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Constantine: “The Saint Of Last Resorts”

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The question on our minds as we watch Sister Anne Marie shoot our hero John Constantine so he can be the goat to the invunche’s T-Rex, and as we watch some enforcer sneak up on Zed, stick her with a needle, and say he’s taking her home, and as we face with honest contemplation the yawning absence of Constantine over the next few Friday nights, is do we care? This is our big holiday cliffhanger for a show whose production has been halted by the invisible hand. Survival depends on this. It’s now or never. Do you care?

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I don’t know that I do.

Getting to that cliffhanger is a good bit of fun for a Friday night. I’ll take angels and barns if there’s a good story there, but when in doubt, give us mystical Catholic folklore and deserted convents stalked by chicken-fingered nun-demons. I see that lighting the night scenes with a glowing blue fog has taken the place of turning the lights off and on really quickly as Constantine’s favorite spooky technique. The fog doesn’t hog the stage though, giving the spotlight to things like the creepy tree with human pears.

The human fruit go from creepy—when John and Sister Anne Marie realize they’re surrounded by the branches—to harmless—when John knifes one of them and it becomes a prop—in no time, and they have the same problem as the gun at the end. An acting teacher might tell John to endow the object. It’s inanimate. It’s just going to sit there. It’s the actor who gives it meaning through his behavior toward it. But this is not Matt Ryan’s problem. Constantine has trouble endowing the object, the object in this case being pretty much all of its horror. By contrast, look at Constantine’s late-night NBC brother-in-arms Hannibal. Hannibal spends an inordinate amount of time just giving shape to its horror. Letting it weigh on the characters. Testing their limits. Constantine isn’t as psychological by design, although that admittedly undermines any attempts at horror, but it could still stand to commit. The cliffhanger doesn’t hit all that hard because it’s unbelievable.

The drama’s coming along fine though, and “The Saint Of Last Resorts” is a good example. It’s chockablock with mystical jargon, but basically there’s a demon—technically one of Biblical Eve’s sisters who rejected Adam’s offer and chose to rule in Hell for eternity—who is kidnapping the babies of a particular family in Mexico City. (The establishing shot suggests one of the biggest cities in the world, but the episode is decidedly more pastoral. I’m just happy we’re branching out. It’s like when The Real World went to Paris!) An old flame, new nun named Anne Marie appears to John and asks for his help. They have a complicated past that gets less complicated as the plot unfurls. In some delicious foreshadowing, Sister Anne Marie rubs Gary Lester in John’s face, at first keeping that tragedy alive but apparently also setting the stage for her eventual decision to sacrifice John. The monster story, the Big Blackness arc, and the study of John Constantine intertwine nicely in a well-paced, blah blah, marketing pull quote, you get it. “The Saint Of Last Resorts” tells a good story.

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The Zed subplot is another story. As usual John refuses to take Zed with him, but this time, he’s not just going through the motions. Zed really does stay home. He stresses that the house will protect her with its many defense mechanisms, and he says it with a straight face even though moments before, Sister Anne Marie’s spirit showed up inside unannounced. (He also winds up in Mexico without a single magical artifact that can translate for him.) Okay, maybe the house is just resting. After all, it’s just a projection of Anne Marie, not a real invader. Unfortunately, the rest of the episode reveals the house to be just as lazy as it was upon her arrival. On a date with Eddie, the nude model, Zed playfully touches his hand and gets a tantalizing vision in exchange: him sitting at a table in a white room with a bank-safe door. There’s an apple on the table, too, because this episode is sort of about forbidden fruit, such as when John tells Zed not to go exploring in the house and she nearly falls out of Captain Picard’s turbolift.

