Featuring a plot about putting people in comas is tempting fate for a backstory episode, but “Quid Pro Quo” is just exciting enough to dodge the comparison. It’s the one where we find out the deal with Chas, which is that two years ago, he was in a bar paying his and John’s tabs when a fire erupted. Forty-seven people died, well, 48 including Chas. But before John left, he drunkenly cast some protection spell Merlin invented way back when that would let a Round Table knight absorb the lives of lesser knights who died at the same time. John didn’t even think it was real, but lo and behold, Chas crawled out of that fire with 47 lives to his name. Which, as “Quid Pro Quo” progresses, is a violation, then a burden, and finally a mission.
That backstory matters where it counts. By the end, we actually feel like Chas has a weight on his shoulders. After everything is resolved, which it is, Chas bonds with his daughter Geraldine by showing her a special scrapbook. Instead of childhood photos or vacation slides, it’s a picture of each of the souls Chas has to his name. He even knows the general outline of these people’s lives. He wants to do right by them.
On the other hand, the Chas domestic drama could hardly be less interesting. Start with his wife Renee, straight out of the antihero drama scold mold. At one point Chas is late to Geraldine’s birthday, but not that late, because she and her mother are both there in the kitchen just standing around looking disappointed like some living guilt trip. Chas was helping John save a family. (To be specific: “I know this sound crazy, but I had to help John slay the monkey king,” which is by far the funniest line of the night, and it’s wasted on this horror scene.) Renee replies, “Caring about another family is admirable, but what about ours?” It’s classic scold. Poor Amanda Clayton stuck with this stock.
Renee gets a couple lively moments, but both are well within her type. The first is when she shows up at Geraldine’s hospital room to find Chas with John. “What’s he doing here?” For once the woman who doesn’t like John isn’t flirting. Renee doesn’t trust him, and she has no intention of biting her tongue. Respect. The other strong moment comes in the same room but toward the end. Renee’s waiting with Zed, and suddenly Zed decides to try to channel Geraldine’s spirit. The end result is poor Zed writhing around in agony on the floor—apparently she blew a fuse baring her soul to the spirit world—but for a brief moment Renee gets to not be worried or nagging or righteously pissed off but just loving. It’s a vital shade.
The plot of “Quid Pro Quo” is ruled by non sequitur until the ending. In the cold open, a cloaked mage says some spell on a rooftop, and then in Geraldine’s room smoke swirls around her. There’s some talk about Zed’s people, who are called The Resurrection Crusade. Chas flashes back to how he got this way, and then he goes home in the present, but at first it’s not very clear it’s the present because it gets there the same way the flashback does, a cut from a close-up of Chas in his car, just without the woosh sound. See? It’s just a bunch of random plot points. Somewhere in there John exposits exposition about more artifacts like the sinew from Achilles’ heel, which wraps around Zed’s wrist and pulls tight. Apparently it has the highest tensile strength in the multiverse, which is kind of interesting, but isn’t there a more fluid way to seed stuff like this? Even once the story proper starts, the scene-to-scene flow isn’t very convincing. The mystery takes them from the hospital to a séance master named Fennel, and after that goes awry, John tells us after commercial that Fennel was burned to a crisp or something? But nobody seems too broken up about it and there’s no body, so maybe that’s not what happened?
The séance itself is some good, old-fashioned, low-key, magical fun. There’s nothing special, really, but the effect of Geraldine’s voice booming over Fennel’s as he channels her is well-done. It’s a setup for the moment when Fennel gets lifted in the air by some spirit and suddenly the voice speaking over him is a low, menacing boom. Apparently another mage has hijacked their séance (and this is the part where Fennel may or may not have been burned to a crisp). Before we find out who, Zed has a psychic vision of their next stop, Haskins Railroad Yard, which is basically a Halloween supply store, all bubbling cauldrons and things that pop out at you. They probably have some killer lawn decorations. Anyway, at some point she turns around and there’s a man in a cloak slashing her. Back in “our” world, she’s bleeding a little from the swipe.
Once we meet Felix Faust (Mark Margolis), an uncredited apprentice to the greatest mages of his generation looking to get his name in the history books by way of this coma spell, the narrative gets a lot smoother. And more exciting. John and Zed face off against an invisible parasitic Dimetrodon-looking demon. Zed and Renee have their ill-fated mini-séance. Chas punches out John and takes control. Now, that part requires you to overlook some things. Chas has a plan, here, but after knocking out John, he intones, “My family’s suffered enough because of you.” Come on, Chas. Don’t be Renee.
It all leads to Chas offering to trade his then 32 souls to Felix for Geraldine’s. The backstory, the domestic drama, the John knockout—the whole story so far suggests we take the offer at face value. As successful as parts of “Quid Pro Quo” are, the Renee side of things is so humorless we don’t have much reason to think Chas’ would be any different. We get to see him cut his own throat as a demonstration, and in retrospect we get to think about how heavy each soul weighs on him and how easily he sacrificed that one for his daughter. He’s ready to shake on it with Felix, which is an iffy premise rescued by finesse. The blood oath that John did with Felix is for mages only, so Chas says plainly he’d settle for a handshake. Just then John rushes in to try to stop him, which forces Felix’s hand. Felix shakes on it, and suddenly Chas Achilles’ heels him and unpins a grenade. “I’m changing the terms of our agreement. We both die today, but only one of us is coming back.” Changing the terms of the agreement is something Felix does earlier, so add that to the Achilles heel and the fact that Felix’s death voids his magical contracts (i.e. releases the coma spell), and that’s three little seeds that sprout at once. Happy ending for everyone, not least the father who stops at nothing to save his daughter. Well done, Chas.
- “Quid Pro Quo” is directed by Mary Harron of American Psycho fame.
- So Chas’ family lives in New York, but that flashback is in Atlanta, right?