Now that the necessary evil that was Constantine's pilot episode is out of the way, the first real test of what the show will be is the all-important second episode. With his convenient map of supernatural goings-on in hand and the tempting offer of a reprieve from hell, 'The Darkness Beneath' sees John heading to a Pennsylvania mining town where an unfortunate miner has just been barbecued in his own shower.
Constantine's second monster of the week isn't really a monster at all, but rather the friendly mine spirits known as Coblynau in Wales and Tommyknockers in the U.S.A. Usually happy to act as an early warning system for mine cave-ins, the Coblynau are being drawn out of the ground and forced to engage in activities of a far more homicidal nature.
It's an interesting premise for an episode that proves to be much more promising than the pilot. Supporting characters Chas and Manny more or less disappear to make way for the introduction of Zed (Angélica Celaya), the series' new female lead, who is a little shocked to finally see John after spending months dreaming about him and drawing pictures of him. Zed's studio is a particular treat for fans of the source material, since it's an Aladdin's cave of Hellblazer covers and sketches that reference the comics.
As was the case with Matt Ryan in the pilot, it's hard to say how strong a character Zed will prove to be since Celaya doesn't seem to quite be settled in the role yet. Zed and John have some fun exchanges and her psychic abilities prove to be useful when it comes to tracking down the next location to visit, but nonetheless, it feels like she's merely tagging along rather than being given an active part in the story.
For his part, Ryan seems to be wearing the John Constantine character a little easier, particularly when he has to pull out his con artist tricks as he infiltrates the wake of the Corblynau's latest victim to interrogate the not-so-grieving widow. Coupled with dialogue that has more spark to it than that of the pilot, John's exchanges with the good people of Heddwich really sell Ryan's potential as a strong leading man.
'The Darkness Beneath' establishes what seems to be the formula for Constantine's first season: a different monster every week in a different location every week, strung together by John's quest for a Get Out of Hell Free card, which was alluded to in the pilot episode but could do with a reiteration sometime soon, lest he come across as being too altruistic. It's kind of like Supernatural meets My Name is Earl, with vague rumblings of a "rising darkness" to provide momentum for the season arc, which is a solid foundation for a show like this.
The dialogue is also a little less clunky when it comes to exposition in this episode, though having a psychic grab John's arm and list his primary motivations for the audience did feel a little bit crude. The writers are also apparently keen to run with the "dabbler in the dark arts" gag, though it probably wouldn't be missed if they decided to ditch it.
If there's one disappointment of Constantine so far, it's the fact that the show isn't particularly scary. The Corblynau are depicted as human-sized coal monsters rather than the little gnomes of folklore, presumably because gnomes wouldn't have been as intimidating, but they aren't much more spooky than a Halloween costume. Honestly, the most unsettling thing in the episode is the charcoal drawing of a Corblynau on the wall of an abandoned church. 'The Darkness Beneath' might have been a whole lot scarier if it had only shown that drawing and left the appearance of the mine spirits up to the audience's imagination.
So far Constantine lacks the teeth of the comics and has more in common with teen-friendly fantasy shows like Supernatural than with darker stuff like True Blood. It still feels like the show is thinking strictly inside the box, and too much blandness could be its undoing. Let's hope that this promising second episode is a sign of better things to come.
Constantine returns in 'The Devil's Vinyl' next Friday @10pm on NBC.