This review contains spoilers.
1.3 The Devil’s Vinyl
Now that’s more like it! Constantine has found its legs this week, and while it hasn’t entirely shed the problems of the first two episodes, The Devil’s Vinyl offers a blend of horror, humour, and action that’s hard to argue with for entertainment value. Add the introduction of Hellblazer fan favorite Papa Midnite (Michael James Shaw) and this one comes out strong.
Aside from laying some ground rules and explaining the seemingly endless string of supernatural goodies in Constantine’s Mary Poppins bag, this third episode dispenses with the exposition that has bogged down the show thus far. This week, the monster of the week isn’t a front for world-building or character development, and it’s scarier and more believable for it. The plot is a little messy—it involves lots of side characters and magical artifacts, some of which could probably have been trimmed—but it’s a wild ride. The characters (other than Constantine himself) fade into the background, but if Constantine needs to focus on getting plot right before moving on to serious character development, that seems fair enough.
The story draws on the legend of the blues musician who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for musical ability. The real legend is about Robert Johnson, but in this episode, it’s an artist named Willie Cole. The devil came for Cole’s soul while he was recording, and his voice can now be heard on a record called the acetate. Fast forward to modern times, and the acetate is in the hands of Jasmine Fell, a woman who also sold her soul, this time in exchange for her husband Ian’s health. What follows is a bloody chase as voodoo priest Papa Midnite goes after the acetate, and the acetate goes about possessing and killing anyone who lays hands on it. The acetate seduces Papa Midnite’s men into playing it at a club, then a radio station. Constantine, Zed, and Chas are run ragged trying to stop the carnage.
The idea of the demonic record is a solid one, drawing on a rich history of urban legends about crossroads deals, the power of music, and playing Stairway To Heaven backwards. There is something especially terrifying about an evil hidden in sound; maybe it’s because as humans we rely so much on eyesight, and fear dangers we can’t see. The musical plotline offers a chance to learn about Constantine’s history with band Mucous Membrane, as well as for him to rush to the rescue while blocking out demonic sounds by blaring the Sex Pistols. Comic fans were no doubt squeeing at this homage to his punk rock history.
We saw a lot more quirks of Constantine’s character this week, and though it was at times a little too goofy for my taste, there were some truly funny moments and they showed John in a new light. Papa Midnite makes a fabulous entrance, sitting in the dark wearing an arrogant grin and giving a delicious low chuckle that seems to come from nowhere and everywhere. Papa Midnite is one of those rich mostly-bad sometimes-ally characters Hellblazer does so well, and we can hope he gets the same treatment from Constantine.
The Devil’s Vinyl has its kinks to work out, but it’s renewed my hope that Constantine can grow into something greater. It’s demonstrated that the show is capable of being a lot of things: horrifying, complex, humorous, thrilling, quirky. It just needs to figure out how to get them all organized, so that they appear at the right times and in the right proportions. This episode is a step in the right direction.
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