So, the physics of The Exorcist are becoming a little clearer this season: the demons very openly play off of human vulnerability; whether that’s fear, anger, loneliness, or any other human weakness. In our pain, we really need to be reaching out to the other; the demon becomes a cheap substitute for that, but damn (no pun) if it doesn’t know how to make itself appealing. This is all backdoor shenanigans to go cause more demonic rampage nonsense, of course.
With Season 2 taking a step away from the broader mythos to explore a localized demon, The Exoricst has become a season-long exploration of a horror movie. I don’t mean that in the visceral sense, but in the sense that it’s playing off the “ongoing curse” that you’d see in movies like The Ring where there’s a lurking, ancient evil that carries out repetitive activity and the poor sucker in the movie is the latest victim. Right now, that’s Andy (John Cho), and “Help Me” gives us a distorted look into his mind to give clues as to how the demon got in.
Andy is tied down for his badly-needed exorcism, but on the inside, he’s reliving what went wrong and experiencing a funhouse version of what could have gone right. It seems that his late wife Nikki (Alicia Witt) just walked off into the lake one day and drowned herself, and worse, Andy caught the clues too late and wasn’t able to save her. Demon-Nikki (still played by Alicia Witt, who has to very carefully play the part of a demon impersonating a beloved dead wife) yo-yos Andy in-and-out of that tragic day, reminding him that he didn’t see it coming, could have saved her, and maybe he’s just distracted by all those damn kids they’ve had around the house.
This is a particularly harsh mental landscape for Andy, because there’s real human emotion at work that’s being distorted by an ancient creature that wants to take advantage of that. Andy has to remind himself that this wasn’t his fault, that depression is a chemical imbalance and Nikki just went the wrong way one day. So the demon has to try a different track: blaming the kids.
Thus far, the show has portrayed Andy as a grieving dad doing his best with a house full of messed-up foster kids, but things seemed tolerable enough. In truth–parents watching this will know–kids can be anything but. Demon-Nikki plays off of bad family memories showing moments where the kids were awful: Truck and Caleb barging in on the parents’ romance; Shelby messing up during the scattering of Nikki’s ashes; Verity calling Nikki just as bad as her biological, abusive mother. Try as Andy might, Demon-Nikki makes a serious effort at convincing him that he could get back to his happy romance if those kids were just gone. And remember: the curse of this island is that parents go nuts and kill their young.
Climactically, we end up in a terrifying sequence where Tomas and Marcus are trying to bring Andy out of this, and the demon distorts his perception of what’s going on. (One thing I never want to see again is a demonic Alfonso Herrera doing the Linda Blair headspin.) As we saw with last season’s exorcisms, the rite has a tendency to cause pain to the host. So in a twist of the self-sacrifice of marriage, Demon-Nikki takes a dose of holy water for Andy’s sake, letting him know that she can free him from the pain.
“Help Me,” then, is so titled because it’s the plea Andy makes to the demon, not to God. And so, the episode ends with Andy, if not integrated, then very close to it.
Rating: Four flashbacks out of five.