Constantine's "Angels and Ministers of Grace" has some excellent character developments, but squanders them so Manny the angel can do sexual comic relief.
If you're familiar with Constantine, you've probably heard of Hellblazer, the 300 issue Vertigo Comics series that established John Constantine's legacy. 300 issues is a lot of comics (25 years worth, to be precise), which means the books could occasionally look past the supernatural to explore real-world issues. Like dealing with lung cancer. Or life within the American prison system. Or the non-magical final flight of a Second World War pilot.
By comparison, NBC's Constantine doesn't have much time to tinker with real-world side plots - it only has 13 episodes of rising darkness and supernatural going-ons to address. "Angels and Minister of Grace" is probably the closest to an exception, where Constantine and Zed are distracted from their investigation by a heartbreaking revelation.
The good news is the twist is inventive and refreshing, presenting Constantine and Zed's characters in a new light. The bad news is the opportunities are squandered almost immediately, thanks to a ludicrous monster-of-the-week premise and Manny's comic relief sex scene. (No, I'm not making that up.) Even worse, the episode doesn't really have answers for the emotional questions it asks early on, preferring Touched by an Angel-style platitudes about God's will. At least John Constantine is still true-to-character in that he's not impressed by said platitudes. Check out our previous reviews if you're looking for context, or you can watch this week's episode at the official NBC website, Hulu, or buy it from Amazon Prime.
The episode opens with a segment that I wish Constantine would explore more - looking into its magical safe house. After recovering from her Faust-induced psychic collapse, Zed is taking shelter within its mysterious rooms, using thread to trace her path between dimensions. If only the entire episode was about exploring the physics of this amazing place... but it's not to be. Instead, Constantine pressures Zed into returning to Earth and taking up the fight against the darkness once again. His tactics are certainly dickish, comparing her suffering to a hangover of which the cure is more drinking. But he makes a fair point about the rising darkness not going away, so Zed returns to the land of the living.
And just in time, too. Manny arrives to tell Constantine that the darkness is now too pervasive for even the scrying map to detect, ending his argument by destroying it entirely. Thankfully, Manny does have a clue for them - a nearby hospital is collecting overdose victims whose divine light is being snuffed from their bodies. The monster behind the killings is quite interesting: He's a serial killer exposed to a Black Diamond fragment, a crystal God flooded the world to get rid of. The fragment increases his strength while decreasing his mental faculties, driving him into a rage whenever a trigger is encountered. In this case, the trigger is seeing addicts succumb after getting a second chance - perfect fodder for a show like Constantine.
It's a great idea, but has two problems. First of all, the killer never actually goes after Constantine, despite the obvious connection. Second, the killer is completely ridiculous. More than once, we see some potential victim taking their drug of choice. The lights flicker ominously, a sure sign of supernatural forces - the scene is set. But no ghost or demonic force appears. Instead, the horrific monster who rushes into frame is... some guy in a black trenchcoat. Sure, he has hideous facial scars, but that makes him a B-Movie villain at best. His appearance is so out-of-place with the rest of the episode that I almost burst out laughing every time he showed up. Constantine has done far better monster designs than this, and probably should've just kept the killer in the shadows.