Ladies and gentlemen, join me in a slow clap for the finale of The Exorcist S02E06 because that is how to end an episode with a bang.
Let me first acknowledge that “Darling Nikki” isn’t a flawless hour of the series by any measure. It relies on Marcus (Ben Daniels) and Father Tomas (Alfonso Herrera) being able to convince Rose (Li Jun Li) – with virtually no evidence – that she should invite them back to the Kim household to observe Andy (John Cho) for signs of suspicious behaviour. There is no world in which Rose doesn’t wind up looking like a crazy person for agreeing to this and her kitchen apology late in the episode do little to explain her actions in a way that a rationale human would accept. So not a great episode for Rose as a smart, capable social worker.
It would also be easy to argue that things also escalate too far, too fast between episodes. The first half of this great second season was a slow burn that ramped up into crazytown with the revelation that Grace (Amélie Eve) wasn’t real in episode four. Then a new chapter was teased by the appearance of Nikki (Alicia Witt) last episode. In this episode, however, Andy is almost entirely under her spell from the get-go. Sure he has flashes of levity – he apologizes to Verity (Brianna Hildebrand) for using her gay conversion history as an opportunity to condone religious practice at dinner (tsk, tsk) – but he spends a large part of this episode talking to the spectre of his dead wife. After five relatively slow burn episodes, it feels like this possession has escalated very quickly. I imagine some fans won’t have as much of an issue with that, but it did seem a bit accelerated at times.
But it’s hard to nitpick about Rose‘s idiocy or the speed of this new possession when the results are so friggin’ exciting. I mean, just consider that ending!
The Exorcist loves to acknowledge its audience’s expectations. The writers delight in using red herrings to make us presume one thing before pivoting to deliver something similar, but different.
Take the foreshadowing that occurs around the knife. Andy has it in his hand when he learns that Marcus and Father Tomas are staying for dinner (the quick pan down to his hand is actually quite funny). Later he’s brandishing it to cut tomatoes when Verity inquires about Truck (Cyrus Arnold), and he grazes it briefly when Rose apologizes for her behaviour. There’s so much attention paid to Andy and that knife that it was inevitable that he would use it, but all signs suggested he would use it to get rid of Rose – the woman who invited exorcists into the house and threatens his relationship with ghost wife.
Not that Rose gets away without punishment: what with the tossing against the wall, the levitation and the strangling. Still, in the end it’s another pivot that winds up providing that stunning climax: Harper (Beatrice Kitsos)’s mother Lorraine (Rochelle Greenwood) has been lurking in the woods, waiting to abduct her daughter in the middle of the night. The reintroduction of Lorraine reinforces how strong Harper has in her attachment to her new surroundings while simultaneously providing another red herring for The Exorcist to exploit. It’s a genius move by writers Franklin jin Rho and Adam Stein because we suspect that Harper‘s experience in the woods is a response to Nikki‘s presence. Even when Lorraine appears in her bedroom, I took her for just another manifestation of the demon. Of course the climax reveals that she’s a flesh and blood vessel to be carved up as the ultimate symbol of Andy‘s possession.
I would say “poor Andy” but I can’t get over how exciting that closing sequence is. Watching everyone briefly levitate as Andy fully succumbs to Nikki‘s kiss/possession, then watching him pick up first the knife and then Lorraine with supernatural strength was astounding. Seeing him pin her to the wall and gut her like Michael Myers in a Halloween film was…just insane. My jaw was on the floor; it was shockingly graphic, unexpected and visceral! And then just like that Marcus and Father Tomas spring into action, wielding their crucifixes like Marvel superheroes to end the episode with a bang.
Phew! All I can say is that I want the next episode immediately.
Odds and Ends
- A quick shout-out to Alicia Witt, who manages to make Nikki seductive, creepy, and a little dangerous without descending into camp territory. The character requires her to walk a fine line, but consider how effective she is in that living room interrogation scene where Nikki keeps popping up behind other characters.
- I found the back and forth about the curse/gift designation of Father Tomas‘ visions a little frustrating. This kind of narrative waffling feels unproductive, even if there are hints that the visions will be integral in the show’s larger mythology.
- It was an unexpected pleasure to see Maria Walters (Kirsten Fitzgerald) back on the show, even for a single episode. Walters was such a delectable villain in S1 that it’s nice to get closure on her cancer arc. Alas, Mouse (Zuleikha Robinson) and Father Bennett (Kurt Egyiawan)’s storyline continues to inch forward so slooooooowly it can be hard to care. I do wonder how serious Bennett’s abdomen wound is, though. That didn’t look good.
- Finally, I’m sorry to announce that there will be no review next week because I will be on vacation (Trust me, after this episode, no one is sorrier than me). I’ll be back with a double-dose review of episodes 7 & 8 on November 24.
The Exorcist airs Fridays at 9pm EST on FOX. What did you think of “Darling Nikki”?