Following last week’s pretty dreadful ‘The Darkness Beneath’, it’s a relief to report that this week’s Constantine has gone some way to finding its feet. ‘The Devil’s Vinyl’ tackled its faintly hokey plot with some effective and surprisingly gruesome effects, some decent character building, and the introduction one of John’s greatest foes/allies: Papa Midnite.
After finding a legendary buried vinyl record, Jasmine Fell (Joelle Carter) takes it to her producer, who promptly plays it, which leads to his headphones freezing to his skull and voices telling him to kill himself with a fairly blunt instrument. Turns out this record has the voice of the Devil himself, after a bluesman who sold his soul had his debt collected while recording his latest song, trapping the dulcet tones of the First of the Fallen in the acetate.
Anyone who hears it goes insane, and anyone who touches it becomes possessed and wants to play it to as many people as possible. So, a very dangerous artefact in the wrong hands, then, which is ostensibly why Constantine sets out with Zed to get it back. He’s not the only one with his eye on it, though, as Papa Midnite (Michael James Shaw) wants the record for his arsenal.
It’s not doing Constantine any favours to keep comparing it to Supernatural, so we’re going to keep that to a minimum. This week at least goes to some darker places than the CW hit tends to, as the effects of the demonic acetate are shown with a good deal of violence and gore. We get a bit more of Charles Halford’s Chas, who looks to be shaping up as the show’s biggest scene stealer (willing to crash a car into solid structures, a worryingly dab hand at threatening people with a knife, able to call out Constantine on his bullshit) even if he’s arguably the character most removed from his comic book origins so far, especially with his cab out of commission.
Angélica Celaya’s Zed is still something of a passenger, although her determination to be there to help Constantine is more endearing than her straight-up stalking last week. Michael James Shaw has fun with Papa Midnite, giving him enough calm moral ambiguity to off-set any hamminess that you might expect from a voodoo priest/gang lord character, and his scenes with John give Ryan the opportunity to sink his teeth into some prime Constantine sarkiness. It’s also these scenes that provide the episode with its best character moments.
John might claim to be on the side of the angels (especially when Harold Perrineau’s Manny is around), but it’s clear that he’s just as tempted to add the record to his magic deck as Midnite. The episode gives John a seemingly never-ending parade of arcana and relics to get the job done (including one that shortens his life span, as he flippantly explains to Zed). Constantine’s always been more of an addict than a dabbler, and it pretty much takes Midnite calling him out of that to get him to do the right thing. It’s fun, too, that the only thing that gets Constantine through the possessed radio station are a pair of ear buds blaring The Sex Pistols.
There are still plenty of wobbles throughout the episode. The soul-selling subplot felt rushed and we never really had the time to care about the Fell family (and wasted Justified’s Joelle Carter, the third guest star from that show in as many episodes) but this is much stronger than last week with some strong horror set-pieces (loved the morgue sequence) and seems a little steadier on its feet. More like this, please.