03 “The Devil’s Vinyl” (Constantine season 1) [SPOILERS]

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After the second episode reboot of Constantine, I’m feeling generally positive about the series, but waiting for it really to get stuck in. I can see why they made the change, but they are still at the stage of laying out the pieces on the board. There haven’t really been any moves made yet, of the grand chess game that has so far been hinted at.

It hasn’t skimped on the entertaining, though, which in this world of high New Series Mortality is probably a pretty good idea.

So the factor missing is something unifying, something to bind it all together and raise the stakes. Just saying.

After an old friend dies at the hands of a demonic record, John investigates — with an insistent Zed in tow. Their sleuthing leads them to an ageing rock star, his wife, and the vinyl record — complete with a recording of the devil’s voice, which kills anyone who hears it — which a mysterious party wants her to procure in return for the restoration of her soul.

After the homely, small-town introduction of last week’s episode, it finally feels like we’re getting into something. For one thing, Zed is doing a much better job of John’s sidekick, being that she is more than simply a surrogate for the audience, but actually contributes to the story. There’s a reason for her to be there.

As ever, Matt Ryan sparkles in the central role. I really cannot overstate how much he is the John Constantine of the comics. Even to the point where its avoiding his smoking has made me reassess how central a character trait it is — answer: yeah, it’s still central, but the show does a good job of distracting from its absence.

What about the story? Well, it actually hangs together pretty well. The thread is followed, from morgue to rockstar to confrontation and conclusion, it weaves a madcap path through the mysteries.

And speaking of confrontations: hello Papa Midnite! I have, I confess, never heard of the actor that they cast (Michael James Shaw), but he is rather good in the role. Completely different to the cinematic interpretation, but sat chuckling to himself in the dark with a cigar, he has a sinister edge. I really don’t get why he left John slowly bleeding out — aside from dramatic tension — when he could have either killed him there and then or taken it with him. But whatever, when he appears at the end with a Winchester shotgun to blast away the speakers before the record can kill a room full of people — that was awesome.

What we had here was a deeper glimpse into the world of John Constantine. The demonic recording is a nice trick, playing into the larger idea of soul-trading, with the twist of the musician’s wife selling her soul for her husband’s health. Pieces like that, and Papa Midnite’s collecting mystical artefacts and weapons, paint a wider picture to be explored here, a rich tapestry of a world which the series is borrowing in pieces from the source material.

Bit by bit, this series is creeping into being what I want from it. The overarching threat is start to feel more real, and the introduction of a recurring — if not necessarily principle — villain with style and character is a very positive step. The supporting cast — Chas and Zed — is starting to gel, and Matt Ryan is fantastic as ever. The gradual fleshing out of characters and setting is shaping the series out into as an engaging and exciting a world as a viewer could want.

Closing thoughts:

  • How much stuff did they nick from Doctor Who?! I counted “bigger on the inside” and the psychic paper, and there may well have been others I missed.
  • And actually, Constantine is picking up some of the Doctor’s traits: arrogance, for one.
  • The scene where John runs through the radio station building with the Sex Pistols blaring in his ears, to stop the record from playing, was genius.
  • So far we’ve not really delved into the backstory of John himself. His many friends have been hinted at, but his own damage has been left untapped since the pilot. Just saying.

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