Constantine, Season 1, Episode 10, “Quid Pro Quo”
Written by Brian Anthony
Directed by Mary Harron
Airs Fridays at 8pm (ET) on NBC
Throughout Constantine‘s first season, Chas Chandler (Charles Halford) has been an enigmatic and sadly underused figure. He plays the voice of reason and comfort to the amoral, twice or thrice damned Constantine (Matt Ryan) and has saved him many times with his special, unexplained powers. Using some carefully selected flashbacks joined to the main narrative with the recurring image of a flame, “Quid Pro Quo” reveals why Chas seemingly can’t die, why he is friends with a man who makes him pick up his bar tab 10 out of 10 times, and explores Chas’ strained relationship with his ex-wife Renee (Amanda Clayton) and daughter Geraldine. Writer Brian Anthony also introduces legendary DC Comics villain Felix Faust (played by a chilling Mark Margolis) a “second fiddle” magician who acts as a nice foil to Chas in his showcase episode.
Through the perspective of Renee, Faust, and especially Chas, Anthony fearlessly portrays Constantine as a man who has sacrificed many lives to save a few. Director Mary Harron often cuts too quickly when she should give scenes a suspenseful build, but “Quid Pro Quo” has some interesting thematic parallels in the set dressing of the cramped Brooklyn hospital where Chas’ daughter is in a magic coma, and the abandoned warehouses and Victor Frankenstein-meets-Severus Snape’s-potion-class lab that he and Constantine travel to save her soul.
Most comic book shows use flashbacks to avoid dedicating whole episodes (or a show, like Gotham) to its characters’ origins. This approach isn’t necessarily a bad one, as these characters typically have decades of source material to draw upon for storytelling, and it works best when integrated thematically and visually with the main story. With the exception of an awkwardly staged glam metal (there is a lot of leather) concert, “Quid Pro Quo” does an excellent job integrating Constantine and Chas’ past misadventures with their current one to save his daughter’s soul from one of the demons that Faust now controls thanks to the Rising Darkness. (Thankfully, this poor attempt at serialized storytelling gets put on the backburner for a more compelling internal conflict between Constantine, Chas, and his family, and an external one against Faust himself.) The flashbacks show Constantine’s past recklessness, like allowing 47 people (and almost Chas) to die in a spontaneous combustion incident, and how in a twisted way Chas owes his lives to him. Harron creates some visual parallels between Chas and Geraldine, like a dissolve cut from their respective hospital beds, and Halford’s physicality and performance show real character change in an hour of episode time.
Along with Chas finally getting fleshed out as a character and playing an active, not reactive, role in one of Constantine’s schemes, this episode gives Constantine its most compelling villain of the week since Papa Midnite. Harron gives Faust a nice entrance, using a tracking shot through his crazy mage lab, and writer Anthony sets Constantine, Chas, and Zed (Angelica Celaya) off on an entertaining cat and mouse chase throughout the episode, relishing having a powerful magician under his control for at least a little while. Margolis exudes creepiness and insecurity in his voice and hand movements and also wears a purple wizard cloak to top things off, which gives things a classic horror feel. His screen presence alone sets this episode apart from the recent “connect the dots” exorcism plots, and Constantine actually shows some vulnerability and unexpected honor around a fellow mage.
Even if some of the MacGuffins (with the exception of an incredibly important one) are explained in quick exposition dumps and the road to the Chas vs. Faust showdown is far from logical, “Quid Pro Quo” does a better job at exploring human relationships and John’s negative effect on the people around him than most of the episodes have up to this point. Anthony nails the essence of Chas, having Constantine call him a “powder keg”–which could also describe Zed and Constantine himself–and Chas finally explodes in this episode, making for entertaining results. Halford’s performance in “Quid Pro Quo” is filled with humanity, restraint, and just the right amount of rage, and he makes a case for being Constantine‘s true hero, especially in the episode’s final minutes.