As much as I’m enjoying The Exorcist, eight episodes in it feels like it’s running on a treadmill. Every time we’re led to think that Pazuzu is done and defeated, he surprises us with a comeback. “The Griefbearers” isn’t a bad episode in a vacuum, but even with great acting and a double-surprise ending, the viewer might find themselves asking “Are we seriously still doing this?”
In a nutshell, “The Griefbearers” is the cast’s (seemingly) final showdown with Pazuzu as Casey hovers on the edge of death. With two priests and a nun being unable to accomplish much, it takes the intervention of the entire Rance family, particularly Angela, to bring her back. Not that most of them last very long. Pazuzu, ever the trickster, knows how to reveal information to set the family off of their game. He openly admits to causing Henry’s head injury and distracting Kat just before her car crash. And Casey herself? Pazuzu says he’s keeping her in Hell.
“The Griefbearers” continues to give us insight into Pazuzu, even if, in the end, there isn’t much too him. For an ancient entity, Pazuzu essentially comes down to a bully who imposes suffering and chaos simply because he can. When Marcus and Tomas can’t agree on a course of action and end up in a fistfight, the demon simply laughs and enjoys it. When Angela agrees to stay through the exorcism, Pazuzu gets into her head and opens her memories of the day they first met through an Ouija board.
It’s a pretty pained moment, when Angela demands to know why Pazuzu has been taunting her, and now her family, all these decades. What hurts is that there’s no dramatic revelation about Angela, no special fact about her that made her his target. It’s “because you were under my foot, you stupid bitch,” he tells her. If, up until this point, we were meant to think that Angela was some kind of saint-in-waiting that Pazuzu was looking to corrupt, we’re told that we’re wrong. It simply comes down to the fact that Pazuzu is an asshole and Angela just happened to be his target.
The flip side of this episode is that it also finally starts to open up Angela to the audience. One of the weaknesses of The Exorcist is that for all of Geena Davis’ talent, Angela hasn’t done much on the show beyond being baffled by everything that’s happened to her. It could be the problem is that in an era where “strong female characters” is practically a requirement, Angela remains a perpetual victim of Pazuzu’s torment. It’d be very satisfying if we could see a moment where Angela finds her inner strength and overcomes the demon herself. That never really happens here. Maybe we’ll get that in a future episode, but largely, Angela remains Pazuzu’s perpetual victim even when her daughter is finally, mercifully, exorcised at the end of the episode.
One other thing that’s bothering me is that the Pazuzu plot is pretty much divorced from the larger demonic conspiracy running through Chicago. The show is still covering that, with Brother Bennett’s investigation of the Friars of the Ascension being interspersed throughout the exorcism scenes. However, I realized this week that Pazuzu himself has had no connection to the plot to kill the Pope. Maybe that’s in keeping with his character—as a demonic bully obsessed with Angela, he doesn’t care about the larger issue. But it is kind of weird that the conspiracy is apparently the larger endgame of the show, but the focal point is the Rance family.
As it is, this week’s Exorcist ends with a few major game-changing moments. One is that Bennett’s bishop is in on the conspiracy, and he has Bennett killed (unless it’s possible to survive having your head stuck in a plastic bag). This is a shame, since 1) Bennett is the show’s lone major black guy, and 2) Bennett is awesome. The second is that Tomas’ adultery with Jessica is now known by Jessica’s husband, and he’s threatening to expose him to the Bishop. And the third is the closing reveal that Pazuzu isn’t dead—he’s now possessing Angela, and in a brutal act of revenge, kills her mother Kris. Like I said at the beginning of this review—every time we think Pazuzu is done, he shows up again.
The Exorcist is going on another break and will be back after Thanksgiving for its final two episodes (and then we’ll see if we’re on a mid-winter break or what). Frustratingly, we’ll have to wait until then to see where the Rance family ends up next.