Sunday, December 7, 2014

Constantine, Season 1, Episode 7: Blessed are the Damned

We have a church revival (I’m not even sure what that is so I may end up calling it “Jesus camp”) and a man, Zach with a box containing rattle snakes. His sister, Sarah, thinks he might want to use some of the other poisonous snakes they have that have had their venom milked but Zach wants to follow in his daddy’s footsteps (and possibly into his daddy’s grave) use actual deadly snakes in his sermon.

Zach’s worried about declining church numbers and is sure a bit of venomous reptile handling is just what the preacher ordered. I think handling venomous reptiles could, possibly, be a reason for the declining numbers.

At the actual sermon another reason may be Zach’s terrible performance as a preacher. After watching that, I can now understand why seeing the pastor bitten by a rattlesnake may be the highlight of the whole day. He gets bitten and collapses – and everyone seems quite shocked and upset by this. But while Sarah performs CPR he suddenly sits up – and there’s a glowing shard in his hand, he pockets it before praising Jesus. Everyone gets excited and a man with one leg hurries forward and pastor Zach touches him and regrows his leg. I have to say that’s more convincing than your average faith healer.

Over to Zed, who’s in this episode, at her art class which she disrupts by screaming when she has a vision of snakes crawling around her ankles, alas vision calling means she can’t flirt with the sexy life model though she does set up a date.

She rushes to John to tell him all about it and he’s a bit of a bastard because he’s John and it’s what he does. But he hears her and tells her about the resurrecting snake bit preacher. John packs his bag of tricks, including a scythe from the Grimm Reaper and a whole lot of condoms. And this time Chas can’t come – what does John have to ration his sidekicks?

They watch Zach heal and Zed is convinced he’s a conman preying on the now very expanded flock. Zed also has some hope when it comes to faith – John, not so much. They also see Zach heal some very obvious burn scars which proves genuine power. John is more concerned when Zachary begins babbling in Enochian, the language of the angels. He also thinks that this kind of healing will have a downside.

Time for that downside, once-one-legged man Nate is being checked out by his stunned doctor before complaining of it being hot, his eyes flaring red, the lights flickering and him brutally murdering his doctor. He wanders off and walks down the road and kills a cop – the murder caught on the dashcam.

John and Zed join the big queue to see Pastor Zach, when she touches him she has a vision (that seems to involve wings) that leaves her stunned. John tries to question Pastor Zach about his Enochian but it’s pretty clear he doesn’t know. Afterwards Zed tells John that Zach is unwavering in his faith, has good intentions and believe he felt an angel when he came near death. Zed keeps raising Zach’s good intentions which John kind of concedes but also puts in the irrelevant column – Zed has a scry-map vision which means evil and healing magic must come from somewhere.

He leads her to a lake full of dead fish – and points out that the healing is covering something dark and scary. He also calls for Manny which makes Zed all positive and happy because angels exist while John does his best to squelch her hope. Manny doesn’t answer until John pulls out a full ritual and possibly says please. Manny seems somewhat disturbed by the Enochian. Manny, because of all the Rules, can only respond cryptically. Of course.

The riddle, humming and echoing leads them to chase some chanting to where a winged angel is laid among the autumn leaves. They take her to a barn, wrapped in John’s cloak – she doesn’t look well. She’s Imogen and she reveals she was taking Zachary to heaven when he manages to pull a feather from her wing (the burny thing we saw at the beginning) causing super powers and resurrection). She also has a nifty echo-voice. John remarks on how shoddily designed angels are if you can bring them down with one feather, I have to agree.

Which is when Manny reappears (invisible to Zed). He and John snark back and forth while Zed looks for Manny and he reveals angels aren’t supposed to be on Earth in the flesh and Imogen will die if she isn’t helped. Which means they need the feather back. John also explains to Zed (well more expositions to the audience in case we’re watching this before our coffee intake) that spirit angels are invisible (unless they want to annoy you) unlike corporeal angels. Zed asks how John can be so cynical when he has proof angels exist – but John is cynical because he has seen it all and when it comes down to it, to fight evil you still have to fight hard and all alone.

Back with Zach – wearing the feather around his neck – Sarah is becoming increasingly concerned by how big the church is growing so quickly, where the power is coming from and maybe that they should take a breath. Sarah’s becoming sick, she’s heard of Nate’s murders - but Zach’s refusal to even question or consider the power makes Sarah snap. She says Zach has been keeping a secret – but Zach kicks her out of the church rather than have her there questioning.

John plans to see Zach privately at his home (without Zed because… reasons. She also keeps trying to remind John that Zach doesn’t realise he’s doing harm). He tells Zach he knows about the angel feather and that he’s causing harm – including killing an angel. Zach doubts it – and when John tries to take the feather a wash of power knocks him back. Of course, seeing the wrath of angel plumage, Zach is even more convinced of his rightness.

John leaves, in time to rescue Zed from the demonic Nate – using that handily packed Reaper scythe he showed us earlier. In death, Nate’s eyes return to normal. John has another exposition to Zed and the two angels – this time about Ghouls, beings formed by magic gone wrong. Just in case we missed it, the angels helpfully tell us humans shouldn’t use angel magic and more ghouls will follow.

