CONSTANTINE Season 1, Episode 3 'The Devil's Vinyl'

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After the disappointing dip in quality in The Darkness Beneath, Constantine (the show) now begins to make good on the promise shown by its pilot. Although Constantine (the dabbler) evidently ditched Zed soon after the last episode ended, a convenient vision allowed her to track him down and once again invite herself along for the ride.

The titular Devil’s Vinyl is a cursed acetate that has been unearthed in a derelict studio, and within its grooves are captured the dying screams of a bluesman recorded in the moments the account came due from when he sold his soul in exchange for talent. An ice-cold disc that compels those who touch it to play it no matter who tries to stop them, and drives those who hear it to suicidal insanity, several people are after it for various reasons, primarily Jasmine Fell (Joelle Carter - Justified) who sold her soul to save her rock star husband who was dying of cancer and has been told that locating the record will release her from her imminently-due contract. However, Papa Midnite, a power-hungry Vodun bokor with an army of henchmen (and who has a habit of laughing with that disdainful baritone rumble that is apparently mandatory for any villain with a Caribbean accent) is also after the disc, and is a lot less discerning about the trail of corpses the search could leave in its wake.

Although a blues singer, a crossroads meeting and soul bartering are all aspects of a well-documented pre-exiting tale (Constantine even declares it to be an urban myth), the combination still briefly threatens to once again send the story down the Supernatural-lite route, to the extent that the mention of a soul-procuring deal broker almost makes you expect Mark Sheppard to pop up and declare “Hello, boys” with camp menace, but the story nevertheless swiftly asserts its individuality.

Last week’s one-shot villain of a gypsy witch was as throwaway as the rest of the episode, but the antagonism this time around feels far more permanent. The enmity between Midnite and Constantine is clear, and the two of them will doubtless repeatedly come to mystical if not physical blows as the series progresses. We also get one of what will likely be numerous mentions of the First of the Fallen, a popular Hellblazer villain who may well prove to be the series’ big bad. A demonic force who was formerly the conscience of God and cast out of heaven prior to the Fall, he was the comic series’ version of Satan (but not Lucifer, since Neil Gaiman had used the designation in Sandman six months prior to FotF’s debut) and some of his schemes involved Constantine, Zed and Nergal (the demon responsible for the death of Astra before the series began) in numerous unpleasant ways.

Zed continues to prove herself in a variety of manners, validating the decision to rejig the show’s premise to bring her in. When questioning people for information she recognises in a moment when sympathetic charm will win out over aggressive irritation, fully aware that as well as an artist, a pickpocket and a hustler she is also a rather attractive young woman, and knows exactly when and how to use this to her advantage, earning Constantine’s grudging admiration in the process. In the previous episode there were a few moments where she came off as a little needy and was practically pouting with deference, but that was before she realised just how much Constantine is winging it through every encounter, and that when it comes to survival his knowledge is secondary to her own instincts. This also marks the second time in as many episodes where her timely intervention has saved his life. As much as Constantine may be loath to admit it, she’ll be a handy one to keep around, even if he doesn’t entirely trust her yet.

The power of music has always been a ripe theme for storytelling. From the aforementioned legend of Robert Johnson (and its less renowned forbearer of the unrelated Tommy Johnson), to the race war supposedly prophesised by Helter Skelter, the allegations of subliminal messages backmasked in Stairway to Heaven, or even synching up Dark Side of the Moon to The Wizard of Oz, there have always been strange tales surrounding the seemingly endless possibilities of its myriad forms. It’s precisely this hold that music has over us that makes the idea of cursed melodies so intriguing. When we regularly and voluntarily allow our emotions to be manipulated by this eldritch sonic alchemy, the idea of negative influence by tainted sound can sometimes not seem so far-fetched.

Following the musical theme, we get several moments demonstrating Constantine’s love of punk music, briefly touched upon in the pilot with the use of Social Distortion’s cover of Ring of Fire, such as the fan-pleasing reference to his former punk band Mucus Membrane; learning a new spell by covering himself in blood and chanting in an infernal language to the dulcet background tones of I Wanna Be Sedated; and the episode’s climax where he protects himself from the mesmeric power of the acetate by drowning it out with the off-key blaring of the Sex Pistols, declaring “Give me some juice, Johnny,” before Anarchy in the UK fires up.

Just because, there are also a couple of what appear to be rather large Doctor Who references. Although the exact words aren’t used, the safe house is revealed to be a lot bigger on the inside; and the only way that Constantine’s trick with the playing card that “takes on the appearance of whatever its holder requires” won’t put you in mind of the Doctor’s psychic paper is if you’ve never seen it in action.

Constantine is now truly beginning to establish itself, with The Devil’s Vinyl properly continuing the ongoing story where the pilot left off, in terms of both narrative and quality, and if the show manages to keep it up it can only mean good things to come.

 

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