I never watched the short-lived Constantine TV show, which ran for one season on NBC. I am familiar with its comic book source material Hellblazer however, and its central character John Constantine. Profane, cynical yet deeply humane, he was (and is) a rich character, possessing the sort of hardscrabble, improvisational grit a world apart from characters like Batman or, in this case, Green Arrow. This is why the fifth episode of Arrow’s fourth season – entitled “Haunted” – is a considerable disappointment. It’s not that the episode is necessarily awful; it just doesn’t properly leverage its potential. Built around the crossover event of Matt Ryan‘s Constantine, “Haunted” has brief, finite moments of excellence. Yet, it doesn’t make the presence of its iconic warlock feel substantial, and in the end it’s more confusing muttering than stellar mysticism.
“Haunted” once again revolves around the tiresome ramifications of Sara Lance’s (Caity Lotz) resurrection. As the daughter of Captain Lance, the sister of Katie Cassidy’s Laurel (the one responsible for her resurrection), and the former girlfriend and compatriot of the show’s lead character Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), it isn’t entirely shocking that this plot point has dominated the past three episodes. What is shocking are the motivations behind it. As I’ve lamented on this blog, Sara Lance is not long for series regularity on Arrow, destined instead to be a series lead on CW’s upcoming Legends of Tomorrow.
The consequences of this are substantial. Many of the season’s other plot points, which had seen considerable development in previous episodes, hit a proverbial wall. This wouldn’t be an issue if they were being sidelined for artistic reasons, instead of for the cheap, capitalistic need to set up a new show, which is what is occurring.
But what about those other plotlines you ask? Well, David Ramsey’s Diggle is still on the hunt for more info regarding his brother’s fate. Thea (Willa Holland) and Laurel are still attempting to process their own behavior (which led Sara’s resurrection). Felicity is still receiving messages from the late Ray Palmer (Brendon Routh), and Oliver is, primarily, busy projecting a more bright, collaborative air in both his life as a vigilante and as a mayoral candidate of Star City.
Without question a sense of paralysis has set in for these story arcs. Yet, for as stunted as they have become, nowhere is a lack of momentum felt more acutely than in the show’s use of Neal McDonough’s Damien Darhk. Although strongly introduced in the season’s initial episodes, he has since receded entirely to the background. This is a miscalculation, as the menacing yet ebullient way that McDonough has played the character, not to mention the complexity given to him by the show’s writing team, has been one of the season’s high points. Lately, the character has basically just spent his time sitting around at a desk, writing on a piece of paper like some sort of boring corporate suit.
But speaking of missed opportunities, let’s get back to the crux of the episode’s narrative. It turns out that utilizing the Lazarus Pit on Sara’s corpse only succeeded in bringing back her body. Her soul is an entirely different matter, emphasized heavily by scene after scene of her wrecking havoc and repeatedly assaulting Thea (why she is doing this is too long of a story). Enter Ryan’s trenchcoat wearing anti-hero, who is called to Star City by Oliver to restore Sara’s soul to her body. The actor does an admirable job as a guest star, evoking Constantine’s roguish, affable wit. Missing is the character’s gritty baggage, which admittedly would be nearly impossible to include in the show’s relatively slim running time. But while this omission isn’t really a problem, the unremarkable handling of the character is. This is especially true regarding how the show attempts to connect Constantine to the Arrowverse, which is mainly through the show’s flashback narrative device.
In these flashbacks – which have recently featured Oliver inexplicably returning to Lian Yu – Constantine runs across Oliver by chance, and the two heroes then embark on a treasure hunt that runs from being either boring to really boring. The depiction of the men’s shared experience is the first time this season that the flashbacks have felt truly dull. While in the early seasons the device was used as a key technique to develop Oliver’s character (such as the character learning to kill in Season One’s touching “An Innocent Man”), it has more recently felt like an onerous weight, an indicator of the show’s unwillingness to evolve. The flashbacks in “Haunted” embody this. There is a small novelty to seeing Oliver and Constantine adventuring together, but the effect quickly fades.
It doesn’t just fail thematically however; it also features unimpressive aesthetics. The treasure pit/cave that Oliver and John descend into ranks easily as one of the worst sets featured in Arrow, with all the authenticity of middle school production. The present day storyline also has problems. When John comes to Star City he creates a kind of seance, sending himself as well as Laurel and Oliver into another world to retrieve Sara’s essence. One would think this would offer the show the opportunity for creative exploration, to engage in the type of avant-garde design that thus far would have been inappropriate. What emerges from this set-up though is a crushing disappointment. I personally have never seen an fantastical mission look less interesting, at least outside of Chris Nolan’s Inception.
“Haunted” is an exercise in fan service. While there is nothing fundamentally wrong with this, fan service, like anything else, falls on a continuum. “Haunted” simply doesn’t function as an effective crossover. It doesn’t provide much of a platform for Ryan’s character to be fully utilized. Even more importantly, it doesn’t substantially connect him to the background of Oliver Queen. At the end of the episode Constantine is just some guy who can do magic, and who once, long ago, went on a walk through the woods with the show’s main character. Sara could have been resurrected by anybody. Of course, she shouldn’t have really been resurrected at all, which is actually the salient issue of “Haunted” and is what regrettably sinks the episode. It’s a case of people asking what to do with a character, but once again refusing to ask why.