At first, I worried that this season of The Exorcist was going to revolve around a theme of “family” as Season 1 did, in which case, it wouldn’t be particularly original. Nine episodes in, and the show finally seems to be taking shape as being concerned with “failure” as a theme, and moreover, how we respond to failure as humans, towards both other humans and ourselves.
Situationally, the story hasn’t progressed much, except for a massive turn for the worst at the end (we’ll get back to that). Andy (John Cho) is tied up in his room for his ritual exorcism, of which Tomas (Alfonso Hererra) and Marcus (Ben Daniels) are having a rough time and a limited clock. Rose (Li Jun Li) needs to get Andy’s foster kids the hell off the island as they become increasingly despondent that their adopted dad is lost. This is escalated by Verity (Brianne Hildebrande)–the family cynic–losing hope that she’ll ever have a dad, a home, a career, or anything worth living for, and that she’ll end up dead in a gutter. And elsewhere, Mouse (Zuelikha Robinson) carries the wounded Bennett (Kurt Egyiawan) to a hospital as he’s bleeding out from his attack earlier. In other words, the entire cast is in a state of hopelessness, probably well-timed with only two more episodes after this one.
“A Heaven of Hell” largely focuses on the individual failings of the characters, the moments in life in which they truly f—ed up. The demons on The Exorcist consistently probe for the weak spot in the human soul, and then seek to exploit it by making the characters feel worse about it, leaving them in a state of despair which makes them spiritually or physically vulnerable.
Take Mouse, the lady exorcist who’s remained an enigma thus far this season. We learn, finally, that she was a postulate in an abbey who knew Marcus during one of his ongoing exorcisms. Her failure was twofold–as a nun, she and Marcus engaged in some heavy flirtation: never crossing the lines of Church vows, but enough of the temptation was there. Second, she admired Marcus to an extent that she attempted to imitate him by trying an exorcism herself. She failed, became possessed in the process, and Marcus failed to exorcise her and another priest had to step in when he ran off in shame. Ouch.
There’s a ritual sense of failure that’s been haunting the characters ever since which is transparent in their ability to talk about them. Mouse was chastised by the priest who exorcised her, essentially for “poking around where she didn’t belong”…obviously, on two levels. That’s stuck with her, and now the demon she confronted a few episodes back is poking at that hole in her soul. Marcus, for his part, is clearly poking himself, although Andy’s own demon isn’t helping things. In that regard, Mouse is something of a fallen Anakin Skywalker to Marcus’ Obi-Wan, with Tomas as the newer Luke, a chance to start over (and, based on hints, a risk for being corrupted as well).
Andy, too, has been cracked by his failure. It’s clear that he feels guilt over just not catching what drove his wife to suicide, so no wonder he’s so eager to take her back, even in demonic form. The demon, after all, is offering him a perverse, pale imitation of what he lost. There’s no forgiveness here, just a falsified removal of what he did.
It’s Verity’s sudden turn that reminds us of how failure should be addressed. Her despondency, unexpectedly, turns into resolve to confront the demon for herself when Marcus suggests one of the kids be used as bait to bring Andy back. Verity, for her part, admit that she’s a failed kid who poked back at her foster parents because she didn’t believe anyone could love her. They still did. And now she’s reaching back to Andy to let him know that whatever else has happened, it’s OK.
Which, honestly, is the better angels response to human failure. We’re living in an astonishing era of bad human behavior lately, and it seems like new people are dropping, every day. There’s something fundamentally broken in so many people, and we’re just becoming more and more aware of it. Rightfully, bad behavior needs to be quashed. But maybe we’re missing that next step in healing the individual, because nobody seems to seek an end to things past destruction. I don’t know. I do know that at least where The Exorcist is concerned, the characters seem at their strongest when they admit they’re at their weakest. Verity finally opened up to Andy, and Marcus has a final romantic exchange with Peter, and both of them are grateful for genuine, human contact with the other which joins their pain to each other.
Now, the episode does end with an extremely disturbing twist, and kudos, again, to this show’s directors for making things tense or creepy where needed. Tomas, too, has been in need of that human acceptance as he progresses in his
Jedi Exorcist skills, and tonight, he earns it, with Marcus finally telling him he’s made it. Or so we think…because Demon-Andy has put Tomas in his own fantasy, one in which Marcus and he are powerful exorcists together. Demon-Andy, meanwhile, has escaped to capture Rose and Verity, and next week’s previews show that he’s still determined to kill its next family.
Rating: Four ferryboats out of five.