Constantine Review: Pilot, “Non Est Asylum”

In Northern England, in a mental institution called Ravenscar, a Welsh man playing a Scouse is getting electro-shock therapy. This show is going to have an occasional voice over. Turns out John Constantine committed himself three months ago to help him forget the terrible things he sees, as his business card tells us, in his work as an exorcist, demonologist, and master of the dark arts. He’s not as confident about that last one. His business card also tells us he has an Atlanta number. You can even call it, (404) 248-7182, to hear a message from the man himself. Go ahead. I’ll wait…

In this short trip near Newcastle, England we learn more about Constantine, what he’s up against, the tone of the show, and the world he inhabits than in the entire first three episodes of Gotham. And we haven’t even met any other regular characters yet.

The pedegree behind this pilot is pretty high. With the show created by David Goyer and David Cerone, and the pilot directed by Neil Marshall the show has a strong foundation. Marshall is known for being able to create atmosphere and tone on a small budget, and he doesn’t fail here. It’s a bit more teal and orange  than I’d like, but you get a sense of the universe very quickly. Simple things like exploding paint cans, broken glass, flickering lights, and cracks in the earth wouldn’t be as effective in less skilled hands. And the eye in the laptop screen? A good jump scare is hard to find these days.

So, Liv Die isn’t a Latin phrase, but a name. The girl to whom the name belongs just happens to be in Atlanta, Georgia. What a coincidence! The truth is, the story of the girl doesn’t really matter except as a tonal foundation. This character will be gone in episode two to be replaced by one from the comics. Considering the lack of chemistry, connection to the serialized elements in the episode, or brains in her head, this is a very good thing. No matter. We have a snarky, punk music loving, chain smoking (off-screen anyway) lead in a trenchcoat, Harold Perineau with wings, and Jeremy Davies with robots to hold us over. I’m okay with this.

What we need to know: John Constantine damned a 9 year old girl, Astra, to hell and he’s suffering for it; the demon who took her is named Nargal – he’ll be back; Chaz the cab driver can’t die; if that circle is to be believed, Constantine is a good artist; but not as good as Zed, who we catch a glimpse of at the end of the episode, and we’ll meet next week; there were a ton of references to minor DC Universe characters in that old, musty library set, but it’s unknown which are subtle nods and which could come to pass…if this show lasts long enough. In the mean time, I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts. And maybe go read some Swamp Thing.

Soundtrack of the week: LA punk band Social Distortion and their cover of Johnny Cash’s seminal Ring of Fire. Johnny Cash was once associated with a legendary chain smoker in a trench coat too. I think I have a thing for guys in trench coats.

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