Plan B is to send Zed in saying how wrong she was to trust John and how she really wants to know more and join Zach’s cult – which leads to her being taken to a baptism ceremony in the lake. While he’s baptising her, she craftily takes his feather – he tries to grab it from her but now she has the angelic aura of no-touching. The crowd doesn’t get to be surprised by this because they’re distracted by several ghouls among them – and John beating them about the head and telling the crowd to run.

John and Zed drag the preacher to the now empty church and barricade the doors. John plans to hold the doors and send Zed to take the feature to Imogen. She runs out the back while John tries to convince Zach to get over his damn moping and help him barricade the doors. Zach also decides it’s time to confess to drink driving and running someone over – which also means that, with the mortal sin and all, Imogen wasn’t there to take him to Heaven – but to Hell. Which means Imogen is not a nice angel – and they need to stop Zed returning the feather.

In the barn Imogen is suffering and Manny is all curious as to what pain even feels like and how other things feel with a body. And how useless and pathetic humans are and all angels do is continually try to help them when they fail over and over again, completely not appreciating what they have. Manny realises they’re crossing a line with their conversation, but Imogen dramatically talks about taking the world for themselves. Manny isn’t best pleased.

Zed returns the feather to Imogen’s wings, all of the ghouls return to normal – and Imogen’s wings turn black. So do her clothes (infernal dress code and all). Manny realises that Imogen is a fallen angel (a bit slow on the uptake there Manny. And really, angels need employee lists).

As John arrives she tries to fly away – but John warded the barn against evil to protect her. Which now means she can’t leave. John decides to exposition in case we’ve fallen behind (really Constantine, we don’t need this explanation) that it’s all Imogen’s nefarious plan! Imogen also tells us why she fell (she killed a mortal to see how easy it would be. Which she labels as “one indiscretion” so definitely evil). She grabs Zed by the throat and threatens to kill her if John doesn’t drop the ward.

John demands Manny intervene, to actually join the fight against the dark – but, frustrated, Manny invokes the rules and disappears. Imogen mocks John that Angels always do nothing – and Manny does his nifty possession/replace thing and steps into Zed’s place – and rips out Imogen’s heart. Messy. John gives Manny a little nod and Manny disappears, leaving Zed with an angel heart in her hand

Hey, all those feathers and the heart – that’s got to be some useful magical components. Zed is a little shellshocked all things considered

Epilogue – Zach is still preaching and, as Manny tells John, trying to make amends for his sin. Which Manny uses as a not-too-subtle metaphor about John’s own attempted absolution. Manny also has some worry about how Imogen tricked him, though John is more concerned with how a demon got there at all: more Rising Darkness ominousness. But John is actually much more positive now Manny actually did something – though Manny warns that he’s actually in trouble for that

Zed completely forgets her date with Eddy, but plans a raincheck. He’s super nice about it so he’s probably evil – yes the ominous figure in his back seat confirms that.

John’s cynicism about religion is really well done and I like how it’s understandable and relatable – Zed talks about having definite proof angels exist. Which is great for her – but a few episodes ago John had to stop a demon by basically brutally torturing his friend to death. What is more likely to promote cynicism – not knowing if there’s angels or knowing beyond doubt there are definitely angels – who can’t/won’t do anything to stop the horrendous evil John has seen? Especially given how dark Constantine tries to be, it makes for a very complicated relationship when it comes to supposedly benevolent forces. We have Zed clinging to hope and the power and help that hope brings her – but equally she sees the dangers of blinkered faith and how hope can make you vulnerable. None of them are deep messages but they fit the cynical world of Constantine well where every gift horse needs a trip to the dentists.

There’s also some other nice touches – people revelling in their own glory in the name of deity, increasing their own standing and reputation. I also like the point of Zach’s use of “god” as an excuse not to question, to shut down debate and to silence Sarah’s worries – they’re nice elements that are good to pull out and be examined.

I also really like the ongoing debate between Zed and John over whether Zach is a good man. Zed keeps raising Zach’s good intentions and John acknowledges that but doesn’t really see it as relevant. The damage is done, it needs to be fixed – whether Zach meant well or not doesn’t really change that.

To go with that we have the angels – not just evil Imogen in her arrogance (shared with Manny) – but Manny’s questions show just how detached angels are from human experience and how that leads to scorn which is a nice bit of world building albeit not an original one

OK free will means not intervening when there’s a FALLEN ANGEL actually killing a human? If angels can’t even act against Fallen Angels then what can they do? But Manny actually did something! I’m shocked and pleased and concerned that this is a one off – because on the flip side we had Zed who did very little and got herself damselled and my hopes had been built up with her being kind of nifty and skilled before. I worry that Constantine may assuage worries by having the odd, very rare episode where Zed and Manny actually do something – before they’re relegated to background characters again

Constantine does have an unfortunate habit of having random characters explain what is already pretty obvious. I'm also a little frustrated because Constantine seems to be finally finding it's feet but it's too little too late