[This is a review of Constantine season 1, episode 10. There will be SPOILERS.]
It might be an unpopular position to praise changes made from the source material in an adaptation, but among the creative liberties that NBC’s Constantine has taken with the characters and storylines of the Hellblazer comics, giving John Constantine’s friend and chauffeur Chas Chandler the ability to come back from the dead is definitely one of the better ones. It’s something that had previously gone unexplained, but with the end of the show’s first season looming (and with it the ever more likely threat of cancellation), Chas finally gets his own episode.
The answer to the mystery is actually pretty funny. An extremely drunk John Constantine pulled off a wobbly, slapdash attempt at a protection spell and unwittingly granted Chas the 47 lives of people who died around him when the bar he was in caught fire and collapsed – in a scene that was so strongly reminiscent of Jennifer’s Body that the band really should have been playing “Through the Trees.” The logic of this particular spell is a bit fuzzy, but in this case the answer to any potential plot holes is quite literally, “A wizard did it.“
The concept behind Chas’ backstory is interesting enough that it would probably be worth its own show. After discovering that he owed his lives to the people who died in the bar with him, Chas decided that it was his duty to use the gift to help save the lives of others. This led to his wife Renee (who has been radically reinvented for the US primetime TV audience and is younger, thinner, prettier and blander than the comic book version) divorcing Chas after one too many missed birthday parties and granting him only occasional weekend custody with his daughter, Geraldine.
Flash forward to two years later and Geraldine’s soul is rudely ripped out of her body and used as a Duracell battery for classic DC villain Felix Faust (Mark Margolis), whose dark magic has sent thousands of New Yorkers into soul-free comas. It’s unclear whether or not Faust chose Chas’ daughter deliberately as a way to reel John in, but when the team confronts the aging sorcerer (after a supporting character is burned to death almost as quickly as he is introduced), he and John make a deal to exchange Geraldine’s soul for the slaying of a demon that’s preying on the bodies of Faust’s victims.
It’s around this point that the story starts to weaken, since the entire excursion is ultimately pointless and seems like little more than filler for the episode. A big deal is made out of John and Faust slicing open their palms and sealing the agreement with a magical bond, but when John comes to collect, Faust dismisses him with a casual claim that he has changed the terms of their agreement. So what was the point of the ominous blood-mingling ceremony if he’s allowed to just change his mind afterwards, with zero repercussions?
When John responds to Faust’s trickery by slinking out of the dark mage’s lair with his tail between his legs, Chas and his bad hat decide to take matters into their own hands and indulge in a little trickery of their own: pretending to offer Faust a deal (a Faustian bargain, if you will) that exchanges Chas’ remaining lives for his daughter’s soul. The deal is mainly for the audience’s benefit, since Chas’ plan of attack (setting off a grenade while standing next to Faust) probably could have been done in a much less convoluted way, but at least it injects a modicum of suspense into the episode.
It also has the rather unfortunate side effect of making John look pretty ineffectual in comparison. When Chas is able to think up a better trick than the master of con artistry himself, and John spends most of the episode’s climax sleeping in a taxi, it doesn’t exactly paint an impressive picture of Constantine‘s hero.
‘Quid Pro Quo’ is an interesting idea for an episode that falls somewhat flat in its execution, partly because Charles Halford has yet to really wear the role of Chas comfortably. It might have more to do with the way that the character has been written, but up until this episode, Chas has had almost no personality to speak of and ‘Quid Pro Quo’ honestly doesn’t do much to change that, even after his primary motivation is revealed. Overall, another disappointing entry in a disappointing first season.
Constantine returns next Friday @8pm on NBC in ‘A Whole World Out There.’ Watch the promo below.