Let’s give The Exorcist‘s showrunners credit: it seems that Season 2 is walking a careful line between a season-long narrative and a CW-style “demon of the week” pattern. Three episodes in, and it’s working. “Unclean” is, similar to episodes 1 and 2, a fairly self-contained story that allows the parallel plots of the Vatican conspiracy and Andy’s house for wayward children to develop in the background. Marcus and Tomas literally have a one-and-done encounter and then, seemingly, get drawn into the larger plot of the demon-infested island. This is the kind of storytelling that’s worked well on other FOX shows like House, where there’s character development and story progression encapsulated in fairly self-contained stories.
On the Team Exorcist front, it’s a clever change of pace as our priests investigate a little girl who’s showing all the signs of seizures and convulsions and very ill behavior in a house full of crosses and a desperately faith-driven mom. It’s a scene which, in a nutshell, resembles the Rance home from last season with Casey’s early signs of possession. Marcus is having none of it, determined to go through the formal paces of the Roman method of demonic investigation. (Seriously, the Catholic Church doesn’t just jump into exorcism–they investigate all signs of fraud or illness first.) Tomas is convinced, per a vision, that this is demonic. So much of the episode is a race between the need to save a dying girl and fight with Tomas’ own certitude that this is real, because hey, his vision told him so.
I’ve been comparing Tomas and Marcus to Luke and Yoda in terms of the arrogant student and the experience master who wants things to go by the book. Tonight, Tomas doesn’t quite screw up as badly as Luke. Things go badly at the investigation, as it seriously does turn out that there’s no demon, just a very, very screwed up mom who’s faking a possession for who-knows-what. But Tomas is shaken that his arrogance put the girl at risk, and Marcus, gently, accepts his humble self-realization. If Luke ran off to Bespin, then Tomas at least turned his X-wing around and went back to Dagobah.
Meanwhile, Andy’s home continues to deal with outward signs of weirdness and inward signs of pain. We don’t get any new scenes of Caleb vomiting up maggots, but there is a disturbing sequence where a massive cloud of birds goes Hitchcock on the house. Shelby is convinced that it’s demonic, and being the only apparent Catholic on the island, stands in the lake with a rosary to read scripture. (His scream to the dark forces–Stay back, I’ve got a Bible–is all at once comical and scary, but never cheesy.) This is an opportunity to touch on The Exorcist‘s themes of human pain–Andy is kind of pissed off that Shelby is invoking God, especially when he suggests that the demonic may have driven Andy’s wife to suicide. Mark my words, this is going to come up again.
Lastly, if you don’t like family drama and moms poisoning their daughters, there’s the international spy drama as Bennett is on the run from the Vatican’s corruption. He’s met by a woman–sorry, we don’t really get her name–who seems to be in the independent demon-slaying business, as she poisons and then immolates the possessed Cardinal Caro and his demonic crew after they engage in a particularly sickening defilement of the Catholic eucharist. Credit where it’s due–anybody who can pull a fast one on a room full of demons and make them explode is worth keeping on this show. How this plot will intersect with Marcus and Tomas in the long run isn’t clear–they’re off doing localized possessions while Bennett is caught in the heart of the storm. But it’s fun getting there.
So, not much to complain about here, and hey–credit to this show, they’re really working the horror angle hard as well as showing a sensitively accurate look at Catholicism. Bravo.
Rating: 4 murders of crows out of 5.