RECAP: CONSTANTINE 01×03 – THE DEVIL’S VINYL
This is John Constantine. Leave your name and soul, and I’ll get back to you.
John? Boyd. You keep stealing my people, man. Turning them all around. We need to talk.
Jay: The episodes called The Devil’s Vinyl? Oh dear. With that title….already I’m scared I’ll hate this. So the cold open gives us Joelle Carter. We’re three for three on the JUSTIFIED front. She finds a bible in a wall, which is where most people leave them I believe. But then there’s an old record hidden away inside it. She takes it to an English guy and makes him promise not to listen to it. Yup. That’s going to work.
Dave: We’re in Chicago, which now always gives me a Candyman vibe. This was definitely a creepy set piece, what with all the freshly killed animals.
Jay: They’re getting progressively better with the cold opens. Though the main takeaway from this week is that the writers have read Southern Gods by John Hornor Jacobs.
Dave: I swear that book is on my list, Jay. I read a sample on my Kindle and really dug it. It’s right up my alley.
Jay: From there, we head back to Hogwarts, where Chas and Zed find John dancing naked. Chas says John’s doing a spell, but you know what? I think he just likes dancing naked.
Dave: Chas is still very flat to me. He seems to exist only when he’s needed to move the plot along or to offer exposition. That said, I like that this version of John does homework. He’s learning a new spell. That’s not something I think I’ve ever seen them do in Hellblazer, but I like that. It shows that magic has rules. It takes discipline and practice. That’s the kind of thing that — ideally — keeps it from being too much of a plot convenience. We’ll see if that idea holds.
Jay: Ah. The house is a TARDIS. Of course it is.
Dave: You know… that seems like an easy thing. But, that said, I’ve always been a sucker for DC Comics’ House of Mystery/House of Secrets stuff… so if this could lead to that, I’d be OK with it.
Jay: John does his best to kid us on about the tie being a casual thing, and then we get to this weeks mission briefing. Handily, it turns out that Zed can use the map. Lucky, that. It’s almost as if she’s a total replacement for the person who made the map in the first place. But I’ll say this, I did like the line ,“Knock yourself out then, MacDuff.” There was a spark of wit there.
Dave: Regarding Zed, I felt that way through this whole episode. If I had to make a guess, I’d say that this basic script was conceived before they added Zed. Or maybe they still hadn’t figured out what Zed will be… Because she totally takes the Liv role in MOST of the story, with a few bits of flair that are distinctly Zed… but they’re more flourishes and not anything that affects the plot.
Jay: So Zed and John hit the trail and…..damn the coat is clean again. I was hoping it would stay grubby after last week. Also, I’m not expert, but I thought Saint Jude was the patron of lost causes, not the guy John mentions.
Dave: I think he said “Saint Padua.” A quick Google check turns up a Saint Anthony of Padua, who is commonly referred to as the “Finder of Lost Articles.”
Jay: We get a mention of John’s old punk band. I hope this isn’t leading to a flashback.
Dave: Mucous Membrane! I’m happy that they’re using John’s punk rock past. Obviously the comics Constantine, born in 1953, feels a bit more authentically woven into the 70s punk scene, but… I think you can have an angry young man fooling around in a punk band in any era since.
Jay: I can attest to that. Maybe what I’m really scared of is that a flashback would show my own past sins, not Johns. So, in order to find out what killed his old friend, John is going straight to the source. He has a magic evil hand that can resurrect the dead. Am I the only person who sees the flaw in doing this when you’re in a building full of dead people?
Dave: I feel compelled to mention here that John uses a “Hand of Glory,” an occult artifact I know a little something about, as my own character, Doctor Xander Crowe, an occult detective who has a Hand of Glory stitched to end of his right wrist. Anyway. My understanding is that, classically, a Hand of Glory allows you to enter any door. Or, perhaps more specifically, I’ve read another version in which it “freezes” everyone for the duration that the hand is lit — which leads to the same result of giving you entrance to any domain. So they’re changing that bit for their purposes here, which… eh… I don’t have a strong feeling about, but it’s always nice when someone finds ways to use as much of the folklore as honestly as possible. So, John and Zed get some clues, and then they’re back out.
Jay: Here we go. Magic has a price. John says he loses some of his own life each time he resurrects someone. It’s only taken them three episodes to get to it.
Dave: I like it, even though this is probably the most vague and convenient way to use this idea.
Jay: Next up we see John use a magic card. It can be whatever he needs to get past someone, like a security pas or legal document. I think the takeaway is meant to be,“hey, cool trick.” But I can’t help but look at it thinking, “hey, they stole that from Doctor Who.”
