So…I didn’t love season one of The Exorcist. I may or may not have abandoned the series before the finale (I did).
I was also, it appears, generally alone in my occasionally angry but mostly ‘eh’ feelings about the show, because everyone else seemed to love it.
My issues weren’t so complex I’ve given up entirely, however. Everything felt like it could be fixed or built on, and so here we find ourselves, ready to explore season two. Mostly because of John Cho. And Tomas’ new beard. And Father Bennett.
A quick recap; Season 1 ended with the final defeat of the demon Pazuzu, at last freeing Regan McNeil, and saving her family, from a lifelong nightmare. Marcus and (sexy sexy) Father Bennett managed to foil Maria Walters vague plot to possess the Pope (… ? …), a plan that doesn’t entirely make sense based on the show’s own internal logic about faith and belief, and the season ended with Tomas and Marcus heading off to kick Demon Ass, while Bennett returned to the Vatican to sniff out the last of the Evil Cabal of Evil.
There are a few flaws I do feel more confident calling out; The Cabal of Evil was baffling to me and felt tacked on to create some kind of bland social commentary. I’m still not entirely sure where the Rance family saga and ‘Mission: Possess The Pope’ actually align in the greater narrative themes. I felt the show’s attempts to raise comment on issues, like comparing possession to rape, or raising the questions on race and class, failed pretty badly.
And then … then there was Bennett. Bennett became an immediate fan favourite when the quiet and steely head of Vatican security revealed exactly why he got that job. His fighting, and exorcising his way around a basement full of possessed bad guys was one of the season highlights, and arguably threw him into ‘he dies, we riot’ heights of fan adoration. It also raised a question then that I still have today: if this guys is as he appears, the world’s greatest living exorcist, did he not have an hour spare to pop over to Haus Rance and lend a hand?
I mean … he spends two thirds of the season rightfully calling Tomas and Marcus incompetent when he could have fixed their problem, and somehow — the show wants me to think — probably his problem, all at once? I don’t know. Didn’t then, don’t know now.
That was where I left season one.
But … you know, John Cho, so welcome to The Exorcist season 2, episode one: Janus!
Previously on … Possession! Exorcism! Father Bennett Holy Hammer of God Almighty!
We open on a freshly bearded Father Tomas, and Holy Hell.
If he shaves, I’ll fight the Devil. He’s giving mass until he realises the pews are empty. The music and framing indicate quickly this is a dream. He follows the sound of playing kids outside, sees a series of children’s handprints on the walls.
Tomas looks like hell, sweaty, drawn and sickly. He stumbles to the eerie picnic where the colours of the kids’ party and decorations are muted by some strange bleaching effect.A pretty woman called Cindy, who Tomas knows, shows off a beautiful baby girl. The kids beat a piñata, while the music from the radio overwhelms the soundtrack. The cardboard donkey opens and spills a toxic looking black goo onto the ground. While it bubbles and seems to form a shape, the children run and scream.
It becomes a person coated in black goo, Casey Rance perhaps, or Cindy. Tomas looks to Cindy who is possessed and ranting.
Then Tomas wakes up and he’s … driving a truck down a road. Great road focus, Tomas. Marcus in in the back of a pickup with Cindy from the dream, and she’s possessed as hell. Tomas drives like a maniac while a Sheriff’s car races after them. One of the men in the car is Cindy’s husband, and one of the men in the car is shooting at the boys with a shotgun, but I don’t know who is who yet.
Tomas smartly uses the dust cloud behind his car to conceal taking the car off-road and out of sight, and their pursuers leave them behind. Cindy’s demon rambles while the boys bicker, as an excuse to cram in some exposition for new watchers; Tomas is Marcus’ apprentice and has been for six months and despite, you know, the entire events of season one, they still do not entirely trust or get on with each other.
Marcus heavily reminds us how terrible possession is which, we knoooowwwww. The boys speed off in place of … somewhere suitably creepy to do the exorcism, I suppose.
We hop over to Nachburn Island, Washington where John Cho is Andrew Kim, and he’s a grade-A foster dad. It’s morning and he’s rushing around trying to get the kids ready for the ferry, to get to school. He helpfully names them as we’re introduced one by one to The Goonies/Losers/Breakfast Club;
Truck is the big stocky kid who loves food; Shelby is mature and responsible and the only African American kid, who takes a second lunch for when Truck eats his on the way to school. Caleb is new at the home, blind and he and John are sassy about it. Verity is the girl and it’s Brianna Hildebrand who soared to pop culture icon status as Negasonic Teenaged Warhead in Deadpool, and HELL YES. She’s sassy too, though Andrew rolls with it because he’s a boss. A lady called Rose is coming to visit that evening, and the kids are tasked with helping clean house when they get home.
