John runs into Zed, who's been having visions of the exorcist for months, while investigating a haunted Pennsylvanian mine.

By Jonathon Dornbush
April 24, 2015 at 06:10 PM EDT
Tina Rowden/NBC
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Constantine in “The Darkness Beneath” is quite a different show from the Constantine of “Non Est Asylum,” the series premiere. Lucy Griffiths’ Liv is out, while Angelica Celaya’s Zed Martin is in, and the mythology and supporting cast established in the first episode took a break for a more standard case-of-the-week affair.

Did these alterations make for a better show? Well, yes and no. Constantine is still finding its voice, and “Darkness” allowed viewers to see another side of the show—one that’s a little easier to jump into but seems discordant with the urgency established in the pilot. John Constantine was initially presented as a figure haunted by the figurative and literal demons of his past.

Yet, in “Darkness,” he’s also willing to selflessly work a case devoid of these more personal goals. Does that sand away at the rougher edges of John’s character, or help to make him a more complex and dynamic character? The answer to that lies in the town of Heddwich, Pennsylvania…

On the Road Again

A town centered around coal mining, Heddwich’s workers have been concerned with the strange, unnatural sounds heard in the mine shafts. One such miner, Lannis, meets his untimely end when an everyday shower transforms into an oily, flame-filled death trap. This isn’t due to fracking water, however—something is supernaturally rotten in the state of Pennsylvania.

And so John feels the otherwordly pull of a mysterious force toward Heddwich. Upon his arrival, “Darkness” wastes no time addressing the show’s most significant change. Zed and John bump into each other on a street corner—a meet-cute scenario more at home in a romantic comedy. Zed hasn’t been able to stop drawing John—her apartment is full of pictures of him, and, in her own words, he’s “really starting to piss her off.”

Zed believes this meeting is destiny, but for John, Zed is just a cute girl on the street, someone who dabbles in dime-store magic with “a tongue in his ear and a hand in his pocket.” He’s distrustful of her drawing of him, claiming it’s a ruse to rob him, and he’s not completely off—she does lift his wallet before he runs off to talk with the locals.

John learns that mining accidents, and the strange sounds that accompany them, have haunted the town for months. And John finds out firsthand that when he taps on the mine wall with a pick ax, something knocks back. That’s never a good sign, is it?

Looking for answers, John attends the wake at Lannis’ home. He arrives prepared, of course, with a frozen dinner in hand. Once inside, though, his mind is much more set on the scene of the supernatural crime than the buffet table. Slipping into the roped off bathroom, John snags a sample of some mysterious slime (thankfully he doesn’t have to descend into the sewers to collect it), but is quickly discovered by Lannis’ grieving wife. Or at least, she should be grieving—she’s more inebriated than devastated. Sure, grief can make people do some strange things, but coming on to John, who is pretending to be a journalist, shouldn’t be one of them.

John rebuffs her advances, more intrigued by the soot mark on her arm, but any chance to investigate further is ruined as she chases him out. She refuses to let John escape unscathed, though—the president of the mining company sucker punches him, not wanting to hear a word about spirits or demons.

Beaten but not broken, John returns to his hotel room, only to discover Zed waiting. She tries to convince John that his presence must be fate bringing them together. He’s more intrigued by her talk of visions and other abilities than destiny, though, so John humors her a little while longer. Testing her powers, her vision of fire and a giant cross leads John to an abandoned, boarded up chapel where he encounters the wispy shadow of a spirit haunting the town.

Meanwhile, Zed goes off to investigate on her own, hitting a local bar where she meets a former priest, Ellis, drowning his sorrows. With few leads, she returns to her temporary residence, where John is repaying the favor of crashing her alone time. John questions her nomadic lifestyle, and she quickly retorts, “I know what I’m running from, do you?”

Zed’s clearly along for the ride, though, and it’s something that lends John and the show a much-needed dynamic. Whereas Liv was very much a passive audience cipher, there to ask the questions viewers may have, Zed is much more immediately an active presence. Zed can shift a strong-willed and steadfast nature to a more vulnerable and inquisitive nature, and Celaya and Matt Ryan showcase some great chemistry with actual spark.

