Soul Selling Ain't What It Used To Be – Recapping Constantine: The Devil's Vinyl

By Rich Epstein

Constantine - logo

This week Constantine goes back to the city.  Chicago, Illinois to be precise.  The show opens with an unknown woman (Joelle Carter from Justified) venturing into an abandoned building to retrieve a book hidden inside the walls.  She opens the book, and finds…a record.  She asks a friend, Bernie (Dikran Tulaine), to test the record for her, but warns him not to listen to it.  The record is by Willie Cole, produced by Moonrise Studios and appears to be from 1931.  She warns him a second time, and leaves the studio to take a phone call.  At this point, it seems to be really important that he not listen to the record.  Maybe she should stay?  I mean, she stresses how important it is that he not listen to the record.  It's also obviously extremely valuable.  Why not stay and make sure that nothing happens to it?  Of course, Bernie puts on the headphones.  Smoke begins to come from his mouth as the headphones are frozen on.  He screams in obvious pain and shouts "Don't make me do it," then stabs himself in the head.

After the credits, Zed (Angélica Celaya) drives up to the safe-house, where she immediately has a shotgun placed against her head.  Chas (Charles Halford) was told that she might show up.  Turns out, she was able to track down the safe-house because she drew it.  Useful talent.  Inside, John Constantine (Matt Ryan) is covered in blood, inside a chalk circle, chanting in several languages.  Zed comments that the house doesn't seem as big on the outside.  Gotta love the Doctor Who reference.  John shows Zed a paper with a story about Bernie and says that he was a friend.  He asks her to see if can pick anything up from the picture.  She touches it and finds herself in a field of Jasmine and sudden cold.  John is off, and Zed wants to go along.  The cab is broken, so John agrees if they can use her truck.  Convenient.  Before he leaves, John asks Chas to look into Zed.

In Chicago, the first stop is the morgue.  Zed looks through his bag and finds two nails from the coffin of St. Pedua, the patron saint of lost souls.  The nails will point to each other no matter how far apart they are, a mystical tracking device.  I wonder if this will come up later.  Zed helps John break in and they try to bring Bernie back from the dead long enough to say what happened.  Bernie tells him that the voice on the acetate did it.  Constantine asks for more and Bernie tells him "Moonrise" before the spell is broken.  John tells Zed that the price of the spell was a few days of his life.  Zed uses her smart phone to realize that there was a record label in the 30's called Moonrise Records and suggests they pay the owner, Marcus Mooney (Nicholas Pryor), a visit.

Back to the woman with the record. She hides the record on a shelf in her home.  Her daughter tells her that she had a nightmare.  The shelf where the record is has frozen over.

John and Zed go to the hospital to visit Mooney, using an enchanted playing card to get through security.  Mooney is near death.  He knows about the record, tells them about Willie Cole.  The legend was that Willie sold his soul to the Devil.  Willie died while making the record, and the the record picked up the voice of the Devil himself.  When the Mooney went back to the studio, there was nothing left of Willie but blood. A lot of blood. When he picked up the record, he heard voices in his head, telling him to do horrible things.  He wasn't able to destroy it, so he hid it in the wall and prayed it would never be found.  A private investigator by the name of Fell came by the previous week trying to by the record.  Mooney says his time his come, he sees an angel.  His monitor begins to beep and John steps outside to find everyone frozen.  Manny (Harold Perrineau) is back.  He beckons John to be quiet as he takes Mooney.

In the truck, John says that he recognized the name Fell, a metal head that made a deal with the Devil.  He starts explaining to Zed about how the Devil is taking our souls for revenge.  As he is talking, the scene switches to the daughter of the woman who found the record.  She sneaks into the den, reaches up onto the shelf, and grabs the record, saying "I do want to hear you, I do."

Zed and John break into a mansion.  He asks Ian Fell (Marcus Hester) how Bernie got the record.  Zed smells Jasmine.  John tells Ian to own up to the deal he made, when in walks the woman who stole the record, pointing a gun at John.  Ian can't talk about the deal because she made it.  The woman's is Jasmine Fell, hence the vision that Zed was getting.  She's Ian's backup singer and wife.  She made the deal not to make Ian famous, but to save his life.  He was dying of cancer when she was visited by a soul-broker.  It's almost time for Jasmine to pay up, but the soul-broker offered to trade her soul back for the acetate.  John offers to make things right for her, and goes to the address where the exchange was to take place.

Back at the mansion, Zed hears music and they run in to stop the daughter from listening to the record.

John goes to meet the soul-broker.  John tells him that he is there for Ian Fell.  He hears a laughing voice, and walks into the next room to see Papa Midnite (Michael James Shaw).  Constantine begins insulting Midnight, when he is attacked by some henchmen.

Constantine - Season 1

He wakes up tied with a copper wire to a metal grate in a factory.  Midnite is after the acetate as insurance, a get out of hell free card.  He shoots up John with an anticoagulant then cuts him.  He tells John he will have four hours to live, enough time that Midnite can question him again if the record isn't at Fell's.  Midnite tells him that he doesn't want to dirty his own soul, so he will give him a way to live.  He puts a dose of vitamin K, enough to let his blood clot, just far enough away to be out of reach and drives off when the rain begins.

