Third Time’s a Charm: Constantine, “The Devil’s Vinyl”

After two attempts at a pilot episode, Constantine finally says “Screw it,” asks the drummer for a four-count on the sticks, then launches into a pulsing, distorted barrage that makes “The Devil’s Music” literal.

The Scrying Map O’ Murder reveals a death in Chicago, which Constantine quickly realizes is his old friend Bernie, who produced the only album put out by Constantine’s old band, Mucous Membrane, which means this case is personal. Bernie killed himself after listening to a lost vinyl album by a 1930s Memphis Blues guitar player who was rumored to have sold his soul to the Devil—which is how the record came to contain actual audio of the First Fallen himself and why it drives anyone who hears it to madness (as demonically-possessed artifacts are wont to do).

Constantine The Devil's Vinyl

Constantine and Zed head to Chicago, leaving Chas behind again but with a secret purpose this time. Constantine is suspicious of Zed; she’s helpful, sure, but he wants to keep her close so he can watch her. While he and Zed head to the windy city, Chas polls his contacts to dig up some dirt on our new psychic sidekick — but ultimately comes away with nothing.

Meanwhile, our Dynamic Duo investigate the murder and eventually find their way to the mansion of Ian Fell, a millionaire rockstar who also worked with Bernie once upon a time. It turns out that Ian was dying of cancer some twenty years ago, and his wife, Jasmine, made a deal with the Devil, trading her soul for her husband’s life. But the contract was almost up, so her soul-broker (like a drug dealer, but for souls) offered her an out: find the Devil’s vinyl, and she could have her soul back.

Constantine The Devil's Vinyl

But the lies and misdirection don’t stop there. Constantine seeks out Jasmine’s soul-broker, Anton, and finds that he’s working for Papa Midnite, a voodoo priest with whom John has something of a history (the details of which are never quite revealed). Papa Midnite wants the Devil’s vinyl for himself to use as a bargaining chip —a Get-Out-Of-Hell-Free card, as it were. Midnite doesn’t want Constantine interfering with his plans, so he knocks him out, ties him up, and slices open his arms, leaving him to die. (Don’t worry, Zed finds him eventually, but it’s still pretty nasty)

Midnite’s thugs recover the record from the Fell residence, but the temptation to listen to it is too strong, and the Devil’s voice within the vinyl takes them over before they make it back to Midnite. Possessed by the Devil, they are now compelled to share His music. They first stop by a popular night club and convince the DJ to put the record on, which drives all of the guests at the club to kill one another. Constantine and company are too late to stop this, but thanks to Zed’s psychic powers and curiously convenient knowledge of American Sign Language (that’s Chas talking, not me), they figure out the thugs’ next target: a popular college radio station, where they’ll broadcast the Devil’s music to the masses and drive the entire city into a violent frenzy.

Constantine The Devil's Vinyl

Chas and Zed take down the power converter outside of the radio station to stop the broadcast, while Constantine busts inside to retrieve the Devil’s vinyl. He finds that the students have already succumbed to the Devil’s orgy of violence, but he protects himself by listening to the Sex Pistols on his headphones, which blocks out the sounds of the Devil’s vinyl and is also awesome. Papa Midnite shows up and shoots up the turntable with his handy magic antique rifle, but before he can claim the record for himself, Constantine performs an exorcism on it, sending the demon record back to Hell — along with Midnite’s backstabbing thugs.

Constantine gets Jasmine’s soul-broker to literally eat his contract, which returns her soul but opens Ian Fell up to the possibility of another relapse. Fortunately, with the medical advancements made in the last 20 years, they feel confident that they can fight it together. Papa Midnite, however, is less than pleased with Constantine, and as he licks his wounds, we see him making a voodoo doll with a familiar loosened tie.

Constantine The Devil's Vinyl

THOUGHTS & THINGS

Well all right! That’s how we do an episode! My overall criticism still stands, that despite Constantine’s 30-year history, this show is going to have a hard time distinguishing itself from the other supernatural noir series that the character had previously inspired. But a little injection of rock and roll gave this show the personality it needed to succeed.

Or maybe I’m just a sucker for rock and roll, which is entirely possible.

The plot was full of red herrings, which gave a hint of grey morality to everyone involved — which is precisely what a show like this should do. Papa Midnite was a bit more vicious than Constantine, but they both had the same desire: to gain control of the Devil’s vinyl to use as a possible bargain chip in the future, should the need ever arise. So our primary antagonist was really just the flip side of the same coin as our protagonist. And that’s how noir should be! Constantine also had a personal interest in the case with his past relationship to Bernie and his own rock and roll back story, which really helped to up the stakes.

Constantine The Devil's Vinyl

I enjoy Zed, and her presence and function on the show is complicated and interesting. It’s an interesting choice to introduce a questionable or untrustworthy audience surrogate. Any audience surrogate is going to come off as somewhat contrived by nature of their role in the story, and Constantine’s logic that he’s keeping her around in order to watch her is at once more contrived while also incredibly dramatic and compelling. As an audience member, we naturally trust the audience surrogate because we see ourselves in them, so this is a neat way of turning that on its head (though I can’t say if it was intentionally designed as such). Similarly, I’m entertained by the fact that the writing team have given themselves an out to write Zed with absolutely any knowledge or abilities that are required for the plot, which they can then brush off by saying “Oh, yes, it IS convenient that she knows ASL! But is it…TOO convenient?”

Yes, it’s a little cheap. But if they handle it right, it can really work.

Constantine The Devil's Vinyl

MORE THOUGHTS BUT PRESENTED IN BULLET FORMAT

  • The Atlanta House is bigger on the inside. Is that a TARDIS joke, to tie back in with the Britishness of all of it — or is it more of a House of Leaves reference, considering the way those creepy hallways looked?
  • I still don’t understand why Atlanta is their home base, although I guess a lot of airlines do go through there. I can’t help but wonder if that was a behind-the-scenes choice dictated by necessity, when it would probably be easier to just have them bounce from motel to motel each episode instead of going all the way back to Atlanta.
  • Yes, I know I’m really overthinking this geography stuff.
  • I kind of wish more had happened with Jasmine and Ian’s possessed daughter. I initially thought that exorcising her was going to take up more of the episode.
  • At first, I was confused as to why the Devil’s vinyl made everything cold when Hell is normally associated with heat, but it made sense, and I appreciated their attempt to break from the mold a bit.
  • Seriously, what is Chas’s function?! I like the actor and the character but he’s just kind of…there. Except when he’s not.
  • Is every episode going to end with a voiceover montage that insinuates something sketchy about Zed? If so, I’m going to be annoyed with that starting next week.
  • But it was interesting to see her with a crucifix this time (which falls in line with her comic incarnation as well, though nothing else really does).
  • Maybe she’s a secret agent sent by Manny to keep an eye on Constantine? But does she know, or is she acting as a spy against her will? That could be interesting to see play out…

Constantine The Devil's Vinyl

 


Thom Dunn is a Boston-based writer, musician, homebrewer, and new media artist. Thom enjoys Oxford commas, metaphysics, and romantic clichés (especially when they involve whiskey and robots). He is a graduate of Clarion Writer’s Workshop at UCSD, and he firmly believes that Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” is the single worst atrocity committed against mankind. Find out more at thomdunn.net.

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