(Contains brief spoilers)
Danse Vaudou is not the follow up that A Feast of Friends deserved. I can not help the creeping feeling that Constantine is becoming what can best be described as “a spirit of the week” show. Since episode two, each episode has followed the rousing of some sort of demon/spirit in different places throughout the United States, resulting in Constantine and the gang checking it out. Most of these episodes serve the purpose of showing that the dark uprising is coming, with most of them even outwardly referencing in the end how truly close the uprising is. Greatly entertaining episodes such as The Devil’s Vinyl and A Feast of Friends have come out of this formula, however it is becoming tired and pointless increasingly fast. So far, Danse Vaudou is one of Constantine‘s weakest entries, but it is by no means a bad episode.
All in all, Danse Vaudou is a ghost story/mystery. After a bizarre murder occurs in New Orleans, Constantine, Chas, and Zed are on the case. When they arrive, the murder they came to investigate along with another similar happening begin to repeat themselves. Constantine suspects that Papa Midnite may be involved and upon the two meeting, things are darker than both of them expected.
The two biggest strengths of this episode are the acting and the episode’s themes. Everyone in the acting department truly shines. By this point in the series, Matt Ryan has become John Constantine. If I ever see Ryan in any other movie or television show , he will always be Constantine to me. I do not think that is a bad thing. Ryan continues to entreat and prove how at home he is in this role. Celeya also gives a solid performance in this episode as Zed. A lot of the episode does revolve around Celeya, but honestly I think solid is the right word. Not bad, just not noteworthy, in my ‘humble’ opinion.
This episode clarified for me how in a subtle way, Charles Halford’s Chas Chandler is a great character. I really like the whole “Chas gets murdered and then just pops again” shtick, and I liked the more direct usage of it in this episode. The reason that Chas succeeds as a character is because he is not only likable, but he serves as a character you can afford to care about and his shtick is memorable. With so much grim and/or malevolent shit going down, Chas is there to even out the mood with his chill vibe. Even when he brutally dies, knowing he will probably be coming back is reassuring.
One of the few things this episode did to move the show forward at all was furthering the character development of Michael James Shaw’s Papa Midnite. In The Devil’s Vinyl, Papa Midnite came across as a sly mob boss who had just the right amount of connection with the devil to make him powerful but enough hokey pageantry to make Constantine (and the audience) roll his (their) eyes whenever his name is heard. In this episode, we see more of Midnite and Constantine’s interaction. Constantine obviously views Midnite as a swindler and a piece of slime, and Midnite views Constantine in more or less the same way. At first I found myself agreeing with Constantine that Midnite was a crook, because Midnite is introduced in this episode as more of a witch doctor/vodoo man who helps people contact their loved ones from the other side. However, at some point in the episode, Midnite says something along the lines of, “This is how I help people” when asked by Constantine why he would swindle weak people crushed by their loved one’s deaths. When Midnite starts to realize that something is tampering with his magic and that people’s loved ones are rising from the dead and stealing their life force, he is troubled and wants to put a stop to it as much as Constantine. Maybe Midnite is not as statically evil and slimy as he was made out to be? Maybe this is how he helps the people. There was also a teasing of Midnite’s sister, a topic Midnite was not very keen towards. I have yet to read anything from the Hellblazer series, but I know there must be a story behind that. I loved Midnite’s characterization because if a show like Constantine can get me thinking about the morality of a character after only his second appearance, I think the writers are doing something right.
A small and unexpected victory took place on Constantine this week: John Constantine smoked! Who knows what the hell was wrapped up in that paper, but by god! He was smoking! After all the controversy around NBC prohibiting the character the right of smoking, it seemed kind of weird that all of a sudden this would happen. Maybe NBC came to its senses about the stupidity of what it was banning? Maybe they found the right financiers? Who knows what it says about the future of Constantine’s smoking and whether the fan favorite Hellblazer story, Dangerous Habits, will put fans out of their misery and be adapted already. I am sure something was merely worked out with NBC and they came to their senses, but I would love to think that this was an act of rebellion by the show. I can say with certainty it probably was not, but either way, it is a cool tidbit worth mentioning in regards to Danse Vaudou.
The ideas of guilt brought up in this episode are great until they are not. Without spoiling too much, one of the ghosts that is responsible for the murders occurring is a former model who was slashed in the face by a jealous fellow model. She goes around asking people, “Am I pretty?” with a quarantine mask over her face before killing them. Later we find that the model whose ghost is haunting the streets of New Orleans killed herself when she realized she was no longer beautiful. The model who slashed her in the face had retired from modeling and among other things, lives in the perpetual guilt of what her actions resulted in. With a fantastic set-up like that, I thought the episode was going to possibly explore some really mature and somber ground. I was saddened when the episode could not develop these ideas further and concluded them lazily.
I enjoyed a majority of this episode, but the ending kind of ruined it for me. Throughout the episode, there is a lot being built up about the dark uprising, the origin of these spirits, and there is some legitimate tension. The episode then decides to lazily tie up the plot-line with a half-baked moral and a far too convenient resolution to conflict. After the plot-line is resolved, Zed’s background is given some attention, the fate of a DC Comic staple character Detective Jim Corrigan (I lost some of my nerd credentials for not knowing who the character was and looking him up online) is teased, and the dark uprising is yet again mentioned. For me, the episode was over after the end of the plot-line. I knew more less what would happen next. How? Because the show has already made its formula obvious. Like the episodes before it, the plot-line gets resolved and then there is some last minute teasing left to do. This was not a bad episode, and I still have faith in the show. Constantine is starting to feel like that deadbeat friend who you know is going to annoy you somehow but you still hang out with him because he is fun to be around. Instead of never paying you back, the show entertains you, but then leaves you on an empty promise of a grander, more relevant next episode.
Danse Vaudou holds the benefits of entertainment value, some sincere and enjoyable performances along with compelling ideas, but its weak conclusion makes the mistake of exposing the bigger weaknesses of the show itself. While there is still a lot to like, it is time for Constantine to pick up the pace.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10