I didn’t mean to get into this show, I promise. But like a demon, you never see love coming until it’s too late. It all started so simply. I heard that Ti West directed an episode in season 2 (the current season) and because one of my goals in life is to be the internet’s known authority on all things Ti West, I watched his episode. It’s a great episode with striking imagery, and one that he really brings his strengths to. West is all about subverting genre expectations, so having him direct an episode where a possession is being faked makes total sense. But it wasn’t just that Ti West made a great episode, I ended it wanting to know more, to fully understand the episode in context. What I had seen in certain subplots in the episode was just insane, and I had to know more. I mean there’s a subplot where demons are infiltrating the Vatican, I had to know everything. So I started the show from the beginning, and all I can really say is that it’s bonkers beyond belief and I love it for that.
Season one of The Exorcist follows two priests – Father Tomas Ortega (Alfonso Herrera) and former priest/exorcist Marcus Keane (Ben Daniels) – as they investigate demonic activity after a Chicago family led by matriarch Angela Rance (Geena Davis) contacts them for help with their youngest daughter.
This show wastes no time getting weird. Within like 10 minutes of the first episode, Angela is convinced her daughter is possessed after hearing some funny noises. In like the next scene a priest pulls a pistol on another priest. The title for the premiere is a full-screen, blood red font with screaming violins scoring it. It goes 0 to 100 real quick. You remember that really terrible film Deliver Us From Evil? This show succeeds at what that film failed miserably at, which is that it makes an action show out of an exorcism show. It’s just really fun to watch, which feels like a weird thing to say about an exorcism show. It’s a guilty pleasure show that you don’t feel ashamed of watching because it does what it does so well.
It succeeds because it doesn’t pause to apologize for how ridiculous it all is, it just runs with it. One of my favorite things about the steroid era of television that we’re in is that we don’t need each show to be on the levels of Mad Men or Breaking Bad, we just need them to be good at being themselves. The Exorcist is great at being this bonkers, wild ride. Because it embraces its quirks and bizarreness, it can give the more dramatic elements the proper consideration.
The way they call back to the original film is actually quite interesting and lets the show exist on its own terms rather than slavishly beholden to the original. It’s here I get into spoiler territory, proceed with caution. The first season of the show is actually a sequel to the original film, as Angela turns out to actually be Regan MacNeil, having moved away and changed her name to escape her past. But now the demon wants her daughter. They don’t reveal this until about halfway through the first season, and the sequence where they do it is incredible. Angela/Regan is telling Tomas about her secret past and everything, while we cut to a reconstruction of the famous Exorcist shot of a figure exiting a car with the street lamp shining down on them to create a haunting silhouette. That person walks up to the door and knocks. Who is it???? CHRIS MACNEIL except the only letdown is that it’s not Ellen Burstyn reprising the role – but still it’s a great reveal the changes how you view the series. They also play the original film’s theme (Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells”) at the end of each season premiere – sidenote: I would be totally fine if they just played it at the end of every single episode.
You know how every superhero movie has that moment when the hero is getting their ass whooped in the final fight and then they have a moment of clarity and monologue about it with some awesome line and find some hidden reservoir of strength to come back and beat the villain? The Exorcist has that scene in the season one finale, and it’s incredible. The demon is projecting into Tomas’s head while he’s knocked out, and is taking the form of an evil Marcus telling Tomas he’s failed and he should just give in and stuff like that. Then Tomas starts monologuing with “You said I have nothing, you were wrong. I have love, I have hope, and I have faith. These things are not weaknesses, they make me what I am.” Marcus sneers, “And what’s that?” Tomas looks up, jumps from the free throw line and dunks it right on the demon’s face all the way back to hell, proclaiming “AN EXORCIST.” I almost passed out when I watched it. I called my roommates into my room so they could behold the glory of the moment. It’s one of those things you almost don’t believe you witnessed because it’s so insane, so you need another pair of eyes to confirm it.
Season 2 finds Tomas and Marcus basically like the A-Team of exorcists, investigating the cases that the church won’t which is a storyline that fits the show perfectly. They eventually find themselves helping out a foster family led by patriarch Andy (John Cho), who is still grieving the suicide of his wife.
The show takes some real strides forward in season 2. It’s much more certain of itself as a show existing separately from the film, doubling down on its action hero vibes and eccentricities. I mean, the second season starts more resembling Lethal Weapon 2 than any Exorcist film made as they are in the midst of a car chase with Tomas driving and Marcus in the back of the truck performing an exorcism at high speeds. It’s as amazing as it sounds. That’s how it starts, and as we’ve learned in the first season, it’s only going to get weirder. Like an episode later a possessed person threatens to slit a baby’s throat unless the duo stops exorcising like a suspect squaring off against cops on a cop show. The show also ups its gnarly practical effects – a table of possessed priests vomiting blood, a bloody defected lamb just born. It spreads them out over a few episodes, so when they do happen you really revel in the impact and ingenuity of them. The look of the season differs too in how they light it. In season one they muted the colors outside to an almost grey, and used a lot of one-light sources in scenes like cell phones and iPads. In season 2 the look is much more colorful yet still retains the core essence of the muted look of the first season in how they keep everything in shadows. And oh yeah, remember the storyline I mentioned about demons infiltrating the church via possession? It only gets gloriously crazier. They change their tactics and start possessing exorcists to try to wipe them out. I can’t wait to see how this plot influences what happens to Tomas and Marcus.
John Cho deserves some serious Emmy consideration for his performance in season 2. There are shades of grief and sorrow in each interaction he has, but a blanket of deep love he has for his family covers it up. It’s just a great mixture of emotions he’s giving the viewers, punching way above the expected quality of the show. It’s honestly some of his best work.
The only significant step back they take is in the show’s score. In season one, Daniel Hart (A Ghost Story, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) did the score, and it’s really effective. He captures the show’s mood with his theme song he wrote. The theme song is a wonky, darkly playful theme that really exemplifies the show’s popcorn vibe. The rest of his score is intimate and emotional, letting the dramatic moments of the show and its characters really hit and have an impact. In season 2, Tyler Bates takes over scoring duties, and his work just doesn’t have the same impact as Hart’s. You almost don’t even notice it, it’s just kind of there.
I have been possessed by this show, and there’s no coming back from it. The season 2 finale is approaching, and I hope we get a third season and beyond of this crazy show. God is real. That a show as insane as this exists is proof of his love.