There’s a lot going on in this week’s episode of Constantine, even if most seems unrelated to the whole Rising Darkness storyline that’s been simmering in the background all season. “Angels and Ministers of Grace” is ostensibly the Constantine crew’s take on a Very Special Episode of Grey’s Anatomy, and yet, even with all the head-vs-heart, light-vs-dark, angel-turns-mortal, addiction-second-chances thematic craziness going on, perhaps Manny’s greatest miracle is the fact this episode works.
It is a gripping hour of television that throws out way too many ideas without actually feeling overstuffed, with a strong emotional core and some wacky humor that somehow still fits the tone. The entire cast had a chance to shine, and I was even genuinely surprised with the villain reveal!
After the cold open, “Angels and Ministers of Grace” begins as many Constantine episodes do: with Manny showing up to cryptically urge John into action of some kind but without actually saying or doing anything useful. Manny is even more insistent than usual, to the point that he burns up the handy Scrying Map left behind by Whatshername. This bring John and friends to a local hospital, where a woman was recently admitted to the ER due to a “drug overdose” that left behind some nasty black varicose veins. The Constantine Crew insinuate themselves into the ER by using one of Chas’s extra lives and jabbing a screwdriver into his leg, pretending it was an accident. It’s obscene, over-the-top, and awesome, and gets even better when Chas worsens his own injury in order to distract the orderlies so that John and Zed can get close to the victim’s body. Zed gets a psychic read on the vic, then has a seizure and blacks out.
Zed has a tumor in her brain that is slowly killing her, and her doctor, Galen, says that the pressure its placing on her scientificgooblyguk node might cause hallucinations, or “visions.” Dr. Galen used to be a military doctor and took some shrapnel when he was stationed in Baghdad, a fact that seemed like general set-dressing for a one-off character but that I probably should have paid more attention to.
We’ve certainly seen John beat himself up over the harm he’s caused his friends, but this time feels different, because we’re seeing it first hand. John has been pushing Zed to use her powers to help him out, and now his manipulations might be killing her. Meanwhile, the evil magic varicose veins claim another victim.
With Zed out of the picture, and Chas doing research back at the Millhouse, John is desperately in need of support. So when Manny shows up again to do his whole non-involvement Angel thing, an outraged John casts a spell which binds Manny to a mortal form—in this case, the body of Dr. Bob Carol (remember, whenever Manny normally appears, he freezes time and takes over someone’s body, temporarily). There’s a lot of humor to be had here as Manny adjusts to being human, and it’s remarkable that it never really feels excessive; each of Manny’s newly-human trials connects back to the ongoing investigation. He gets sick when they find the mutilated corpse of the second victim, because for all the death he’s seen over the millennia, he’s never had to smell a dead body up close. His host-body, Dr. Carol, is having an affair with one of the nurses on staff, and Manny struggles with the guilty pleasure of his first quickie in the closet. The poor angel doesn’t even understand how to use a printer!
With help from Chas and Manny, John figures out that the Dark Matter that has taken over the victims’ corpses (read: the black varicose veins) was caused by a Black Diamond (like Eclipso, DC Comics fans!), the shards of the soul of an evil sorcerer who once made himself into a god, much to the chagrin of Capital-G-God. The two victims so far had both squandered second chances, relapsing into their respective patterns of substance abuse, which seems like as good a motive as any for a superpowered killer named Dr. Galen, whose Baghdad shrapnel was actually a Black Diamond and not a landmine and is completely unaware of his own Mr. Hyde side that kills anyone who squanders their second chance. Like Zed, who he’s been urging to go under the knife and have her tumor removed.
It’s not clear why Galen’s Mr. Hyde personality resembles Sloth from The Goonies, but that’s okay, because Zed finally figures out what was happening in the psychic vision she received when she touched the first victim. She tells John to release Manny from his temporary mortal prison, because the only thing that can overpower Dark Matter (the general evil energy stuff) is of course the Heavenly Light. Now an Angel once again, Manny descends from the Heavens and takes Dr. Galen back with him to the Pearly Gates—which, on a thematic level, means that Manny’s temporary trip to humanity results in him taking direct action for once.
In a touching epilogue, Zed goes to church to pray for her own health. She and John share a tender and confessional moment, and are then joined by Manny…and for the first time, Zed can see him herself. John leaves Zed and Manny to talk amongst themselves about God, faith, and second chances.
One of my favorite aspects of this episode was Zed’s inner turmoil of faith. Did God give her these psychic powers so that she could help people? Is God punishing her with a tumor for using her psychic powers? Are her powers even real at all, or is she hallucinating things because of the tumor? If God gave her special powers, then why does she have a tumor that could kill her? From the little we know of Zed’s past with the Resurrection Crusade, these moments felt incredibly true and human.
As much as she has tried to leave her devoutness in the past, the conditioning of faith still lingers within her like some suffocating psychological amalgamation of Catholic Guilt and Stockholm Syndrome. And yet, there is still good that can come of it. Zed has always had questions about God’s plans, which she is even more acutely aware of now than she was when she was with her father’s flock. It really resonated when she saw Manny with her own eyes for the very first time, thereby affirming the existence of God (even if Manny very, very, very carefully tip-toed around explicit answers for her, in some masterfully deft script moments).
- Zed discovers a tranquil forest contained beyond one of the Millhouse’s many magical doors, where she goes to meditate.
- “The best cure for a hangover is another drink,” John tells Zed referring to the classic hair-of-the-dog-who-bit-you remedy for the roughest of mornings (what, you’ve never done that?). Very in-character for John, but also a bleak irony when he realizes that her psychic powers might be killing her, too—not unlike the addiction damage caused when the hair-of-the-dog becomes a much too common cure for…everything.
- When Manny first appears, he uses Chas’s body as his vessel, neglecting to return it to the exact position that he found it in. Chas wonders how he wound up standing up across the room without any memory of it, then “I hate being used” when he realizes what happened.
John in the hospital, referring to Chas’s magical wounds: “Stay here and they’ll likely experiment on you in the name of science.”
Chas: “You did.”
John: “That was in the name of magic.”
- John using his playing card like the Doctor’s Psychic Paper to get into the morgue.
- The myth of Ariadne was another recurring motif…
- I should probably be more annoyed that this episode had so little to do with the Rising Darkness stuff, especially since there’s only one episode left. But dammit, this was really good, so I don’t really care.
Thom Dunn is a Boston-based writer, musician, homebrewer, and new media artist. Thom enjoys Oxford commas, metaphysics, and romantic clichés (especially when they involve whiskey and robots). He is a graduate of Clarion Writer’s Workshop at UCSD, and he firmly believes that Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” is the single worst atrocity committed against mankind. Find out more at thomdunn.net