With the kids gone, Andrew goes to see little Grace, the youngest kid in the home. She won’t leave the house, perhaps her entire room, and gets homeschooled instead, but Andrew is such a great person he’s made her a lunch so she’s just like the other kids. If he dies or gets possessed and hurts the kids … show … Andrew invites Grace to dinner and suggests she can wear her disguise, a decorated pillowcase she wears as a mask.
Okay, trying to be sensitive about her coping mechanism, but that’s creepy as fuck and will clearly come back at some point in a terrifying way. Oh, and no one mentions, sees or speaks to Grace apart from Andrew. So there’s that.
Back in The Country, Tomas and Marcus are still delivering clunky exposition about season one, and about how Tomas turned down — I think — being made Bishop or something, to run off with Tomas. Marcus is still ribbing Tomas about the decision, even though, right, guys … Tomas is right fucking there and has been for six months. Are we going to spend time on this? Really?
Tomas describes his vision/dream and Marcus … Marcus who makes a healthy living exorcising real actual demons from human bodies, plays it down as a lack of sleep. Tomas does not opt to tell Marcus he had pseudo-prophetic dreams before learning Casey was possessed.
Cindy continues to be possessed, while these two chatter away. Marcus talks about how her organs are failing, orders Tomas off to fetch first aid supplies (… and also a doctor, Marcus?!) and there’s weird tension about it. When Tomas leaves, the demon starts playing head games with Marcus about how powerful, but corruptible Tomas is. It could all be lies but she calls Tomas a very beautiful man at the end, and, clearly that’s a fact like water is wet, so Marcus looks appropriately perturbed.
Back amongst the unspeakable beauty of Washington, the kids are telling ghost stories about ‘The Island Witch’. Verity tells them about The Witch poisoning kids, which is an update from the previous telling, where she hung them. She supposedly dropped the kids’ bodies down a well where the kids are now standing.
It turns out it’s sort of an initiation for new boy, Caleb who bravely stands on the rotting and creaking wood covering the old well, and must do so for ten seconds. He’s fearless about it, and Verity is letting him with a certain cold calculation about her. Shelby yanks Caleb down and they head off. Before they go, Truck kicks a ball into an old shed, and something eerie about the abandoned building seems to terrify him.
While I cry over more beautiful landscapes, we’re with a pensive Andrew waiting on the arrival of Rose Cooper (Li Jun Li). Who is at home with Grace? They greet with the awkwardness of old lovers, and it takes Andrew about ten seconds to say slightly the wrong thing about wanting her to stay around and help out, without their ‘history’ being a problem. But, she’s up for it. For the kids.
Cindy is having a lucid moment about how the demon possessed her by promising she could be reunited with her deceased baby. Marcus is trying to keep her focused and talking about her life, and he really is a sweet, charming man. He gets her to talk about how she drunkenly broke her ankle trying to impress her crush, and it worked and he was her high school sweetheart. CinDemon wakes up and turns the talk nasty, mocking Marcus for losing his dog collar and Priesthood. The effects on Cindy’s face get subtly, though absolutely chillingly, creepy. It’s like her eyes are just a bit too bright for how black her irises are. Nice work. Marcus has begun praying, gaining strength with every word, but the CinDemon chants and the room shakes.
It’s dinnertime on the island, and the kids giggle through Shelby’s prayers. Verity, or Vee asks inquiring but challenging questions of Rose. Vee fears Rose will break up the home, and throws shade at the absurdity that foster system kids are tossed out at eighteen, and end up homeless in distressingly high numbers.
Vee is three months shy of eighteen, hence her anxiety — couldn’t Andrew offer to just let her live there? How does it work? Caleb pipes up with sad hopes and wishes about his dad, and Andrew has to break the news Caleb’s dad didn’t come to his custody hearing that day … which means he is not likely to get custody. Vee tries to comfort him, but Caleb rages about his disability being why his dad has rejected him, because he’s ‘a lot of work.’
Fuck you, Caleb’s dad.
Andrew is amazing, though. He admits Caleb is in fact a lot of work. Work Andrew happens to love, because he thinks Caleb is awesome. He says it so easily, and I am in love with him. The other kids are delightfully like ‘I mean … you’re okay’, and pitch in to make Caleb feel better, and d’aaaw.
Tomas is out looking for first aid supplies for ORGAN FAILURE, and looks about as shifty as a human being can look. He’s right to be concerned because someone spots him and calls, presumably, the sheriff.
At the home, Rose is looking at paintings on the wall and is touched by one done by a ‘Nicole Kim’. She hears super creepy sounds, and finds Caleb playing with old records, playing them back as if to hear those mythological demonic voices from Rock and Roll lore. As Rose, silently, approaches the blind boy, he lets the record play and turns to … stare completely at her.
Rose dips out.
