Constantine: Saint of Last Resorts 2: social

Constantine finally meets a challenge he can’t overcome with his usual seat-of-his-pants strategy.

It’s amazing that John Constantine hasn’t run out of luck more often in his almost 30-year history. His wits, charm, and willingness to play dirty to get the job done is usually enough to pull him through the most difficult of challenges. But the most interesting stories in his stable are those where he finally seems to have reached the end of his rope, and either needs to accept meeting his fate, or sacrifice another piece of his soul to live another day.

“The Saint of Last Resorts Part 2” is the first of episode of this kind to appear on NBC’s Constantine. The cliff he was left hanging off last December really was that deadly, and escape was utterly impossible. For most people anyway, but as with any good Constantine story, John finds a way out in the nick of time.

And of course, creates a far worse problem in the process.

Want to get caught up on Constantine‘s adventures before learning the bloody details? You can watch the latest episode on the official Constantine website, on on Hulu, or buy it on Amazon. If you missed our last review – or just need a refresher – read our “Saint of Last Resorts Part 1” review.

The last time we saw Constantine, he was in Mexico helping his old girlfriend Anne-Marie track down a kidnapped baby. It turned out Anne-Marie wasn’t just Constantine’s first love, she was also the girl who introduced him to magic, starting the path that led them both to the Newcastle disaster. Putting aside their differences, Constantine and Anne-Marie saved the baby, destroyed the creature that kidnapped it, and even figured out the name of the cult directly responsible for the rising darkness that had everyone so worried.

But at the moment of victory, another pre-biblical monster emerged from the shadows, threatening to kill them all. In order to save the child, Anne-Marie took a page from Constantine and shot him in the stomach, leaving him behind to die so she could get the baby to safety. As the episode opens, that’s where we find him, just about to be eaten alive without appreciating the irony of the situation.

And that’s where John Constantine has his latest horrible idea: If you can’t beat them, join them. Constantine destroys the protective wards shielding his body from possession and immediately invites a demon inside. And not just any demon, but a demon king, one who presumably makes all the creatures introduced over the past season look like harmless puppies and kittens. The good news is that the demon heals Constantine’s wounds and drives the attacking monster away. The bad news? He has about two days to get an exorcism before the demon is strong enough to evict him permanently. And since he turned to demons for help, the angel Manny won’t be coming to his rescue.

Sounds easy enough when you’re already at a Roman Catholic Church, but the demon has no intention of leaving without a fight. Remember that sequence in the pilot where Constantine walks into an alleyway for no reason and starts shooting fire at criminals? Well, we may have an explanation for that: After a brief blackout sequence, Constantine wakes up to see what very much looks like the aftermath of his attack: Bodies are strewn everywhere, his clothes are covered in blood, and the police are rushing in to make an arrest. This demon king is clever – it knows it can win eventually if Constantine can’t access his exorcism supplies, so it ensures he’ll be sent to a Mexican prison with no chance of escape. Now he’s trapped with gangbangers who want him dead for killing their brothers, and a monster eating him up from the inside. When it rains it pours.

By far, the episode’s highlight is Constantine’s mad scramble to make the prison work to his advantage. In a strange way, the demon actually helps out with that. When the Mexican gang attacks, it inevitably destroys them, striking fear among the prisoners and making “Diablo” the prison’s de facto leader. Watching the remaining inmates fearfully cower before Constantine is surprisingly satisfying, and a great twist from the usual underdog approach he needs to rely on. That said, even with the prison in his thrall, there’s nothing he can do to stop the demon rising while within its walls.

Thankfully, TV Constantine still has a few friends who are willing to help him through this crisis. Zed manages a surprisingly easy escape from Part 1’s attacker – guess we’ll find out what they were all about next week instead. Rushing to Mexico, she partners with Chas and guilt-trips Anne-Marie into joining the rescue effort.

Just like last week, Anne-Marie is both the strongest and weakest link of the episode. She’s a solid actor with great character moments, and her connection to Constantine’s past is well portrayed. But she also needs to get a few “Constantine is such a jerk” digs in, which was getting old last time. Not that Zed does much better when she tries to make Anne-Marie feel terrible for saving a baby’s life. Even Constantine seemed to brush that whole bullet to the stomach thing off pretty quickly after all.

Meanwhile, all kinds of fantastic magical elements are creeping in around the edges in very exciting ways. Out of nowhere, a shapeshifting monster claiming to be the Serpent of the Garden shows up to kill Constantine, but is pleasantly surprised to see a demonic friend instead. When the team needs to make a subtle escape from the prison, Anne-Marie uses her remote projection abilities to display her own naked body as a distraction. It may seem out of left field, but it all fits the logic of the show so far – the Serpent was able to escape Hell via the rising darkness, and Anne-Marie was never especially prudish, even as a nun.

These are the kind of clever twists that give Constantine its identity, and I’m very glad they’re being put to good use so soon after the mid-season break. Which of course, leaves me feeling sad that Constantine‘s first season only has a few episodes left. But if the show can highlight more great moments like this episode did, I’ll happily eat them up and be first in line for a second season.

Bottom Line: Constantine makes a welcome return after the mid-season break, pitting the magician against a demonic threat of his own making. Combine that with solid performances with the cast, impressive displays of magic, and a great shot of Constantine as a prison kingpin, it’s hard to imagine how the finale will top this. I, for one, can’t wait to see how they try.

Recommended: These are the kind of episodes that make a Constantine adaptation worth watching. Check it out.

[rating=4]

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