Mini-recap: The Constan-team heads to Chicago to investigate the strange death of John’s old friend and record producer, Bernie Reed. A recording from the 1930s, containing the sounds of last performance of Memphis bluesman Willie Cole being interrupted by the voice of the Deceiver as Willie’s contract runs out and he is dragged to Hell, has resurfaced. The recording compels those near it to listen to it, at which point things go very, very badly for them. John’s old nemesis Papa Midnite is revealed to be behind the recording’s reappearance, by way of a soul-broker middleman.
Constantine finds Papa Midnite and learns that he is trying to acquire the disc, but inadvertently lets Midnite know where to find it. The recording is at the home of an aging rock star, Ian Fell. Ian’s wife, Jasmine Fell, is trying to buy back her own soul with it, which she had exchanged years earlier for her ill husband’s health. Papa Midnite captures and binds Constantine while Midnite’s henchmen head out to retrieve the recording from the Fell mansion, where Constantine has left Zed to wait for his return with Ian and Jessica Fell and their young daughter, Jillanna.
After the recording is taken by the henchmen from the Fells, Zed realizes Constantine is in trouble and goes to find him. Meanwhile, the henchmen have been entranced by the record, and it tells them to play it. Sadly, they go to a busy nightclub to do so, causing massive casualties. The henchmen continue to follow the instructions of the recording, and head to a radio station to broadcast the demonic message. There is a race against time as the Constan-team tries to get to the station before the evil message is unleashed across the airwaves. Papa Midnite also rushes to the radio station to retrieve his prize, but John manages to use the acetate’s own evil power to open a hellmouth in the broadcast booth and send the recording out of reach of the earthly realm.
The team finds the soul broker, Anton, who holds the contract on Jasmine Fell’s soul. They force him to eat the contract, making it null and void. Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Papa Midnite plans his retribution against Constantine.
Side B: extended dance mix recap: The title of this episode is a misnomer, as the evil recording is not vinyl, but a lacquer disc (and referred to as “the acetate” throughout the show). Zed was apparently ditched again back in Pennsylvania after the events of Episode 2, but turns up at Jasper’s Cottage of the Occult in Atlanta to open the show. Jasper’s Millhouse continues to develop as a character at least as much as any of the people in the show. After Chas puts away the shotgun he drew on Zed upon her arrival, he gives her a little tour, at which point we learn that the cottage is “bigger on the inside”—!! He opens a door to what appears to be a mile-long hallway with more doors along its length. So Jasper’s place is part Men-of-Letters bunker, part TARDIS, and part House of Leaves, apparently.
In the meantime, John is in the living room, inside a salt circle, nude, covered in blood, and leaping and writhing while animatedly reciting what sounds like a combination of English and Enochian. The sounds of the Ramones can be heard in the background. He’s learning a new spell, we’re told.
After getting cleaned up, he has Zed do her reading thing with a newspaper article about Bernie’s death and the Stigmata Map. While she’s trancing, John says to Chas:
“She’s a regular psychic smorgasbord, this one. Picks up impressions from tactile stimuli—which I’m guessing is kind of a buzzkill in the sack.”
We also get a mention of John’s old band, Mucous Membrane (Hellblazer #11, #77, Annual #1, #162–163). John says the departed Bernie was MM’s record producer back in England.
Once again, Chas is left behind with his broken taxi (smashed up in Episode 1), and John and Zed head to Chicago to investigate. To gather clues, John temporarily awakens his dead friend with a Hand of Glory (a previously unheard-of use for one, as far as we know)—unfortunately, he does so in a crowded morgue, thereby waking up lots of other dead people in the process. More thrashing body bags!
The information from Dead Bernie leads them to the founder of the 1930s label Moonrise Records, Marcus Mooney, who is now dying of old age in a nursing home. John uses a charmed playing card to get in to see Mooney—like the Doctor‘s psychic paper, the card takes on the appearance of whatever the bearer needs it to be. Constantine puts on a Southern accent and flashes the card at the duty nurse, who sees a Health and Human Services credential. So we’re seeing quite a few magical objects this episode, with more to come.
After Marcus tells the story of the cursed acetate to John and Zed, the Angel Manny appears to him, ostensibly to help him across to his Final Reward, but really just to do his cool time-freezing trick and to give John some crap. Marcus dies, and Zed and John follow the clues he gave them to Ian Fell’s house. John suspects Ian has sold his soul for fame, but it turns out that instead his wife Jasmine has sold hers to cure Ian’s cancer (unbeknownst to him), and her contract is almost up. Jasmine is meant to bring the record to Anton, her soul broker, that night. John takes over the rendezvous, and slips a nail from the coffin of St. Padua into Jasmine’s pocket—another mystical object that acts as a tracking device. One of a pair of these nails can always find the other.
