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Though this week’s installment isn’t Constantine’s finest, it manages enough surprises to keep things interesting.

When Constantine‘s lackluster pilot first aired, some thought it would just copy Supernatural while inserting a British character as the lead role. However, not only has it found its own voice in recent episodes, it’s absolutely excelled in one specific arena: Setting up your typical paranormal activity plot only to yank the carpet out from under you with surprise twists. Even last week’s otherwise-average “Halloween special” benefited by making the monster something other than your typical Damien clone.

So when “Blessed Are The Damned” introduces a small, snake-handling Pentecostal church in the American South, you think you know exactly what’s going to happen. A religious leader will start providing genuine religious experiences and faith healing. The pessimistic lead character (Constantine) will cry foul. The optimistic lead character (Zed) will claim this is proof that good does exist in the world. Then they’ll find out the miracles are based on something evil, put a stop to it, and halt the misguided faith of the locals because of course they will. This kind of story is as cliched as it gets.

And sure, all of these things do happen. But then the angels show up. And some kind of feral zombie creatures start rampaging. And Zed slips that there’s a darker reason she wants to believe in something good. And a spell Constantine cast for one reason saves the day in a completely unexpected way.

That’s quite a few interesting twists, and while most of them happen far too late to salvage the episode completely, they do help “Blessed Are The Damned” stand out from the crowd. If you want to see for yourself, you can watch it on Constantine official NBC website or iTunes.

“Blessed Are The Damned” Begins as Zed’s visions and Constantine’s scrying map take them to a booming pentecostal church, where Pastor Zachary’s faith healing can literally give amputees another leg to stand on. Constantine knows the rules of magic however, and that this kind of power doesn’t come without a cost. Sure enough, the land is developing a sickness that murders all the fish, and the first man healed becomes a feral creature (which Constantine calls a ghoul). The problem, as far as Zed can tell, is that no evil exists here; the preacher is acting on good intentions while the powers seem heavenly and good.

As it turns out, the heavenly power is part of the problem. During a service, Constantine realizes that Zachary is speaking the language of the angels, something no mortal religious leader should know about. After conferring with Manny, Constantine and Zed manage to track down Imogen, a wounded angel trapped on the physical plane. The only thing that can make an angel physical is if the wings are damaged, and sure enough, Imogen reveals that Zachary took one of her feathers when he was near death. Now the misused holy power threatens to ruin the land, unless Constantine and Zed can find a way to take the feather back from someone with heavenly mojo on his side.

Making the threat behind “Blessed Are The Damned” less evil than it is misguided is a nice touch, implying that Zachary’s followers are simply misguided without crushing their faith. Even Zachary gets a rare forgiveness from Constantine himself instead of being punished for toying with powers he didn’t understand. In fact, the show generally seems to suggest that Heaven might be a better place than Constantine’s cynicism allows him to believe. If this were the comics, Constantine’s view would be fully vindicated and Manny would turn out to be an angelic sociopath. While the shift probably has more to do with not alienating religious audiences than anything else, it does make the universe a little more complex than the “everything is evil except humans” approach most supernatural shows tend to take.

Not that this stops the episode from being as cliched as any other small-time religion episode. As soon as entering the throngs of the faithful, Constantine and Zed immediately descend into your typical “is faith enough” conversation that reflects their personality types. This kind of debate has been played to death in similar shows, and this version adds very little of note here. Zed suggests that something in her past happened that makes her want to believe in goodness. Hellblazer fans will probably know what she’s talking about, but since we’re not likely to explore that thread until the finale, we’re just left hanging.

Still, the episode has some fun moments, my personal favorite being a ghoul attack in the middle of a mass baptism. “Blessed Are The Damned” also breaks out one final twist when it turns out that Imogen wasn’t fully honest: yes, she’s an angel, but she’s a fallen angel. Helping her restore her wings accidentally unleashed one of the most powerful creatures Constantine has shown to date, although it happens so late in the episode she doesn’t have much time to show off her powers. But for a few moments, it’s an exciting sequence that Constantine will hopefully revisit again.

This show is at its best when it toys with viewer expectations to surprise us with something bigger. With only a handful of episodes remaining this season, I’m hoping it will continue to take full advantage of that trend.

Bottom Line: “Blessed Are The Damned” is Constantine‘s required faith healing episode, so odds are you fully know what to expect. Constantine and Zed’s character arcs fall into the typical “cynical skeptic vs optimistic believer” debates we’ve seen countless times. There are a few good supernatural twists that help the episode stand out, but they tend to be too few and far between to make this an especially great episode.

Recommendation: The monster bits are fun, and it establishes minor plot points that will probably be significant later on, but don’t feel too bad if you happened to miss this week’s episode.

[rating=3]

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