Constantine Season 1 Episode 3 Review – ‘The Devil’s Vinyl’

Martin Carr reviews the third episode of Constantine…

Welcome to the ‘Midnite’ hour…

Tales of people trading their soul for short lived celebrity is not uncommon. Whether for personal gain or selfless sacrifice, these stories date back beyond the invention of acetate. So it makes sense to put a new spin on things. Not reinvent the wheel just replace some spokes maybe. Make your set up inconsequential and pepper the episode with ‘Easter eggs’. Then be sure to remind every comic book aficionado that your opening might be trite but the finish could be a thing of beauty. And they, well they last forever.

 

Robert Johnson’s Delta blues premise remains intriguingly fresh alongside the main event this week. Up until now Constantine has had an endless bag of tricks to draw from; an incantation for every occasion if you will. What this episode does is highlight two things. One, that Ryan has managed to make a supremely arrogant anti-hero likeable irrespective of circumstance or behaviour. And two that NBC possess ‘lighting in a bottle’ if I may quote Vince Gilligan momentarily.

Not since Breaking Bad have we had a character on prime time television with such morally questionable motives. Constantine is ultimately self-serving, conceited, arrogant and a chain smoker. These credentials alone should have kept him on the shelf a safe distance from those docile masses. Yet the success of Breaking Bad suggested that audiences were ready for a slice of heightened cynicism. After all if a cancer stricken, crystal meth cooking, part-time chemistry teacher could top the ratings anything was possible.

So here we have a hero for the twenty first century, drawn from fiction and graphic novel fiction at that. Neither muscle bound nor possessive of anything close to superhuman abilities. Constantine uses books and scripture rather than heavy artillery or bone claws. If anything his charisma remains the largest weapon in a limited arsenal, perpetually kept in check by an inflated ego and blind arrogance. However there remains one issue, in spite of my praise, which is impossible to avoid given the evidence on show here. If Papa Midnite represents his most dangerous adversary why did he feel so much like a Bond villain? Could it be that Constantine is his own biggest enemy?

You see my issue which remains small for the moment concerns Matt Ryan’s performance. His portrayal is so self-assured that Constantine never feels threatened. Not that this makes it any less engaging but the question still remains. If a revered character like Papa Midnite makes so little impact, what can others do against an actor so completely in possession of his character?

 

What we need for Constantine is an equal match on all fronts. Enemies should expose frailty, exploit faults and extort an emotional response. All Michael James Shaw manages to do is create a great character without any teeth. My hope is that this limited impact is intentional, leading to a payoff worthy of our central protagonist. Anything less will short change this new found audience and disillusion the fan boy faithful, something which our hero would consider ‘a bloody shame love’.