John finds Anton on the South Side, but it turns out he’s only acting as a middleman for Papa Midnite (Hellblazer #1–2, #71, Papa Midnite miniseries, etc.), who is in the next room watching televangelists on TV. John has spoken Ian Fell’s name aloud to Anton, and now that Midnite has heard it, Anton’s deal is ruined. After the two have a bit of a natter, Papa’s henchmen knock out John. Papa Midnite blows powder into John’s face—we thought it must be zombie powder, considering Papa M’s a voodoo priest, but we guess it’s just wake-up powder. John comes to, now bound to a rack:
Papa Midnite: “They tell me this place [South Side Chicago] used to flourish—busy factories making things; workers scurrying. Now it’s a concrete graveyard.”
Constantine: “All this, just to get me alone. I’m flattered. You’re going to have to respect my boundaries; I don’t do zip ties without a safe word.”
Midnite shoots John full of Heparin so his blood won’t coagulate, then slices open his arm so he’ll die slowly enough that if Papa can’t find his record he can come back and extract more information. He conveniently leaves a bottle of Vitamin K, which will counteract the Heparin, just out of reach nearby—just to be sporting, we can only infer.
The Angel Manny shows up again while John is slowly bleeding out, for no apparent reason as usual. Manny sometimes appears out of nowhere, and other times takes the place of the body of another nearby person—in this case, a shopping-cart-rolling homeless scavenger. When Manny vanishes again and shopping cart man is back, John tries to trick him with his charmed playing card into cutting him free. But shopping cart guy thinks he needs to just kill him instead. Luckily by this time Zed has tracked John down using the St. Padua nail and puts the smackdown on Shoppy.
By now Zed has called in Chas for help. Midnite’s goons have gone rogue as a result of their contact with the demonic recording, and have already killed a nightclub full of people by playing the acetate aloud. A deaf dishwasher survives the massacre and tells his story to Zed (who, surprise! knows ASL). Then Zed sees a tiger—we love tigers! Chas figures out that Zed’s tiger vision is directing them to Tiger Radio, and Zed adds some unnecessary exposition before running ahead of the boys to get a move on to the next scene.
Zed, by the way, throughout her first two episodes has looked as if she’s either drunk or in need of a nap most of the time—she usually has her head down and eyes up, either observing Constantine with a quizzical frown or staring at people and things all trance-like. It’s not the least interesting approach to the character that could have been chosen. We have been left at the end of each episode, however, with Constantine’s mulling over his
lingering distrust of her motives for being around. But it’s hard as viewers to see her as potentially seriously duplicitous, even as she handily swipes wallets and credential cards, when she always looks like she is constantly struggling to maintain either a grasp on reality or consciousness, which requires a certain single-mindedness of purpose. She barely reacts to the constant mortal danger, let alone the reanimated corpses. We do have the impression, though, that it’s not easy being Zed.
Constantine holds Chas back and takes a beat before running to follow Zed in order to not look overeager, which is another humorous yet foolish choice on his part, as they are now in a serious hurry to get to that radio station. They tune in on Zed’s truck’s radio just in time to hear the sounds of an alarmed commotion as the goons arrive.
In a scene reminiscent of the “Search & Destroy” sequence from The Life Aquatic, Constantine puts “Anarchy in the UK” on in his earbuds to mask the sound of the acetate as he runs into the station under siege. Chas stops the station from broadcasting by driving Zed’s truck through the transformer box. The record’s still playing inside the station, though, and people are screaming and freaking out. John’s headphones get yanked out in the panic, and he starts losing it too, until Papa Midnite shows up and shoots out the speakers with his fine antique rifle:
“A Winchester. Never misses. Forged by a mystic in the Old West.”
The goons are locked in the control booth with the still-playing acetate. While Papa tries to get at it, the goons explode, coating the glass walls with blood. Constantine does some Latin incantation, and
Midnite watches as a hellmouth opens and swallows up the acetate (along with the rest of the control room). We are not told whether there’s still an open hellmouth in a radio station somewhere in Chicago, or if something was done to close it again—as John used the dark power of the acetate itself to open the portal, we can’t imagine how he’d manage to close it up again. IT IS A MYSTERY.
The episode wraps up with the capture of Anton the Soul Broker (played by Sean Whalen, most famous for the original “Got Milk?” commercial: “Who Shot Alexander Hamilton?”). John and Chas literally force him to eat his contract with Jasmine Fell, and we can’t help but think about peanut butter sandwiches. Jasmine owns her own soul again, but Ian gets his cancer back, and Anton loses his right of parley with the underworld for having broken a contract. Papa Midnite, meanwhile, menacingly burns a little Constantine effigy—but based on the weak zombie powder (and the Winchester that doesn’t seem to do anything a non-mystical rifle can’t), we imagine this is not so much a voodoo doll curse as a toothless wound-licking ritual.
It looks like there will be ten episodes of Constantine this season, so we have a few more left to see if the show will develop beyond the Monster-of-the-Week format. The addition of another canonical villain, Papa Midnite, seems a good sign—for viewers, anyway. Maybe not so much for Johnny.