Photo: Dan McFadden / NBC

Eat Right And Exorcise

Maybe a month off is just what the witch-doctor ordered.

To be honest, I thought there was little point in tuning back in to Constantine this week. It's been off the air for more than a month, and cliffhanger or no, that's a little long for such a new series. Plus NBC moved it, for some mysterious reason, to 8 PM. I've said since the beginning that one of the show's biggest obstacles is that it's on broadcast TV, which prevents it from being as dark and creepy as it needs to be. Airing it when the kiddies are still awake is the opposite of a solution.

Well, so I was wrong. For one thing, you didn't have to remember much about the first part of this two-parter to grok the second part. That's because John Constantine quickly resolved the crisis he was facing at the cliffhanger, and he did it by creating a worse one. Which is both smart storytelling and a total Constantine move.

Second of all, this episode was the creepiest and scariest yet. If any effort was made to make it look like something created for the time slot once occupied by Rags to Riches rather than a particularly dark hour on SyFy, I didn't see it. From the unnervingly rendered sewer demon to John's eerily-lit, spittle-drenched exorcism, this episode wasn't worried about scaring anyone off. We got to see a semi-possessed Constantine regaining consciousness amid a pile of dismembered and disemboweled gangsters, a bundle of snakes disguised as a man (you may remember that herpetological entity from its work in the Garden of Eden), and Matt Ryan giving an actual tortured performance that didn't make you think he was aware of the cameras every minute.

It was also nice to see an episode with Chas, Zed, and Manny. Normally John gets scenes with two of them at the most in any given episode, which leaves one wondering if the show has overextended its casting budget somehow. A scene with all four of them together would have been nice, but you can't have everyone. And that guest shot by Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite was a nice bonus. Now if someone could just teach Angelica Celaya to stop doing all those weird things with her face, we'd be in good shape.

Another reason the episode worked so well is that the special effects have been stepped up, in both number and quality. Maybe someone at the studio spent the holiday break punching up some of the CGI, in which case it shows. Even better, there was some creepy-ass cinematography -- like Constantine's high-speed twitching and that 90-degree tilt during Zed's escape from her abductor -- that wouldn't have embarrassed an episode of American Horror Story.

Story-wise, this episode raised the stakes. Sure, it was technically still a demon-of-the-week, but this time the demon was inside Constantine. Made it a little more personal. Plus it ties in nicely with the whole Rising Darkness theme of the season, making the threat seem more real at the same time.

Finally, this episode succeeded through not doing something it usually does, which is throwing in too much comic relief. Don't get me wrong, I love a laugh in a dark place when it's done well. Constantine rarely does it well. If a series is going to insist on having jokes, even a horror series, the jokes should be funny. This week's episode mostly stayed away from them entirely and focused on the scary, which it does much better, so that's good. And even a little admirable, considering that when Sister Anne Marie bilocated a version of herself in her skivvies as a distraction, a "nunderwear" joke was right there for the taking.

Of course, it's probably too late for Constantine, given its ratings thus far and the fact that it shut down production before a whole season was in the can. But if it keeps up with this week's level of quality, we might get to see it do something I never really expected: go down swinging.

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