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Undoubtedly the most entertaining hour of Constantine yet, “A Feast of Friends” brings on some silly B-movie fun and some much needed and welcome character exploration. Though it does have its major faults and misgivings, it is certainly much more encouraging than any of its predecessors. “A Feast of Friends” may not be a greatly transformative episode of Constantine, but it is a step in the right direction for the freshman series.
When an old friend arrives in Atlanta with a deadly beetle/hunger demon in a conveniently fragile glass bottle, John is not too happy to get pulled into the entire mess. As far as supernatural beings go, a beetle swarm demon is pretty disturbing, that first image of the beetles seeping out of the broken bottle is unsettling and effective (shudder). After this first arresting image, however, the beetle demon’s horror does dissipate as the episode progresses. First of all, the CGI work in this show is incredibly clunky and the blatant level of artifice strips the beetle swarm almost entirely of its terror, even though the close-up non-special effects shot do sustain the creepiness. But it all really falls apart when we see how the demonic possession manifests in the host body.
It is a little disconcerting when the episode cuts from our characters discussing this very serious and powerful threat (beetle demon) to a dude stumbling around like a zombie, comically stealing food off other people’s plates and chomping down on various junk food items. It is hilarious and I’m not sure that the show intends it to be so over the top funny. Everything from the actor’s movements, to the extras’ reactions, to the muddy lighting and cinematography puts the scene into straight up bad B-movie territory. Thus robbing the story and the episode from the eerie mood it had managed to establish. It is jolting how ridiculous it is and it makes this demon not as effectively scary as it could have been. The only thing that redeems this scene (and the later, equally hilarious sequence in the supermarket) is that it is, at least, not boring. Sure, it is enjoyable in the “so bad it’s good” sense, but it is entertaining, it’s a lot of fun to see these silly scenes unfold. And though it intermittently deflates the tension and mood built up by other aspects of the episode, it doesn’t completely ruin what the hour does well.
What this episode gets right is its narrative structure, which allows us to explore the character of John and depicts a story that gives us a clearer picture of who he is. The specifics of the narrative aren’t perfect, and the main monster of the week has its flaws, but it does set up a dilemma for John that really communicates important character information. The first three episodes hit us over the head by telling us what kind of person John is: that he is selfish, that he is reckless, that it isn’t good to be friends with him, etc. but this is the first time where the show allows his actions to inform the character, instead of having him or other people tell us. It is much more effective and because of the way the story unfolds, quite shocking to see how callous he can be. His betrayal of Gary is a great moment in the hour that makes us question all that happened before between the two friends.
The writers cheekily place the two men on a theatre stage for the final showdown with “Mnemoth” (A.K.A beetle demon), making us question the veracity of John’s actions with Gary throughout the episode. Was it all just a ruse for him, a manipulation in order to get his friend to sacrifice himself? Was he merely performing to get a desired result? The show doesn’t explicitly answer these questions though it does strongly imply that, while he was conflicted, he knowingly led Gary to willingly sacrifice himself. Not only does this shade John considerably giving us a more nuanced portrayal, but it also imbues the narrative with a substance that was lacking in episodes previous to this. I’ve complained about how all the stories have resolved in such tidy, happy conclusions that it rids the series of any real tension. This darker ending offers a more interesting alternative to resolving the stories and raises the stakes. Knowing that the writers are willing to depict grim endings like this one, endings that will challenge not only the character but the viewers as well is incredibly promising.
So despite the lack of Chas, the still painful dialogue, the questionable special effects, Zed, the jarring tonal shifts, and the terrible exposition, “A Feast of Friends” is the best episode of Constantine yet, putting the protagonist front and center, and marking a potentially new and favorable direction for the season to come. What did you think?