model with a slashed face. Chas is tasked with babysitting this particular volatile spirit and eventually manages to stump her by answering her every question with another question (warning: doing this in real life will make you more likely to receive an injury, not less), but it’s still hard to really get a handle on his character and why he’s so willing to act as an unpaid driver/assistant for John.
Overall, ‘Danse Vaudou’ manages to blend together most of the elements that made the comic books compelling: a bit of magic, a bit of con artistry, a bit of rivalry and a bit of mystery. The various ongoing plot points raised – the rising darkness, Zed’s history, Chas’ immortality and Jim’s grim-looking fate – are all reasons to keep watching the show, lifting it out of its monster-of-the-week format with some pretty intriguing ongoing arcs.
Constantine still has its weaknesses. It still feels a little too toothless considering the gruesome nature of the source material (kudos to the showrunners, though, for pushing the boundaries of NBC’s no-smoking rule) and it still feels more or less identical to Supernatural in tone and episode structure. Nonetheless, there have been signs of steady improvement since the pilot and with any luck things will continue in that direction.
Constantine returns in ‘Rage of Caliban’ next Friday @10pm on NBC. Watch the promo below.