It’s episode four and Constantine just got dark. “A Feast of Friends” takes a classic Hellblazer story, some seriously unsettling imagery, a clichéd take-home message (don’t do drugs, kids!) and starts stepping up to the plate on the series’ potential.
Instead of the nameless red shirt we’ve come to expect in the cold open, this week we are introduced to Gary Lester who just got off a plane and is trying his hardest to get through customs even though he’s obviously strung-out. Airport security does an unimpressive job of interrogating him and then breaks his priceless antique jar, unleashing a swarm of bugs which possess the TSA agent and send him racing through the terminal eating everything in sight before starving to death on the floor. This is why security is supposed to wear gloves when it handles things.
Meanwhile, Constantine and Zed are having a picnic on the grass which is supposed to help Zed train her powers somehow. There’s some brief, obviously foreshadowing discussion of drugs (Zed says no but Constantine thinks they’re cool at parties) and then John’s angel friend shows up again, warning Constantine not to waste his time training a new girl if he’s just going to scare her off a-la Liv. Manny also helpfully reminds us of the “rising dark” and the season’s overarching plot then disappears.
As the unlikely duo arrive back at the mill/safe house which is supposed to be home base, they realize someone has clumsily broken in and Constantine heads in first to check things out. Our old friend Gary is caught in one of the house’s traps and John looks less than thrilled to see him. The withdrawing new comer explains that he was with John at Newcastle, marking the first mention of the event since the pilot, and recaps the occurrence to Zed who had trouble getting John to talk about it. Gary gives her the short version and Constantine later explains that Gary was basically his group’s sugar daddy, buying their friendship with cars and his parents money while contributing very little to the actual magic working.
Only after they’ve retraced their history together does Gary get around to letting Constantine know that there’s a crazy bug demon loose in the city, whoops. He explains that after New Castle what had once been a recreational enjoyment of light drugs turned into a full-on addiction as he tried to drown his own guilt. As all addicts eventually do, he ended up in the Sudan wandering the streets while high out of his mind. There he found a boy with a demon sealed inside of him and decided that freeing the boy would be his easiest path to redemption. Gary managed to get the demon sealed inside a bottle, probably killing the boy in the process, but then kind of panicked and instead of burying it forever decided to take it through customs and bring it to John in the States.
John, clearly unimpressed by Gary’s tale of would-be redemption, heads into the city to find the demon and see if he can seal it in another bottle, leaving Gary and Zed behind at the safe house. Unlike John, Zed clearly has more faith in Gary and when their hands meet, she experiences an intense psychic transference which opens her up to all of Gary’s guilt and withdrawal symptoms, leaving her catatonic on the floor. So, maybe she’s a little too sympathetic with him.
John picks up the demon’s trail at a grocery store where news teams are reporting a mysterious, viral outbreak. He tracks the demon’s movement form a woman at the store to the store’s meat supplier. At the meat packaging plant he finds a whole lot of dead people and one possessed person, still gnawing away at some frozen meat. He calls the demon out of her and attempts to lock it in the bottle but doesn’t manage to contain it entirely and the swarm of bugs escapes. We won’t even discuss the number of truly awful one-liners he makes in this scene or the fact that hiding under a slab of meat successfully fools a crazed hunger demon. It’s made of hundreds of bugs but still has no eyes? Is that what we’re supposed to believe? Anyway, Constantine escapes but now has to find another way to save the day.
He stops back at the safe house to fill in Zed and Gary but leaves again right away, still refusing to take either of them even though Gary wants desperately to redeem himself and Zed just wants to fulfill her role as his spunky sidekick. Constantine visits a shaman friend of his and they recreate an iconic scene from the comics in which they both get high out of their minds and the shaman removes one of Constantine’s eyes which is unsettling as all get out. The goal of this psychedelic trip is to see where the demon came from, what its name is, and how to stop it. The answers are “starving Africans,” “Mnemoth,” and “human sacrifice” respectively and Constantine finally knows what he has to do to save the day.
While Constantine seals his fate, Gary is still insistent that he can get clean and fix the problem he made if only he could get out of the bunker. Zed is insistent that John will clear things up for them if they just wait but Gary refuses to listen. When she block his path out of the house, he grabs hold of her and forces her to experience his withdrawal until she’s left gasping and unable to move on the floor successfully subverting all attempts he’s made to be sympathetic so far. This building has no back door? He couldn’t have snuck out the bathroom window? Forcing his own guilt and pain on the one person who thinks he could actually atone for what he’s done was his only option to get out of that place?
