So there are these angels, love, and they can’t interfere, love. They have two main responsibilities, emotional support or whatever comes from knowing they’re there and physically—technically, extra-physically, but for our little human brains let’s stick with three dimensions—carrying the dead to Heaven or Hell, love. But the point, love, is they’re very real.
On about the fifth regurgitation of the angel spiel and, conservatively, the 14 billionth “love,” I died, but then I plucked a feather off the angel that was carrying me to Hell and woke up in time for the sixth exposition, this one about the Engirthening Darkness. Yes, world-building, like character-defining and story-developing, is vital to the long-term—I know, I know—success of a show like Constantine. And the ride’s pretty smooth so far. Ignore everything about the show except the way it’s gradually built this world where there’s a shadow system of angels and demons and magic with its own rules, and it’s easy to see how nicely Constantine has been developing. After the introductions of the pilot and the repilot, it’s gone through the rules about the setting, the magic, and the characters byline by byline. In that infrared scan of the show, Constantine looks pretty good.
Instead it’s erred on the side of making things really, really simple. It’s hard to get too invested when you can steal an all-powerful angel feather with a defense mechanism through mere pickpocketing. And it’s not just the solutions. What Happens on Constantine is routinely dumbed down. That’s partly down to writing conventions, like when John says, “I know about the angel feather,” and somehow that’s enough for the preacher to let him into his house for a late night chat. The preacher doesn’t even try to play dumb, doesn’t even try to protect his enormous secret.
Just afterward there’s a scene where Zed is sleeping in the tent, and suddenly a ghoul grabs her by the legs, pulls her out, and lifts her by her neck as she fights back. After John rescues her, he says, “I don’t think that he was trying to kill you, love. It looked to me like he was…searching for something.” Yes, I know the writer knows that, because in the end it turns out the ghouls are searching for the angel feather, but that is not what it looked like at all. Besides, false assumptions are great for drama. I mean, not in this case, because the ghouls are murderous bad guys in any event, but on a more complicated show where ghouls are really just trying to sniff out the feather, it might actually matter if you were to kill them in defense, considering they’re just God-fearing people who went to the wrong preacher. Instead, ghouls are guilt-free kills and we skip to the right answer on the basis of John’s worldliness.
That worldliness is a good example of how the characterizations are simplistic too. At an ostensibly dramatic moment Zed calls John cynical. Constantine really wants us to believe he’s cynical, too, as evidenced by his numerous wrapped condoms and unsmoked cigarettes. He sure does smirk a lot. But he also spends all his time sitting on the metaphorical pew against the church doors trying to hold evil out. There’s only so much weariness we’ll buy. Zed’s characterization is the bigger issue for “Blessed Are The Damned.” She spends the episode talking about what a big deal it is to discover angels are real, to see one with her own eyes. She talks the talk, but the writing doesn’t let her walk the walk. Awe isn’t generally something that comes down to words. How shaken is she really? She won’t shut up about angels, but for a life-changing, truly humbling event, she sure doesn’t let us see it impact her in any meaningful way. She doesn’t even get to ask the angels about her powers.
As for the other leg of Team Constantine, the Excuse Of The Week: “Chas is off-duty. He’s making good with his daughter.” Again, all week? And a follow-up, does he know that there are demons on the loose trying to collapse the space between Earth and Hell and that this is kind of a big deal? I get that there are budget issues, but at this point, go big or go home. “Chas can’t come. He just got to the one where Seth and Summer make it official.”
As usual, that leaves Manny. Harold Perrineau might be used weirdly, but he’s Constantine’s secret weapon. The look on his face when he asks fallen angel Imogen what sunlight feels like is worth a thousand ambiguous expressions from Holy Wayne on The Leftovers. (Credit where it’s due: Zed’s meeting with the preacher has a similar effect. We get a sudden pouring of light and a hazy glimpse of an angel, all goosed by the way the camera slowly pushes in on Zed and then pulls back after the vision, but the real power comes from the look on Angélica Celaya’s face.) And, whaddyaknow, “Blessed Are The Damned” actually reveals a thing or two about Manny. Turns out, he thinks Earth is wasted on humanity. He pulls back when he gets to the point of blaspheming—saying that God did something wrong—but he goes far enough to out himself as a really passive-aggressive angel. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never liked him more.
The drama pivots on Manny, too. It does so suddenly and easily in lieu of seriously building an episode around Manny’s precarious worldview, but the climax is awfully charged nonetheless. What happens is Imogen turns out to be a Lucifer-style fallen angel, not just an angel who was hurt by an opportunistic dying soul. Anyway, she gets her feather back and suddenly her wings go black and she rises into the air. She wants to, I don’t know, take Earth for herself? Her goals are more concrete than many villains, at least. But she can’t escape, because John put a protection spell around the barn, originally to protect her from evil, only now it’s trapping her evil inside. So she grabs Zed’s throat and threatens to choke her to death. Once John realizes she isn’t…searching for something, he tries to appeal to Manny to intervene. “You’re either in this bloody fight with me, or you’re not.”
Manny falls back on the rules and disappears. Imogen taunts John, apparently unaware that she’s losing, too. “Your angel did what they always do. Nothing.”
Suddenly Manny reappears in Zed’s place. He says, “Like Hell,” which is the least I’ve ever liked him, and rips out Imogen’s heart, which is in the running for the most. So. Wow. Manny broke the rules. Which seems like a big deal, but nobody talks about the consequences, so maybe we’ll have to wait for next week. Also, look, I know that Zed is a human being, and every life is valuable, but when it comes to breaking cosmic vows like this, there has to be some part of Manny that considers sacrificing her. John’s The One, and Imogen’s trapped there after all. Why intervene on Zed’s behalf? Why does she deserve special treatment?
“Blessed Are The Damned” is a good-looking episode with a couple good gasps. The Kentucky revival church milieu comes alive, or the opposite, considering the river of dead fish. The point is it’s a rich, pulpy location, particularly the dilapidated church with the blue light pouring in. Every time there’s a rattlesnake on-screen the episode is awesome, especially when we suddenly cut to church where Preacher Zachary’s dancing with a snake to a southern rock ditty. It’s not even a horror episode, proving that Consantine can stretch itself. And Manny, as I said, is magnetic. I’m on the hook. But if Constantine expects to reel me in, it’s time to start taking itself seriously.
- Oh, in the most wooden scene yet, the nude model in Zed’s art class asks her out. She misses their date because, unlike Chas, she has priorities. But then we find out he’s in league with some shadowy heavy in the backseat of his car. It’s probably boring Zed backstory stuff and not important Heaven/Hell stuff, but it’s a nice surprise nonetheless.
- The Deal With Manny, cot’d: “I do have other mortals to watch over, John.”
- Ripping a single feather from an angel’s wings dooms them to Earth, where they will suffer and then cease to exist unless the wing is restored. John: “One feather. Piss-poor design if you ask me.”