[This is a review of Constantine season 1, episode 6. There will be SPOILERS.]
It's a well-documented fact that evil little kid ghosts are the worst kinds of ghosts, and evil children in general aren't a lot of fun. Unfortunately for those who couldn't sit all the way through The Omen, Constantine's sixth episode is all about an evil little kid ghost who possesses regular children and turns them into evil children. It's a veritable feast of preteen malevolence.
'The Rage of Caliban' changes things up by giving Zed the weakly-justified leave of absence instead of Chas (she's at an art class, apparently), which leaves the two guys to search their inner children to get to the bottom of a series of parricides committed by young children with apparent telekinetic abilities. Actually it's mostly John who gets in touch with his inner child, since Chas exudes an air of having been born fully-formed, 6'4" and bearded. Luckily John has more than enough childhood trauma for both of them, and season one of Constantine seems determined to exposit as much of that miserable early life as possible.
The fact that the possession of young Henry brings up unpleasant memories for John (both of his own childhood and of Astra's exorcism) makes 'The Rage of Caliban' the strongest episode so far in terms of character development - and it's also further evidence of the series going from strength to strength.
The story itself feels a little derivative, what with the recent rash of horror movies about demonic and/or ghostly possessions, but it serves the detective aspects of the show well, as Chas and John go digging through the past to find out what connects a series of brutal killings. It's just a shame that the final twist - that the ghost was actually the wandering, tormented soul of a living killer encountered early on in the episode - is so predictable that the audience is left patiently waiting for John to catch on to the obvious.
He's so slow to catch on, in fact, that his guardian angel Manny shows up for more than just a cursory visit and trickles a little bit more mythos into the story, though his refrain of "Stop the rising darkness" is getting a little old. The rising darkness is being name-dropped so often that it's starting to sound less like an oncoming tide of supernatural trouble and more like the name of an eighties goth band.
Prodded gently in the right direction by Manny, John makes a series of ill-informed decisions that include hanging around outside an elementary school playground in a trenchcoat and conning his way into the possessed child's house in the guise of a counsellor, only to blow his cover seconds later by shoving a mandrake root in the kid's face and telling his horrified parents that their little Henry is now a demon child. Still, it's almost worth a punch in the face and a night in jail for a glimpse of what John would look like if he actually wore his tie properly.
Probably the best part of the entire episode comes towards the end, when contrivance sends John chasing little Damien into a spook house, which for all the world looks like the set designers and prop makers were handed a massive wad of cash, along with a crate of alcohol, and told to just go nuts. It's certain a memorable setting for a showdown, and John punching a jump scare mannequin in the face is almost more satisfying than the actual exorcism.
For those who enjoy show trivia, it's worth noting that this episode's title is a reference wrapped inside another reference. Caliban is the eloquent but deformed slave monster from Shakespeare's The Tempest, and "The rage of Caliban" is taken from the preface to Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, in which the author reflects on the contemporary dislike of both romanticism and realism. Unpack that, if you dare.
Constantine returns in ‘Blessed are the Damned’ next Friday @10pm on NBC