Third time's lucky for fledgling supernatural drama CONSTANTINE, with this tale of a cursed vinyl record—borrowing from The Ring's similar tale of a damned VHS tape, which in turn's part of a venerable 'haunted artefact' horror trope. In fact, there was plenty of borrowing in this episode, most notably from Doctor Who, as we learned that John Constantine's (Matt Ryan) abode is occasionally bigger on the inside, and he carries around an enchanted playing card version of 'psychic paper' to deceive people into granting him access to places. There was also more lip-service to the graphic novels with Constantine referencing his time in the band Mucus Membrane, plus the introduction of Hellblazer villain Papa Midnite (Michael James Shaw), a voodoo priest of similar magical prowess to Constantine.
I was actually enjoying this episode a great deal for about twenty-minutes, but the story couldn't sustain the simplistic search for haunted acetate that compels suicide in those who hear it played. It tried to take things in a different direction (with Midnite's cronies playing the record around town and causing mass fatalities), but because I was primed for a music biz riff on The Ring this change didn't hold my interest. (It also confused me that the story took the predictable but exciting decision to have a little girl listen to the cursed music, and for nothing to come of it!)
There were also a few instances where I began to doubt the talent of co-star Angélica Celaya as Zed, who sometimes exhibited a glassy stare that's the tell-tale sign of a poor actress. It didn't help that Zed was broadly unnecessary to the entire plot, and that was doubly true of Constantine's pal Chas (Charles Halford). The writers are going to have to quickly work out why those two characters truly exist, beyond basic value as people for Constantine to chat with.
Overall, "The Devil's Vinyl" was the best of the three episodes Constantine has aired, but mainly because the core idea was an old favourite of the genre, and it had fun with some world-building (i.e. the idea of "soul broker" demons making deals with humans, that Lucifer is The First of the Fallen, why demons covet human souls, etc). There was a lot of juicy background information for the series, and Ryan continues to be a source of pleasure as the scallywag occultist (first seen coated in blood and chanting a new spell, which felt very Sherlock-ian in its eccentricity).
Maybe now the show has its grounding, the leads are established, and there's a big recurring antagonist in play, Constantine will hopefully begin focusing on telling a story that feels more creative and cohesive.
written by Mark Verheiden & David S. Goyer • directed by Romeo Tirone • 7 November 2014 • NBC