Dave: I like the card trick, I guess what I didn’t like was that it was the card itself that was charmed. I’d rather John just sort of use a bit of hypnosis and magic. My fear here is that, we’ve got a map, a Hand of Glory, a charmed card… in just one episode we’re getting a little heavy on the “mystical artifacts.” I like weird artifacts, but they need to be used sparingly, I think.
Jay: We get the flashback here that fills in what we already know. Nice of them. We see an old bluesman go into a recording studio and start to play, then a whole load of needless CGI turns up to claim his soul, all the while the slab of wax is still spinning.
Dave: Y’know, I love crossroads stories, those stories about the musician who sold his soul to the devil. I just wish the flashback was handled with more subtlety. You nailed it — it’s “needless CGI.” Imagine Willie Cole alone in that studio. It gets colder, darker. There’s a voice in dark, whispering awful things. We focus on that needle recording into the acetate as Willie begins to scream…. Proper lighting, proper editing, a little audio work… the scene would have so much better. And cheaper to make. While feeling richer.
Jay: And so, the award for dumbest exchange of dialogue goes to….
“I’m breaking into the mansion”
“Isn’t that illegal?”
Uh…does she need to ask that question? I thought the clue was in the “breaking in” part.
Dave: Yeah… And that’s totally a Liv line, don’t you think? And then the Zed bit is where she jumps over the fence without his help. This is what I mean about the “role” here being Liv’s, with a few script adjustments to make her Zed.
Jay: Good point, yes. I wonder if the mystery they’re trying to sell us about Zed is part of what they had in mind for Liv, or if it’s something they thought up on the fly. Either way, it could explain why that’s the least compelling part about her. So they break into the house of one of John’s old rivals, a metal head who they think is behind the whole thing. And, for all the silliness in this show, I’m a grumpy old punk and I can totally get behind the idea that the villain is a metal-head.
Dave: Hah! There’s definitely a through line from Crossroads bluesman to Satan-Worshipping metal bands in the 70s. So I can appreciate that. But, we really don’t get to let that settle because…
Jay: Because John decides to run through a sheet of glass for no reason. Presumably he has a ting against doors. But that does lead to a nice reveal, a good twist, that the metal head’s wife sold her soul to save him from cancer. That’s a good take on an old cliché, I think. From here, John tracks the mystery back to Papa Midnite, who makes his first appearance. Now, after my rant about the Romani angle last week, I’ll have to admit I don’t really know if this kind of portrayal is appropriate these days. But in the plus column, it’s something they’ve lifted straight from the comics. I’d be more comfortable without the accent, though. Play against the cliché. Give it something else.
Dave: You held back on your rant, but the subject has come up online since. It was a bad move in the last episode, and I think the most grievous error, aside from a terrible handling of domestic abuse, was the line in which John said that “Gypsy magic was the blackest magic.”
Here’s my take: I’m a guy who has written about different magical cultures, and I think the trick isn’t that you can’t have bad people who are practitioners of voodoo; it’s that you have to separate the culture from the practitioner. And that’s why the aforementioned line was so awful. It basically stated that Gypsy = Evil. Not Okay.
With Papa Midnite, we clearly have a player. If not outright evil, then he’s definitely an amoral gangster type. However, we don’t have John tell us that, for example, “Voodoo magic is the blackest magic.” Which means we still have the possibility of showing voodoo as neither good nor evil, but rather a magical belief system that taps into something “real” — for the world of the show.
Jay: That’s a good take. I think that works. It would be interesting to know what other viewers think (spoiler warning: this recap may come with more homework, folks.) So after a brief showdown and a schoolboy error from John, we get a nice set up. Papa Midnite ties John to a metal grill and pumps him full of anti-coagulant before cutting him open, leaving him to die a slow death. THEN they go and give the scene the Bond villain level of stupidity, with Papa midnight leaving a way for John to get out of it.
Dave: I laughed at the “Vitamin K” bottle. Feels like the props department was really phoning that one in. It’s really Bad Bond level silly, but at least he addresses that he’s giving John a possible way out.
Jay: A homeless guy turns up and John tries to bargain with him, but the guy just goes about slowly robbing him. I liked that. Then the guy turns into Manny the angel and…eh….I lose interest. But then we get the homeless guy again, and a fun reversal of expectation when John’s magic card trick is turned against him, almost costing him his life.
Dave: That was good. They should do a web series about the charmed card… just a series about how anyone who has it ends up dead because someone else always wants it because it’s whatever they “need” at the time.
Jay: I would like to note that, when someone comes to write the biography of Dave’s life, this was the moment his million dollar story idea was born. Which is handy, because by this point in the episode I think the writers have given up. John, Zed and Chas turn up at the scene of a huge massacre, with dead bodies lined up outside a building, and the cops just let the three of them stand there? Even worse, Zed gets to walk amongst the corpses, taking a look at each one? John and Chas can stand and talk a few feet away, next to the morgue van, with nobody trying to hustle them away? It’s the scene of a major crime. This scene is a major crime.
