Manny sends John to Ivy University, to offer his help to a reluctant Ritchie Simpson - another member of the Newcastle crew - whose students have found a way to travel into another dimension, only to wind up at the mercy of a psychotic killer.
Hellblazer: Original Sins (the character of Ritchie Simpson and the idea of magically-facilitated dimensional travel) , The Dream Cycle novellas and short stories of H.P. Lovecraft (the rules for inter-dimensional travel are similar), The Most Dangerous Game (a bored sportsman hunting people in a place he controls), A Nightmare on Elm Street and the many urban legends involving a killer who attacks through mirrors and dreams.
Jeremy Davies steals the show in his return performance as Ritchie Davies. By episode's end, we see a little of the man he once was - the one person John Constantine saw as a peer - even as we see how remarkably well John has held together in the face of Newcastle, relatively speaking. The interplay between Davies and Matt Ryan is remarkable and the two are very convincing as old-friends grown apart.
The direction for this episode is top-notch, with the opening scene before the title splash being truly terrifying and atmospheric.
The lightning design of Shaw's house is incredibly creepy, as are the visual FX for the realm beyond the house - both before and after.
In the Hellblazer comics, Ritchie Simpson conducted experiments using computers in conjunction with astral projection in order to explore other dimensions.
The idea of using hypnosis or magic to force a state of out-of-body travel is a staple of speculative fiction. For example, the pulp hero John Carter used a form of astral projection to leave his body and travel to Mars.
The rules for other-dimensional travel discussed in this episode closely parallel what was said about mortal travelers in The Dreamlands of H.P. Lovecraft's Dream Cycle. Specifically, how it is possible for strong-willed dreamers to alter the landscape around them or how it is possible for a person to die in the Dreamlands and for the shock to kill their physical body in the material realm.
Bloody Mary is the subject of many urban legends regarding a ghostly figure who will appear under various circumstances - usually by saying her name three times while facing a mirror in the dark. Some legends say that - properly summoned - Bloody Mary will tell your fortune, Improperly summoned (or summoned at all in the legends where she is not at all benevolent), she will either scratch out your eyes, strangle you, slash you to ribbons or take your soul.
Catoptromancy is the magical art of divining with a mirror.
The Egyptian chant used by the students invokes the name of "Ma-at" - the Egyptian goddess of truth, justice, balance, law, morality and order.
John possesses a magic mirror that lets him see the past.
Samsara is the repeating cycle of birth, life and death in many Eastern religions. It is possible to achieve liberation from this cycle, but only through good deeds and by fulfilling one's life purpose.
John knows a spell that allows him to detect and analyze residual magic. He uses this to analyze the ritual the students used.
Beeswax candles, hieroglyphics and residual ash are signs of Egyptian magic.
Ritchie makes reference to Shaw's ritual being based on Eygptian dream temple techniques. Ancient Egyptian dream temples - or sleep temples - were hospitals of a sort that treated a variety of ailments, including mental disorders. Archaeologists have theorized that the attending priest/physicians used hypnosis as part of their treatments.
A singularity - as Ritchie defines it - is the merging of humanity and technology to bring about immortality for a person's consciousness on a computer network. Or, as John puts it, "a bomb-shelter for your brain." Typically singularity is applied towards the idea of an artificial intelligence born of technology that perfectly emulates human thought rather a human mind being preserved technologically but Ritchie is dumbing things down a bit for John's benefit.
In Egyptian magical tradition, mirrors are used as doorways to other spiritual planes.
All the mirrors in the Mill House are enchanted to prevent them from being used as doorways.
Typically it is impossible for a being in another dimension to attack people through mirrors. Ritchie determines that Shaw is able to do this to the students because of the ritual they use to travel to his realm leaving them vulnerable to him.
Astral dimensions can be reshaped by a strong will.
In Buddhism, Nirvana is the state of enlightenment and peace achieved by accepting certain truths. These truths include that suffering is unavoidable, that desire is the root of all suffering and that while one can achieve Nirvana it cannot be done until one rids one's self of desire.
John: Alright. we need to talk with Adam.
Ritchie: Okay, so that would be talking meaning talking, right? Not harassing?
John: Oh yeah, well, you know me. I'm well versed in the art of pretending to be a gentleman.
Ritchie: I do know you.. that is debatable.
Ritchie: You see what we are, John? To other people, we are what you call cancer. We're just spreading our disease.
John: You know, when you're done sitting on your bloody pity party, we've got work to do. All right?
Ritchie: Pity party, that - that's good. That's good, John. Man, laugh it up. Tell your jokes. But I'll tell you something. You don't fool me.I know your secret. I know what you pretend not to feel. You know why? Because I'm feeling it right now.
Ritchie: We are flying blind into his domain. He controls it all! The only rule there is Shaw is God.
John: And he wouldn't be the first one I've dealt with.
Ritchie: Some god you turned out to be, Shaw. You forgot the sun.
Ritchie: All this time you spent here. You could have been building worlds! You could have been redefining life and how we live it! The day you gave into your weakness Shaw, that's the day you became obsolete.
Ritchie: I just don't want to be afraid anymore, John.
John: Fine. That's fine. Indulge yourself, Ritchie. Just like Shaw. You're two visionary peas in a bloody pod. But do me a favor. Don't lie to yourself. This isn't about creating something new. This is about you running away.
We see Ritchie Simpson for the first time since the first episode.
John refers to Gary Lester's death in 104.
The Bottom Line
After last week's episode, it's a little jarring not to have Zed or Chas. But Jeremy Davis' performance as Ritchie Simpson keeps this episode from feeling empty. What could have been a run-of-the-mill monster-of-the-week story is strengthened by the interplay between Ritchie and John and a strong script that fleshes out the reality. Shame the killer and the students are little more than cardboard cut-outs, but you'll have too much fun watching Matt Ryan and Jeremy Davis playing off each other.