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The Exorcist reneges on a promise, but drops a game-changing bombshell

Illustration for article titled iThe Exorcist/i reneges on a promise, but drops a game-changing bombshell
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Is it fair to let a TV show’s PR inform a review? Because after “Through My Most Grievous Fault,” I’m wondering if the episode would have been stronger if not connected to a promise that The Exorcist’s figureheads didn’t keep. Two weeks ago, a lot of hubbub was made about Executive Producer Jeremy Slater revving up audiences for a 43-minute “real-time exorcism.” He also hinted at it taking place somewhere especially terrifying. “What’s the worst place you could be trapped in Chicago with a demon?” he teased.

But tonight’s exorcism doesn’t take place in the Skydeck of the Willis Tower or a port-o-potty at Lollapalooza. Like so many other exorcisms before it, it’s set in a bedroom. It’s not in real time either, nor is it 43 minutes. In short, it does nothing that Slater swore it would. To be fair, he did make those statements at a Comic Con panel, a hotbed of wink-laced rumors to excite fans. Maybe Fox rearranged the order of the episodes. Maybe the studio asked for changes. Maybe Slater was being flippant. Or maybe the marketing demon possessing his soul simply told him to lie.


The thing is though, it wouldn’t have mattered if Slater never said anything at all, because the final shot of the previous episode, “The Moveable Feast,” still set up the show for something big. When Father Tomas and Father Marcus shut the door to Casey’s room after the drawn-out hospital ordeal, it represented a heavier weight; a significant dramatic shift; a signal to the audience that the series was done fucking around. Things were about to get real.

But when ”Grievous” starts, we’re already in the middle of a short time jump. The priests have been at the Rance home for two days, with little success. As they take a break outside, there’s a sense of resignation—not excitement—over the possibility of losing to the demon. We see them exhausted, but we never get to see the self-contained battles that made them so exhausted. And when they do finally continue with the exorcism, it’s only in short bursts, peppered throughout the other goings-on in the Rance household and the priests’ lives.


That’s not to say that the glimpses we do get of the ritual are bad or even ineffectual. Like almost all of its predecessors, The Exorcist embraces the tactic of exposition through action, smartly using its spectacle to feed the audience more information about Marcus and Tomas’ own demons. At one point, Casey takes the form of Marcus’ dead mother, brained to death with a hammer by his father when he was only a child. Elsewhere, it appears as Jessica, sending Tomas to his knees in a fit of temptation. When Marcus witnesses this, he orders his colleague away. Of course, Tomas retreats straight into the arms of the real Jessica, whose partner is out of town.

It’s here that “Grievous” pulls off its most interesting trick within the exorcism: using parallel composition to show each priest’s respective weakness. Tomas’ Achilles’ heel is being vulnerable to love, as exhibited by his succumbing to the power of the demon’s glamour. Marcus, however, continues to struggle with showing (and empathy), once again turning to his more combative side as he tries to choke the demon out of Casey. As we already saw last episode, that’s a foolish way to go about it (but hey, it worked for the other guy). That’s why the scene is shot in the same way as Marcus giving in to temptation. The camera cuts back and forth between the two of them—one fucking, one fighting—each locked in a similar physical position as the demon exploits the chinks in their emotional armor.


Although that’s fascinating from a thematic standpoint, the exorcism still lacks the visceral punch of many of the sequences in the past two episodes. To put it bluntly, all of these scenes could stand to be a lot grosser—more pea soup, more mouth spiders, more prematurely born birds. But aside from a black tongue and an unsettling claw growth, most of the exorcism—still incomplete by the episode’s end, it’s worth noting—involves little more than Casey screaming, thrashing, and scrambling up the walls. Even if “Grievous” hadn’t been positioned as the centerpiece of the season, its visuals would still be anticlimactic when compared to the CTA sequence in “Let ‘Em In” or even the hospital torture from last week.

But there’s still a trump card. Oh boy, is there a trump card—one that very much changes the direction of the show and is likely to polarize many viewers. In the cold open, Casey coaxes her father into the room to tell him a secret. Then, throughout the rest of the episode, the demon demands to be delivered another one of the female characters. The natural assumption is that it’s referring to Kat, but it’s likely talking about Angela. Why? Because she’s actually Regan MacNeil from the original Exorcist. We discover this after Henry confronts her about what the demon told him, throwing down a Bible addressed to “Rags” and asking her to confess. She obeys.


It’s too early to say if the show will handle this plot bombshell with eloquence or clumsiness. While I’m sure there will be fans who are done with the series after the revelation, a grownup Regan having to deal with her own daughter being possessed presents all sorts of compelling possibilities. For one, Regangela insists that her childhood demon was actually just an imaginary friend brought upon by dark thoughts and mental illness. She doesn’t refer to her trauma as a possession, but a “nervous breakdown,” likely blaming it more on Captain Howdy than Pazuzu.

Second, the reveal also heralds the arrival of her mother. Strangely enough, Chris MacNeil (Sharon Gless) echoes Father Merrin when she shows up on the Rances’ doorstep, clad in a long coat and fedora as she gazes up at a streetlight. Maybe this means the show will be doing something new with her character; that it’s not just throwing in an homage for the sake of homage. Because really, what exactly does Chris have to do with Merrin anyway, beyond just being in the same story? Maybe she’s an exorcist herself now.


We’ve seen it too many times before—a reboot that further bonds itself to the original without actually elaborating on it. Hopefully this isn’t that. After all, one could argue that the TV show has already elaborated upon the original novel and film, that its slow-burn character development has established fresh wounds we haven’t seen before in the world of the The Exorcist. Having Regan and Chris in this world could add to that. Or it could just be a case of same shit, different streetlight.

Stray observations

  • “Angela Rance” is sooo close to being an anagram for “Regan MacNeil.” Oh well.
  • I’d have to go back in check, but doesn’t Regan have a Bible in The Exorcist? I’m assuming it’s the same one.
  • I love how the franchise continues to flat-out ignore the events of The Exorcist II: The Heretic.
  • Speaking of which, I caught that on AMC the other day, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I remember it.
  • Reader poll: What would be the worst place in Chicago for you to be trapped with a demon?
  • Continuing the conversation in the comments from last time, what religious symbolism, imagery, etc. stood out to you all this week?
  • On the same note, no quotes jumped out at me, but let me know which ones you think should be included here.

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