image“A Whole World Out There” borrows a little too much from slasher films, but Matt Ryan still sells the hell(blazer) out of Constantine.

Is Constantine something you can call a “horror” show? It depends on what we mean by horror, I suppose. In the entire first season I’ve never found it scary, even though it’s filled with spirits, demons, zombies, and more. Still, it’s not until “A Whole World Out There” that the horror tone took a strange turn – like taking The Excorcist and mixing it with Psycho or Scream.

Yes, this week Constantine takes on a distinct slasher feel, and the results are mixed. To its credit, “A Whole World Out There” is certainly a “big idea” slasher, dealing in metaphysics well outside the show’s realm so far. But it still features the typical tropes, right down to murdering unsuspecting students with sharp objects. It’s a weird dynamic that probably sounded better on paper, and left the episode feeling inconsistent in quality.

However, “World” has a major redeeming grace – Matt Ryan. Ryan’s Constantine has fully come into his own, and it’s a true joy to see him on screen. We’ve watched him defeat unstoppable foes, sacrifice friends, and transform into a bastard. But this is the first episode where he really feels vulnerable. And not just “I feel sad because the plot demands it”. This is the rock bottom, “I have a problem and can’t admit it to anyone” vulnerability that Constantine tries so hard to keep from slipping out.

Even if this week’s monster was literally Halloween‘s Michael Meyers, Ryan’s Constantine is so convincing that he would still be worth watching. It’s not enough to fix “A Whole World Out There”‘s other problems. But it’s a great reminder for why the series is worth following. See for yourself on NBC’s official website or digital services like iTunes.

After the events of the past few episodes, John Constantine and his crew really need that downtime for once. Zed is still recovering in the hospital from the psychic damage she suffered, while Chas is taking advantage of a long-overdue visit with his family. Alone and with nothing to do for the first time in months, Constantine can finally slip back to his “true” self – a depressed magician who gets drunk and wallows in self pity. The safe house’s mirrors are flashing visions of his dead friend Gary Lester after all, so it seems a good time for it.

Manny, however, is having none of it. In a surprising display of usefulness, Manny flies in on his angel wings to provide a heads-up on the coming darkness. Not only are lives about to be threatened, but it’s connected to an old friend: Professor and semi-practicing magician Ritchie Simpson. We actually met Ritchie way back in the pilot, where Constantine blackmailed him to get information about a demonic threat. As you can imagine, Ritchie isn’t any more impressed with him now, and it’s only the news of Lester’s death that finally breaks the ice and helps them push forward.

So now that John and Ritchie got their magician head-butt session out of the way, what’s the rising darkness up to this week? Well, I have bad news, more bad news, and some good news. The bad news is after weeks of unique, fast-paced plots we’re back into monster of the week territory. The other bad news is that for all intents and purposes, the supernatural threat is basically a B-movie slasher villain. But the good news? This is a B-movie slasher villain who breaks the walls between parallel dimensions.

Four of Ritchie’s college students (because of course, college students) steal the diary of Jacob Shaw from his collection for their seance. Shaw, as it turns out, was an expert in astral projection who created another world as his personal afterlife. When the four students conduct the seance, they unintentionally wander into Shaw’s home and realize he’s far less stable than when he was alive. The weekend practitioners are able to escape back to their bodies, but they also leave the gateway to Shaw’s world open. That means if they spot Shaw’s image in a mirror, he can drag their souls back, murder them, and leave their empty shells in the physical world.

These are the biggest metaphysical concepts Constantine has ever put forward, and they’re used to recreate Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer. While Constantine and Ritchie stumble around trying to find answers, these scared students are picked off one by one, all while using bad movie logic to deny the reality of what’s happening to them. And I’m not exaggerating with the slasher bit either – once they’re in his world, Shaw needs to kill them to trap their souls, and stabbing implements are his weapons of choice. Despite literally being the god of his little world.

The first half of the episode is almost a wash, except for one elevating factor – Shaw’s world reflects John and Ritchie’s Personal struggles. Ritchie literally fantasizes about being plugged into the technological singularity so his consciousness can be kept apart from the world’s dangers. And John just wants to get back his safe house world and drink until he forgets his troubles. These men are both just as damaged by magic as Shaw once was, even though neither of them went over the edge. There are layers of depth and foreshadowing that actually elevates the generic slasher tone somehow. But don’t be fooled – half the episode is still a very generic slasher.

Thankfully things shift gears in the second half of the episode, and the parallel dimension concept more fully comes into view. Shaw has claimed all of his souls except for that of “The Last Girl” (because of course) but now Constantine and Ritchie have a plan – make the leap into Shaw’s dimension for a final showdown. I’ll admit it’s like switching from Friday the 13th to Nightmare on Elm Street, but it’s a far better fit for Constantine‘s world. Shaw’s universe is a house constructed from his psychic landscape, filled with dead ends and mutilated victims. It’s a great place for a psychic showdown, and even though the twists are predictable, they’re entertaining to follow. This is also apparently where Constantine sunk a portion of its visuals budget, creating a final sequence that actually takes on an otherworldly feel.

After a rocky beginning, “A Whole World Out There” ends on a great note, especially thanks to what it reveals about John Constantine. Shaw’s world is one of those dream spaces where believing in yourself actually creates change, an ability we see expressed in Ritchie and one of his students. What’s interesting, however, is that Constantine does not express this ability. After all these victories, John Constantine may actually have very little faith in himself, and can only manipulate others into doing the right thing. It’s never quite put into words, but couldn’t be more clear when Ritchie finds the answers he seeks, while John goes right back to the bottle he started from.

Even though he hasn’t changed, we’ve actually learned a lot more about Constantine’s character than most previous episodes. That’s very impressive, slasher premise or not.

Bottom Line: “A Whole World Out There” is what happens when Constantine combines slasher tropes with mind-bending concepts about psychic landscape. Sadly, the end result isn’t quite as cohesive as it probably sounded in theory, but it still manages to stand out in ways few other episodes have achieved. That doesn’t make it as good as recent episodes, but it’s certainly fun to watch.

Recommended: This is an episode you could skip, but it’s also the most vulnerable performance we’ve seen from Matt Ryan’s Constantine to date. If you don’t mind the slasher film logic, it’s worth it for that alone.

[rating=3]

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