“162” is easily the most Angela-centric episode of The Exorcist. To be clear, that’s Angela the vehicle for Pazuzu, not Angela the human being. Now under the control of her childhood demonic tormentor, she visits various allies and would-be foes around Chicago, throwing around her weight and laying the groundwork for next week’s finale. Some of her handiwork plays to the show’s penchant for unnerving torture and gore, especially a tray of baked goods she brings to Mother Bernadette. In a separate, slightly less drastic display of violence, she has to keep herself from choking Henry to death while initiating foreplay in the bedroom.

But while The Exorcist gets the superficial details right as usual—the blood, the music, the claustrophobic camera angles—the overall tone of “162” remains almost stubbornly one-note. Since none of Pazuzu’s enemies know exactly what’s going on with Angela for most of the episode, she’s met with little to no opposition from everyone she encounters. She makes a stop, does what she needs to do, then moves on to the next task. Outside of the final moments, the closest anyone gets to even thinking about trying to stop her is Father Marcus, who spends most of the hour following her warpath a few crucial steps behind.

On the plus side, this all gives Geena Davis a chance to explore the darker territories of her acting range. Before getting (re)possessed, her role as Angela was mostly relegated to playing tired and concerned—states that don’t exactly allow for a ton of complexity with the dialogue she was given. Here though, she gets to play against type, tapping into an arachnid energy as she coolly takes down her foes, lords over Maria and her cult cronies, and cocoons her family to be saved as later prey. There’s a reason her clothing’s more monochromatic and sleek. There’s a reason her hair is well-groomed and her lipstick has taken on a slightly darker shade than usual.

But the absence of pushback is only interesting to watch for so long. As Angela says of her trek around Chicago, “This is not a tantrum. This is a victory lap.” It’s an accurate statement, cementing the fact that the episode is more or less devoid of any palpable conflict. Despite the considerable number of power plays and character deaths, Angela manages to stay collected, never spiking the EKG meter of the storytelling. And because the episode is so focused on action (tonally static action, mind you), it doesn’t have an opportunity to dive into any of the complex religious themes or tough moral questions of some of the earlier chapters.

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How “162” ultimately ages will be dictated by next week’s finale. If the first season’s final episode is as batshit and emotionally rich as I have every reason to believe it will be, then it justifies tonight’s measured jog towards the finish line. It justifies another transitionary installment of The Exorcist. But if it flatlines, it will make “162” want for a little more variety, a little more contrast in tone, pacing, and character; a little more tantrum and a little less victory lap.

Stray observations

  • Between Tim Hopper as Superintendent Jaffey, Francis Guinan as Brother Simon, and James Vincent Meredith as Detective Lawrence, The Exorcist is really tripling down on their casting of Steppenwolf ensemble members.
  • Speaking of which, anyone in Chicago can currently catch Meredith in Roz And Ray at Victory Gardens.
  • Criticizing characters’ naivety in the horror genre is a big pet peeve of mine, but I do find it hard to believe that so many people would buy Angela’s lie about the cause of Chris’ death.
  • There’s something so brutal about trying to drown someone in a bathroom sink. It always makes me think of this.
  • “I’m not possessed, Henry. This is integration.”

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