“Quid Pro Quo,” the tenth episode of Constantine, is loosely based on the events of the Hellblazer graphic novel All His Engines (2005) by Mike Carey and Leonardo Marco. It also finally tells the story of Chas and his healing powers.
A hooded figure stands on a Brooklyn rooftop, reciting a spell. Thick, swirling smoke appears around the figure’s hands and goes down into a chimney. In an apartment below, a little girl is in her bedroom playing with dolls at bedtime. The swirling smoke enters her room through the fireplace and surrounds the girl. The doll she is clutching drops to the ground.
In Atlanta, John has just finished casting a duplicity spell on the millhouse in order to divert anyone coming to look for it. Zed has apparently told John about her kidnapping, but has not provided any details. Finally John insists on more information, and she says that the group that is after her is called the Resurrection Crusade. It is a cult with a single-mindedness of vision, and they believe Zed is crucial to the realization of that vision.
Zed: “All the protections you’ve used? They’re not enough. He’ll never stop searching for me.”
John: “You’ve yet to flinch in the face of the underworld. Why are you so afraid of a man from this one?”
Zed: “Because he’s my father.”
John: “I don’t care if he’s the Heavenly bloody Father, luv. He ain’t getting past me.”
They notice that New York is bleeding on the scry map. It happens that Chas is on his way to Brooklyn for a weekend visitation with his daughter, Geraldine, at the home of his ex, Renée (Amanda Clayton). On the drive there, as Blue Öyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper” plays on the radio, he recalls the night two years earlier that changed his life:
In a New York bar, he is on the phone with Renée. From the conversation we can infer that they are not yet estranged. John’s in the bar too, and is on his way out, having pulled a bird. Before leaving Chas with the bar tab, he drunkenly recites an incantation of protection over him. The band Lillian Axe starts playing in the bar as John and his new lady friend exit, and the band’s pyrotechnics almost immediately start a raging and deadly fire. Chas works at saving people from the burning building, but eventually succumbs to the smoke, flames and collapsing ceiling.
Back in the present day, Chas arrives late to Renée’s house. She has already taken Geraldine upstairs to bed, and is irritated with Chas’s apparently habitual tardiness. Chas goes up to see his daughter, and finds her comatose on the floor—Geraldine is the same little girl we saw with the swirly smoke earlier.
Just as John and Zed are learning of a mysterious disease suddenly afflicting the NYC area, symptoms of which include nosebleed and coma, Chas summons them to come help with Geraldine. They arrive in a Brooklyn pediatric ward, where Chas is watching over the motionless Geraldine. Using a shave brush once belonging to Aleister Crowley, John determines that there are celestial burn marks on Geraldine’s lips—her soul has been taken, and if it is being used for dark purposes she does not have long to live. John will visit Fennel, a local medium of his acquaintance, to learn more. Renée enters the hospital room and is unhappy to find Constantine there. After the ensuing fight between Renée and Chas over John’s presence, Chas again flashes back to two years ago. He remembers awakening in a hospital bed, to the delight of his daughter and the happy shock of Renée, who was until moments ago his widow. He knows he surely died in the fire, but now appears unharmed.
John, Chas and Zed find Fennel the medium (Roger Floyd) working in an Army surplus store. The Constan-team feels free to pocket an assortment of items they think might be useful on their way through the store. Like Renée, Fennel is not pleased to see John again. But Chas strong-arms Fennel into helping them anyway.
A séance is held, and Fennel briefly makes contact with Geraldine. But he is then taken over by someone else, and he rises into the air. The possessor will not identify himself, but he recognizes John—they have met before. As the spirit inside him incants a rare and ancient spell, Fennel goes up in flames, still hanging in the air.
John writes down the spell, and hands it to Zed—if she can find the place where the nearest book containing the spell is, they can find the mage who burned up Fennel and stole Geraldine’s soul. She envisions a railroad yard building filled with occult artifacts, but is suddenly lunged at by a cloaked figure with a knife. She snaps out of the vision, but her arm is bleeding from a knife wound.
Following the clues from Zed, the three go to Haskins Railroad Yard. Chas, who is maintaining a steady state of hysteria and rage, is angry to see nothing there until John defeats the “elementary” cloaking spell that has been keeping the brick railyard building invisible for years. Inside they find the mage (and old JLA foe) Felix Faust (Mark Margolis). Faust is more powerful than John now, probably due to the Rising Darkness. Chas of course wants to kill him, but Faust painfully incapacitates Chas with little more than a wave of his hand. John is offered the return of Geraldine’s soul in exchange for carrying out a task for Faust: he must find a parasitic sleep demon, Karabasan, that has been causing trouble for Felix and banish it back to Hell. The two magicians shake hands with a blood oath, and Felix gives John an adder stone to help him see the otherwise invisible demon.
As they prepare to leave for the abandoned warehouse in Red Hook where the demon has taken up residence, Chas remains crazed and furious. Although he has promised to do as John says to save Geraldine, he does not understand why they don’t just kill Felix and break the spell. John sends Chas back to the hospital to watch over Geraldine:
Chas: “What we’re doing isn’t enough. She doesn’t have much time. You promised me, John.”
John: “And you promised me you’d do exactly as I said. You know, when you attacked Faust you’re lucky that he didn’t snuff out Geraldine’s soul in spite. That old man finally has the power that he’s always yearned for. He’s vicious and impulsive, and the only way to kill him is to get inside his defenses. And until we do that, we bide our time and we do as he says. Now go to the hospital. Be with Renée.”
Zed: “You can’t ask Chas to leave now.”
John: “Oh, can’t I? We already left behind one dead body—didn’t deserve what he got. We need clear heads. You go, or I go.”