NEXT: There’s demons down in them there mines.

Back to the case, a bizarre, waterlogged encounter with the spirit and a mining company employee leaves John fishing for answers and the employee dead. Now, however, John believes he knows what they’re up against—the spirit of dead miners whose original intent is to warn miners of imminent danger, not to present the threat themselves. John believes something evil is changing the rules, and he senses a human touch to it.

Suspecting Ellis the priest, John embarks Zed on another vision quest, in which she sees a makeshift camp by a river, a locale inhabited by Ellis. He’s not the demonic presence John expects him to be, however. Ellis claims not to have enough faith anymore to raise such a powerful evil presence, but that demon shows no sign of stopping. At the same time as their meeting, the mining company president and his son are attacked by a spirit formed from the rocky earth inside the mines.

John and Zed race to the scene and subdue the spirit with a spraypainted sign and a surprisingly cordial plea from John. He treats the spirit with reverence and honor, a reminder that John may dabble in the dark arts, but he’s still easy prey for the right demon. They save the son, but not the president. In a bid to ensure no one else is harmed, John, Zed, and Ellis, find some unused dynamite (presumably of the ACME variety), and blow up the mine’s entrance. Done and done… right?

Not so, as John knows the person behind these murderous spirits is still out there, and a soot print on the president’s son indicates exactly who it is. Lannis’ wife, a wine glass in hand and a tale of gypsy magic on her tongue. She greets John at her front door with a welcoming party of deadly miner spirits, but there’s one fatal flaw in her plan, a spirit she did not account for—her husband’s. John summons Lannis’ ghoulish presence, and in a wicked twist of irony, seals the embittered wife’s fate with the ghost of the husband she killed.

The case is solved and the day is saved, but Zed wants to address where she and John stand. He again warns her of his dangerous tendencies—everyone who puts their trust in them has the unfortunate habit of ending up dead. But Zed doesn’t care. She’s been waiting for him—she’s not sure why, but this meeting was supposed to happen, and so she remains sketching in John’s room as the exorcist passes out from a hard day on the supernatural grind.

Their decision to work together moving forward may not have been the safest, however—as Zed watches over John, he narrates the scene with these ominous words: “There are those who pray for you and those who prey on you. And no matter how careful you are, sometimes, you just can’t tell the difference.”

When the time comes, will he be able to tell the difference with Zed, who still remains quite the unknown entity? For John’s sake, let’s hope so.

Between Heaven and Hell

– The show’s first sign of how quickly its moved beyond Liv? The “previously on” segment doesn’t mention or even show her in a single clip.

– But how about that opening sequence? It’s actually quite reminiscent of Constantine‘s timeslot brother, Hannibal. Only, this show has replaced the latter’s blood-splattered head with the cranium of a soul engulfed in the flames of hell.

– I’m not always a fan of procedural supernatural shows—the central mythology is almost always the most interesting hook, but I can forgive the abrupt about-face from the pilot as the writers made way to introduce Zed. Celaya’s performance was a great addition, but I hope its one that can gel with the rest of the regular cast, all noticeably absent this week

– Speaking of, Chas was written out of this week’s story in an interesting bit of world building, as he hinted at cases he and John had worked in the past made him wary to travel. That’s a history I hope the show dives deeper into over the coming weeks.

– From their first encounter, John and Zed show off much better chemistry than just about any pairing from the pilot. John is flirty and a bit of a prick with Zed, but there’s a darkness and mystery underpinning their relationship. My favorite line from their meeting, though? Zed, upon seeing John, says, “It’s you.” He replies with the fatalistic “That observation always ends in the same way, and it’s never in my favor.”

– The show flirts with the darker tone of its source material but seems afraid to take the plunge. Zed comments that pain and desperation motivate John. She questions, “What kind of person is motivating by these things?” But there’s not yet enough of that motivation in John’s character to give a statement like that the weight it deserves.

Spoilers from next week’s preview for those hoping to go in cold: Papa Midnite arrives next week, which hopefully indicates Constantine will be more concerned with the potential of its rich world building and less worried about the spooky mines of another Pennsylvania town.

John Constantine, demon hunter, takes his skills to NBC.
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