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Later, when she brings Eddie home to imprison him—she actually beats him up in perhaps the least convincing scene of the episode—two of his comrades appear. What does the house do? Nothing. What is the point of a magical house?! Luckily Zed knows about the abyss door, and she lures one of her pursuers down that hallway and throws her into the great beyond. But consider this: How much cooler would that scene have been if Zed hadn’t known about the door, if she just discovered it when her attacker did? Anyway, the other enforcer incapacitates her with a syringe. Apparently they’re all part of some cult and taking orders from Zed’s father. Zed spent her childhood in a locked room, presumably the one she saw when she touched Eddie. Eddie calls himself her brother, by the way, and he probably means non-biologically, but Constantine doesn’t even try to freak us out with any incest. What a waste of a brother-sister date.

That brief chase around the not-very-haunted house is crosscut with John and Sister Anne Marie stalking through the sewers to rescue the babies. This side of the episode is a lot spookier, what with the distant sound of crying babies echoing off the tunnel walls. They rescue the babies, they destroy Eve’s sister by summoning her old flame Pazuzu (of The Exorcist fame?) at which point she is engulfed in flame, which I think qualifies as visual wit. But on their way back, they hear another baby crying, and then they see the invunche, which has nothing to do with this story but which Zed drew from a vision at the beginning. Good misdirection! The invunche is a freaky CGI monster that jumps out of the water and scrambles around on the tunnel wall, shuddering like a wet dog. John says they can’t run, because it will catch them and destroy them. Hence Anne Marie shooting him. But the thing is, they were, like, 30 feet away from the ladder to safety, and the invunche hadn’t even noticed them yet. The drama plays well on the page, but in execution, it’s incredibly contrived. If the tunnel had been longer or twistier it could have made sense. If the invunche had already started to sniff them out, I’d have bought it. If only the producers would have endowed that dilemma, made it real. Instead, it’s hard to believe that any of this cliffhanger really matters.

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Ignore this paragraph if discussion of the preview that plays immediately after “The Saint Of Last Resorts” threatens to spoil your enjoyment of the next episode, whenever it airs. I’m going to talk about it because I saw it. You almost couldn’t help but see it. It’s silly how ascetic we are about TV now, and I’m speaking from experience. At any rate, apparently John’s going to possess himself with a demon in order to survive the invunche. Now, that sounds awesome. But it also comes up against this question of whether we care about the cliffhanger and how much. If that is the solution to this cliffhanger, then it doesn’t sound to me like John’s shooting is supposed to be that big of a deal. The producers know we know John’s life isn’t really in danger until they introduce a long-lost Constantine sibling, Maverick-style. Thinking about John’s shooting as a mini-cliffhanger within the season, the lead-in to the next episode Netflix queues up for you, it doesn’t have to have a lot of weight. Which is good, because I barely believe that Sister Anne Marie fired a gun, and I saw her do it, in the sense that I watched an actor point a prop at someone and heard a sound effect.

“The Saint Of Last Resorts” doesn’t have me worried for the characters. But it does have me satisfied with the progress of the show that gave us that mining town snooze. Constantine is good at building on itself, and I’m eager to see it improve further from here.

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Stray observations:

  • Backstory: Sister Anne Marie got John into the occult. She was there at Newcastle. And what happened at Newcastle is what drove her to the nunnery, to repent for her sins. I think she might want to look over those vows again, though.
  • “Just because I’m not hiding in a nunnery don’t mean I ignore my debts. Sometimes I even fly to Mexico on a moment’s notice to very little thanks.” So the writers do know John’s not the cynic he pretends to be.
  • John tries to figure out who took the baby. “A lot of wall-dwellers target children.” Fairies and nursery demons and the like. It’s amazing how little throwaway lines like this can excite the imagination. I want to see what a fairy looks like on Constantine.
  • The Rising Darkness: Turns out the people behind it are La Brujeria, an ancient and basically invincible magical clan. “Not even Hell would give them asylum.” The nun-demon, who is named Lamashtu, is one of them or working with them. Like I said, lots of mystical mumbo jumbo this week. John makes her tell him their plan, and she says they’re going to collapse the space between Hell and Earth, which first of all we already know and second of all, that’s a goal, not a plan. Still, that’s officially The Deal With That.
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