Photo: Daniel McFadden / NBC

Wanted: One Magical Mulligan

Where would John Constantine be now if he hadn't bungled the exorcism in Newcastle?

We've known since the pilot that John Constantine is haunted by his failed attempt at exorcising a demon from a seven-year-old girl. That supernatural wipeout, and the attendant knowledge that his soul is damned to Hell for it, is what motivates him to carry on the fight against the Rising Darkness we've been hearing so much about. But what if things had gone differently that night in Newcastle?

In hindsight, Constantine's plan was laughably arrogant: get rid of the demon possessing Astra by summoning a more powerful demon to scare it off, then get rid of the second demon. You don't need to be an expert in the dark arts to ask the obvious question: why not just get rid of the original demon in the first place instead of bringing a more dangerous one on the scene? You don't really even need that much hindsight, I would think.

But if it had worked, just imagine how much more arrogant it would have made Constantine. It's not that Constantine doesn't still act like an arrogant prick, but somehow it's less annoying to know that it is just an act. Emerging triumphant would have only encouraged him to carry on acting like the rock star he clearly thought he was, surrounded by his adoring apostles. (It also would have meant one less seven-year-old soul damned to eternal torment, but this story isn't really about her.) And John could have gone on his merry way with a soul unstained by any sin worse than pride and rampant fornication.

But when demonic forces became more powerful on earth, as the show tells us they have been doing, would this success-flushed John Constantine have still been approached by a certain heavenly Manifestation with an undignified nickname? Would he have been asked to take up the fight against the forces of darkness while still convinced of his own infallibility? I'm thinking no. Manny's boss knows that pride goeth before a fall, and perhaps He wouldn't be keen on enlisting a soldier who was so clearly due for a spectacular faceplant.

So it's easy to picture the younger John Constantine eventually founding a white coven or even his own little church, and continuing to dress like a punk rocker instead of a down-on-his-luck private eye. Meanwhile, confident in his unbroken winning streak, he'd make riskier and risker choices in his self-appointed role as the enemy of darkness, sometimes just to show off, and he'd eventually screw up even bigger. The inevitable result: some British apocalypse like northern England turning into a hellmouth, or the total destruction of British politeness, or Santa Claus on Doctor Who.

But let's say that this alternate-universe, Astra-saving version of Constantine were called up to the big leagues anyway. Would he go? A big motivation for John to join the battle was the chance -- only implied, never overtly stated -- that it might give him a shot at redeeming his failure with Astra in the eyes of Heaven, and perhaps get him off the hook for following her into Hell. Now Constantine routinely risks his life to save his soul. Would rock-star Constantine have done the same, with so much more to lose? More likely he would have told Manny to take a flying leap, only he would have said something more rude and less inviting to a person with wings.

But assuming he didn't, and assuming he came to America, how would the actual episodes of this series have played out differently? First of all, we would still be stuck with Liv Aberdine as his sidekick, because Constantine would never have come to the realization of how dangerous he is to be around and wouldn't have bothered scaring her off. This would have made things pretty crowded when Zed showed up, given that she can't even seem to get shoehorned into more than a couple of scenes with both Constantine and Chas anyhow.

Gary Lester's hero worship of Constantine would likely be even more powerful and self-destructive, so while he wouldn't have fled to Africa after the Astra debacle, he'd have probably end up just as dead trying to impress him, if not more so.

This week, however, we met another attendee of that fateful séance, Anne Marie. Apparently she was Constantine's hookup to the occult world in the first place, and while Constantine considers Astra his greatest failure, Anne Marie considers Constantine hers. Even if everything had gone right with Astra, John messed things up with Anne Marie the first time they slept together, so maybe Anne Marie would have ended up hiding in a convent in Mexico regardless. Probably not, though. Anne Marie is also in the nunnery for repentance, and if one repents of sexing John Constantine, that's a whole other flavor of repenting.

As with any hypothetical situation, there are too many variables to be sure. Astra sent John Constantine on a path he can never backtrack.

However, we can be reasonably certain that wherever he ended up, he would be better off than where he is as of the end of this week's episode: gutshot in a Mexican sewer, twenty feet from an unstoppable demon against which he knows no defense. Just about anywhere is better than that.

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