In the words of Ron Burgundy: “That escalated quickly.” Last week, we complained that The Exorcist‘s premiere episode showed a lot of potential, but took a while to find its footing. Well, this week, the show is firmly on its footing. Disturbing, icky, disgusting footing…and we mean that in the good way. This is a horror show, and for a prime-time show, it’s bringing the horror.
This week seems to be positioning Father Tomas (Alfonso Herrera) and Father Marcus (Ben Daniels) respectively as good priest/bad priest in determining how to deal with the demon possessing Angela’s daughter, Casey (Hannah Kasulka). Tomas, as the good guy, has to play by the Church’s rules (this is his first demonic possession, after all). He complains to the local bishop, who advises Casey seek mental health before going under the Church’s pastoral care. Angela’s having none of this: she’s heard the voices, seen the creepy stuff in her house, and knows Casey is possessed. Marcus, meanwhile, is content to hide in the shadows and act now, giving Angela some holy water when Tomas isn’t watching and telling her to slip some into Casey’s dinner. If you’re the kind of viewer who likes the “bad cop,” oh, Marcus is going to be a lot of fun. Here’s a man (of the cloth) who has no problem breaking into Tomas’ apartment, sneaking through his stuff, and breaking every kind of orthodoxy in his battle against higher powers.
Let’s be clear that this isn’t just the Catholic version of a police procedural (though there’s elements of that, and we’ll be getting back to that). The Exorcist is just as much about broken people as it is broken laws. Tomas is what we call in Catholic circles a “Father What-a-Waste,” a handsome man who’d be every woman’s dream boyfriend if he hadn’t committed to the cloth first. Except that’s his weak spot. Tomas continues to carry on a relationship with his friend Jessica, who very obviously wants him to break his vows and have a fling. Tomas doesn’t cross that line, but Alfonso Herrera oh-so-painfully shows us how an intimate male-female friendship can creep very close to being sexual, and for a priest, that’s a problem. Tomas loves Jessica but is committed to the Church, and Marcus warns him: break this off, it’s your weak spot.
Which is not to say that Marcus is perfect either. Through flashbacks and confessions, Marcus admits that his sin is pride. Called to the cloth at a young age, Marcus had his first successful exorcism in his youth and became convinced that he’d be the gun in the hand of the Church. Except it’s not working: Marcus hasn’t heard God in awhile, and the demon he exorcised in his youth is back to haunt him by possessing local homeless people. This leads to a delightful play on the classic “the power of Christ compels you” line, where the demon openly tells Marcus that he just doesn’t feel all that compelled.
So Marcus is weak in the spirit, and Tomas is weak in the flesh. Yet it’s in that weakness that they learn that they’re going to have to work together. The men find catharsis in saying the prayer of St. Francis together, asking God to make them into what’s needed for this mission.
And Angela? Geena Davis shows her as a woman struggling to maintain daily life even as her daughter is making Jenga blocks levitate in their living room and psychically breaking the legs of rival players during a lacrosse game. How do you cook dinner and run a home when Satan is sharing your household? Oh, and to top it off, the Pope is coming to Chicago, and Angela’s firm is helping with the planning. In other words, Davis’ Angela is having to play supermom, except she’s covered in Kryptonite and on the verge of collapse.
Human weakness aside, The Exorcist is already starting to tighten the web of plotlines. Casey’s got a mysterious ally that only she can see, although her dad (Alan Ruck) seems to perceive that something’s off when he watches her. The Pope is coming to town, but something seems ominously off about that, with the “HE IS COMING” posters around Chicago just seem to have the wrong tone about them. And lastly, there’s a really disturbing organ harvesting operation going on in town, with meticulous killers popping into homes and stealing human hearts with military precision.
How are two broken priests and an overwhelmed Geena Davis going to stop this? All we can say is: we’re hooked two episodes in.
Rating: Four and a half rosary beads out of five.