Tonight’s episode of The Exorcist is curiously titled “Safe As Houses,” and the selection is a little funny, as it’s an old British term and not a piece of scripture or ecclesial Latin. It’s archaic, but appears to have something to do with safety and security, possibly referring to something being a sure thing. It’s more likely, though, that a show concerned with demonic possession has a more twisted application of the term.
“Safe As Houses” has three separate plotlines which, by episode’s end, all begin to converge with each other. The first is the continuation of the demonic story from last week in which Tomas (Alfonso Herrerra) and Marcus (Ben Daniels) are trying to exorcise a woman, Cindy (Zibby Allen) who became possessed following the loss of her child. Of course, we continue with the thread that Tomas is being tempted with pride, in that he can defeat the demon on his own on the spiritual plane, but at least for now, he’s sidestepped that option–although a clear temptation is presented to him in the climax, when a secret in confessional is offered to him. This is a clever twist and hopefully intentional on the director’s part: the contents of a confessional are sacred to Catholics, and whatever is in there, Tomas shouldn’t know about it. However, this show has offered temptation to Tomas in the past, and where he’s denied once, he’s been known to give in a second time. Expect this to be revisited going forward.
What this episode does very well is to play with horror’s ability to twist safety into danger, in keeping with the episode’s title. Much of the action is set in a hospital, where Cindy is taken by her husband when he interrupts the exorcism thinking it’s a kidnapping. The safety of the hospital–particularly the nursery–is very much turned on its head when the demon gets loose and turns a place of healing into a chamber of horrors. This is very well done, skirting the line between grotesque and fascinating, especially when Allen’s Cindy wavers between possessed and desperate.
Likewise, the parallel plots of the episode also play with “safe houses” being turned into places of danger. This episode takes a trip to Rome and brings back Brother Bennett (Kurt Egyiawan), who’s facing a Vatican tribunal for his accusations that Cardinal Guillot is now integrated with a demon. In typical “internal affairs” (or is that infernal affairs) fashion, Guillot is able to fake out the tribunal by apparently consuming a consecrated Eucharistic host. Bennett faces sanction, and the show overtly tells us that the Vatican is now under the control of integrated demons. This is kind of predictable, but The Exorcist really is a cop drama with a theological bent, so this kind of plot twist is very necessary. Still, the Vatican–spiritual home to Catholics worldwide–is now also a twisted house of sorts.
Lastly, we still have the story of Andrew Kim’s (John Cho) safe house for wayward children, which hasn’t yet intersected with Tomas and Marcus’ plotline…but it’s clear that’s coming when the mini-plot with Cindy wraps up. Caleb (Hunter Dillon) is showing early signs of possession, including a lovely scene with maggots, but it’s not clear how far the infestation stretches. What is known is that, unlike last season’s Rance family, it’s much clearer that something is very wrong, as a comfortable home for lost children is starting to get very odd on both a social and spirital level. Out in the woods, Shelby (Alex Barima) is taken to witness the birth of a lamb–again with the symbolism–which comes out very, very wrong. And in Kim’s home, family tension is starting to boil over with accusations that Verity (Brianne Hildebrand) intentionally left Caleb in the woods, when this was clear demonic trickery to the viewers. Again, everything that’s supposed to be safe and secure is slowly twisting into something much darker.
I would like to applaud The Exorcist for at least making a mini-episode out of the story of Cindy, while still running parallel threads of a separate threats at the Vatican and in the Kim home. Last season’s strict focus on the Rance family was good, but did require a commitment from viewers to hold out for all ten episodes. This season appears to be doing a long game as well, but working in a shorter plot which resolved in two episodes is a good change of pace.
Rating: Four cardinals out of five.