Constantine, Episode 1, “Non Est Asylum” Broadcast October 24, 2014
Teleplay by Daniel Cerone
Story by Daniel Cerone and David S. Goyer
Directed by Neil Marshall
Ravenscar, Northern England. While getting strapped down for electroshock therapy, John Constantine narrates why he checked himself into an asylum. He’s trying to forget something that he can’t: in Newcastle he saw a demon take a little girl to Hell, and it was his fault. He has to speak to a therapist, who tries to convince him that demons aren’t real. Things come to a head when the doctor refers to the girl, again, without using her name. John explodes saying her name was Astra. “I can handle her death,” he says, “but it’s her damnation that’s eating me alive.” Constantine wants to believe that demons aren’t real, but he knows better. During one excruciatingly boring group session, he notices a cockroach…several cockroaches on the floors, the walls, all headed in the same direction. He follows the swarm to a large room where a woman is painting something on a wall, which is barely visible under the ocean of roaches that swarm her image. He sees the woman is possessed (pupil-less white eyes) and walks away, saying it’s not his problem. He only goes a few steps before stopping, stating, “Awww, bollocks.” He turns back and performs an exorcism, complete with flying body, screams, and Latin. Once the spirit leaves, her message on the wall is revealed: LIV DIE. He realizes he’s been wasting his time at the asylum and has work to do. As patients and workers arrive to see the demonic aftermath, Constantine exits with “She did it.” In Atlanta, Georgia, Liv Aberdine leaves her jobs at a car rental place, and lights flicker and explode as she passes. Her car refuses to back up, and after examining it, dies completely, as does the light above it. She decides to walk home, as lights continue to blow out and the ground cracks open, producing a monstrous fiery pit. John arrives in a speeding taxi to offer his services, but she leaves, so he investigates the now dormant pit. An angel named Manny appears, surprised to see John, telling him things are about to change, considering what’s on its way. John screams at the angel’s leaving, “What’s on its way?” Cue first commercial break.
If you’ve read the comics, this will be pleasant to watch, as Matt Ryan is a really good John Constantine. His gruff, beaten resolve is what I want in my Constantine. His disgust with Manny was good, and I’m sure there’ll be more of that to come. There are elements from the comic in place, such as Newcastle and a cameo by Dr. Fate’s helmet (which had me screaming), but if you’ve not read the comics, this will seem like overly familiar territory that’s been covered in other shows, such as Supernatural. Manny pops up to tempt and tease John and hint at a backstory, but doesn’t do much story-wise. I wasn’t keen on his contacts, or those used for the demonically possessed. Liv doesn’t add much to the story, except to introduce a magical headquarters for John and Chas. I liked how Lucy Griffiths portrayed her as a character over her head in strangeness, but she gathered no confidence as the story progressed, and her sudden exit seemed like the actress walked before filming had concluded. I did like how Charles Halford’s Chas has a backstory teased, but is left for another episode. Considering a very dramatic moment, this is something I look forward to. Ritchie Simpson is a character that I really enjoyed, because this is the type of outcast that John would know and would want nothing to do with the exorcist. Jeremy Davies was outstanding in this part and I’d like to see him return. With Harold Perrineau, are there any other actors from Lost returning on this show? The effects were good for the most part, especially on the roaches and the soul sequence, but the flying body in the asylum was more Evil Dead than Constantine.
The good: Matt Ryan in every way, Charles Halford, Jeremy Davies, Dr. Fate, roaches, “Nana,” a super map sequence, Newcastle, and the best use of the song “Ring of Fire.”
The bad: The “been there, done that” story, Liv, supernatural contact lenses, flying possessed bodies, angel obtuse-ness, and the terrible comic book closing.
The final line: I’ve been on fire for this series since its announcement, and I loved the acting, but felt a let down by the story, which suffered from being twenty years too late. I need this show to distance itself from elements that other shows and films have done well, even though the character was doing such things over twenty years ago. Overall grade: C+
Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer’s Guide for several years with “It’s Bound to Happen!”, he reviewed comics for TrekWeb, and he currently reviews Trek comics at TrekCore. He’s taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for two years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.