John makes his way to the mining town of Heddwich in Pennsylvania, following news reports of a mine boss who was burned alive in his own shower. It's not long before John runs into a drifter named Zed Martin, who claims to have dreamed of John. More, she has dozens of sketches and paintings of him, though she has no idea why she keeps drawing him while having visions of the future and various monsters.
John is reluctant to trust anyone. Particularly strange women who claim to have seen him in their dreams. But John will need Zed's help to solve the mystery of what lurks in the mines under Heddwich and what is killing the people of the town.
Hellblazer: Original Sins (the introduction of Zed and her magical drawing powers), Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring (the line about the miners digging too deep and waking something up is paraphrased from the book and the whole affair is reminiscent of the Mines of Moria) and various Hellblazer stories where John turns the tables on a murderer by summoning the vengeful ghosts of their victims
Not really a goof, as such, but you'd think John Constantine of all people would be forgiving of the urge to have sex in a desecrated church.
Angélica Celaya is off to a good start here as Zed Martin. Her chemistry with Matt Ryan is far better than what we saw last week between Ryan and Lucy Griffiths. More importantly, she manages the difficult act of balancing Zed's inherent conflict. On the one hand, she is capable of matching John in guile and grit but she still feels overwhelmed by her powers and has yet to fully focus them. It's a tricky thing the script has set up - making Zed brilliant in most respects but turning her into the standard 'fainting seer' when hit by a particularly strong vision - but Celaya carries it off.
The script does a good job of staying true to the spiritual oeuvre of the original Hellblazer comics. A working-class mining town is a fitting setting for a John Constantine mystery, regardless of whether it is in Wales or Pennsylvania and the whole affair is very well researched in terms of its mythology.
As the episode opens, we find that John has been using his magic to win at gambling by divining lottery numbers. This is quite frequently how John paid his bills in the original comics and Chas would frequently place John's bets for him, once word got out to the local bookies to never accept a bet from John Constantine if you don't want to lose a lot of money.
Chas notes that it's surprising John isn't an expert at capnomancy - the magical art of telling the future by watching the patterns of rising smoke. This is another clever reference to John's smoking habit.
Before running into Zed, we can see smoke coming from in front of John as we see him walking from behind. Apparently his smoking can be depicted, so long as we don't see his face while he's doing it.
Many of the paintings of John in Zed's apartment are taken from various cover paintings for the Hellblazer comic.
Zed knows how to pick pockets and is good enough at it to do it to John without him noticing.
When questioned how he knows so much about mining, John notes that he's from Liverpool. This is John's hometown in the comics and a major mining town in the real world.
By coincidence, Liverpool's football club faced Newcastle on the day this episode aired in the USA. Respectively, Liverpool is John Constantine's hometown and Newcastle the site of his greatest failure. The match went to Newcastle, 1-0.
As in the comics, John isn't much of a fighter and is easily handed his arse after one punch from an older mining company executive.
Whenever John stays in a hotel, he always gets the Honeymoon suite. He likes the extra space.
John practices capnomancy - a form of divination where one tries to foretell the future by observing the patterns made by rising smoke. John notes that it isn't an exact magic.
The abandoned church John visits is devoted to St. Aspha. A servant of St. Mungo during his exile to Wales from Scotland, St. Aspha was credited with one miracle by his master and appointed as Bishop of Llanelwy when St. Mungo returned to Scotland. Despite his miracle being tied to the burning of coal, he is not a patron saint of miners but he remains a notable figure in the history of Welsh Christians.
John identifies the knocking noise in the mines as Coblynau - a Welsh spirit said to haunt mines and quarries. Gnome-like in appearance, some say they are born of the spirits of dead miners. John claims they are generally benevolent and seek to protect miners by warning them of danger but the mythology also credits them with causing rock-slides and cave-ins when angered. There are also stories of them guiding miners to riches when paid the proper respect.
The prayer John uses as a spell of protection when confronting the priest he thinks is stirring up the Coblynau is known as The Breastplate of Saint Patrick. It is one of the most common prayers used by Christians to protect against spiritual evils.
John ultimately traces the source of the town's trouble to a Romani woman. According to John, Romani magic is the darkest of all the dark arts. The real world mythology of the Romani does involve a good deal of magical curses and raising the dead.
John's turning the tables on someone trying to kill him by releasing the vengeful spirit of someone murdered by the same killer is a classic Constantine gimmick that he's used more than a few times.
Zed: It's you. You're you.
John: That observation always ends in the same way and it's never in my favor.
Zed: I dream about you. I was starting to believe you weren't real. Who are you?
Zed: Have you seen an Englishman? With a trench coat?
Priest: Stick you with a bar tab, too?
Zed: I've been waiting for you. And you found me. And I don't know what I've been waiting for. And you don't know what you've found. Question is are we going to help each other or not?
John: If you'll excuse me, I'm bloody knackered (passes out on bed next to Zed).
John: I suppose it could be liberating - to take a leap of faith. To shrug off the burden of proof for the promise of hope. It takes trust to turn darkness to light. And those who trust risk putting their faith in the wrong hands. Because there are those who pray for you. And those who prey on you. And no matter how careful you are, you just can't tell the difference.
John: You're Romani. And there's nothing blacker than Gypsy magic.
Chas refuses to travel to Pennsylvania, due to some incident involving a succubus, a freight train and a derailment that resulted in a warrant being issued for his arrest.
The Fridge Factor
Granting that she's several steps up from Liv, the version of Zed we see here is far less confident in her powers than her comic-book counterpart and requires John's assistance to help her focus her visions.
John Screws Up
It seems unlikely that John would try and sneak into the mine in broad daylight, as he does here.
John really shouldn't be astonished that a priest would know The Breastplate of Saint Patrick prayer.
John also misses the obvious fact that the miners themselves aren't being endangered - just the management of the mine.
The Bottom Line
A strictly standard supernatural series set-up, saved only by the chemistry of the two leads and a lore-heavy script. Throwing John into a haunted mining town is a splendid idea but the direction of the episode and the resolution of the plot leave much to be desired. Still, the interaction and banter between Constantine and Zed is fun and a welcome step up from what we saw between Constantine and Liv in the pilot.