We had a glimmer of a more interesting, more bastardly John Constantine last week, but this week, it was his rival Papa Midnite who got to be the morally complex character. There is something fun about watching these two characters work together to solve a supernatural problem and insult each other all the way.
Even after last week's episode, it still feels like Constantine is struggling to find its voice. I'm not particularly surprised that NBC has decided to hit the pause button. It's a perfectly watchable show, with the occasional glint of something better, but it hasn't quite found a way to stand out from the pack.
I certainly get why the writers decided to split up the team a bit more this episode. John and Zed are great together, but with him being so suspicious and her being so cagey, it's not the most sustainable storyline until a few revelations start tumbling out. So when Constantine, Zed, and Chas head to New Orleans to investigate a series of scissor-slasher murders being committed by a dead model, Zed ends up paired with Detective Jim Corrigan (who I realize is an actual DC character, but just makes me thing of Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth).
It turns out that the dead have been rising all over New Orleans, and they've been causing a series of ritual deaths. The model, whose face was slashed by a fellow model and then killed herself, has been walking the streets with a face mask, a pair of scissors, and a murderous glint in her eye. Constantine sends Chas to deal with slasher lady, and we see the nature of Chas' "survival skills" when his skin knits back together after an attack. After Constantine convinces Corrigan of the supernatural nature of the deaths, Corrigan and Zed deal with a ghostly hitchhiker who has been reenacting his death with living drivers.
Chas gets the more interesting ghost (the ghosts have trouble when someone throws them off-script, but it takes a while for Chas to figure out how to accomplish that), it's clearly the Zed/Corrigan plot that we're meant to pay attention to. It turns out that Corrigan already knows a great deal about Zed, and not because he's psychic. He worked missing persons and remembers Zed's face. He doesn't reveal to us, the audience, what Zed's real name is or what she's running from, but he's sympathetic to her plight whatever it is. But the mystery of Zed seems less significant than Zed's premonition of Corrigan's violent death. I guess this won't be the last we see of him (assuming the show isn't cancelled).
But the snap and crackle of this week's episode comes from John's storyline. He quickly discovers the source of the problem, which turns out to be his old frenemy Papa Midnite. I was surprised that the writers decided to use him again so soon, but after watching this episode, I kind of get it. Papa Midnite is a legitimately interesting character, someone who is highly mercenary and yet able to care about other people. When his magic goes awry, he's not going to simply leave the consequences behind. He's a responsible priest.
When the pair join forces to send back the dead that Papa Midnite accidentally resurrected, we see some of the contrasts between the two. Papa Midnite sort of echoes what that one demon told Constantine in the pilot: that he lacks the power of conviction. Papa Midnite follows his cultural magic, drawing power from tradition and a willingness to petition the loa rather than rely exclusively on his own strength. Constantine is too independent from that, and Papa Midnite accuses him of being both a dilettante and a magical appropriationist. The latter is actually a rather interesting idea, especially given that Papa Midnite is a bit insulted by the idea that Constantine takes a little bit of this magic and that tradition from various cultures. The more Papa Midnite talks, the more I want to spend time with him. Plus, the dude talks to his dead sister in Hell. Much more badass than Manny the angel.
His relationship with Constantine also brings out a lot of Papa Midnite's own internal contrasts. On the one hand, he seems a bit mafioso sitting in his car with Constantine locked in the truck. But then when he realizes that he accidentally raised a woman's husband from the dead—and that her husband's presence is making her sick—there's genuine horror in his eyes. And while he and John bicker like an old body-burning married couple, we learn the one advantage that John has over Midnite: flexibility.
Midnite is incredibly powerful, so powerful, in fact, that he can give John the thing that he's been looking for—a chat with John's mother—without a second thought. But John's jack-of-all-trades-ness, his magical melting pot, allows him to come up with solutions that don't fit within Midnite's strict guidelines. It's an interesting dynamic, especially if the pair come in varying flavors of moral grayness. It's almost a shame I can't see the writers packaging them up together and taking the Constantine-Midnite show on the road.