Dave: I’ve got… nothing.
Jay: And NOW they get to stand and talk to the only living witness to the all the death. Demons, magic, metal heads, all of these I can believe…but this scene is completely stupid.
Jay: John’s childish pause before following Zed was funny, though. A nice beat to end a dumb scene.
Dave: Little bits like this last beat… these are the bits that COULD be the TV Constantine. I know he’s not going to be the comics. And I think one feeling I’ve been having is that the supporting characters seem to exist to fill in the first person narrative caption boxes that Constantine used in the Hellblazer series to “talk” to the reader. That doesn’t exist in series TV, and thus we need to focus on the relationships of characters. And both Chas and Zed are fairly blank throughout this whole episode, giving John very little to play off. EXCEPT for tiny beats like this one.
Jay: So now we get the big showdown. John’s epic plan to save the day is….a pair of earphones. He’s going to listen to The Sex Pistols while he runs into the building and turns off the devil’s record. And, somehow, he thinks the weakness to his plan is that he only has one set of earphones? Shall we point out the obvious flaw now, or wait until it unravels?
Dave: I can appreciate that they have no time, and if I had to block out sound, I’m much more likely to have my earbuds and phone on me than a pair of ear plugs.
Jay: I’m a cyclist. I can barely move ten feet without an earphone slipping out. And he expected to run into a building, fight off satanic hoards, and save the day without having any slips? This has not been a great day for ConstanTEEN plans. And when it fails, as we knew it would, he’s done. He’s listening to the same music as everyone else and he’s going to go insane. UNLESS Papa Midnite turns up with a shotgun and starts shooting the speakers. WAIT A MINUTE, that’s EXACTLY what happens. I guess Papa has a better set of earphones. I see cyclists like that sometimes, they ride past me looking all smug while I struggle to listen to music. They must all shop at the same place.
Dave: And… it’s another occult artifact. A gun that never misses. C’mon. You can’t treat this stuff like Batman’s utility belt in 1966. This is quickly getting to Bat Shark Repellent levels.
Jay: I think we might need to start keeping a count of occult artifacts in each episode. So far this week we’re up to, what, five?
Hey, see this Papa Midnite guy? He’s a bit of an idiot, really. He has a shotgun. Next to him is a guy saying a magic spell that is ruining his plan. In front of him is a glass partition keeping him from what he wants. I can think of at least two ways he can solve his problem right away.
Dave: They should just have had Papa Midnite exclaim, “Constantine, no! I cannot shoot you because… without you there would be no show!”
Jay: So we get back to Joelle Carter, who is probably wondering at this point why they bothered to hire her if she was only going to get three scenes. But if the guy who made the deal with her eats the contract, she gets to live. Only thing is, undoing the deal means her man gets cancer again. I like this ending though. Trading back, reversing the sacrifice. Everything has a cost, and this is a good emotional one, though they don’t make enough of it in the scene.
Dave: It’s the kind of stuff that should be the focus of the episodes. Magic always seems like a good fix when you’re desperate, but it always exacts a price. They need to drop some of the ridiculous procedural elements and do quieter, more horrific stories about the price of a deal with the devil. But… what are our chances for that on network television?
Jay: I’d forgotten about the contract. Like probably everybody else. I’m counting that as an occult artifact. That takes the count to six. Then we get one last shot of Zed, she’s looking at a crucifix, I guess they still want us to be interested in the mystery about her role in the show, except that we know her role in the show is to not be Liv. Still, I’m liking Zed, she does bring something to the show that wasn’t there in the pilot.
Dave: And yet, I’ll say it again… aside from a few flourishes, her role in this episode was Liv’s. She was there to ask questions and have things explained to her. It’s Constantine’s world, and she and Chas are just living in it. They need to give us more than value little scenes like this.
Jay: Love Love LOVE that the stupid ConstanTEEN voodoo doll in the stupid voodoo coda has the silly tie.
Dave: I will pay money to the writer’s room if they write a scene where Papa Midnite yanks the tie up on the voodoo doll and we cut to John turning blue in the face: “That’s why… I leave it… loose…gackkkkk—“
Jay: Also? Voodoo doll? That takes this week’s final to seven. SEVEN occult artifacts in forty two minutes. It’s like they’re cramming for an exam.
Annoying Tie Moments- 1
Occult Artifacts- 7
This week’s homework questions;
1. What do you think of the use of voodoo and Papa Midnite in this show? Do we give it a pass? Do we get upset?
2. Following on from that, how about the Haiti link to voodoo in our popular culture? Outdated? Totally fine?
3. What are your guesses for the ‘mystery’ surrounding Zed?
BONUS QUESTION; Is there anything about Hellblazer you would like us to discuss next time we come across a silly season that we don’t want to talk about?