Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Constantine: “Angels And Ministers Of Grace”

Illustration for article titled Constantine: “Angels And Ministers Of Grace”

It’s head versus heart in “Angels And Ministers Of Grace.” Zed has a mass in her brain, which is probably the source of her visions, and the writers really go out of their way to impress upon us how good it is for her not to do the obvious thing and get it removed. Her doctor, meanwhile, has a mass in his heart. What Dr. Galen thought was just earthly IED shrapnel from his tour in Iraq was actually a shard of a black diamond, or perhaps The Black Diamond; at any rate it’s a piece of a sorcerer who became a god who was then smote by God, that is, Manny’s God. Speaking of whom, John makes Manny mortal, and along with headache and heartache he experiences head itself. The main thrust is a conflict between what we should do (brain) and what we want to do (heart), and I say “thrust” because the episode just kind of extends its pelvis in that direction, grinding on the idea more than anything. The real fun has to do with valuing your body, warts, tumors, and all.

In fact, head and heart are just the main courses in this anatomy smorgasbord that ranges from black veins to skin grafts. Chas gets used twice for spur-of-the-moment body experiments, first a screwdriver stabbing that gains Team Constantine access to the emergency room, as if you couldn’t just walk in, and later a test with the black diamond that gives Manny some extra superpowers until John magically cattle-prods him into dropping the thing. It’s kind of funny the first time, but by the time John’s physically assaulting Manny for the second time in the episode in order to do something Manny would absolutely consent to (restore his angelhood), it’s clear John really needs to start explaining himself to people. There’s only so many times you can rely on that joke without us wondering if there might be an easier way to achieve the same ends.

“Angels And Ministers Of Grace” is remarkably patient. For example, it takes its time with Zed’s entry into the MRI. Yes, the scene is chopped into bits like a slo-mo action scene, but one of them sticks good: the in-the-tube shot of Zed approaching us and then suddenly tilting her head back, upside-down, and looking a little desperate. We are also treated to multiple little conversations that seem to have no bearing on anything: Mr. Skin Graft’s dyspeptic chat with his regular nurse, said nurse’s warmth toward Dr. Galen (a body then being used by Manny), and Dr. Galen’s story about his shrapnel. Every last piece goes into the puzzle, which makes the thing easier to solve.

Or it would if the magical angle were a little cleaner. The episode starts with an overdose patient’s black veins. A spell reveals that she is now purely dark matter with none of the spark even a dead human would have. (Manny gets the opposite journey, going from a being of pure light to inhabiting a mortal body. What makes us human? Feelings, mostly, particularly horniness. Checks out.) So from there John comes up with the whole black diamond story, but next he assumes some person at the hospital (the lights are flickering—drink!) with repressed rage is using the diamond to kill people who aren’t taking care of their bodies? They turn out to be right, just with the wrong suspect, but I still refuse to follow them on some of those leaps.

That said, you can feel the steady hand of the writers the whole way. The addiction motif, the focus on mortality, and all the little seemingly incidental pieces that turn out to be in fact quite deliberate remind us there’s a method here. There’s no shag on this story at all. It’s fun throughout—John and Chas’ “Oh, shit” faces after Zed’s surprise seizure during a whole different scene, Manny frazzled by sex—but the ending is where the episode finally pays off the creepy setting of a hospital at night. Once Team Constantine has confronted Dr. Galen, who apparently has no awareness of his Mr. Hyde, Galen attacks them and runs off. The lights go red with bursts of white as John, Zed, and Manny run around a maze of files, the corridors extra narrow for extra creepiness. They get locked in a cage with Sloth from The Goonies, and that’s when John finally restores Manny’s mortality. By the way, maybe God should make it more difficult to trap angels on Earth?

Manny disappears, and Sloth-Galen shows up to demolish John and Zed, but then Manny appears beneath a spotlight across the room, and Harold Perrineau nails it. “Thomas Galen, it’s time to come home.” A close-up shows him smiling this enormous smile. Seconds ago we were in for a bloodbath, or at least a dark matter bath, and instead all that excitement releases in this sudden rush of pathos. There’s something about honest unconditional love. Yeah, the angel imagery is a bit of a cheat, but the narrative backs it up by subduing the villain through nonviolence. Manny continues: “Your work here is finished. Peace is yours.”


So deep down veteran Dr. Galen resented people who wasted their second chances—an addict who fell off the wagon, an organ recipient who can’t keep clean, a skin graft patient who gets in a barfight—which is a sentiment Manny evinces at first. His experience with mortality has hopefully ironed out that particular smug attitude. It’s not clear how much Manny’s changed his tune as a result of his time in a human body, but boy, does “Angels And Ministers Of Grace” impact John and Zed. For all the sympathy I felt for the guest actor at the end, I ought to be able to muster something for John, but haven’t we seen him not care but secretly care about his friends for, like, 12 episodes now? We get it.

Zed, though, is at least worth discussion. At the end she tells Manny—she can see him now, just go with it—that he never answered her question about where her visions come from. Are they a gift from God or a tool of evil? The first time she settles on the obvious earthly conclusion. “Sometimes they feel [evil]. Since I’ve met John, I’ve been able to use them to save lives. And if this is my gift, I’ll put up with the pain.” He replies, “Exactly,” which isn’t an answer. Every kindergartener knows she can use her body and imagination for good or bad. Manny leaves it at that: “You have all the answers you need.” In other words, Manny approves of her decision to keep the tumor. At the end she says he never answered her question, so she asks him again, are her powers good or evil. He just says, “I’m here, aren’t I?” That’s not an answer, unless evasion is the answer, but then where’s the flaw in Zed’s logic? Whatever. The point is Manny is all about dat brain cancer. He says she’s brave, and she assigns some of the credit to John’s saying that all magic has a price. So we’re all just in agreement here that Zed should keep her evil murderous tumor? We don’t even know if that’s the source of her visions. Hasn’t she already saved enough people? Maybe we’re meant to wonder that, but it’s an awfully tidy script not to even thrust in that direction.


We’ll see whether anything comes of Zed’s tumor. There’s only one more episode of Constantine left this season, possibly this series. Here’s hoping the show makes the most of its time on Earth.

Stray observations:

  • Correction: Last week I talked about how Constantine has the last time slot of the week. But it doesn’t anymore. Which you’d think I’d know as I review it live, but I also review Glee on Friday nights, which I think we can all agree is punishment enough.
  • We probably have the “valuing your body” moral to blame, but that attack on the girl in the cold open is awfully brutal, and it’s just there to get the party started. It’d be nice if the show earned a scene like that, or at least had a better excuse than, “See what you’re doing to your body every time you do drugs/alcohol/caffeine?”
  • Manny burns the scrye map, calling it a crutch and instructing John to rely on Zed’s brain cancer instead. So there goes our last tie to whatever her name was.
  • John asks Manny, “Speaking of infernal power, can you use a computer?”