Seasons don't fear the reaper, but John may want to fear Papa Midnite while on the hunt for a haunted vinyl.
Just about every major rock band, from The Beatles to Led Zeppelin to AC/DC has been accused of hiding subliminal, satanic messages in their music. Meant to corrupt listeners and allow the forces of darkness to rule the masses, most of these backmasking accusations have been disproved or shown to exhibit no real tendency to turn listeners into Lucifer’s minions
But what if a record actually could? That’s the trouble John Constantine faces in “The Devil’s Vinyl,” which may be the first episode to actually indicate what this show will look like each week. “Vinyl” sticks to the case-of-the-week formula without really moving John’s plight from the pilot forward, but the introduction of Papa Midnite (Michael James Shaw) fleshes out the show’s world while helping to solidify John and Zed’s dynamic.
Before getting to the central duo, however, Constantine introduces a woman who seeks out a record, the Acetate, in an ancient book lost among the ruins of a disgusting abandoned recording studio in Chicago. She brings the album to a music producer to examine it, but tells him not to listen to it. Where would the fun in listening to the rules be, though? So he decides to play the album back, and, as luck would have it, the recording drives him to kill himself.
In cheery old Atlanta, Zed has discovered John and Chas’ hideout while “his satanic majesty,” as Chas nicknames John, is learning a spell, babbling and convulsing in the buff, save for the blood poured on his body, while “I Wanna Be Sedated” blares around him. He cleans up for his new guest and introduces her to the latest mission–that music producer who died, Bernie, was a friend of John’s. The demonologist has a sneaking suspicion of supernatural involvement. Before Zed even has time to register her latest psychic vision–the smell of jasmine and a cold sensation–John whisks her away to the Windy City.
Visiting the morgue where Bernie’s body rests, John uses a Hand of Glory to bring the dead back to life for a short period. (I’ll admit, the bodies thrashing around John and Zed did give me a good jump scare. The show is hitting a quota of one of those per episode.) All John gleans from his raising the dead routine is the name of the Acetate and the word “moonrise,” but it’s enough to discover moonrise is the name of a studio that belonged to a still-living man, Marcus Mooney.
Putting on his best (a.k.a. most transparently fake) southern accent, John infiltrates Mooney’s nursing facility using an enchanted playing card. Once inside, he and Zed learn of the Acetate’s curse. The musician recorded on it, Willie Cole, sold his soul to the devil in the 1930s, and the dark lord came to collect while Willie was mid-song. Cue another gruesome, bloody death, and the vinyl captures more than just Willie’s screams. It records a bit of the evil force that came to kill him.
Mooney also lets slip that the album was sold to someone with the name of “Fell,” a name that leads John to a musician Bernie produced, Ian Fell. John confronts Ian at his home, claiming Ian sold his soul to achieve the fame and fortune he’s amassed. But he didn’t. It was his wife, whose name, as Zed originally smelled, is Jasmine Fell. Jasmine sacrificed her soul to a soul broker to save Ian from cancer, and her time is almost up. So she made another deal–hand over the Acetate, and her original pact will be broken.
Smelling something suspicious, John goes off to meet with the soul broker. The real brains behind his operation is revealed to be Papa Midnite, a newcomer to the show but someone certainly not new to John. Midnite is an imposing voodoo priest chasing the Acetate for his own use. To make sure John doesn’t obstruct his goals, he chains John to a metal grate outside, slices open his arm, and leaves him to bleed out.
NEXT: Anarchy on the radio
Shaw plays Midnite with a calm and collected cool, but adds just enough of a hint this is someone who takes pleasure in his twisted line of work. He’s a fascinating element to add to the show, a villain who toys with Constantine, and one who seems like he could even be a begrudging ally while never losing an ounce of menace. Shaw proves to be an excellent addition to a show’s cast that, so far, tightly focuses on John and Zed.
Speaking of Zed, she stayed behind to watch over the Fells, but Midnite’s men barge into their mansion, demanding the Acetate. They take it, but the power of its bad mojo drives them to do its bidding, which, put simply, is to make sure as many people hear it as possible. And whenever those people hear it, there’s a good chance they’ll die.
John’s a useless mess while the Acetate’s power spreads, begging a passing homeless man to free him. He’s more interested in John’s nice shoes, and even when Manny appears in the hobo’s stead, he refuses to free John. Thankfully, Zed shows up as Manny disappears to shake off the homeless man moments before he murders John. She’s too late to completely halt the Acetate’s murderous song and dance number, however, as Midnite’s men already took the record to a club, where they spun it until everyone on the dance floor went mad with murder.
Another Zed vision leads John, Zed, and Chas to Scott University’s Tiger radio station, where today’s broadcast includes the horrific sounds of massacre. John runs straight into the broadcast center, protecting himself by blasting Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the U.K.” (no surprise there in John’s excellent music tastes). Inside, he finds Midnite’s henchmen holed up in a recording booth, playing the album to the masses. Even John is affected, his headphones popping out in the rush to save the day.
But an unexpected friend comes to save him, as Papa Midnite, Winchester shotgun (no Supernatural relation, though the namedrop is hard to ignore for fans of CW’s demon-hunting show) in hand. Midnite and his men standoff, guns armed and ready, but John performs an exorcism on the vinyl. The evil force flees right back to Hell, but Midnite’s men die in the process, leaving the voodoo priest without his backup or his prized possession.
John ties the case up by forcing the soul broker to eat the contract he made with Jasmine. And by eat the contract, John literally means the demon has to chew and swallow (no hiding it under his tongue) the actual document. Jasmine’s soul is freed, but Ian’s cancer returns, 20 years after his original diagnosis.
The good deed didn’t seem to do much for John, though, as Midnite holds onto his grudge. Putting the voodoo in voodoo priest, he burns a small figurine of John, adorable little tie and button-down shirt included. While that probably doesn’t mean John will go up in smoke anytime soon, Papa Midnite won’t greet John with open arms the next time the two cross paths.
Between Heaven and Hell
– Constantine is definitely going a bit further with its blood and gore, a host of blood-soaked deaths populating the episode, but the show can push things even more. It wouldn’t hurt the show to learn from its source material, or even Hannibal, a previous occupant in this time slot.
– John and Chas’ hideout includes a seemingly never-ending hallway that’s teased in “Vinyl.” I’m not sure Anton Chekhov ever spoke about a hallway, but the rules of Chekhov’s gun hopefully apply here.
– On multiple occasions, John voices his suspicions to Chas about Zed’s true motives. While it would be a shame for Zed to outright betray John, maintaining ambiguous morals allows the writers to play with her allegiances throughout the season.
– The name of John’s punk band? Mucus Membrane.
– After casting the spell to raise Bernie, John mentions that he loses a few days of his life for using that and other spells. I wonder how many years he’ll lose in his effort to bring a little good to the world.
– Constantine still has a bizarre relationship with its supporting cast. Chas and Manny were irrelevant in last week’s episode. Here, they barely register. Chas simply tempers John’s worries about Zed, and Manny likes to let slip puzzling hints while refusing to take any real action. If both are going to play a role in the show, it would be nice for them to feel like characters and not just plot devices.
– John’s best line of the episode. As Zed questions if breaking into the Fell mansion is illegal: “Almost everything I do is, love.”