Constantine is settling a bit more into its mystical problem-of-the-week format, and it's a bit more brutal than what we saw in last week's somewhat ho-hum episode. When a record is discovered with the Devil's voice on it, everyone wants it—including one of John Constantine's familiar foes.
John apparently tried to ditch Zed again, but it doesn't work; her visions lead her straight to the mill. Here's where we get the first of two Doctor Who moments on this week's Constantine; the mill is at least slightly bigger on the inside. We get a second such moment later at a hospital when John pulls out a playing card that functions essentially as psychic paper.
This week's mystical mystery involves another friend of John's, a record producer who violently killed himself (and provides an excuse for Constantine to namecheck his old punk band, Mucous Membrane). Zed and John quickly learn that the culprit is a blues record by a musician who sold his soul to the Devil. When the Devil came to claim the man's soul, he was in the recording booth, and thus the voice of the "First of the Fallen" ended up on the acetate. Anyone who touches the record feels compelled to play it and anyone who plays it goes into a suicidal frenzy.
Incidentally, the tale of the musician is a reference to 1930s blues singer Robert Johnson, who, according to legend, sold his soul the Devil at a crossroads. The fellow appears in an episode of Supernatural, although that episode focused on the idea of making soul-trading deals at the crossroads specifically.
Now, there were some nice things about this episode. We got a bit more insight into how this Zed/John dynamic is going to work. John has his magic, but Zed tends to solve problems with her ability to emotional connect with other human beings and with her sticky fingers. And we get some nice horror moments when the Devil invades the recording booth and when John uses the Hand of Glory to temporarily revive his dead friend. But there were ideas this episode just didn't push far enough.
For one thing, there was the business of selling one's soul. Plenty of television shows do interesting, heartbreaking things with the idea of soul contracts. There's an episode of G vs. E where a mother refuses to break her contract because it would mean her daughter would die that I still think about to this day. But here we have Jasmine, who sold her soul so that her musician husband wouldn't die of cancer. That in itself is all well and good, but there is no struggle when it comes to the trade back. The guy really and truly loves his wife and of course he'll take cancer over condemning her soul to Hell. It's too easy.
And then there's Papa Midnite, who was billed as the real attraction of this episode. Midnite's a voodoo priest amassing an arsenal of powerful mystical artifacts, and he wants his mitts on that record. Fortunately for John, killing the warlock doesn't rank on Midnite's agenda. On the one hand, it's nice in the midst of a supernatural show to see an antagonist use science rather than magic to slow our protagonist down. (Plus, a handy rescue from Zed, who can quite nearly read John like a book. And in the episode's climax, Midnite works well as a character who is more a rival than an outright foe.
On the other hand, Constantine wants to push this idea that John and Midnite aren't all that different, that John's instincts aren't always noble and he'd like to have a few high-value items to trade with Hell. It's an admirable goal, but the execution is sloppy. Instead of doing the character work and showing us what John has in common with Midnite, the writers have Manny step in and tell John what he, John, is feeling. Ugh. The disappearing-reappearing angel character has potential, but it's no good if you waste him on narrative shortcuts. You can do better than this, Constantine.
That's more or less where I am on the show at the moment. Constantine has a great deal of potential—and this episode certainly beat out last week's mining town episode—but if the show is hoping to cast a must-watch spell over us, it hasn't quite gotten all its components in order. It's still early days, though, and it's still possible for Constantine to become the devilish show it obvious wants to be.