The great stories, at their heart, tend to be love stories. The Bible is a love story. Star Wars is a love story. And now The Exorcist is a love story too…one which happens to mash up the best parts of the Bible and Star Wars, which just makes it all the better.
No, seriously, they’re love stories. Any rudimentary theologian will tell you that the Bible is about the love God has for the human race. Star Wars, cheesy at it sounds, really transforms from an adventure story to a story about love over the course of the original three movies. A New Hope is about a farmboy’s journey to defeat a giant weapon, sure, but by the third movie, the giant weapon is really secondary to the plot. But by Return of the Jedi, the giant superweapon is really background noise in the story. We know the big scary beast can be defeated. The story is now about the farmboy trying to defeat the beast within himself, and moreover, whether he can help his lost father do the same thing.
“Three Rooms” is The Exorcist‘s ultimate episode, definitely for the season and possibly for good. (We’ll discuss the show’s future fate in a bit.) Out of necessity–this show might be gone next year!–it’s left with the task of tying together all the various plots in a way that’s satisfying, and yet still leave the door open for renewal. That’s a tall order with only an hour-minus-commercials left in the story, yet beautifully, it gets there.
When we left off, our heroes were utterly–pardon my language–fucked. The Rances were held hostage by their Pazuzu-possessed mother (Geena Davis), Marcus (Ben Daniels) was captured by the Friars of the Ascension, the Pope’s assassination is imminent, and our only hope lay in Tomas (Alfonso Herrera) finding a vague clue left by God about what was really going on. Charged with his mission, Tomas confronts Pazuzu as he’s about to go full Jedi–sorry, priest–on the demon.
The “Three Rooms” title represents the parallel stories that run through the episode as our heroes are pressed to choose between tortured death or surrender to the demons. Tomas may be willing to be a
Jedi priest, but he’s not able as Pazuzu knocks him out and gets into his head for a moral torture session in a mental recreation of his childhood home in Mexico. Across town, Marcus is physically tortured in a warehouse by the Friars. Marcus and–surprise, Bennett is still alive!–throw down the gauntlet with a “go ahead and kill me” speech, but Brother Simon taunts that martyrdom is easier said than done, and a slow bleed might convince them to just cave in and accept a possession themselves.
And the third room? Turns out that there’s a bit of Angela’s soul still alive in her body, hiding in a symbolic room of her own. Pazuzu’s integration just isn’t complete with that last bit of Angela still in there, and even as he fights the Rances on the outside and Tomas inside his own mind, he’s also trying to convince Angela to come out of her own hiding place to make the possession complete.
Much of “Three Rooms” is just plain tortured, and I don’t mean that in the sense of “bad writing.” Rather, Pazuzu and his cohorts engage in acts despicable enough to make The Walking Dead‘s Negan blush. We shouldn’t be surprised: these are demons. First they tempt with pleasure, and then they tempt with pain. So half of this episode is peppered with brutal segments of our villains doing everything they can to break our heroes. Tomas is shown how he failed his grandmother, how she died painfully sick in her bed, and how every lie and omission he’s ever made results in him being a failure of a person. Marcus is reminded that he’s been abandoned by the Catholic Church–how they took in a scared boy, used him for exorcism, and excommunicated him when he no longer cut it. And Angela? She gets to listen as Pazuzu puts her family through a version of Russian roulette involving “spin the hammer.”
This is, frankly, sick stuff. It’s sick with a purpose, and I’ll credit The Exorcist‘s producers for making the scenes so deliberately torturous while still not making them gratuitous. It doesn’t quite cross into the “torture porn” territory that The Walking Dead has suffered from this season, but it comes just close enough to make it believably engaging.
What saves the cast of our show–predictably, but really, there’s no other way to do it–is love and grace, and a heavy dose of humility. Marcus cannot be broken by temptation because, long ago, he saw the face of God during his first exorcism and knew that this is who he is meant to be. They can kill him, but Marcus cannot deny who he is supposed to be. Tomas, too, in being shown all his sins, also comes to remember that he’s been offered faith, hope, and love through the grace of God and the friendship of the Rances. And Angela, too, in being tortured by Pazuzu for so long, finally comes to realize that she has an inner love for both herself and her family that she’s been hiding from for too long.
The characters all discovering their inner sense of love and purpose may be hokey on paper, but it’s what makes good fiction and it just pays off oh so well when you see it done right on the screen. Marcus, Tomas, and Angela all get their equivalent of that moment where Luke Skywalker throws down his lightsaber and says “I am a Jedi, like my father before me.” (If Tomas’ “I am an exorcist” moment isn’t a homage to “I am a Jedi,” it’s damn close to one.) These characters have run the gauntlet, come out the other side, broken and bruised, and, before our eyes, become who God has intended them to be. It’s very well done, and kudos to Ben Daniels, Alfonso Herrera, and Geena Davis for each pulling off the same performance and making it believable each time.
(Oh, and additional credit to Alan Ruck, Hannah Kasulka, and Brianne Howey, for portraying a husband and two daughters who remain by Angela’s side to the bitter end, right down to the final exorcism and death of Pazuzu. And credit also to Robert Emmett Lunney for compellingly playing the part of an ancient evil right down to its final death throes. I don’t mean to downplay any of these actors–there is just too much damn good stuff in this episode to write about all of it.)
Unsurprisingly, everything works out fine in the end. I told you, The Exorcist is like Star Wars–the big, physical threat becomes irrelevant by the end of the story, because the main battle is a moral one over the human heart. Tomas saves Angela from Pazuzu, Marcus saves the Pope from the Friars. But you knew it would turn out that way. The good love stories always do.
That leaves up in the air the final fate of The Exorcist itself. Season One is brought to a mostly satisfying conclusion, and with Pazuzu dead, it appears that the character of Angela Rance/Regan MacNeil can finally be retired in a good place. There’s a lingering plot thread left from the climax involving some stray demons, setting the stage for Season Two if the show is renewed. Most importantly, room is left for further development of Fathers Marcus and Tomas, with the latter asking the former to take him on as his
Jedi Exorcist apprentice.
But absent those final threads, The Exorcist has had a very good run in the scope of these ten episodes. With only two episodes that were relative misfires, the season as a whole has been a wonderful expansion of an old book and movie, and has done an excellent job of taking religious elements and making them accessible to theists and non-theists alike. If The Exorcist comes back for a second season–an open question at the moment–it will be very welcome.
Rating: Five rosaries out of five.