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The second episode for Constantine further cements the series in the category of average procedurals with a supernatural twist. The pilot episode established a simple objective for its protagonist as well as an expected narrative structure for episodes to come and the following hour does just that. “The Darkness Beneath” commences the road trip aspect of the show taking Constantine to the sleepy Pennsylvania mining town of Heddwich, where he encounters more than just threatening paranormal entities.
The main supernatural story could not be more dull and predicable if the writers tried. The idea to have these spirits, the Coblynau, whose usual duty is to protect the miners from misfortune, being commanded by dark magic and used to cause harm instead is a fun, and intriguing conflict. The mine setting is certainly apt for spooky, creepy material and fun visual imagery, which the show does right. However, the actual narrative and story are supremely disappointing. The conflicts are less than engaging and the apparent twist or revelation of the miner’s wife being behind the spirits’ malevolent turn is not at all surprising or shocking. The writers just took a bunch of nothing characters and contrived some nonsense about corporate greed, environmental negligence, the dangers of coal mining, and marital conflict to create the illusion of a complex storyline. Not even a guest appearance by James Le Gros, who is great in everything and does a good job with his thankless role, could make this narrative somewhat interesting.
The lame plot is used to serve as a backdrop for the episode’s true purpose, which is to introduce Constantine and us to his new sidekick, Zed. Perhaps if this new character were more interesting, then the entire episode would not have been so tedious, but she just seems like another beautiful companion for a show’s protagonist to have sexual tension with as they make their way through the country defeating ghosts and monsters and the like. I commended the writers’ decision to change courses (Re: Lucy Griffiths & Constantine’s partner) after the original pilot, but they didn’t necessarily make an improvement with this shift.
Instead they changed the main dynamic from one of teacher/student to one of will they/won’t they, annoying sexual tension. The writers didn’t even give the characters a couple of scenes to acclimate to one another before they start making googly eyes at each other. They really dive into the sexual tension in an irritatingly transparent, speedy and superficial way. Maybe they will eventually just move into the platonic partners with charming, witty banter, but it seems unlikely. And though it could be fun or interesting to see a romantic relationship develop between these two, it would have been nice to get to know Zed as an individual first, not as someone who is just a possible love interest, because other than that, she doesn’t have much of a personality. The actress doesn’t do anything to make Zed a particularly compelling character, so the series basically went from bland, poorly acted sidekick to bland, poorly acted love interest; not much of an improvement.
Despite the underwhelming storyline, and questionable character introduction, the episode does a good job with the visual imagery and special effects. As opposed to the more CGI-laden pilot, “The Darkness Beneath” employs much more effective, seemingly low-tech effects and a more subtle use of CGI, which is definitely a step-up from the pilot. The scene in the shower is effectively disturbing using a fairly simple technique, just the mud seeping through the showerhead is affecting and unsettling and the sudden burst of flame is pulled off quite well.
Not only does it happen in a surprising way, but it also looks really great. CGI fire is usually incredibly fake looking, but since this was shot from the outside of the shower, the layer of glass helps to muffle the overly artificial effect and make it look more realistic. And the flooding car is another technically proficient and successful effect that doesn’t seem like they used much if any CGI. It made for a tense and suspenseful moment that didn’t get bogged down by artifice. Overall, the episode looks good, especially the scenes at night and inside the mine where even simple scares like a shadow crossing in the background or the rocks moving on the ground are well employed.
“The Darkness Beneath” is an average episode of television, with a familiar narrative, lackluster characters, and unremarkable performances. Despite its visual interest and dynamic scenes, Constantine is well in its way towards becoming yet another mediocre, network procedural. What did you think?