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Constantine‘s “Danse Vaudou” is packed full of twists, teases, and subplots that come together for a surprisingly engaging episode.

As a character and a series concept, Constantine can be a little tricky to pin down. Between his own 300 issue series, a halfway-superheroic New 52 reboot, and guest appearances in mainstream and adult-themed comics, John Constantine is many things to many people. For the show, should he be a lower-class magician trying to make ends meet? The bane of gods and demons? An addict? All of the above? While we all have an idea of what Constantine should be, its history is so enormous that it means different things to many people.

That’s makes Constantine‘s “Danse Vaudou” so promising: It does a fantastic job of being many good things at once. The episode is simultaneously a ghost story, an exploration of Papa Midnite’s character, and an introduction for a major character from DC lore, starring an everyman magician and his supernatural friends. So much variety has been packed into this episode that just about every Constantine and Hellblazer fan will find something to love.

Don’t believe me? Go watch the latest episode on the official NBC website or iTunes to see for yourself.

“Danse Vaudou” opens as Constantine, Zed, and Chas discover a wrathful spirit that’s taken to murdering victims in the alleyways of Louisiana. But during their investigation, a second ghost starts claiming its own victims outside of city limits, and Constantine suspects there’s a connection. Teaming up with local police detective Jim Corrigan, the team slowly pieces together the sole common thread between each thread: they were summoned in seances by Papa Midnite.

But the real twist of the episode? Papa Midnite doesn’t know what’s happening either. It turns out that the rising darkness of this season has the unintended side effect of making the seances into half-resurrections, pulling spirits into the physical plane. Now Constantine and Midnite have to work together to find a solution, before the murderous ghosts claim any more lives.

“Danse Vaudou” is unique in that it seems to be constructed almost entirely of subplots. Sure, there’s a central framework about the dead re-entering human worlds, but that’s just the spine connecting each thread to a larger story. You’ve got two ghost stories set in urban and rural environments. There’s a skeptical police detective who has no idea what to think about the supernatural. Zed gets nervous that her hidden past may have been revealed. Chas figures out how to put his resurrection abilities to good use. Even Papa Midnite’s reveal doesn’t happen until we’re well into the episode, and for many scenes after isn’t the central focus.

This creates a balancing act that Constantine pulls off surprisingly well, playing each story off each other without letting one rise to prominence. On top of that, everything ties together just neatly enough that the supernatural world is believably complex, a place where ghosts, psychics, and voodoo priests operate in shared spaces while only occasionally crossing paths. Each premise in itself wouldn’t be enough to fill a whole episode, but stacking them together in this fashion makes the finished product greater than the sum of its parts.

Of all the plot elements however, the best has to be the relationship between Constantine and Papa Midnite. Where “The Devil’s Vinyl” introduced Midnite as a typical villain, “Danse Vaudou” reveals he’s far from being evil for evil’s sake. He may take advantage of distraught clients who lost loved ones (for a hefty cash sum), but he’s also sympathetic for their losses and suffers genuine guilt upon realizing the damage he caused. He also deeply respects the gods and spiritual customs of his forebears, believing in something far greater than his own pride and ego. That certainly sheds some light on his antagonistic relationship with Constantine. Midnite doesn’t hate Constantine for dashing his plans; he hates Constantine because he’s a poor man’s magician, stealing customs and spells where convenient without paying true tribute to the gods.

If Midnite is a villain, that portrayal goes a long way towards making him a sympathetic one. In many ways he’s a much more likable character than Constantine, showing himself to be trustworthy and capable of compassion. Constantine and Midnite’s conflict is far from over, but it feels far more vibrant and engaging now that Midnite’s more than “some bad guy from back when”.

But the most exciting element of this episode was also its most minor detail: the introduction of Jim Corrigan. DC Comics fans will recognize him as the Spectre, God’s almost all-powerful spirit of vengeance bound to a worthy human soul. Here, however, Corrigan has no knowledge of the supernatural, and is simply trying to stop killings he barely knows how to understand. Most non-comic readers probably wouldn’t realize there’s more to Corrigan, but Constantine is clearly laying the foundation for DC’s magical continuity. Thankfully, a psychic link with Zed teases that yes, Corrigan will be more than he appears.

Perhaps this coming darkness has something to do with a new age of magic, where DC superheroes like The Spectre or Doctor Fate will be more prominent? Hard to say, considering that would be the exact opposite approach Hellblazer took (starting with a shared superhero universe, but separating Constantine from the capes in later issues). But if handled correctly, this could help draw in a comic book audience beyond those reading Constantine’s core series. Treating Corrigan in a mostly subtle way is a good sign they’re on the right track.

Moving back to Constantine‘s supporting cast however, Zed is proving her worth as a more humane player in the supernatural world, attempting to sympathize them with the ghosts instead of wiping them from existence. It works really well after keeping her to the sidelines last episode, although Constantine also keeps pushing the whole “what’s her big secret” subplot with new hints of her backstory. That said, those elements don’t really add anything substantial, and is just trying to generate an artificial conflict down the road.

Compare that to Chas, who gets no extra hints about how his immortality works, but finds a highly creative use for it that makes his mystery seem more engaging. The lesson: If Constantine wants us to wonder whether Zed should be trusted, she actually do something with her powers to raise those suspicions. Don’t keep telling us we should doubt her when, from all appearances, she’s actually amazingly helpful.

Bottom Line: “Danse Vaudou” pulls off the impressive feat of introducing several highly distinct plot threads, making each one interesting, and finally tying them together in a satisfying conclusion. It even manages to complicate Constantine and Papa Midnite’s antagonistic relationship while teasing major events involving DC’s larger magical universe. Despite a few minor faults, this episode shows that Constantine is really finding itself, and has big plans for upcoming storylines.

Recommendation: With its varied subplots, “Danse Vaudou” has something for just about everyone. Absolutely worth checking out.

[rating=4.0]

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