Let’s not bury the lede shall we? First and foremost, “Haunted” features the first (and hopefully not last) Arrow-based appearance of Matt Ryan’s John Constantine—a character who starred in NBC’s short-lived adaptation of the Hellblazer comic series last year. That show, admittedly, was never that great, but Ryan was always an undisputed joy to watch. I don’t know what legal wrangling had to go on to acquire a character from an NBC show (even if they’re both under the Warner Bros. label, that’s still a massive task), but I’m happy it worked out, as Ryan’s Constantine was, by far, the biggest loss from that failed NBC experiment.
Furthermore, Constantine’s presence also provides “Haunted” with something that’s become increasingly novel in Arrow’s latter days—a distinctive connection between the present-day and flashback stories. Indeed, we first meet Constantine during an Island flashback scene as he’s being interrogated for information. Oliver is subsequently tasked with escorting him, and the two end up having a mini-Raiders of the Ark adventure in which they retrieve a mystical artifact from some sort of hidden temple built into the Island (getting major Lost flashbacks). Proving his noble intentions, Oliver ends up saving Constantine from a booby trap, thus placing the man in his debt.
It’s this “favor” that loops in Constantine to Oliver’s present-day scenario. After escaping from captivity in the previous week, a bloodthirsty Sara is on a rampage, attacking anyone who even remotely resembles Thea, the person who killed her. Needless to say, Oliver discovering that Laurel went ahead and brought Sara back to life without consulting him brings up some complications in their relationship. Luckily, Laurel readily acknowledges the double-standard by pointing out that Oliver had Thea brought his own sister back to life after Ra’s killed her, so why can’t she? And so, Oliver calls in Constantine to help restore Sara’s soul. Granted, I feel as though, if Constantine was just a phone call away, he should very well have been called to assist in other matters (the multiple attacks on the city, Thea’s death), but obviously this is the most efficient method of getting the occultist involved in the storyline, so it’s forgivable.
In any case, the true highlight of the episode is unquestionably Matt Ryan. Say what you will about the uneven quality of Constantine, Ryan wonderfully embodies the smarmy, yet charismatic figure that Hellblazer fans know and love. Indeed, the only real downside of his appearance lies in the extraordinarily anticlimactic resolution to the Sara storyline.
The last act is a misstep that begins with Constantine casting a spell that will take him, Oliver and Laurel into a spirit world to retrieve Sara caged soul. He warns, however, that there are forces that will be trying to stop them. The “spirit world” in question turns out to look like a re-decorated Nanda Parbat set and the “forces” basically amount to a few easily defeated ninjas. What’s more, Oliver and Laurel have little to actually do aside from pulling Sara out of a pool (which, I suppose, represents her entrapment?). You’d think there’d be an emotional moment between the three that involves encouraging Sara to break free, but we’re not even treated to that. I suppose you can blame budget, or a lack of sufficient time to stage the scene, but, in the end, a fun and generally well put-together Arrow hour basically devolves into the king of cheap set-up you’d see in an average Power Rangers episode.
This underwhelming conclusion aside, however, the episode also boasts two effective subplots. In one, Diggle and Detective Lance discover that Damien Darhk is attempting to erase several names from a government database, including that of Diggle’s brother. When Lance presses Darhk for answer, the man reveals that Andy Diggle was involved in some Afghanistan drug trades, which he confirms with several classified papers. The news devastates Diggle, who nevertheless accepts that this was always the risk of digging into the specifics of his brother’s murder.
The second major subplot concerns Curtis attempting to decipher Ray’s final message, which looks to have some areas hidden in the audio. Echo Kellum has done amazing work on the show so far, and the image of him jittery with excitement after downing countless energy drinks in order to burn the midnight oil is enough to overcome the somewhat awkward exposition that he was an Olympian (they’re really building up to Mr. Terrific very fast). Ultimately, the episode ends on the decoded message with Ray saying what most audience members know—he’s alive. My guess—he shrunk himself and is still mulling around the area.
Sorting through the events of this hour, I can’t help but feel like “Haunted” was a great Arrow episode that eventually had to settle for “pretty good.” Indeed, Matt Ryan and Stephen Amell’s chemistry is a big part of what makes this installment sing, and I do hope it won’t be long until Constantine again shows up in Star City. It truly is a beautiful day in TV where comic book-esque crossovers like this can legitimately happen, despite all the studio-mandated red tape that comes with it. It just goes to show you that, in the world of modern-day TV, few beloved things are ever truly “lost.”
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.