The Exorcist remains one of the all-time champions of the horror genre. The drama of the haunted family feels more like a deterioration by way of illness than possession. Further, the film was deeply rooted in religion. Given how spiritual many people are, this was sure to be especially affecting.
The horror isn’t just in eerie paranormal circumstances, but in the corruption of a child. It’s the ultimate horror story of family and faith, and it spawned an entire franchise. Unfortunately, none of the sequels or prequels captured the spirit of the original. So, it’s hard to believe—but the short-lived television series was immensely satisfying. Here’s how IMDb users ranked the best of that underrated show. Spoilers!
10 Ritual & Repetition - 8.4
This is a particularly memorable episode because it’s yet another intriguing visualization of a possession. It was always the primary weapon of the demon in this franchise to attack the mind. But what could that feel like, or even look like? This makes for an occasionally surreal episode, which luckily doesn’t get out of hand.
Given that this was the penultimate episode of the series, the show is willing to deliver some more unexpected ideas. And somehow, it always got away with its more daring storytelling. Also, it’s a relief that Marcus finally confronts his frustrating behavior.
9 Unclean - 8.4
The opening scene of this episode really lives up to the title, in full effect. It may be one of the most grotesque visuals on the show, besides perhaps John Cho’s beehive arm. The conspiratorial mythology of the series always felt a tad grandiose for what began as an intimate franchise.
The war of good and evil was always played with minds and hearts, rather than armies. Still, the storyline plays out with such enthusiasm, it’s hard to resist. The relationship with Rose feels surprisingly genuine, steeped in Andy’s grief over his wife. Although, the same could be said for any of the character development. Not to mention, those Hitchcockian birds were a real treat.
8 Help Me - 8.5
If there’s one element of a haunting that’s been most redundant on film, it’s the exorcism itself. Even the enormously successful Conjuring franchise started out that way. Perhaps such films have been paying homage. Or maybe it is simply the most popular method of resolving an allegedly genuine possession.
Either way, it was an incredible journey to watch John Cho’s Andy be reduced to primal, negative impulse. And the battle for his soul would result in an episode that predominantly consists of the exorcism. It’s the namesake of the show, so there was plenty of pressure. And by emphasizing character drama, it kept the practice fresh and engaging, despite all of its tired history.
7 Unworthy - 8.6
This was the series finale, and the tidy conclusion of a stunning, novel season. It’s the first story in the franchise to successfully break into new territory. Both critics and viewers alike seemed pleased, ultimately, regarding the show as a whole. It was decidedly a sleeper hit, which is a shame.
This episode’s resolution feels sincerely earned, rather than hackneyed. Sure, more than a few things were expected, but the execution is too effective to resent it. Once again, John Cho proves his range, and his final moments are quite touching. The sense that this story goes on beyond the end credits is bittersweet. It was a well-crafted show, featuring superb performances, effects, and a crucial emphasis on faith and drama.
6 One For Sorrow - 8.7
The adoption storyline in season two handled a sensitive topic, and even some familiar ‘tropes’, with deft hands. There’s a very convincing relationship among the family, led by John Cho’s compelling and sympathetic protagonist. The previously possessed girl is introduced to her new home, here, and the nuanced character moments are terrific.
Of course, it’s probably the surprisingly unpredictable twist about Grace that’s on everyone’s mind. It was definitely some clever slight of hand, that Andy was only imagining Grace from the beginning. Most importantly, it isn’t a mere gimmick. This revelation absolutely fits Andy’s grief, which is the core of this season.
5 Chapter Ten: Three Rooms - 8.7
Ah, yes, “the power of Christ compels you” is finally revisited. Due to its repetition, and significance to the finale of the original film, it’s perhaps the most famous line of the franchise. And the fan service is absolutely earned, for this season one finale.
The title refers to some blatant symbolism, regarding the number three. But the tribulations themselves are quite interesting. And the weight of the original film, which this series connected to, amplifies the suspense for a hopeful conclusion. To play with the continuity of the original film is a dangerous game, but the show ultimately delivers. Even as Marcus saves the Pope’s life, which could otherwise seem pretty cheesy.
4 Chapter Eight: The Griefbearers - 8.7
The demon possessing Casey gets a lot of leg work in this episode. She antagonizes her family a great deal, preying on everyone’s darkest history, testing the willpower of adult-Regan. The flashback of her childhood experience with the ouija board is great fan service, because it’s relevant and emotionally meaningful.
It’s always satisfying when fan service can transcend tackiness. But most of this episode is an exorcism, which the fans clearly enjoy most. The meta dialogue when Casey attempts to spin her head around is a bit much, but guiltily entertaining. It’s neat that all seems resolved near the end of the episode, only for the rug to be pulled from under our feet.
3 Chapter Five: Through My Most Grievous Fault - 8.7
It isn’t hard to believe that this early episode’s surprising twist ending would rank so high. After all, the primary reason studios purchase intellectual property is to capitalize on the pre-established fanbase. And for fans of horror, The Exorcist was a crowning achievement. It set a high bar, by which other genre films could be measured.
One would expect the writers to safely distance themselves from such precious continuity. But they bravely embraced the task, and unexpectedly live up to it. But that aside, the story itself is largely entertaining, with decent character development and spiritual battles. The demon’s manipulations are certainly intriguing to follow, despite its tired history.
2 Chapter Nine: 162 - 8.8
The inevitable happened—the demon finally reclaimed Regan. A flashback briefly reveals when exactly this happened, which is moving, although unnecessary. It’s important to note that the performances have been completely on point, befitting the gritty atmosphere. It’s fortunate that the show took itself so seriously, and always thematically expanded. Also, it was a bold move to separate Marcus and Tomas.
But somehow, the former’s grandiose adventure to foil a Pope assassination never interfered with the show’s atmosphere of horror. More than most episodes, this one juggles a lot of characters, pulling everything to a head. The sheer volume of plot and drama, packed into the runtime, is impressive and clearly resonated well.
1 Darling Nikki - 9.0
The psychological oppression on this show has always been tangible, thanks to sharp writing and compelling performances. John Cho alternates between sympathetic grief and chilling menace at will. The interrogation of his character resulted in some of the best suspense the series could offer. Without so much as a single jump scare. That verbal tennis match alone is winning enough to earn the highest rating of the show.
The introduction of Nicole was quite appropriate, after learning that Grace was simply a manipulation. Now that Andy is weakened, the demon moves in for the jugular, directly confronting his grief. But the mystery of the island itself is also revealed, and once again, the show takes conceptual spectacles and makes them feel intimate. The demons are never the worst enemy, only the manifestation of crippling personal issues. And that is the strength which makes this show such an enduring piece of fiction, even past cancellation.