TV Review: Constantine “Danse Vaudou”
By: Brandon Wolfe
“Danse Vaudou” is perhaps the best episode of ‘Constantine’ aired thus far. It’s the first entry where all elements come together into a largely satisfying whole. The story it tells is appropriately spooky and involving and the supporting cast finally begins to congeal a bit. It’s the first sign that the visible growing pains this show has been suffering through thus far might be starting to subside.
We’re in New Orleans this week as we follow drunken cop Jim Corrigan out of a bar and into an alley to relieve himself. There he bears witness to a woman being slashed to death by another woman wearing a surgical mask over the lower half of her face. When Corrigan attempts to fire at the assailant, the bullets have no effect. Meanwhile, in an urban legend come to life, a man picks up a teenage hitchhiker out on a dark backroad not far outside of town only to have the young man vanish from the passenger seat and appear in the middle of the road, causing the driver to crash fatally into a tree.
These eerie shenanigans ping Constantine’s mystical blood map and he and his crew (Chas gets to go this time) head out to NOLA to investigate. They encounter predictably skeptical resistance from Corrigan, which started to erode when Zed describes a psychic vision of his childhood. Sensing the seemingly isolated events might be linked in some way, Team Constantine then splits up to conduct separate investigations. Chas hits the alleyways to look into the masked slasher, Zed heads out to that lonely stretch of road to check out the hitchhiker, while Constantine himself questions the relatives of the deceased suspects and finds his way toward a nighttime voodoo ritual headed up by none other than his professional rival, Papa Midnite. Midnite has been using his powers to give grieving parties the chance to say goodbye to their dearly departed, but inadvertently wound up raising the spirits as corporeal, vengeful killers. This necessitates an uneasy alliance between the two dabblers of the dark arts as they attempt to set things straight.
“Danse Vaudou” is by far the best use of the show’s supporting cast in its brief history, as each member of the team is given something substantial to do. The show has seemed to have little idea of what to do with the Chas character, often favoring to write him out of most episodes rather than deploy him, but here he is finally put into the game, as he is hacked to ribbons by the ghost woman, Wolverine-heals himself back to life and then cracks the way to neutralize the spirit, who was a facially mutilated model in her former life and now violently seeks validation of her beauty. The character still feels like something of an afterthought, but it’s good to see the show finally attempt to weave him into the proceedings. Charles Halford’s naturally intimidating presence gives the good-natured Chas an interesting edge that the show could really put to good use going forward.
Likewise, Zed also advances as a character this week. Angélica Celaya has seemed hopelessly green in her first handful of episodes, spouting much of her dialogue flatly, but she does a more commendable job this week. Zed’s psychic abilities are being explored a bit further, particularly in a neat early scene where Constantine attempts to cultivate them using a magical zoetrope. The show strains a bit to delve into Zed’s backstory, as a connection is established between her and Corrigan, who conveniently remembers Zed’s face from a missing persons report from years earlier. While the method the show uses to get at Zed’s backstory is inelegant, it’s encouraging that the show is starting to look at the character as something more than a vehicle for ostensible sexual chemistry with Constantine.
The best portions of the episode, however, belong to Constantine’s frenemy bond with Midnite, as they form a tense truce to fix the mess the voodoo priest has created. Michael James Shaw is enjoyable as Midnite and he and Matt Ryan play off each other well. The conceit of Constantine having a contentious rivalry with a peer who walks in the same circles that he does is a lot of fun, especially when the two need to join forces while still taking every available opportunity to one-up or stick it to each other. If the show intends to keep Midnite around as a recurring presence, popping up every so often to butt heads with our hero, that’s a very promising avenue to explore. Considering the mysterious talk of Midnite’s departed-yet-still-reachable sister and his confirmation to John that a dark power is rapidly approaching, it seems like the show is way ahead of us on that front.
‘Constantine’ feels like it’s getting there. It’s working out the kinks swiftly and nicely and seems like it could be poised to become something worth your valuable viewing time, should NBC opt to give it a shot at life beyond its initial 13 episodes. That’s a big if, but as John Constantine himself would be the first to suggest, stranger things have happened.
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