Let’s Talk Flash -&- Arrowverse Classic: John Constantine Will Return …

Arrowverse Review Index

As always, we’re here to discuss the latest episode of The Flash (Season 9, Episode 6: “The Good, the Bad, and the Lucky”). And for our Arrowverse Classic review, we delve into the one Arrowverse(-ish) series we’ve never covered before: the short-lived NBC series Constantine (specifically, the episode that ended up being the series finale: Season 1, Episode 13: “Waiting for the Man”).

The FlashSeason 9, Episode 6: “The Good, the Bad, and the Lucky” had some stuff I liked. Sending Barry & Iris away to let the B-team shine was a decent premise. I like that they’re still using Crisis to bring back some one-off baddies they killed off prematurely. And luck-based superpowers are one of the most fun powers out there.

Mostly the episode was unremarkable but solid … except for the bad guy’s plan. That just pissed me the hell off.

Like, the idea is pretty slick. Get someone cursed with bad luck, have them work as a blackjack dealer, and make a fortune as they lose every single hand against you. But the way it was executed … they were just holding Becky at gun point in a secluded section of the casino as they got dealt their winning hands. If you’re going to pull a gun on the blackjack dealer anyway, why bother with the bad luck powers in the first place? Just make them give you the chips and say you won them! It didn’t need to be this complicated!

It’s just one small scene in the episode, but it’s so central to the A-plot, and is so incredibly stupid, it cast a shadow over the whole thing for me.

Constantine – Season 1, Episode 13: “Waiting for the Man” review

Cancelled after just thirteen episodes, Constantine was a show cut down far too soon.

Now, I don’t think Constantine was a great series. It was a decent series that had a few great elements – Matt Ryan’s performance as the titular master of petty dabbler in the dark arts is the obvious standout. However, over its all-too-short run, it showed remarkably swift growth, shedding many of more trite aspects it started with, developing its lore and characters in interesting directions, and becoming more ambitious with its storytelling.

Case in point: “Waiting for the Man”, the episode that was never meant to be the finale, but serves as a fascinating glimpse of where Constantine could have gone if given the time to get there.

One of the things that held Constantine back early on was a problem that plagues many occult detective series. They want to be genuine horror stories, to frighten and unnerve the audience the same way something like Hellraiser or Paranormal Activity would. But … they also want to be adventure stories, focused on a hard nosed expert in the paranormal who, while they might be an underdog, has both the means and the nerve to take on these supernatural nasties.

Those two goals are hard to balance. Horror thrives on a sense of helplessness, and on facing dangers unknown and bizarre. So when John Constantine comes in, glibly explaining away the monsters of the week, and always having a plan to deal with them, it cuts the horror off at the knees.

For most of its run, Constantine worked as a dark fantasy adventure series that had some spooky imagery, but I wouldn’t have recommended it as a true horror series. But then this episode came along, and they found a way to do both.

The adventure aspect is still in place, with the forces of Hell putting a bounty on John’s head, and John’s old frenemy Papa Midnight trying to collect. The magic here is flashy, thrown around nonchalantly, and more about allowing for some cool action scenes than trying to frighten anyone.

But while that’s going on, John is also investigating the disappearance of several girls in New Orleans, abducted by a deranged Satanist known as “The Man”. And here, Constantine at last lives up to its horror ambitions.

Partly that comes from spending many scenes away from John’s investigation, and focusing on the latest girl taken by the Man. John may snark their way through danger and always have a trick or spell up their sleeve, but this child has no understanding of the evil that’s found them, no way to fight against, and by following their perspective, the true terror of the situation hits home.

What’s also crucial is that we, the viewers, share the girl’s lack of understanding. The Man is eventually given an identity, given a motive and a backstory – but so much of what they do remains a mystery to us, even to the end. The Man’s “brides”, who somehow bewitch girls into joining them in death, are never explained. What they are, what it is they do, how the Man came to have them: these are left as seeds in the imagination, where nightmares can grow. No glib bit of magical exposition undermines their uncanny nature – they remain the terror from the unknown.

This episode stuck with me, and if the makers of Constantine had been able to keep on making the show, had kept on refining and experimenting like they did here … they could indeed have ended up with something great.

Stray Observations:

  • Also helping with the horror vibe is the use of a blood moon to drench scenes in eerie red lighting. Sometimes the obvious touches are the best ones.
  • That John Constantine went from having their own show where they were the star, to being part of the ensemble on Legends of Tomorrow – that’s the only case of a reverse spinoff I’ve ever heard of.
  • It’s a shame that, while the Arrowverse gave us lots more Matt Ryan as John Constantine, we never followed up any of the plots from this series, never got to find out what became of Chas and Zed. I’d have particularly liked to see Chas meet the Legends.
    Chas: “Whenever I die, I always come back to life.”
    Sara: “Oh, yeah, we can all do that.”

Question of the Week: What film or series do you wish could have crossed over with the Arrowverse but never did?