After a bit of an aside to introduce Zed to the series, Constantine regains its focus by introducing a villain that stretches back to the very first issue of Hellblazer. This, the third episode of Constantine, was penned by two comic book and television veterans. Mark Verheiden, who wrote and produced Battlestar Galactica, Heroes, Fallen Skies, Caprica, and Time Cop, joined with Constantine show runner and godfather of the DC Universe David S. Goyer to bring us the most Vertigoesque episode of Constantine yet.
This episode worked just as a badass horror story. It centered on a record that contains a recording of an old time Blues singer who sold his soul to the devil being dragged to Hell during a recording session. The tale was told in a very effective flashback that was chilling enough to permeate the entire episode. As for Constantine and Zed’s involvement, the series is still using Liv’s map to pinpoint the story of the week. When Constantine heard that an old music producer pal of his was killed by the record, we were off.
A couple of the important parts of Constantine’s past were revealed in this episode, such as his days as an old school Liverpool punk rocker. Constantine’s connection to the punk rock era of London is one of the character’s more important traits but punk isn’t exactly contemporary or hip in these days of autotune and iTunes. So bless NBC for retaining this bit of coolness. Seeing John Constantine spring into action while blasting the Sex Pistols in his headphones was something I never thought I’d see in any form of media, and quite frankly, it’s something Constantine’s usual home, comic books, just can’t do.
The motif of music filled this episode and the idea of a haunted object such as a record made this a very enjoyable, if unsettling, contemporary horror tale cut from the same cloth as Joe Hill’s Heart Shaped Box. The show did deliver a few scenes of gore, particularly the flashback where the Blues singer essentially popped, but most of the scares are classically atmospheric in nature. So far, the series does have claws, but it wields them strategically.
Papa Midnite, the character played by Michael James Shaw, was a bit over the top. He would fit in better in a remake of Live and Let Die than he did in the world of Constantine. It was cool seeing such a semi-iconic Hellblazer character but the whole thing stretched credibility a bit what with Papa leaving Constantine strapped to a table a la Egghead from Batman instead of just outright killing the punk rock mage. The relationship between Constantine and Midnite was a little too clichéd hero and villain, something that wouldn’t work in The Flash much less a series that is in no way a super hero show. I was surprised to such paint by numbers from two comic book vets who should know better.
All that aside, while the episode failed to spark a compelling rivalry between Constantine and Midnite, it did tell one hell of a freight tale, literally. Zed continued to grow as Constantine’s gal Friday, a street tough and capable woman who saved John from the aforementioned Papa Midnite death trap. We also got to see Chas show his badass side as he forced the soul broker who started this whole mess by tricking the wife of a rock star (played by Justified’s Joelle Carter) to sell her soul in exchange for fame and fortune for her husband to eat and swallow the contract. We also got to see how the Hell of Constantine works. How souls are exchanged, how demons interact with the world of mortals through corrupt brokers, and the high price magic has on any human that dares dabble in it. The throwaway line where Constantine confided in Zed that he traded a few days of his life to cast a spell really shows the lengths he was willing to go to get the job done.
After an episode’s absence, the angel Manny popped up again but didn’t make much of an impact on the proceedings. The takeaway from this episode, the first episode to introduce a true Vertigo adversary, is the price of magic in this world and how John Constantine is a man willing to pay that price to help others. It solidified him not as a hero but a blue collar mage that isn’t afraid to get dirty to defeat evil, as evident by the moment Constantine stepped on stage this episode, covered in blood ready to kick some demonic ass. The episode also had two nice nods to Doctor Who. First, Zed discovered that John’s lair, like the TARDIS, is bigger on the outside and that the old millhouse contains almost an endless array of rooms. In addition, John has a playing card that he can make appear to be whatever the spellbound person that views it wants to see the most similar to the Doctor’s trick paper that he has used for decades. John and Zed, Doctor and Companion but in the world of demons and magic, I can totally get behind that.
The series needs to tighten up some pacing and shed itself of some plot convenience if it is going to be considered an elite series, but the smart and subtle scares combined with the wonderful character work makes this particular episode a winner.
Those Magic Moments
While we never see John smoking, we do see him holding and flicking away cigarettes. That’s one dangerous habit, huh?
Papa Midnite first appeared in the very first issue of Hellblazer back in 1988. He ever had his own mini-series in 2006. The show totally nailed his role as a voodoo priest and street gang leader, but it failed to deliver on some of the character’s nuances making him a bit one-dimensional. The ending of the episode, with Papa burning a fetish of Constantine promised that Papa would not be a one off villain, so hopefully future appearances will deepen this potentially very-frightening antagonist.