NBC’s Constantine aired its newest episode, The Darkness Beneath, on Halloween Night. For a show about an occult detective/exorcist/master of the dark arts (have to make sure to change that on my business card), you would think that a Halloween episode would pound out scares. The show’s second episode, The Darkness Beneath, sadly is not very scary, but it succeeds somewhat as a second episode. For most viewers, the second episode is the governing episode. If someone decides they liked the pilot enough to watch the next episode, that next episode has to hook the viewer enough that they do not ask, “Is this show worth my time?” Although The Darkness Beneath is not exactly amazing, it will probably entertain people enough for them to continue watching the show.
In The Darkness Beneath, Constantine checks off the first destination on the scrying map by investigating the bizarre death of a miner and peculiar happenings in a small mining town in Pennsylvania. While investigating the scene, Constantine meets Zed Martin, a woman who has been having visions of Constantine for months without ever meeting him.
One of the strongest aspects of the episode is also one of its weakest: the acting. Matt Ryan continues to entertain as John Constantine in this episode. Ryan’s forays between sly charisma and self-seriousness are so far the best thing about the show. It is clear that Ryan is putting enough effort into the role to make Constantine’s cool and mysterious vibe appear effortless.
This episode marked the introduction of Angelica Celaya’s portrayal of fan favorite character, Zed Martin, who will be a recurring character throughout the season. Celaya may not be a great actress. In fact, it sounds as though she is reading directly from a script through much of the episode. However, she seems to be reading off a script more because she is trying to get her lines right than she has forgotten them. The mystey of Zed’s powers and past, from which she is on the run, and her sassy and headstrong attitude coupled with Celaya’s admittedly likable execution, make her an interesting enough character to see in a recurring role. On the other hand, the rest of the acting is quite bland. The miners and citizens of the town are one-dimensional and dull without stooping to badness. That is the case for much of this episode. Not particularly fantastic but not particularly bad either.
Something else I alternately liked and disliked about this episode was the central storyline. The idea of the supernatural disturbing the industry and citizens of an industrial town with Constatine coming in to investigate is gritty and interesting if also a bit unoriginal. Regardless of the originality, I would have loved to see the episode give commentary on small-town life and really build some suspense in a claustrophobic setting. Some clever ideas do appear, such as the ghosts of former miners seemingly haunting current miners, but really trying to protect and warn them of the Satanic danger that is coming. Sadly, plot points like this merely stay ideas and do not get much attention. Half of the episode is spent building up Constatine and Zed’s relationship and the rest follows Constantine’s investigation of the miners’ death and the happenings down in the mines. Although many of the ideas brought up in the episode are interesting ones, the storyline is supposed to show the small beginnings of the demonic uprising mentioned in the pilot. I saw what the episode was going for, but it was far too specific and not very ambitious either. Aside from the introduction of Zed, this episode was pretty pointless. Seeing as it is only episode two, I am willing to give it a free pass.
Although the episode failed to include enough real scares, the mixture of CGI and practical effects was definitely a highlight. The episode has just the right amount of CGI to prevent things from looking too cheesy, and just the right amount of practical effects to make things look realistic. The design for the zombie-esque dead miners were probably the best designs the episode had to offer. I appreciated the blend of effects less for what it created than for the point that it was done at all. In the last few years, CGI has been relied on far too much, and whenever I see it used to a lesser extent and evened out with good ol’ practical effects it is incredibly refreshing. Imagine how pleasantly surprising this was on a network show.
The music for this show infuriates me. Imagine the annoying American cousin of the Sherlock theme or a gothic string version of a fake cop show from Family Guy. If you can imagine that, you have the music for Constantine. It is astonishingly generic, and I know it will continue to be used, so I just hope sparingly so.
There are a few things I hope to see from the show in the future. This episode proves to me that the show is able to get close to some interesting ideas, so hopefully upcoming episodes will go above and beyond and be more adventurous plot-wise. I can only hope that the next episodes do not rely on a “case of the week” detective formula, and now that Zed has been introduced, the show can move on to more interesting and exciting ground that is more central to the uprising of the Hell plot-line. No more meandering!
Overview: Although it did not deliver enough thrills for a Halloween episode, follow through on its interesting storyline, or do anything particularly special, The Darkness Beneath offers more of Matt Ryan’s charisma, some cool special effects, and a promising outlook for future episodes.
Rating: 6.4 out of 10