Constantine's "The Darkness Beneath" could have been an engaging monster-of-the-week, but it doesn't quite catch on.
A lot of comic fans out were incensed to find out that John Constantine wouldn't be smoking in the TV adaptation of Hellblazer. It seemed like a minor nitpick to me, given that there were lots of ways to showcase the character's addictive personality. Still, I imagine viewers sat up straight for "The Darkness Beneath" when Constantine finally sticks a cigarette between his lips... only to get distracted to and put it away again.
It must have been incredibly frustrating to catch a glimpse of something fans desperately wanted but nothing ultimately comes of it. In a way, that's kind of what I feel about this second episode. There's some good character moments from Matt Ryan as Constantine, and the monster itself is an interesting twist on the vengeful spirit origin. But even then, nothing seems to click. In other words, the cigarette is right here in front of us, but "The Darkness Beneath" isn't doing anything to light the fire for us.
Want to watch the episode for yourself? Constantine's "The Darkness Beneath" can be found on the official website or on iTunes.
Following the lackluster pilot, Constantine has committed himself to investigating the dark forces that have been spreading across America. His first stop takes him to Western Pennsylvania, where the local miners are being murdered in a surprisingly brutal fashion. Literally looking beneath the surface of the town, Constantine discovers it's creatures of the Earth who are committing these crimes. The problem is they should have no power above the mine, which means something, or someone, is giving them abilities beyond their domain.
After last week's demons, who weren't so different from your average Supernatural episode, Constantine's new enemy is rather interesting. They're basically protective spirits, usually the ghosts of fallen miners, who try to warn the living when disaster is imminent. In other words, they're the good guys, and have no desire to be above ground committing murders. But they have no choice, because the darkness across America is making them into something else. While in practical terms, they're acting like any other murderous spirit, its a nice change beyond the usual "anything supernatural out there will kill you" mindset of other shows.
It's also a great opportunity for Constantine to show a little humanity. Having grown up in Liverpool, Constantine is already fully familiar with these mining spirits, and actually expressess some sympathy for them. He certainly seems to be more concerned about their welfare than the mining leaders who are being targeted. It's a nice character moment showing Constantine isn't just some magical know-it-all, and has compassion beyond feeling sad for those burned in his path.
The downside is that most of this sympathy comes from Constantine telling us he's sympathetic, instead of showing us. In fact, being in a mining town like this was a missed opportunity for Constantine to show off his blue-collar roots. For example, he could have spent more time drinking and chatting up the actual miners who might know these spirits. Instead, Constantine rolls into town (during a funeral), interrogates a former pastor whose son worked at the mine, then sneaks into the funeral reception and antagonizes the locals.