The Exorcist Episode 4: “The Moveable Feast”
The Exorcist hasn’t really dealt with love yet. To date, this has been a show about fear and violence, all very appropriate for a show dealing with Satanic concepts. It hasn’t really gotten into showing how to defeat the devil, and indeed, it’d be kind of cheap if Marcus (Ben Daniels) and Tomas (Alfonso Herrera) were beating the demons with a few simple words. Of course they can’t–Marcus has been arrogant and Tomas is too green to know what he’s doing. But some painful lessons in love this week give them the key to making a good start.
“The Moveable Feast” plays with contrasting levels and types of love. On the bleakest and most corrupt level, Casey (Hannah Kasulka) has been committed to a hospital after last week’s incident where the Salesman tortures her as an abusive lover. The Salesman (Robert Emmett Lunney) continues to be played as a creature who’ll take away your steak and then offer you a crap sandwich in return, but he’ll put it on a really nice plate to make it look pretty. In this case, Casey’s having serious regrets about her allegiance with the demon, who’s now torturing her with visions of a demonically distorted version of her home and telling her that she’s no longer pretty (keeping in mind that he’s the one who convinced her to burn her groin with a curling iron). In other words, the Salesman’s version of love is all about taking, not giving.
Tomas continues to flounder as the junior priest who just doesn’t know what he’s doing. He can’t persuade the Bishop to grant an exorcism and is running out of ideas on how to help Angela and her family. Tomas is motivated by goodness, but it always brings him close to the edge of sin. In one scene, he goes to billionaire Maria Walters (Kristin Fitzgerald) in the hopes that her money can bypass the Church’s chain of command. In another, he pays comfort to his not-quite-girlfriend Jessica (Mouzam Makkar) who’s just been dumped. He mentions going over the Bishop’s head, to which she flirtatiously asks if he wants to cross any other lines. He doesn’t, but the temptation to stay with her is enough to convince Tomas to blow off Angela’s pleas for help. There’s no sex, but Tomas clearly feels guilty about blowing off a parishoner the next day. So Tomas feels love–for Jessica and for the Rance family–but it’s the kind of love that misplaces priorities and forgets his place in the grand scheme of things. A crucifix kept over Jessica’s bed reminds us of this even where Tomas doesn’t quite see it.
The really compelling story is Marcus’, as he flounders about Chicago in his new defrocked state. Following the names on the back of his bus ticket, he first finds himself at a convent run by Mother Bernadette (Deanna Dunagan). Seems the nuns are running something akin to exorcisms of their own, where they surround a possessed homeless man and patiently invoke the name of the Virgin Mary even as it lashes out at Bernadette. At this point, The Exorcist illustrates the kind of tough maternal love for a child. Bernadette suggests that Marcus “use a feminine touch,” but what she really means is: be willing to get your hands dirty for God’s children. The possessed man is violent, and he strikes Bernadette repeatedly (she has the scars to show it), but she presses on not in repaying violence with violence, but with love which endures the hurt.
This is Marcus’ failing: his method of exorcism to date has seemingly been one of combat. Love isn’t combat, though, or at least not that kind of combat. Love is paradoxically not a weapon, and yet is the strongest weapon in God’s arsenal that he hasn’t been using. When he returns to the convent later in the episode (after meeting a pair of Lone Gunmen-esque ghost hunters, which was humorous and drove the plot, but not the theme), he fights Bernadette’s possessed man. Marcus is clearly tempted to use fists, but in the end, it’s the embrace of tenderness which drives the devil out.
We get our first hints that this is what will defeat the Salesman as well. The episode almost climaxes with the Salesman torturing Casey into submission, until Angela–driven to exhaustion in her fight against Chicago’s mental health system–takes her daughter’s hand before he can. The Salesman taunts Casey about the “unconditional love” beyond outside her hospital room door, but he backs the hell off when he actually sees it in action. This sets the tone for what’s coming next week–armed in prayer and love, Marcus and Tomas enter the Rance home and prepare to exorcise Casey.
We get the sense that the Rance story is reaching its climax–and maybe Geena Davis is only contracted for five episodes?–but there’s a bigger threat coming to Chicago in the form of a mass-demon summoning. As always, we’ll be back next week.
Rating: Five Hail Marys Out of Five.