At the warehouse, John and Zed try to catch the demon in a devil’s trap. Karabasan is nimble and the warehouse has lots of dark corners, though, so they will need to use Zed as bait and lure the demon into their trap.
Back at the hospital, Chas once again reflects on the events of two years ago. He recalls joining John in another bar. A newspaper’s front-page story says the nightclub fire claimed 47 lives. John thinks they both were lucky to leave when they did—“Horseshoes up our asses, you and I”—but Chas says he didn’t leave, and the body count should be 48. He was grievously injured, yet healed. John realizes that the legendary spell he cast on a drunken lark must have actually worked. The spell was a creation of Merlin himself for the Knights of the Round Table. Not only has Chas survived, but he has gained the lives of all of the other 47 victims of the fire. So THAT’S the story behind Chas and his remarkable “survival skills.”
At the abandoned warehouse, John puts Zed to sleep within the devil’s trap to lure Karabasan. When the demon enters the circle, Zed is meant to awaken and roll out of the way while John sets the trap’s perimeter afire. But wouldn’t you know it, his trusty Zippo fails to light. Rather than banishing it, John is forced to kill the demon with a cattle prod he picked up at Fennel’s Army surplus store.
They return to the hospital to pick up Chas. Renée wants to come too, and she and Constantine have a conversation that ends with John being slapped across the face, and him announcing that he’ll wait outside. Zed jumps in and tells Renée she will stay with her and Geraldine at the hospital.
Faust, drunk with power, decides that since Constantine failed to banish the demon and killed it instead, that he is free to change the terms of their agreement.
John: “All those people wasting away by your hand as life passes them by—that is not the legacy you want, Felix—“
Felix: “And what would you know of legacy? A boastful, smutty, infantile boy? You create magic by accident and insolence while the truly devoted sweat and toil with no reward. You’ll never know my magic, Constantine. You will know my pain.”
In discussion outside Felix’s lair, Chas decides he’s done doing things John’s way. He punches John out cold and throws him into the back of the taxi before returning to Faust, where he offers him the souls of the remaining lives within himself in exchange for Geraldine’s.
There are apparently 32 souls left in Chas. Doing some quick math: Since the show started, he’s been electrocuted (Ep1), murdered by a ghost (Ep5), squished between parked cars (Ep6), and killed by the Tempter Serpent (Ep9). So in the two years since the fire, and before we first see him die in Episode 1, Chas died about a dozen times. (One time was apparently to help slay the Monkey King, which we learn in a flashback to a fight with Renée that represents the beginning of the end of their relationship as a couple.)
Of course Faust has no reason to believe that Chas can deliver more than one soul. To prove it, Chas cuts his own throat and dies. And that makes the number of lives left 31.
At the hospital, Zed offers to try to use her psychic powers to help Renée communicate with Geraldine. It works for a moment, but then Zed collapses in pain. Medical personnel rush in, and in the commotion Renée finds a note that has slipped from Zed’s purse giving the address of Felix’s trainyard lair, where Chas is now starting to wake up.
Felix is intrigued as he rises to watch the throat wound heal:
Felix: “A man of your word, indeed.”
Chas: “I wish that were true.”
As night falls, John regains consciousness in time to see Chas about to shake hands with Felix to seal the soul-swapping deal. But Chas has something else up his sleeve—namely, a sinew from Achilles’ heel, impervious to magic, which he uses to inextricably bind his and Felix’s hands to each other. (Zed: “I thought Achilles’ heel was weak!” John: “Well now you know why!”) He then pulls a grenade nicked from the back room of the Army surplus store from his pocket and pulls the pin. Renée arrives just in time to see Chas drop the grenade before John drags her away from the imminent blast.
Renée’s never actually seen Chas die in all the times he’s done it before.
John: “Sorry you had to see that. Chas’s line of work is messy.”
Renée: “So is yours. Is it painful for Chas?”
Renée: “So how long does this take? For him to … return?”
John: “Well, it depends on how violent the death.”
As she and John talk, she begins to appreciate the sacrifice Chas has made by taking on the burden of making the lives he carries have purpose through his work with Constantine. This time it’s John flashing back to two years ago—Chas’ relationship is falling apart, and John has been unable to undo Merlin’s spell. All they can do is stick together and, you know, fight the forces of evil, side by side.
The next morning, Chas is back in one piece and at Renée’s house once again to see Geraldine, now recovered. He’s gratified to find Renée happy to see him for a change. She hands him a photo album, and he goes upstairs to show his daughter pictures and tell the stories of all the people he has carried inside himself.
John’s at the hospital, where Zed is still recovering from “blowing a fuse.” As she rolls over to sleep, she says, “One more thing. About your mother.”
John: “What about my mother?”
Zed: “She said her death wasn’t your fault.”
John: “You saw my mother? … Zed?
But she’s fallen asleep. John lies beside her on the hospital bed and does the same.
This week we got to finally see Chas’s family and learn how he came to be the way he is—and that his remaining resurrection count is down to 30 lives. We saw a Hellblazer character immolated and a Justice League character blown to bits. We even heard mention of the Monkey King from Swamp Thing. It was interesting to see the show draw from a story as relatively recent as All His Engines, though the time compression necessitated making the young victim Chas’s daughter (in the graphic novel, it’s Geraldine’s own daughter, Tricia—granddaughter of Chas). Only a few more episodes to go in this truncated season—we’re still keeping our fingers crossed (as DC seems to be as well) that there’s still a show next season.
… for he with this rebellious rout
Fell long before; nor aught avail’d him now
To have built in Heav’n high Tow’rs; nor did he ’scape
By all his Engines, but was headlong sent
With his industrious crew to build in Hell.
— Milton, Paradise Lost, Book I