“Waiting for the Man” isn’t the finale Constantine deserves. But seeing Hellblazer come to life on the small screen shouldn’t be missed.
If you had told me just after the Constantine pilot that I wouldn’t just enjoy the season but be disappointed it was ending early, I would have laughed. Yet that’s exactly where we’ve ended up. Over the course of thirteen episodes, Constantine developed a formula that worked surprisingly well, playing off of standard supernatural tropes while putting its own unique twists. Even the occasional stinker would find some fresh take on the monster-of-the-week format that made it fun to watch on a regular basis.
Most importantly, Matt Ryan proved to be an amazing John Constantine. After a rocky start as another misunderstood protagonist, Ryan quickly found his groove and became a true bastard. Constantine wasn’t some television anti-hero – he was a blue-collar magician no better than anyone else, yet willing to let others burn if it saved the day. He was smart, manipulative, charmingly insincere, and just sympathetic enough that you worried when something bad happened to him. Any blond-haired mug could’ve put on the trenchcoat, but Ryan really brought Constantine‘s beloved character to life, elevating the series into something engaging.
So. With that all being said, how does the Constantine season finale hold up?
Well… it’s alright, I guess. It certainly doesn’t feel like a finale – more like a mid-season plotline everyone thought would continue with a full run. There’s no resolution to the rising darkness or Zed’s new brain tumor, which is frustrating. But at the same time, since everyone knew this would be the finale, it was tweaked to feel slightly more conclusive. There’s an exceptionally creepy villain who doesn’t fit the supernatural mold. Jim Corrigan and Papa Midnite are back as guest characters.
And just before the credits roll, Constantine reveals one last twist as if to say “Ah ha! Here’s what you would’ve got if we did a full season! So long, suckers!” If you want to know more, read on, but make sure you’re caught up first to avoid spoilers. You can do so through the official Constantine website, Hulu, Amazon Prime, or reading our entire season’s worth of reviews.
This week’s main antagonist isn’t really a monster – at least not of the usual supernatural variety. He’s your ordinary, run-of-the-mill Satanist, only the rising darkness has given his rituals a little more oomph than usual. It’s what he’s doing that’s the problem – kidnapping teenage girls as part of a Blood Moon Eclipse marriage ceremony. He’s already claimed three girls and has his sights set on a fourth, but when Jim Corrigan finds one of his mutilated victims, he gives John and Zed a call. Now the race is on to find her before the ceremony is complete.
Sounds simple enough, but there’s a complication (of course there is). The Brujeria – the forces behind the rising darkness – are finally fed up with Constantine’s interventions and place a bounty on his head. The first one taking aim is Papa Midnite, who has a personal score to settle and will get a significant supernatural reward as a result. So between hunting down a Satanist who really doesn’t want to be found, Constantine also has to worry about Midnite’s magical attacks – and later, Midnite personally.
The Satanist marriage plot is pulled directly from the comics, and while I can’t speak to how it holds up (I haven’t read all 300 issues yet) it’s a sufficiently unsettling one. “The Man” and his three wives aren’t Constantine‘s usual powerful enemies, relying instead on trickery and real-world weaponry to achieve their goals. The Man himself is basically every cultist-from-the-backwaters trope you’ve seen, but actor J.D. Evermore’s performance is very creepy as he fawns over the kidnapped girl… or mumbles to himself while looking for a blowtorch. Imagine that one villain from True Detective if he actually could speak with dark gods, and you’ve got a pretty good idea which direction Constantine was aiming for.
The bounty hunter plot isn’t bad, and offers some great opportunities for Papa Midnite to shine. Michael James Shaw has found his own groove for Midnite as well, flipping from sympathetic to powerfully chilling with a single line – like when he states letting the kidnapped girl die is worth the Brujeria’s bounty. Sadly, the side plot doesn’t fit quite as well as previous episodes that juggled multiple storylines. Midnite (or his zombie) will keep breaking into the action at unnatural times, as though Constantine were trying to fit two episodes into one timeslot. For all we know, that’ll very well be what happened thanks to the shortened season.
It actually might have worked if Constantine and Midnite confronted The Man at the same time. Instead, we have two mostly separate plotlines with two completely separate climaxes – a decent ending where Constantine faces Midnite, followed by an anticlimactic ending where Constantine finds The Man. Each one steals the focus away from the other and leaves the season ending on an unsatisfying note. It’s a shame too, because both stories were largely well-presented until the final moments; they just needed to be combined a little more naturally.
Then again, some plotlines are completely left hanging, like Zed’s continued visions of Corrigan as some kind of spectre. DC Comics fans know exactly where this is headed, but for now, it only exists so Zed can hem and haw over telling Corrigan he’s about to die. Constantine does tease that Corrigan has a vengeful side that will become a problem, and it almost fits – except for the fact that he showed mercy to the exact same person seconds before. Don’t undermine yourself, Constantine; pick a direction and stick to it.
But the biggest issue is that we have no resolution to the Brujeria’s rising darkness, just a philosophical chat between Constantine and Manny on the nature of evil. It’s pretty clear this isn’t where Constantine wanted to end, but where it had to end. That said, it does sneak in one final twist:
Manny is the one who commands the Brujeria.
Given the circumstances, it’s a surprisingly well-executed twist, especially since Manny is friendlier than Hellblazer allowed for. It also explains that whole prophecy of “someone close” to Constantine betraying him, which one assumed would be Zed. Regardless, it’s a real shame we didn’t get a full season of Manny playing good angel only to reveal his true colors 22 episodes in. Doing it this way raises more questions than answers: If Manny is the villain, why get Constantine involved in his plan? Is Manny a fallen angel like Imogen, and if so, why didn’t she pick up on it? What we have instead is a simple cliffhanger: “Come back next season to see how this plays out!”
For better or worse, that was Constantine Season 1. In the end, I enjoyed the series and truly hope it returns to expand upon the more interesting concepts. A few more connections to the DC Universe would be nice too, instead of casually teasing Spectre or referencing the Helmet of Fate. And the fact that Zatanna hasn’t shown up yet is absolutely criminal.
But NBC and Matt Ryan have presented a definitive television version of John Constantine, one that references an entire comic book history – even the superhero stuff – while standing on its own two feet. Renewed or not, it’s an achievement that seemed impossible just a year ago. I’m glad it wasn’t the case.
Bottom Line: “Waiting for the Man” isn’t the finale Constantine deserved, but it’s a fun episode all the same. John and Zed face a horrifyingly human enemy, Jim Corrigan and Papa Midnite make their comebacks, and the true enemy behind the rising darkness is revealed. The story doesn’t flow quite like we’d hoped, but that’s probably just because it had to end so soon.
Recommendation: Hopefully we’ll get a second season where these flaws won’t be a problem. But until then, Matt Ryan truly is John Constantine. It’s worth watching for that alone.[rating=3.5]