“My name is John Constantine. I’m the one who steps from the shadows, all trench coat and arrogance. I’ll drive your demons away, kick ‘em in the bollocks and spit on them when they’re down, leaving only a nod and a wink and a wisecrack.”
And so Constantine begins in earnest, its eponymous warlock now armed with a blood-blotched map of supernatural hotspots that Liv’s newfound scrying ability created before her abrupt departure, which will work as a handy plot generator for some time to come.
The producers’ last-minute decision to write out Liv out also left the show with another female lead to introduce, and as nobody will be even remotely surprised to learn, it turns out to be the mysterious artist glimpsed firing out Hellblazer cover art at the tail end of the pilot. Zed is an enigmatic young woman plagued by visions, many of which feature Constantine and thus convinced her he can offer her answers. Unlike Liv, she’s also a character imported from the comics, further legitimising the series with another link to its source material.
The necessary introduction causes the momentum built up by the pilot to stall slightly, but in the long run the decision should prove to be a wise one. Liv would most likely have acted as an audience surrogate, requiring regular explanations of both her developing abilities and the nature of the paranormal engagements, something for which Constantine would have absolutely no patience, and thus its inclusion (and therefore her presence) would ultimately ring hollow. Zed, on the other hand, while not as clued-up to the world of the supernatural as Constantine is, at least has a streak of independence that mark her as a more interesting character. Constantine is understandably reluctant to have anything to do with her on account of, “Everyone who puts their trust in me dies,” referring again to the high collateral of his allies (again making us wonder precisely what it is that makes Chas exempt) but her tenacity and refusal to take no for an answer mean she’ll be sticking around for a while.
Written by Rockne S O’Bannon (the creative mastermind behind Farscape and developer on the now substantially improved Defiance), The Darkness Beneath takes place in a Welsh mining town in rural Pennsylvania, encouragingly indicating that apparently not all of the US believes Cymru to be a concave vestigial stump of Shropshire. The town’s miners have been dying in mysterious circumstances, the most recent in a cascade of flame from a showerhead. The greedy mining bosses have been ordering the miners to tunnel into, “Where mortal man has no rightful place” (as Constantine poetically describes it) and have unleashed something ancient and deadly that seeks to reclaim the earth from the intruding humans. To its credit, the show doesn’t go down the route of standard or commonly known legendary creatures, incorporating into the plot the coblynau, a fae knocking spirit from the Welsh branch of Celtic folklore, too obscure to be even name checked in the mythological melting pot that is Lost Girl.
Things progress in a fairly standard supernatural investigatory way without much in the way of distinction, apart from Constantine’s throwaway statement of, “There’s nothing blacker than gypsy magic,” being something of a misfire. As well as being a lazy stereotype, could it really be any worse than things like curses, necromancy, ritualistic sacrifice, Voodoo dolls or demon summoning?
On the surface, The Darkness Beneath is not entirely dissimilar to a standard monster-of-the-week episode of Supernatural, but whereas the Winchesters would most likely address the problem with decapitation or immolation, Constantine operates with far more guile and subtlety, defeating otherworldly dangers by first properly understanding their nature. This episode acts as a perfect case in point, where he ultimately resolves things with little more than a loquacious salutation and a spray-painted basic alchemical symbol.
Although the episode’s main purpose was to introduce Zed, it nevertheless ends with us not actually knowing anything about her, save for Constantine’s unconfirmed deduction that she’s running from something. With her evidently being far less deterred than Liv by the dangers of facing supernatural monsters, it’s entirely possible that the life she abandoned may have involved something not of the mortal realm, and may or may not be responsible for the visions plaguing her. Something we’ll hopefully get some exploration on in the next episode when the series should properly get underway.