FOX's surprisingly smart and scary The Exorcist moves into season 2 with a new storyline that evolves the series mythology in interesting ways.
Last year, FOX went all-in on the adapted-from-feature-films angle of its fall TV lineup, presenting two new shows, Lethal Weapon and The Exorcist. The move suggested that the network had learned absolutely nothing from Minority Report, an earlier failed attempt to turn a popular movie into a weekly network television series. To make matters worse, both soon-to-be-adapted films arguably held more pop-cultural significance than even Steven Spielberg's 2002 Tom Cruise sci-fi joint, making the endeavor seem like twice the effort in futility with regard to pleasing and attracting a pre-existing audience. But something strange happened: neither show was a complete disaster and the horror series based on William Friedkin's 1973 film (itself based on the novel by William Peter Blatty) wound up becoming an entertaining ride that expanded upon the horror-driven narrative in new and interesting ways, placing the series alongside other seemingly contemptible adaptations that proved to be far more interesting than one might have initially thought.
What originally appeared to be another story of demonic possession in a suburban household soon turned into global conspiracy with one very surprising callback to the original film as Geena Davis's Angela Rance revealed herself to be Regan MacNeil. That twist wasn't just a clever way of connecting the series to its namesake (making the show a sequel rather than an adaptation), it proved to galvanize the fan base, turning the story partly into one of demonic payback four decades in the making.
Beyond the callback to the original film, The Exorcist also worked diligently to establish an expansive mythology and shadowy conspiracy within the Catholic Church, suggesting the minions of hell had infiltrated the upper echelons of the institution. That flipped the script on the series again, as it soon became clear the Rance family was not the center of the story, but rather it was a trio of priests, headed up by the recently excommunicated Marcus Keane (Ben Daniels), as well as nascent exorcist Father Tomas Ortega (Alfonso Herrera), and their man on the inside of Catholic Church, Father Bennett (Kurt Egyiawan). The three became the foundation for a much more expansive story, one that, in true TV fashion, could conceivably sustain a series for several seasons as the promise of a larger scheme with incredibly high global stakes enhanced the familiar horror notes of an "old priest and a young priest" saving immortal souls hijacked by fiends from hell that was itself a recognizable buddy cop device.
To that end, Daniels and Herrera make for a strong team, the likes of which even Riggs and Murtaugh would be envious. And at the start of season 2, The Exorcist doubles down on the duo's on-the-road adventures, seeing them at odds with a rural community in Montana after a grieving young mother falls victim to demonic possession. Despite the fact that the men Keane and Ortega run into are written like shallow Red State nightmares – a distrusting sheriff and husband to the afflicted woman heads up a group of like-minded individuals ready to fall victim to supernatural horrors they cannot possibly foresee – the purpose of the half-finished case is to establish the new status quo and position Ortega as a sort of "chosen one" whose uncanny ability to combat evil may drive a wedge between him and his would-be mentor.
The evolving dynamic between Keane and Ortega runs parallel to Bennett's inquiry into church corruption and demonic infiltration, and the new story line involving John Cho and Deadpool's Brianna Hildebrand as Andrew Kim, the operator of a Washington State foster home, and Verity, one of his five wards. The three story lines will assuredly converge, but for the purpose of the season 2 premiere, 'Janus', The Exorcist is content to take its time establishing the circumstances of its new narratives before jumping headlong into the season's horror. On one end, the series creates a solid atmosphere of discontent at Andrew's home, as it becomes clear all is not well among the children or Andrew – a widower still mourning the loss of his wife. On the other, The Exorcist experiments with new ways to make the expulsion of an unwanted and unholy interloper a more compelling experience for the audience.
It's one thing to have a pair of priests holding bibles or crosses and shouting at the possessed, as the individual in question writhes about with green muck on their face. That's going to get old real fast. One of the ways season 1 combated this was to show the demon as a human-like entity, a vision only the afflicted could see, either in the real world or a hellish dreamscape wherein the possessed is a prisoner in their own mind. That gave the series some much-needed variation with regard to its depiction of demonic possession, and in season 2, creator Jeremy Slater goes deeper still, with a portrayal of Father Ortega's dangerous willingness to move back and forth between realities as a way to combat the evil and expel it from its unwilling host. This adds to the growing conflict between him and Keane as the former forbids his protégé from exposing his mind and soul to the enemy as that can (presumably) only lead to the sort of trouble that lasts for an eternity.
Were it not for the creepy sanctuary of Andrew's foster home and the evil that worms its way inside, it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to say The Exorcist season 2 has repositioned itself as a supernatural adventure instead of a horror series. That may change as the season progresses, but for now the shift only adds to the show's commitment to creating a foreboding atmosphere alongside a growing interest in the increasingly entertaining pair of mismatched demonbusters. The new season starts things off on the right foot, delivering a show that's much more confident about what it aims to be and how best to use its mix of action, suspense, and horror. That blend of genres keeps the series from becoming too repetitive and once you throw in a massive conspiracy plot set to become the series' overarching narrative, The Exorcist is set to surprise all over again.
The Exorcist continues next Friday with 'Safe as Houses' @9pm on FOX.