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“The Saint of Last Resorts” lets Zed shine while Constantine is away, and finally tells us what the rising darkness is.

For weeks now, Constantine has used the phrase “rising darkness” to explain away why so many spirits, demons, and monsters are causing trouble over a short span of time. So far, it’s been an excuse to make Constantine something of a supernatural police procedural – John and Zer consult their bloody map (literally) to see where evil of any sort can be found and stomped out.

But there’s really no effort made to actually explain why the darkness is rising, or what it has to do with Constantine himself, or Zed’s visions. It’s just a thing that’s vaguely working in the background as an excuse to have adventures. And it’s only now that I’m starting to realize that’s a little disappointing. Sure, Constantine has been doing some solid monster-of-the-week work, but without some mythology episodes locking things down it didn’t go anywhere.

“The Saint of Last Resorts” is the episode that completely turns that dynamic around, and not very subtly either. The big answers Constantine has been seeking are dropped like bombshells in the middle of the episode, and even then in a way that’s only tangentially related to the monster he’s facing. Combined that with a side-plot about Zed with more twists than Constantine’s investigation, the episode has a somewhat disjointed feel, like it keeps trying to drag us away from what’s actually interesting.

But on the other hand, this is technically “The Saint of Last Resorts: Part 1”, so there’s a pretty good chance everything hasn’t tied together yet. Not to mention that the core monster is super cool, Constantine uncovers uniquely creepy magic, and the show finally does something great with that magic house it’s been sitting on since the show began. Part 2 might prove “Last Resorts” is a story that really pushes the boundaries…. or it might be about a second biblical creature that crawls around like a skinned chicken. Could go either way.

Want to decide for yourself? You can watch the episode from NBC’s official Constantine website or services like iTunes. If you missed last week’s review, check out our take on “Blessed Are the Damned” — or check out all of our Constantine reviews.

With Zed still recovering from the events of last episode (apparently letting a psychic grip a fallen angel’s heart has side effects – who knew?), Constantine elects to give her some time off when an old ally calls for help. Although former ally would be a better description – Anne Marie was the one who introduced Constantine to magic when he was a young boy seeking an escape. But she was also around for the Newcastle incident, at which point she wanted nothing more to do with magic or Constantine and became a nun in Mexico. But when a supernatural creature slaughters a mother and steals her newborn baby, she knows Constantine is the best hope for the child’s survival.

But wait! Zed doesn’t get a pass during this episode. Before leaving, Constantine tells Zed that he’ll put the magical locks on the door, and warns her it’s safer to stay put until he’s back. But this is a horror show so of course she doesn’t listen, she needs to pick up more art supplies! While out, she bumps into Eddie, the nude model from last week who’s still hoping to get that drink he asked her about. But Eddie doesn’t have the best of intentions: he’s actually trying to keep her in one place long enough for the enemies from her past to catch up with them.

“The Saint of Last Resorts” jumps back and forth between the two plots, and speaking personally, I was far more interested in Zed’s backstory for a change. That’s partly because she’s been way too mysterious with no justification until now, and second because there’s just more twists happening there. Case in point: Do you think it’s easy to trick a freaking psychic into thinking you just want to have drinks?

So of course Zed quickly sees through the ruse and decides the safest bet is to take Eddie back to the safe house, where she’ll have the advantage. Once it’s clear which one is the prisoner, Zed and Eddie can talk more openly about the organization she’s running from, which sounds like some kind of cult, and even catch her real name. Then the people who were following Eddie show up, but Zed still knows enough about the safe house’s secrets that she can throw them for an appropriate reality breaking loop. Sadly, Zed quickly runs out of tricks after that and ends up getting captured with little effort. But as long as that’s setting up further developments for part 2, and not just making her a distressed damsel after that solid performance, I’ll roll with it.

Constantine, meanwhile, is going through some pretty tiresome arguments with Anne-Marie about his moral state. And I’m not talking about the Catholic kind; after Newcastle Anne-Marie sees right through John’s charade persona and has no problem calling him out on it. Which would be fine, if (a) she hadn’t called him there in the first place and (b) she wouldn’t keep chastising him every two minutes. Thankfully, Constantine gets fed up and snaps back at her, prompting some reflection that helps them understand each other better than before.

When they’re not at each other’s throats, Anne-Marie is actually a good foil for Constantine. Her understanding of magic is more advanced than Zed’s, so she can contribute a little more to the conversation. Even better is their shared history, revealing that Constantine was once an abused young boy who needed something bigger in his life. It’s just unfortunate that it took half of the episode to get there.

Moving to the monsters and mythology, there are some top-notch spells and creatures happening here. Especially creepy is a tree with fruit covered in human flesh and filled with blood, a simple effect that bears the desired squeamish results. The monster itself, one of Eve’s many sisters, shows Constantine is having fun with monster designs once we actually start getting a look at her. Then that chicken-crawling-cliffhanger creature shows up, and while it looks ridiculous, it does have an impressive backstory.

But the Eve’s sister biblical background is important detail because it gives Constantine just enough puzzle pieces to uncover who’s causing the rising darkness: a pre-historical magic society that was thought long-dead. Constantine even goes a step farther and reveals why the darkness is rising: To fuse Earth and Hell into one single reality. That’s epic, exciting, appropriately apocalyptic… and a little jarring.

Constantine hadn’t developed the rising darkness enough to even hint this was a possibility, so it just gets dropped in our laps instead of being a big reveal. There’s no build-up from “rising darkness” to “Hell on Earth” to give it context and weight. And while I appreciate getting to the point, this was something that probably could been paced out a little better in previous episodes. Regardless, there’s lots to look forward to in Part 2.

Bottom Line: “The Saint of Last Resorts” is a promising opening chapter to Constantine‘s first two-parter. Powerful magics are afoot, scary monsters are stealing babies, and we finally get the truth about the rising darkness. Zed even gets an exciting subplot that doesn’t involve Constantine at all, which is a refreshing change of pace. The episode stumbles quite a bit on the way to the good stuff, but hopefully that’s just laying groundwork for an exciting chapter.

Recommendation: Constantine is finally giving answers about Zed and the rising darkness, and those answers don’t suck. If that’s worthwhile to you, then check it out.

[rating=3.5]

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