Season 2 of FOX’s The Exorcist had something to prove, maybe even more so than its much better-than-expected first season that seemingly did the impossible: deliver an impressive television series that wasn’t just adapted from the enduringly popular film of the same name; it was a direct continuation of that story. But while the first season had the element of surprise, coupled with lowered expectations and maybe even a little animosity from diehard horror fans, season 2 had to contend with the bar having been raised. The jig was up, so to speak. The Exorcist had proven itself as more than just an attempt to cash in on a piece of established IP; it was a well-written, entertaining show with a pair of stellar leads in Ben Daniels and Alfonso Herrera that pushed the mythology of the original film in interesting directions.
As such, the second season couldn’t get by merely on the goodwill brought to the series by the efforts of the first. The response, then, was for series creator Jeremy Slater to first line up an impressive supporting cast that included the always stellar John Cho, Brianna Hildebrand, Alicia Witt, and Li Jun Li, and to take his two wayward exorcists out of their comfort zone (as much as there is such a thing). That meant turning the first leg of their continuing journey into a road trip of sorts, one that eventually settled down, and when it did, developed into an effective haunted house story that combined a spooky atmosphere — made spookier by the isolation of the Pacific Northwest island that was its primary setting — with the now familiar elements of a story about demonic possession. The result was a strong season that delivered on the theme of family in some powerful and, as the finale demonstrated, devastating ways.
After last week’s ‘Ritual & Repetition’ set up the season’s endgame with a series of bloody murders and by putting Verity and Rose directly in the path of the possessed Andy, ‘Unworthy’ had its work cut out for it -- namely, how could it reconcile the things Andy had done while controlled by an unholy presence? The answer, it turned out, was not an easy one, as the finale didn’t let anyone off the hook, least of all the guy who’d fallen prey to a rather vicious fiend with a penchant for turning fathers into tools for wiping out entire families.
In the end, Andy couldn’t be saved. The failure of Marcus and Tomas, and even of Mouse (Zuleikha Robinson) — though given her hardline stance on dealing with the exigency of their situation, her failure may be more one of ideology — to successfully exorcise the demon infesting his body and mind is a far cry from their encounter with the evil spirit plaguing the Rance family. Though Geena Davis’s Regan was left physically broken from the experience, her spirit (and life) was intact. With that under their belts, it made sense that Marcus and Tomas would venture out into the wild, combating evil wherever they encountered it, all while the great conspiracy within the Catholic Church was building in the background. Here, though, victory doesn’t come so easily. Instead it does so only with a great cost, too great it turns out, as Marcus calls it quits after taking Andy’s life to save Tomas (and, to be fair, eliminate the demon).
That leaves Marcus to presumably walk the earth, while Tomas and Mouse pair up to tackle the seemingly insurmountable task of cleaning the corruption — demonic and (presumably) otherwise — that has infiltrated one of the largest, wealthiest, and most powerful organizations in the world. It’s a daunting task, and one that will be made even more so by the fact that Father Bennett (Kurt Egyiawan) has been possessed, a dispiriting turn of events denoted by a terrific nod to the most memorable moment in The Exorcist III.
The notion of breaking up the band is a fairly common device for a season finale. Like the theme of family, it tends to be overused to the point that it mostly feels perfunctory, like it’s tacked on because it’s so easy for the audience to relate to and empathize with the characters over. But when used like it is here, the device does more than simply differentiate the second season from the first; it feels devastating because the story kept returning to the idea of family and these character's emotional connections over and over again in interesting ways, exploring not only how Andy’s foster family slowly splintered following the loss of his wife Nikki, but also investigating more of Marcus’ past, his feelings for Mouse and the horrible things that happened to her as a result. That’s in addition to the short scenes where Marcus found a brief shot at romance with Peter Morrow (Christopher Cousins) — a moment that resulted in Slater’s epic response to viewers who complained about two men kissing on television in 2017 — which, considering his sublimation of something similar in season 1 was a step in the right direction for the character, fleeting though it was.
The final two episodes also managed to bring Father Tomas back into the fold, though through less conventional means, which actually helped as, of all the characters, it felt like Tomas was the least serviced by the story on a consistent basis throughout the season. Instead, The Exorcist delivered a one-two punch in the final episodes, turning an unwitting Tomas into the reason for Andy’s escape, an event that also exposed the importance of Marcus’s approval to him. That, along with the return of Casey Rance (Hannah Kasulka) in yet another truth-telling hallucination, doesn’t make up for the character’s thinner than expected through line this season, but considering the direction the series seems to be moving with a potential third season, there’s plenty for The Exorcist to build off of here.
In all, The Exorcist season 2 finale capitalized on the characters it had built over the course of the season, relying on the consistency of Cho’s embattled foster father with a fairly harrowing sequence between him and Tomas that mirrored Geena Davis’s conflict in the season 1 finale. This time, though, it was clear Andy wasn’t getting out alive, and yet the knowledge of that from almost the get-go didn’t undercut the power of the moment Marcus had to pull the trigger. Additionally, seeing the kids reunited, with Rose as their foster mother, might have felt like too much, but under these circumstances it might have actually been necessary to help even things out a bit so that the finale didn't drift entirely into gloom.
There’s still hope for season 3, and Slater and his writers clearly have something in mind, as ‘Unworthy’ teases the conflict getting bigger and leading into the institutionalized corruption within the church. That, coupled with Marcus’s epiphanic tease in the closing moments, means there’s still plenty of story for The Exorcist to tell. Here’s hoping the series gets that chance.
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