This week's Constantine borrows heavily from Hellblazer #1 with its tale of a hunger demon. And while it's clearly tied to this version of John Constantine and friends, the use of the comic's story and imagery does a lot to anchor this episode and finally make it feel distinct from other supernatural shows.
This episode came out on the heels of Jacob Hall's essay "What NBC's 'Constantine' Is Getting Completely Wrong About Constantine," which points out that the TV version of John Constantine isn't as much of a bastard as he is in the comics. I had that essay running through the back of my head as I watched this episode, considering the dynamic between John and his acquaintances. It was interesting to see where this episode edged just a tiny bit closer to the bastard John Constantine.
John gets a visit from his old pal Gary the junkie, who has been wandering around with a hunger demon in a bottle. Unfortunately, the sucker gets released at customs, releasing a demon that bounces from host to host, infusing each person with a ravenous hunger and then using them up completely. The show's imagery isn't quite as grotesque as the comic's (we're still on network TV, after all) and it doesn't include that brief commentary on excess. But by focusing the entire episode around an idea from the comic, the episode feels, tonally, closer to where it should be.
And the writers also do a nice job of dealing with the limitations and opportunities they've set for themselves. They can't have John Constantine running off to Sudan, so instead he visits a shaman who gives him a hallucinogen that lets him see what he needs to see, and we reap some trippy benefits. Plus, they connect Gary to the Astra plot and utilize Zeb by having Gary force his withdrawal symptoms on her through psychic transference.
It's the Astra plotline that lets the show form a bit of a bridge between the TV John Constantine and his comics counterpart. We've got this exchange, where John says, "You know what I always say, Gars? Everyone has the capacity to change," and when Gary replies, "I've never heard you say that before," and John smiles and says, "Exactly." It's a nod to the fact that we've got a warmer and fuzzier John Constantine than we see in the comics.
But it turns out that John had a bit of an ulterior motive when it came to that pep talk. The demon needs a human host, and Gary is, after all, responsible for the demon's release. Now, the moment ends up being sweet rather than traitorous, with Gary deciding that sacrificing himself to destroy the demon so that his life will mean something and John telling him how proud he is of Gary. But it does hit home the idea that everyone around John dies and that he's willing to sacrifice others in the fight against evil. It's at least nice to see that, when Zeb is horrified to see the binding cuts all over the dying Gary's face, John at least seems perfectly comfortable with his decision, even if he isn't necessarily thrilled with the outcome. He's not quite the bastard yet, but he's taking a baby step in that direction.