On the D/L – Constantine
Season 1 Episode 3 – The Devil’s Vinyl
John Constantine heads to Chicago to track down a record that holds the voice of the devil leading him to cross paths with comic character Papa Midnite (Michael James Shaw).
For the most part this episode works but I am concerned about the procedural nature of the show. To use the tired comparison to Supernatural the format remains the same as the early seasons of that show. We get a cold introduction to a character who suffers some kind of horrible mishap, the title card appears and then our heroes enter the story. John Constantine is an interesting enough character for the episodes to focus on him and have the procedural stuff be almost secondary.
Not that the story wasn’t interesting but the structure feels a little formulaic which drags things down somewhat. There were lots of great moments for Constantine in this episode such as his first scene where he’s covered in blood and performing the incantation for some kind of spell. We’re never really told what that spell is but it’s a wonderfully wacky scene that fits the character perfectly. Another great moment was when he decides that he shouldn’t let Zed be in charge and waits a few seconds before following her instruction to follow.
For the most part the story was a solid horror plot. I liked the idea of the cursed record causing the deaths of people as it connects to John Constantine on a personal level given his punk rock style roots in the comic books. Any episode that has John Constantine listening to the Sex Pistols through headphones is winning on several levels.
The musical connection wasn’t played as well as it could have been. Given that the episode was set in Chicago and the notable musical scene of that city there was a real missed opportunity here that should have been embraced. With a few tweaks this episode could have been really memorable by focusing on the musical style of the location as well as John Constantine’s punk rock interests. The groundwork was already laid here with the record featuring blues music. Instead the setting felt fairly generic and the musical interludes faded into the background.
There’s some weird stupidity in this episode for the purposes of moving the plot forward. For instance when Jasmine (Joelle Carter) was made aware that the cursed record was freezing her shelf she left it there for her curious daughter to investigate later. It was really clumsy and inconsistent with earlier scenes involving her character. I also felt that the resolution of the cursed record story seemed a little too simplistic given the threat level it seemed to represent throughout the episode.
Constantine’s characterisation is the strongest aspect of the show as there is equal emphasis on the depth of his character. There is a clear indication of his selfless nature in this episode when he casually gives up a few days of his life in order to get information on who killed his friend. This scene also tells us how loyal he is to his friends as well as how little fanfare he lends to fairly significant decisions that shorten his lifespan. It’s well known that he’s damned but I like how he’s making that work to the benefit of others.
Zed is a perfect addition to the cast and proves herself to be very capable when left on her own. She is slightly used for John Constantine to explain what supernatural tricks he’s using which both works and doesn’t work depending on the scene but it’s good to see that she’s learning as she goes and in one case actually applies that. Her connection to John Constantine remains a mystery so far with little work done to further that plot but their characters are great together. There’s a hint of mistrust from Constantine’s side but he is really warming to her and clearly enjoys bringing her along on his adventures.
Her psychic powers create some interesting visuals to point them in the right direction. I like how her abilities work and how symbolic they can be like when her vision shows snow in a field of Jasmine which connects to the deaths and the person responsible for them or smelling Jasmine before someone named Jasmine turns up. The clues given to her psychically always pay off in logical ways. It’s an intriguing skill set that is used really well.
This episode heralds the introduction of familiar Hellblazer comics character Papa Midnite but his introduction feels a little superfluous here. He appears quite late in the episode and his role in the story is a little on the clumsy side. I do like that there are multiple agendas at play but his inclusion doesn’t fit all that well and would have been better served by waiting until a later episode to use him.
Michael James Shaw does a really good job of playing this character and injects him with plenty of menace. It’s made clear that he and John Constantine have a history that puts them at odds with one another and it’ll be interesting to see this relationship explored in subsequent appearances.
If this episode is any indication of his villainous methods then the producers really need to rethink it. When he had Constantine defeated why tie him up and leave him to bleed out when he could so easily be killed? It felt like a 60s Batman villain thing to do and makes no logical sense for an intelligent character to do this. I do like how Manny the Angel refuses to interfere and lets Constantine sort out his own problems. The comparisons to Dean Stockwell’s Al from Quantum Leap still ring true here given that he’s in the story but doesn’t really directly affect it. It’s a good dynamic and I like Manny as a character.
A solid episode with some great character moments from John Constantine. There are some great subtleties to him that are outlined here in really organic ways.
The story is well told but doesn’t take full advantage of the musical premise that acts as the foundation. With the episode being set in Chicago and the unique opportunity of John Constantine’s musical roots this could have been a really memorable story. Instead the structure adheres to the established formula and is somewhat limited by it.
Papa Midnite’s introduction also represents a wasted opportunity with his inclusion in the story coming too late to have any real significance and some of the things he does being at odds with the intelligence mentioned by the episode.
Zed continues to be an interesting character who fits into this show well. She is learning more and showing great initiative when faced with issues. The relationship between her and John Constantine feels natural and is full of intrigue. I think with some work this show could be really great but it’s being held back by adherence to the structural template being used.