Since I first heard about Constantine, I'd hope to see the live-action character's take on problems and plots from the comic that inspired it: Hellblazer. In many ways, episode 4 did not disappoint. Titled Feast of Friends, it takes most of the plot and characterization from the first two issues of the comic.
Long story short, a friend of John's from the old days staggers into his life in America. He brings with him a hunger demon that possesses victim after victim, who simultaneously gorge themselves and starve to death. (Turns out heroin addicts don't make the best demon smugglers. Go fig.)
The details of the demon remain the same: It burns through host after host at an alarming rate, with a 100% lethal track record. All it knows is hunger. The poor souls taken over don't slowly slip away, either. A switch goes off, and there's nothing left of the original person. (It's graphically disturbing in illustration, and still manages to be chilling on network television.)
In both cases, John's course is simple: follow the carnage and you'll catch up with the demon. Not so tough.
That's all fine and dandy, but what's changed from page to screen?
Constantine Has Zed To Talk To
In film and TV, protagonists tend to need someone to talk to— preferably someone who has no idea what's going on. That way, they get an explanation and the audience gets to eavesdrop. Instead of tidy narration in panel captions, we have John sitting down with Zed to explain just who the hell Gary is and how they know each other.
That would be fine, except that in this particular episode, Zed doesn't do anything. She's reduced to a sounding board of exposition, something unnecessary in the comic. She fails at her one job: keep Gary at the Mill while John takes care of business.
The Effects Are Awesome
The sight of dozens-to-hundreds of beetles spilling out of a bottle, taking to the air, and pouring down the poor man's throat is just beautiful. (Well. If you like disturbing imagery. I'm weird like that.)
The show also gets to experiment with various tricks up John's sleeve. He's a dab hand with hypnosis, and his
psychic paper enchanted playing card gets him past police tape any time he needs.
The Show Is More Balanced, For Better Or Worse
The show has an interesting balance of comedy and terror. Between scenes where characters die, John turns an overweight security guard into a ballerina to keep him distracted while they nab the MacGuffin. It makes sense to want to break up the story's tenser moments with some comic relief. It's a choice, for television. In the comic it's more compact, more one-note in terms of tone, which worked just as well.
John's Friends Are On The Endangered List
The show has done a decent job of showing how dangerous it is to be around Constantine. Random civilians die, and his friends? Well. Suffice it to say there are more pandas in the world right now, than close friends of John's. Speaking of which:
So Gary's a heroin addict. The show bothers to justify it a liiiiiiittle bit. Gary was a poor little rich boy, and never heard the word 'no'. The point being that underneath the track marks and the bad decisions are a fundamentally good person. Okay.
The comic is more direct: Gary's a fucking disaster. He's made nothing but terrible choices, and he's more or less doomed the minute we lay eyes on him. In both cases, he bit off more than he could chew, trying to use a demon to chase down a fix.
Let Constantine Be Constantine
Long story short: the only permanent solution is to trap the demon in a body branded to become a human prison… killing both the demon and the host in agonizing misery, over the course of a few days.
The show whitewashes this heavily. Gary catches on early what John is thinking, and confronts him. Constantine offers to draw straws, before Gary volunteers— nay, insists on being the demon's final host. He pleads with John to let him finally do something right in his life. In case this isn't enough proof of how terrible this is, we have Zed on hand to berate John for going through with it. It spoon-feeds the audience that John's still a good person, despite his roguish anti-hero ways. Dawww.
Then there's the comic, where Constantine straight up betrays Gary and sentences him to death. By the time Gary realizes he's the vessel— instead of some magic bottle— the flies are already buzzing down his throat. To his credit, Constantine stays close by. He does care— enough at least to drown his guilt in whiskey, while Gary excruciatingly starves to death. Then he packs up his stuff and leaves, while Papa Midnite bricks up Gary's corpse, Cask of Amontillado style.
Constantine is a right bastard. He is ruthless, though he means well.
And that's the TV show's challenge: Just how dirty can John afford to be? Answer? Pretty dirty. Some of the most compelling, highest-rated shows in the last twenty years had anti-heroes or flat-out villains as their main characters. The Sopranos. Breaking Bad. I think the show could afford to take a lesson from shows like that— and The Walking Dead— which have proven that we'll watch protagonists do bad things in the name of what they claim is the greater good (or at least, good for the family).
What do you think?