At Last! The Secret Origins of Chas are Revealed in Constantine: “Quid Pro Quo”

This week’s Constantine featured the on-screen debut of a classic DC villain, and gave us an in-depth look into the life of Chas, including the revelation around just why it is that he can’t seem to die. While the episode suffered in part from some muddled continuity—is this a flashback? Why is this plot so conveniently hinged around Brooklyn? Why is Chas’s ex-wife so two-dimensionally heinous?—it ultimately proved itself to be a satisfying hour of television, thanks in no small part to the heart and humanity of our ever-faithful cab drivin’ sidekick, Chas.

Did I mention that his name is actually “Francis”?

The main plot of “Quid Pro Quo” centers on Chas and his daughter, Geraldine, who has fallen into a mysterious coma on Chas’s visitation weekend (previously foreshadowed in “Blessed be the Damned,” which explained away Chas’s absence by giving John a throwaway line that he was “making good with his daughter”). Of course it’s not just any ol’ coma, but a magic coma—and if there’s anything John Constantine loves, it’s doing right by kids and magic, especially when it comes in the form of a favor to a friend.

Constantine

Unfortunately, this is also why Chas’s ex-wife, Renee, hates John more than anyone else we’ve met so far, which is saying a lot. I had lots of issues with Renee’s characterization, namely that she was written as “Generic Evil Nag Ex-Wife” and not much else, but something about her hatred of John felt powerful—probably because everyone else who hates John (including Fennel, whom we meet in this episode) is still somewhat flirtatious with him and/or willing to put aside past differences to work towards some kind of goal.

But not Renee. She straight-up loathes the man, and refuses to budge. And with good reason: she blames John in part for breaking up her marriage, because of the charismatic pull he has over Chas. As we learn in a series of flashbacks, John and Chas were out getting hammered at a rock show one night when Drunk John cast a spell on Drunk Chas so he could drunk-drive home. But Chas never gets his chance to magically avoid a DUI, because there’s a fire in the venue (not unlike the infamous Great White incident) that ends up claiming 48 victims.

Constantine

Or rather, 47. Because Chas didn’t die, even though he certainly should have. It turns out that John’s spell was something that Merlin once used to allow the Knights of the Round Table to “absorb” the lives of slain knights around them on the battlefield. Of course, John never expected the spell to actually work (especially since he struggled to remember the words in his drunken stupor). So it seems that Chas is not, in fact, immortal, but rather, he can die 47 times, once for each of the souls that were lost in the fire (as of this episode, he’s down to 32). The weight of this burden is what makes Chas follow John around; he wants to save peoples’ lives, because he couldn’t save the 47 people who died for him, and he may as well put each of their deaths (as experienced by him) to good use.

Unfortunately, his dedication to do-goodery also comes at the expense of his family, and after a while, Renee can no longer put up with his frequent absences and lame excuses, like missing his daughter’s birthday because he had to defeat the Monkey King (which was definitely the best line of the episode).

Constantine

I genuinely enjoyed this new revelation and the depth it gives to Chas’s character. That being said, it played rather strangely as the major factor in his divorce. We often see stories where a doctor or a high-powered lawyer ignores his family for the sake of his work, and while this was clearly supposed to resonate with that, I didn’t buy it in quite the same way (maybe I’m just more likely to accept “Sorry I’m late, I was busy saving the world from evil demons because I unwillingly absorbed the souls of 47 dead people at a concert and now I must use my powers for good” as an excuse). Still, it went a long way in showing the far-reaching impact of John Constantine’s actions, and that’s probably why Renee’s hatred resonated so well. We’ve seen the direct impact of John’s actions, however altruistic his intentions , but this is the first time we’ve seen the domino effect reverberations that spread from there.

That’s why, as scared as she is for daughter’s well-being, Renee is less than excited about Constantine’s presence. But he does do his part. He recruits a medium named Fennel who gets pistol whipped by Chas and then burnt to a crisp in a séance (WHOOPS!), then locates the source of the magical coma: Felix Faust, DC Comics’ evil sorcerer extraordinaire, who’s bitter about having always played second fiddle to the Aleister Crowleys of the world. John has a past with Faust, but thanks to the Rising Darkness, Faust is now more powerful than ever, so Constantine agrees to run an errand for him in exchange for Geraldine’s soul (which is just one of many innocent souls he’s captured to aid in his Diabolical Schemes). John’s side-quest for Faust is a fun visual treat but ultimately inconsequential to the plot, because Faust ultimately changes the terms of his deal. Which, I mean, guy’s name is Faust; what else did you expect to happen?

Constantine

But Constantine doesn’t get a chance to enact another one of his crazy plans, because Chas punches him out (“My family’s suffered enough because of you.”) and takes matters into his own hands. He goes to visit Faust himself and offers to trade his remaining 32 souls for Geraldine’s. It’s a touching moment — which is odd to say, because to prove himself to Faust, Chas literally slices his own throat. But that sacrifice is more than often to show that Chas will go to any lengths to save his little girl. Chas and Faust are about to shake on their deal when Constantine and Renee arrive to witness it, at which point Chas pulls a Faust on Faust and changes the terms of their deal. “We both die today, but only one of us is coming back,” he says as he binds their hands together with a whip made from the sinew of Achilles’ heel (ew) and un-pins a grenade to blow them both up, which is, well, pretty awesome.

While I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t get to see Chas pull himself back together after being blown up by a grenade, the sight of such a thing was more than enough to make Renee finally understand the weight on Chas’s shoulders. In the end, Chas shares a tender moment with his daughter as he shows her a photo album depicting the lives of the 47 souls who died so that he could live and if you weren’t even a little moved by that (hokey sentimentality be damned), then maybe Chas has one of your souls, too.

Constantine

Other Things of Interest:

  • Zed comes clean with John about the Resurrection Crusade, which is run by her father. Their relationship continues to progress with just the right amount of sexual tension.
  • Between Merlin and Crowley, “Quid Pro Quo” felt like a minor history lesson in Anglo-Saxon magicks.
  • I…kind of hope we haven’t seen the last of Felix Faust? Even if his scheme this time around was rather vaguely defined.

Thom Dunn is a Boston-based writer, musician, homebrewer, and new media artist. Thom enjoys Oxford commas, metaphysics, and romantic clichés (especially when they involve whiskey and robots). He is a graduate of Clarion Writer’s Workshop at UCSD, and he firmly believes that Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” is the single worst atrocity committed against mankind. Find out more at thomdunn.net.

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