Bold statement alert: The Exorcist is the best horror show on TV. While Stranger Things gobbles up all of the press, the little possession-series-that-could is flying under the radar, under constant threat of cancellation. So this is my plea: don’t sleep on this show!
When The Exorcist first debuted last year on FOX, it looked like the series was just another ill-advised corporate attempt to capitalize on an established film property – albeit a well-produced, well-acted one. Then, mid-way through the first season, The Exorcist pulled off a stunning twist. *Season One Spoilers Ahead* In Episode 5, “Through My Most Grievous Fault”, Geena Davis’ character Angela Rance was revealed to be a grown-up Regan MacNeil. This moment turned the entire series into a direct sequel to William Friedkin’s classic 1973 film of the same name.
From there the series not only built on Pazuzu’s mythology, it spun out a complicated conspiracy about demons taking over the Vatican while firmly establishing priests Marcus Keane (Ben Daniels) and Tomas Ortega (Alfonso Herrera) as cheer-worthy protagonists. Despite truly abysmal ratings, FOX made the unlikely decision to renew the series, casting John Cho as the season two lead to fill the vacancy left by the departing Davis, whose arc wrapped up in season one.
The Exorcist is just under halfway through its season two run and it remains as smart and scary as ever. The most recent episode also dropped a major bombshell…right before taking a two week World Series-induced hiatus. In the absence of a new episode, here’s a recap/plea to get you caught up to when the show returns Friday, November 3rd. *Season Two Spoilers Ahead*
Marcus Keane was a renegade priest when the series began (we know because he wore a leather jacket), but his reckless disregard for Church protocol quickly got him ex-communicated. Over the first season, he mentored Father Tomas, an conflicted innocent man of God looking to make a difference. Eventually the pair became a formidable exorcism duo in their attempts to save the Rance family.
Marcus and Tomas spent the first two episodes of this season working on a new case. The details are less important than the approach each one adopted during the exorcism: Marcus elects to use traditional methods (standard chains and prayer stuff) while Tomas established a mental connection with the possessed woman. In doing so, Tomas opened himself up to the demon (kind of like a two-way radio), a development that greatly perturbs Marcus and will undoubtedly have implications later this season.
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Episode three reminded us that Tomas is still relatively inexperienced – he believes that he knows best, but he also nearly exorcised a young girl named Harper (Beatrice Kitsos), who wasn’t actually possessed and would have died had Marcus not intervened.
Other pertinent facts: while it has never been explicitly stated, episode four gently reminded us that Marcus may be gay. Season one spent a fair amount of screen time on Tomas’ doomed (because, you know, priesthood) romance with a parishioner, so it’s possible that S2 may give Marcus‘ love life a little more attention.
The Vatican Conspiracy
Much of The Exorcist‘s first season focused on the various possessions in the Rance household, with occasional glimpses of a larger conspiracy aimed at infecting and infiltrating high ranking members of the Vatican (including, in one memorable episode, the Pope!). The Exorcist’s principal character in the Vatican conspiracy storyline is Father Devon Bennett (Kurt Egyiawan) who acts as a liaison with Marcus and routinely gets the crap beaten out of him.
In season two, Father Bennett has matched up with a new character, Mouse (Zuleikha Robinson). Robinson has showed up in a few other genre shows and here she got introduced in kick-ass fashion: poisoning a group of demon-possessed cardinals at a dinner party. When last we left off, Mouse revealed that the demons have become more assertive; they are now deliberately possessing exorcists in order to access their knowledge and eliminate them.
It seems inevitable that Father Bennett and Mouse will meet up with Marcus and Tomas, it just may take a few episodes since the latter duo cut off communications after Father Bennett revealed that the Vatican was compromised and it was no longer safe to talk.
The Kim Foster House
With the Rance family rescued and sent off to a cabin in the woods (for real), season two’s new mystery centers around a spooky foster home nestled on a creepy island near Seattle. Foster dad Andy Kim (Cho) is still reeling from the suicide of his wife, which has left him raising an amicable, albeit slightly damaged, crew of five kids by himself. The makeshift family includes leader Shelby (Alex Barima); cynical Verity (Deadpool and Tragedy Girls breakout Brianna Hildebrand); sleepwalker David (Cyrus Arnold); blind Caleb (Hunter Dillon) and Grace (Amélie Eve), an agoraphobe prone to wearing The Orphanage-style creepy pillow masks. Also in the mix is Rose (Li Jun Li), a social worker – and Andy‘s ex – sent to perform a site visit in the wake of Andy’s wife’s death.
Though the first few episodes are the definition of a slow burn (blame splitting attention between Marcus and Tomas in Montana and Andy and the kids), there’s a pervasive sense of foreboding doom whenever the action shifts back to the island. The large shadowy house, the mist-covered woods and the old, closed-up well are all horror catnip.
Throughout four episodes it is clear that something supernatural is happening: Caleb mysteriously disappeared in the middle of the night, nearly tumbling down the well (an act he blamed Verity for, which she staunchly denied). Meanwhile Shelby witnessed the birth of a deformed lamb, which triggered his religious beliefs and prompted him to deface the home with a protective charm. Plus: when Andy finally managed to lure Grace outside, a flock of birds dive-bombed the house in horrifying kamikaze fashion, leaving the lawn littered with feathery corpses.
Where did we leave off?
As mentioned, the most recent episode “One For Sorrow” ended with a twist. The episode delivered Marcus and Tomas to the island to drop off Harper at the foster home. The twist, however, doesn’t concern the exorcists’ dawning awareness that something is off about the island; rather it involves a discovery that Verity made when she returned home unexpectedly and overheard Andy and Grace talking. She followed voices up the stairs to Grace’s room, revealing that the little girl’s decorated room is actually an abandoned art studio replete with cobwebs and rotting food Andy left for Grace. With that The Exorcist deftly paid homage to innumerable ghost stories in which a main character is revealed to be dead or an hallucinatory apparition.
The teaser for next week’s new episode (below) elaborates that Grace is a manifestation of the demon pursuing Andy, which makes Tomas and Marcus’ arrival even more timely. Things are just starting to heat up!
Last season The Exorcist unexpectedly turned out to be a surprising, frightening sequel to 1973 film that we didn’t even know we wanted. Its renewal, not to be too hyperbolic, was a minor (religious?) miracle. To put it mildly, this season’s ratings aren’t good, which means that this little fright fest needs as much press and eyeballs as possible. The recent twist proves that there is still plenty of story left in the premise, which showrunner Jason Ensler and the cast clearly have the talent to execute in a visually exciting and scary fashion.
Hopefully this recap has convinced enough of you to jump aboard and check out The Exorcist when it returns Friday, November 3rd. I know I’ll be watching (and writing about it). Will you join me?
The Exorcist airs Fridays at 9pm ET on FOX in the US / 8pm ET on CTV Two in Canada