Andrew is looking at his own blog website, and is spooked by Grace. I just realised he’s the only one speaking to her or even about her, so far. He takes her back to bed but then hears Truck downstairs. He’s sleepwalking and has frightened Rose. Andrew explains Truck is on the Autistic Spectrum and as a result, sometimes sleepwalks. He needs physical contact to be calmed, and Andrew gently hugs Truck until the boy stills. Rose worries her presence triggered the episode as Andrew returns the boy to his room.
Tomas returns and Marcus explains Tomas’ vision was the demon, and warns against letting it in like that. Tomas unwisely thinks his vision means Cindy is alive and they can save her by actually letting the demon in a bit, then try to pull Cindy out that way. Marcus dismisses this, and leans on rituals and prayer, the way it’s always been done. Didn’t Tomas basically do this with Regan?
He did, and points this out and it’s obvious pride, and Marcus points this out. Tomas bristles at the biblical lesson. I am so confused by their tension. Six months they didn’t … talk? One time?
They again set aside their needless prattling to go and help the woman we have established IS IN ORGAN FAILURE.
As Tomas and Marcus get deep into the exorcism, the sheriff and Cindy’s husband arrive at the barn. Cindy contorts wildly. Marcus runs off to distract the sheriff and assures Tomas that in fact, he is capable of saving Cindy all by himself. By your method or his, Marcus? Hello?
Andrew takes Truck back to the room he shares with Caleb, and Caleb is gone — while his record player silently spins. They realise a window is open, and Andrew races outside to go searching. Vee joins Andrew in heading off to find Caleb, and Rose scores points with Vee by sending Shelby along with her, then taking Truck on her own search.
Andrew is in the woods and finds those creepy centipedes and bugs that season one audiences know indicate DEMONS!
Marcus is at gunpoint outside the barn, and the Sheriff and Husband of Cindy are genuinely desperate to help his wife. Marcus tries to reason with the husband, while behind and around them the air echoes with demonic screams. Inside, Tomas is fighting not to be dragged in to the demon’s web, but he decides it’s the only way and sets his bible down.
Outside, the Sheriff laments having to hit a priest. Marcus kindly points out he’s not a priest. Then he spits, and merrily goes to war. While Marcus and the Sheriff beat the the teeth out of each others’ heads, Marcus goes back to his weird psychic dream space.
When he passes the handprints on the wall, there are four. Interesting.
Andrew finds Caleb at the well, standing on the dangerous and rotting wood, and counting to ten, over and over. He might be sleepwalking, himself. Andrew slowly approaches, but Caleb is backing away and suddenly the wood gives. Andrew makes an incredibly catch and saves him and Caleb does appear to react like he was sleepwalking.
Andrew locks eyes with Rose, whose job is is to ensure Andrew is providing a safe home for the kids. Ooh dear.
In the dreamscape Tomas enters the creepy little Church from earlier, and finds Cindy in the confessional booth. He tries to speak with her but she just opens her mouth, and the creepy 50’s song comes out of her throat. Tomas is entranced; outside we see he may or may not be on the verge of being possessed. A hand comes from Cindy’s mouth and grabs him, but at the same time the Sheriff drags him away and frees Cindy. While Marcus observes Tomas’ with something like fear, a grinning CinDemon is carried away. I’m super into how much she looks like Casey Rance as she’s taken away. Possession erases your identity.
Tubular Bells kicks in as Andrew returns Caleb to bed, chasing off Grace, who never speaks and is still only seen by him. Caleb has his glasses off and his eyes are pale in a way that can indicate visual impairment or in this show, possession. The camera pans and we see the hands printed all from Tomas’ vision is a wall at the home. TUBULAR. BELLS!
And, that’s the season two opener.
I’m … not entirely sure how to feel about it yet. I’m a little miffed Marcus and Tomas are still at such interpersonal odds after everything they’ve been through, especially when they’re going to have enough trouble and conflict when they eventually travel to Washington, in convincing Andrew and Rose to let them help. I just have no time for superfluous conflict when a show already has plenty.
Speaking of the Island of Lost Children, I want to say it seems fairly obvious to me that Andrew is going to be the one who is possessed, and Caleb is a non-too-subtle red herring. He’s creepy so far, but all his behaviour is that of a troubled child. Even his father’s seemingly ableist reasons for abandoning his kid could run deeper than we realise. ‘You’re a lot of work’ could mean Caleb is actually trouble. Andrew saw the bugs outside the house and thus far, only Andrew interacts with Grace. In season one, they firmly established imaginary friends as demonic avatars.
But, we’ll see. It’s going to come down to whether season two relies on twists like season one did. First the Cat/Casey switch in the first episode, then revealing Angela’s true identity and then after that the murder of Chris McNeil.
As it stands, okay. I’m in for now. The Exorcist is available to watch now and returns on Friday 6th of October on Fox.