John finds Zed collapsed on the couch when he arrives back and although she tries to defend Gary’s actions as just, John knows Gary will give into the need to get high before he can actually do any good. As expected, John finds him getting beat up by some drug dealers underneath an overpass and after rescuing him from that, John becomes suspiciously friendly and full of high hopes for his pal’s recovery. At this point we’re supposed to know that Gary’s not making it out of this episode, right?
John and Gary break into a museum to steal an ancient knife to complete the sealing, but while they’re there Manny arrives once again to criticize John’s choices. Manny calls him out on using his friend to but runs away rather than give an answer when John asks him what else he’s supposed to do. Gary successfully steals the knife and together they hunt down the demon’s current location.
They find Mnemoth in a theater in the city where it’s possessed an employee and is rapidly eating through her life force. Together, John and Gary stand on the stage and prepare to capture the demon when Gary finally asks how it’s supposed to be trapped. In a beautifully framed shot, John reveals a human sacrifice is required and Gary realizes he’s been had. Constantine half-heartedly offers to draw straws but it’s clear that only one of them is strong enough to follow through on the spell and Gary is the one who brought the demon in the first place, making it his place to fix the problem.
Nerd Warning: Like I said before, this is an iconic arch in the Hellblazer series and the episode follows a lot of the same beats, albeit a very condensed version. All in all, the episode does its source work pretty good justice expect for its treatment of Gary Lester. Although Gary is played very sympathetic here and has an obvious, genuine desire to get clean and atone for his sins, this is not how he was originally written. Gary of the comics certainly was trying to do good when he released the demon but he was also a clear junkie with no obvious hope for rehabilitation. This worked because the hunger demon was drawn to him and his need for more addictive substances and when Mnemoth is trapped inside of Gary, they tear each other apart, both starving but unable to feed their greed. The plan works because Gary is an addict, a mirror of the demon, and also a mirror of Constantine himself, a warning of what he could become or might already be. Here, Gary could be literally anyone and John’s use of him because tragic and almost cruel. He says that people always die around him but now we have to question if it’s because of John’s coldness, his desire to take the easiest path rather than because he lives in a dangerous world. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it’s definitely an interesting choice. Nerd Rant Done.
John traps the demon in Gary’s body and then takes him back to the safe house, where Zed has been recuperating. Sharp as a tack, Zed realizes what John’s done and tries to accuse him of being callous or… something, but he comes back at her with a reminder that he warned her about this and that he doesn’t go looking for these things, they just find him constantly. Again, Zed is faced with the choice of running or standing by him and again she chooses to stay with him, seeing how heartbroken he is over his friend’s death, once again calling into question how much of what happens has been John’s own hubris coming down upon the people closest to him and how much of it is born of necessity. Maybe needy people wouldn’t be so drawn to him if he wasn’t such a snappy dresser.
As the episode closes, John stays with Gary as the monster eats away at him from the inside, a process we know might take days or weeks. As he sits in an outraged silence, Manny appears and sits with him, for the first time not saying anything but possibly carrying the burden of Gary’s death along with John, giving us a first hint that Manny might not be just a passive guardian keeping Constantine on the narrow path, but an active participant in the struggle which is sure to come.
“A Feast of Friends” certainly pushes the line of darkness on a network channel. Unlike its occult, supernatural contemporaries like Grimm and Supernatural, Constantine hasn’t wrapped itself up neatly, leaving us no doubt of our hero’s grand intentions. John might simply be a selfish ass. We already know his motivation for saving the world is his own soul and we’ve seen him willing to give up one life to rescue Astra and ease his guilt. Now we’ve seen him kill a friend because that friend brought the suffering on himself. That might not be to everyone’s tastes but the rest of the season manages to stay complex and morally ambiguous without giving into the temptation to put John on the side of capital-H Heaven and stay there, I’d be genuinely impressed and if it could then managed to sneak its way passed censors for a second season, I might even go so far as to watch it.
New episodes of Constantine premiere Fridays at 10/9CT on NBC.