Great. I fool myself in to seeing one faint glimmer of hope for The Mob Doctor’s future, and word comes down that it’s essentially cancelled – this is the last regularly scheduled episode. The remaining four episodes will be aired at random times over the holidays and then that’s it. Did it just seem too absurdly high-concept, a la Manimal? I wish more people had been receptive to what, for me, makes the show appealing – a strong, morally ambiguous female lead and her deeply complicated relationship with her father figure (who may just be her father).
On that last note, it was particularly frustrating to listen to the following exchange tonight. Guest star Michael Madsen, playing Russell King, a world-class thief who works in partnership with his daughter, tells Grace that, when it comes right down to it, he and Constantine are “fathers first.”
Grace(shocked): Constantine has kids?
King (looking at her significantly): Maybe you’re not as wised up as I thought you were.
Not only does tonight’s main plot concern a father-daughter crime duo, but Dr White also gets a substantial subplot dealing with complicated parental situations and feelings. Constantine tells Grace that his “Christmas wish” is that they “can be better friends.” And Grace continues to show her instincts for the dark side, choosing to spend the night with Franco after everyone else spends the episode trying to reunite her with Brett; she’s also figured out how to get free drinks out of the break room vending machine. Anyway, here’s hoping the final four episodes bring some closure on the issue of Grace’s paternity and the increasingly heavy hints the show’s been dropping.
OK, from the top: Russell King staggers into the hospital to ask Grace for pain medication. He knows she sees patients “off the grid” and refuses to give any name other than “Smith.” An angry Grace calls Constantine, assuming he sent “Smith” to her, but he didn’t. And thanks to Grace he quickly figures out which old enemy is back in town (apparently “Smith”/King once pulled a big heist on what Constantine considered his territory, then refused to share). When Constantine announces that Russell King is back, one of his lackeys asks “The boxing guy with the hair?” Grace works out that it was Franco who sent King to her; acting as King’s driver is his new cover. King and his daughter (whom I find irritating) are in town from Detroit to steal jewelry from a local auction house, but there’s not much Ocean’s Eleven–style heist action.
Constantine drops by the hospital for a chat with King; he charms Ro with a story about (I think) Grace as a precocious little girl, then peels some bills off a massive wad of cash for the Pediatrics toy drive. This is when he tells Grace he wants them to be “better friends”, and it’s just after he leaves that King tells Grace he and Constantine are “fathers first.”
Meanwhile, the normally unflappable Dr. White reacts strangely when he hears that the name of the patient brought in with a head injury is Kyle Bennett. Seems the young man works in a toy store, where a display collapsed, and he now has a portion of metal reindeer antler embedded in his brain. However, this subplot will not be played for laughs. Though I had a hard time keeping a straight face when Dr. White advises the patient that they’ll need him awake during surgery if they’re going to “remove the antler safely.” Dr. White freaks out again when pressure on one of the brain’s memory centers stimulates a rhapsodic sense-memory of days Kyle spent with his dad at Wrigley Field once upon a time.
No, Kyle’s not Dr. White’s long-lost son. He just shares a name with, and is close in age to, Dr. White’s one-time stepson, who died with his mother in a car crash years before. Dr. White had bonded with the boy by taking him to Cubs games, even though he (Dr. White) had never liked baseball before. This, he tells Grace, is the origin of all the baseball memorabilia now filling his office. Needless to say, Zeljko Ivanek does a great job with all of this and makes it genuinely sad and touching.
Back in mobster land, King’s heist revolves around a plan to tunnel into the auction house from below via water mains that will be temporarily drained for maintenance work. King’s daughter insists she can handle it without him, but he sneaks out of the hospital anyway. This is a bad move, as Grace was coming to tell him that his back pain and faintness were symptoms of an aortic aneurysm that may rupture at any moment. She calls Franco and persuades him to let her join them at the scene. Franco goes into the water main to stop Russell.
Arriving on the scene, Grace sees Constantine (who’s figured out about the mains), bribing a city employee to turn the water back on. All seems to be lost, but Franco emerges unscathed, with the unconscious King in his arms. But the aneurysm’s burst, and Grace has to crack his chest open right on the floor of the truck the thieves are using as a mobile office, with a seriously grossed out Franco assisting. Sigh. This may be one of the last times we see Grace performing improvised major surgery in wildly unhygienic conditions, snapping orders at men who shoot people for a living. Germaphobes and medical nitpickers will be happy to note that this time, there are a lot of references to all the possibilities for infection lurking on the truck. King arrives at the hospital, where Grace’s role in the whole thing is questioned by Dr. Flannagan, who’s been MIA since the pilot. I didn’t remember who he was at first, but he’s back anyway, like some obnoxious harbinger of the series’ death.
Constantine, having done his best to kill King, drops by his club to lead everyone in a Christmas toast before heading off to midnight mass (it’s Christmas Eve). The weird thing about this scene is that he makes a big deal about the singer performing at the club, who he says he stole away from Vegas and who, in fact, could be the double of the torch singer who turned out to be Michael Chiklis’s ex on last week’s Vegas. She sings “The Little Drummer Boy,” one of my least favorite Christmas songs, with its funereal pace and endless pa-rum-pa-pum-pums. And do you know what’s worse than “The Little Drummer Boy”? A lounge version of “The Little Drummer Boy.” For a moment I’m not so sad this has been cancelled.
Back at the hospital, Dr. White brings an autographed baseball by Kyle’s room, and then settles in to watch Cary Grant in Holiday with him (Kyle’s mother is dead, and he has no family in Chicago).
Grace shows up at Franco’s door, even though she’d turned him down when he suggested this earlier. And James Carpinello can disrobe on my screen anytime. For the sake of character consistency, I’m happy to report that Grace is on top for at least part of what follows. (The scene’s set to this song; Ken Olin does have knack for setting things to music in the episodes he directs.)
Serious business: Right Hand Man and another lackey are waiting for Constantine after mass. He tells them they missed out; Father Gabriel was “really on his game.” They tell him that King got away (more or less), that Franco was working with him – and that Grace was there with him. Right Hand Man asks Constantine if he wants him to send someone to “find” Grace. Constantine’s face shuts down. “I’ll deal with Grace in my own time,” he says. And now there are just four episodes left.
Two thoughts in closing. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I have never forgotten Chicago Hope’s first Christmas episode – because, after showing us Vondie Curtis-Hall in a Santa hat and other insistent reminders of the season, it suddenly cut to scene on a baseball diamond obviously filmed in high summer, with the Hancock Tower clearly visible beyond the green, leafy trees. And that show lasted for six years.
The last thing: I couldn’t figure out where else to mention this, but guest star Michael Madsen was sporting a very distracting dye job. His hair was a matte, inky, brownish-black that seemed to suck in the light like a black hole. Every time I looked at him at I thought of the most recent episode of Raising Hope, in which Burt dyes his hair and ends up looking, in Virginia’s words, “like one of those birds in the Juan Valdez oil spill.”