This is my first eyeroll at this episode.  Are we really going to go with the cliche of leaving the hero alone to die rather than making sure of  it?  He already says he sent his henchmen to get the record.  He knows that Constantine will try to stop him.  Why not make sure he is dead, or at the very least, can't interfere?  He has henchmen.  Have somebody watch over him until you have the acetate in hand.

Back at the mansion, Zed is worried and asks Chas to fly up. The daughter is ok, she's finally asleep when the henchmen come in.  The henchmen have John's phone, so Zed, Ian and Jasmine know he isn't coming to save them. Jasmine gives up the acetate, and her chance to save her soul.  The men take the record and drive away, when one of them stupidly touches the record when he starts hearing voices.  The two argue over the record when the car freezes over.

John is bleeding out when a homeless man stumbles by.  Instead of helping, the man steals his shoes, then turns into Manny, Only the angel can't help.  He tells John that he knows what he has to do to destroy the acetate.  Manny turns back into the homeless man who tries to kill John.  Luckily Zed comes back just in time.  Good thing we saw that nail tracking device earlier.  Who could have imagined it would play such a key role in the episode?

John and Zed drive to a club where the police are lining bodies outside.  Seems like the henchmen just couldn't resist seeing what the record could do.  Chas arrives with supplies.  Zed didn't turn up in any criminal databases.  A deaf busboy survived, Zed questions him.  She sees a white tiger behind him.  Chas sees a tiger on a radio ad.  They head to the station.

Constantine - Season 1

John goes in alone, armed with an mp3 player and headphones.  He tells Chas and Zed to get the radio station off the grid, which Chas done by driving through the transmitter.  All the people start holding their head and screaming when John's headphones are knocked off.  He starts to lose it as well.  Papa Midnite comes in, wearing earplugs and blows the speakers with an enchanted rifle.  There is a standoff with the henchmen when John casts a spell to destroy the power of the record.  Midnite heads into the booth to find the floor gone, along with the lower floors, and the ground.  There is a pit straight to hell where the acetate has been sent.

John and Zed track down the soulbroker to reverse the deal.  They make him literally eat his words in the form of the contract and Jasmine's soul is free.

As the show ends, we see Zed holding a cross that she wears around her neck, followed by a scene of Midnite putting a doll of Constantine into a fire.

This wasn't a bad episode by any means, and was a lot better than most of what is on network TV at this point, but at the same time, it was disappointing.  There is a lot of potential for this show to be really good and I feel like it is just missing out right now.

The biggest example, to me, is how Constantine treated Jasmine at the end.  When he though that she sold her soul for fame and fortune, he was obnoxious and treated her like garbage.  But from the point that he learns that she did it to save her husbands life, he is kind and goes out of his way to help her without a second thought.  On the surface, that is pretty much what you would expect, but not from this show or this hero.  In saving Jasmine without hesitation, John ignored everything that happened throughout the course of the episode.  Maybe she acted selflessly in trying to save her husband, but in trying to undo the deal she causes a lot of innocent people to die, including John's friend.  Plus, she nearly gets her own daughter killed.  This wasn't her acting selflessly, she was trying to save her own soul and killed a lot of people.  Even after she saw Bernie die, she brought the record into her own house and was still going to go through with the deal.

Compare this to John.  He also damned his own soul trying to save someone else.  Do you see him risking the lives of dozens trying to save himself?  Do you think he would show such compassion for someone who does make that choice?  I don't, at least not without a lot of conflict.  He may ultimately end up saving her, but he would make sure she understood the consequences of her actions.  John Constantine is not supposed to be Gandhi.  He is supposed to be an asshole.  But we don't see that here.  Instead we see kindness where there is some real question as to whether it is really deserved.  Constantine is supposed to be a tortured soul, and this would have been a great opportunity to explore some of the conflict within him.

That, and the little things, like Midnite leaving him tied up and the gadget shown early on that will save the hero in the end.  It was like the worst of James Bond.

This isn't to say that the show isn't without its positives.  I really liked the way Midnite was introduced.  He and John obviously have a lot of history, but rather than giving us flashbacks or a back-story for Midnite, the show just drops us into the middle of their story.  It works, it gives us a sense that there is more to this show than what we have seen so far, there is a universe out there for us to discover.  It also leaves us wanting more of Midnite, we want to learn about some of this history.  It's nice to have a show that doesn't treat the viewer like a complete idiot, spelling out everything that has happened.  Instead, the show was willing to leave something to our imagination.  I also like the fact that they don't explain why the copper wire stops John's magic for the same reason.  Instead of the show stopping to explain everything, it drops us in the middle of John's story and it works.

At the end of the day, this was only the third episode and it was good enough to keep watching.  We still barely know Zed, we know nothing about Chas, and there is still a war coming that we really haven't seen anything of the past two weeks.  There is a lot of reason to hope that the show will find its footing and become a great show, I just hope it can survive long enough to get there.

Rich Epstein writes for Bleeding Cool. He can be found on twitter at @kaspe_r11.

About Hannah Means Shannon

Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. Independent comics scholar and former English Professor. Writing books on magic in the works of Alan Moore and the early works of Neil Gaiman.

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