Last night’s episode of The Exorcist was a bridging episode which opened up the second part of the season after the Halloween break. The good news is that this lets the show regroup and rearrange the chess pieces to move the story forward. The bad news is that this was, to date, the least focused episode of the show, and despite a few key moments, it’s hard to wrap our heads around a central idea of this episode.
In the aftermath of Episode 5, Casey–now possessed by the Salesman–is missing, and the whole city of Chicago is looking for her. Angela–sorry, Regan (Geena Davis) –is barely holding it together. Her daughter is possessed–quite apparently by the same demon that possessed her as a kid. Her mother Kris has tracked her down, and Angela’s been harboring years of resentment over what she perceived as post-possession exploitation. And Henry (Alan Ruck) is pissed off at her–his wife and the mother of his kids isn’t the person he thought she was.
Angela/Regan should be the focal point of the episode. The opening gives us a flackback to a teenage Regan on a 1980s-era talk show talking about her possession, and the host asks the cold question of whether she can ever have a normal life again. The answer is no, she can’t. She understandably fled her old life, convinced that her mom was selling her out for a buck, to what she thought was a safe haven with a husband and kids. But that’s just not possible, since one can never truly escape the past…now that both her mom and Pazuzu have caught up with her.
That said, we never really get into Angela’s head this episode, and it would have been the perfect opportunity to do so. We see Angela frustrated, distraught, and even taunted by Pazuzu in a scene that’s either a dream or a vision. But the scriptwriters never really give us a chance to see Davis’ character as anything other than a broken woman.
Part of this scripting flaw may be because the episode is also trying to advance other plots–specifically getting into the growing demonic crisis in Chicago. The Exorcist is starting to go full X-Files on us with Father Marcus (Ben Daniels) on a quest to find the missing Casey, with a little help from Brother Bennett (Kurt Egyiawan) and those funny ghost-hunter bus drives from a few episodes ago.
Oh, there’s a full X-Files conspiracy at play, with the show pretty openly revealing that Maria Walters and the Friars of the Ascension are behind it. The show had been hinting at it for awhile–Walters has been transparently pleasant to the point of it being creepy–but the show decided to just go ahead and lift the curtain tonight, showing that her group is sponsoring the Vocare Pulvare ceremony for the sake of summoning a demon. Seems this is a group of people who are openly into possession, and it’s admittedly creepy even if we’re seeing it way too soon in the series. (It’s unclear how long this show plans on going–at least two more episodes are scheduled.)
That’s all fine, but it has no thematic connection to Angela/Regan’s crisis, or Marcus’ determination to track down Casey, or Father Tomas’ (Alfonso Herrera) unresolved sexual tension with Jessica. (He’s trying to resolve it. She’s got a private place where he “doesn’t have to be a priest,” but he politely turns her down. He’s got a parish to tend to, even though it’s very clear that his libido disagrees with him.) Hence, when the show reaches its final minutes, with Marcus managing to find Casey and apparently completely exorcise her, it’s a payoff to absolutely nothing.
If the episode had any kind of theme going at all, it’s over Angela/Regan’s grief that maybe she brought her childhood demons into her own daughter’s life. If that’s the case, then it’s remarkably disappointing to not see her present when Marcus finally frees her from Pazuzu. Not that a mother can perform an exorcism in Catholic theology–but from a storytelling standpoint, the show seemed to be hinting that a mother’s love would overcome the devil’s transgressions. Instead, it’s just Marcus having one of his inconsistent about-faces where he flips from pride to compassion on a dime.
Oh, and before we wrap up, I’ll bring up one other near-miss on the show’s part. Early in the episode, the Rance family’s press conference–where a $100,000 reward is offered for Casey’s return–is interrupted by a black activist who’s upset that the press is looking for a missing white girl and not the killers of the eight black people way back in episode 2 (whose remains, by the way, are used in the Vocare Pulvare ceremony). This is a great issue to get into: inherent racism in our national attention on crime. The Exorcist had the chance to shine a light on a big social ill while still keeping it consistent with the show’s spirit–hey, the demons are igniting racial tension–but the plot point just comes to a thud after the commercial break. Maybe they’ll get back into it in future episodes, but for now, it was sort of forgotten as quickly as it was raised.
Don’t get me wrong–I realize that this show had to wrap up the Rance family crisis at some point (at least in terms of Casey) and move into the larger demon conspiracy at some point. It just feels like this was the wrong episode and manner in which to go about it. The Salesman has been the show’s top villain in all previous episodes, so getting rid of him–if he is gone–with a quick Baptismal bath was far less climactic than it should have been. Let’s hope the show gets back on track by next week.
Rating: Two Hail Marys out of five.