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“Quid Pro Quo” pits Constantine against DC Comics’ Felix Faust and finally explains why Chas keeps dying all the time.

It took a few weeks for Constantine to find its voice, but now it seems to have figured out what works: Shuffling together random supernatural concepts to see what clicks. The best moments in the series don’t come up with anything new, they merge the same tropes we’ve seen before in uniquely appealing ways. It’s great fun to watch an angel-powered baptism turn into a zombie apocalypse, or see God’s predestined spirit of vengeance stop ghostly serial killers. It’s much like John Constantine himself, the rather humble mage whose grab-bag approach to spells gives him a special edge, no matter how strained he seems around the edges.

Thankfully “Quid Pro Quo” is perhaps the most extreme example of “Who knows what will happen next” storytelling Constantine has attempted so far. Starting by introducing DC Comics character Felix Faust as a villain, the episode switches gears every five minutes thanks to new, hugely significant magical plot twists that could have warranted their own episodes – including the origin behind Chas’ constant resurrections. And while that means the plot can seem a little ramshackle if you squint too hard, you’re enjoying the ride so much that it won’t matter in the end.

That said, new viewers will probably still want to catch up on past events so they’re not in the dark. You can watch past episodes on the official NBC website or iTunes, and follow our ongoing reviews of the entire first season.

While tidying up the mess left behind from John’s possession and Zed’s kidnapping, the pair happens to notice that the scrying map has revealed a new target for the rising darkness: Brooklyn, where Chas is taking time off for a family visit. It’s quickly revealed that Chas’ hobby of hunting supernatural monsters has estranged him from his wife, and now the occasional weekend is the only chance he has to bond with his daughter Geraldine.

Of course Chas’ family is going to be threatened at some point, and the rising darkness wastes no time getting to the point. It turns out that across Brooklyn, a powerful mage is tearing souls from human bodies – including Geraldine – and using them to fuel dark spells. What’s more, it’s well-prepared: Multiple attempts to find out what’s happening with a medium or psychic alerts him to their presence, causing at least one of Constantine‘s allies to meet a horrible fate. But after a few twists and turns, our heroes finally locate the mage, and it’s none other than… Felix Faust.

Don’t worry regular viewers, you haven’t missed the episode where Felix was previously introduced. But DC Comics fans will be more familiar with him, if still confused about his insanely powerful skillset. In the comics world, Faust is a low-level magician who keeps selling his soul for magical powers, but usually finds himself tricked or walking away worse for the bargain. That small-scale mage interpretation is the Felix John expects to see – Chas notes the last time they saw him, they were fleecing him at a card game – but the rising darkness has upped the ante. Now Felix is a true master, and with dozens of souls at his disposal, he’s practically unstoppable in a straightforward fight. But where John thinks he can bargain with Felix instead, Chas starts to worry he made the wrong choice in turning to Constantine.

Meanwhile, we finally get an explanation about Chas’ immortality, and it’s an immensely satisfying one: He technically isn’t immortal after all. Two years ago, when Constantine was concerned that Chas was too drunk to drive home from a concert, he casually cast a protective spell he’d picked up from Arthurian texts – if the subject is struck down, they will absorb the life force from others around them. But the spell backfires when the concert stage actually catches fire, killing Chas along with over 40 other people. That’s a lot of souls to absorb, giving Chase one extra life for every individual death. It also partly explains why Chas follows Constantine without question, since he feels responsible for snatching souls away from their rightful place.

Not only is that a great explanation that fits with Felix’s soul-stealing plot (which does come up), it’s a great example of how Constantine‘s version of magic should work. It’s not about being a powerful Level 20 magician, it’s about spells that work so literally they can have unintended consequences. This theme has come up occasionally in past episodes and really helps Constantine stand out from other magic shows.

The rest of the episode is jam-packed with so many impressive twists and details, that if I took the time to detail everything here, you could have watched the whole episode – few other shows casually drop in demon hunting and botched seances that are otherwise unconnected to the plot. But perhaps the nicest touch is that compared to last year, John Constantine is really becoming an asshole. That’s a good thing – the show pulls a lot of punches regarding the dark acts John is capable of, but here we finally get a sense that he doesn’t care who gets burned in his quest. (In one case, literally.) Other noteworthy moments include manipulating Chas’ guilt to keep him around as a partner, and being made to realize that his approach with Felix was wrong (but never apologizing for it). Hellblazer‘s tone is finally shining through the network television cracks, and I for one couldn’t be happier.

Not that the episode is without its flaws. Mark Margolis plays Felix as an appropriately campy Level 20 black magician, but we never actually see his lowly magician stage to provide a better context. (And given how the episode ends, we probably never will.) But Zed is once again the mixed bag. Her relationship with John is far more natural than before, and they can actually flirt and banter without feeling forced. Sadly, she still doesn’t have much to do other than play the psychic plot advancement card. Even a big moment, like finally explaining her complicated backstory to John, ends up being so brief and muted that it doesn’t have much importance. And why, exactly, is Zed blaming John for last episode’s cultist break-in when she ignored his advice and led them to the front door? Come on, let’s blame Constantine for something terrible he actually did.

But in the end, these quibbles are well balanced by everything the episode gets right. The episode is fast-paced, jam packed with supernatural twists, and ends in a satisfying way for everyone involved. What’s more, Constantine‘s happily lighting cigarettes and smoking in our faces without a care. All is well with the world.

Bottom Line: “Quid Pro Quo” is all about what Constantine does best: Throwing seemingly unrelated magical twists at us, and watching John survive them by the skin of his teeth. Toss in DC Comics’ villain Felix Faust, a satisfying explanation for Chas’ immortality, and a blatant disregard for network smoking regulations, and Constantine feels like its preparing to end the season on a high note.

Recommendation: Anybody else getting the feeling they’ll miss this show when it’s gone? “Quid Pro Quo” is part of the reason why.

[rating=4]

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