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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The usual tricks are still compelling to watch on The Exorcist

Illustration for article titled The usual tricks are still compelling to watch on The Exorcist

When Father Tomas finally drives the demon Pazuzu out of Angela, it’s through a mixture of theme and methodology we’ve been seeing all season long on The Exorcist. The reaffirmation of one’s faith, the importance of family—none of it’s exactly revelatory.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not treated as such. As Tomas realizes how to defeat the mind-fuck incarnation of Father Marcus and the Rances discover that the best way to fight evil is with their (seemingly unbreakable) familial bond, it’s all presented as new information for some reason. Maybe that’s the point; this idea of how knowing what’s good for you and knowing how to put it into action are entirely separate things. And yet that doesn’t keep the final tactic of “I am a priest” and “We are a family” (excuse the paraphrasing) from being repetitive. We’ve seen this before via Casey’s exorcism and Tomas’ endless crises of faith.

Still—and please forgive the inelegance of this next statement—I kind of don’t care. That’s not because I’m a lazy TV critic or a pushover for blood and guts, but if the themes of The Exorcist’s first-season finale don’t feel new or unconventional, the presentation sure does. It’s chilling how the glamor version of Father Marcus in Tomas’ unconscious state never gets fully defined. I’m assuming it’s just Pazuzu in another form, but could it be the presence of another entity altogether?

Or, if it’s all in Tomas’ head, do the creature’s multiple blotched irises (and maggot-filled sockets when the force takes on the image of his late mother) mean that a demon’s physical traits have invaded his dreams and nightmares as well? The show never confirms any of this, and is all the better for it.

It’s yet another example of The Exorcist working well whenever it goes inside its characters’ heads, and it’s not the only time “Three Rooms” uses this tactic to its advantage. Through a fly-on-the-wall view of Angela’s brain, we get another firsthand glimpse of how demonic possession works (at least in the world of the show) and how to combat it. The metaphor is simple: Angela is in her bedroom—her childhood bedroom from Georgetown, it’s worth noting—and Pazuzu (in Salesman form) is trying to get in. As simple as that sounds, it’s a fascinating visual representation of “integration,” as Pazuzu keeps calling it—the final phase of possession where the demon fully takes over the body of their host. In other words, it’s the point of no return.

The metaphor also gets an extra jolt from The Salesman’s increasingly charred appearance. The costume and makeup department has subtly added more decay to his clothes and skin with every episode, and here, his flesh has blackened, his claws have extended, and his clothes are quickly devolving into ash. He’s unraveling as Angela continues to fall farther and farther from his fatal grasp. In a sense, that makes Pazuzu more vulnerable than before, which of course makes the demon more multifaceted, and thus, more frightening.


The concept of a complete unholy takeover having to occur in stages applies to the Father Marcus storyline as well. While he and Father Bennett are trying to escape so they can prevent Father Simon from killing the Pope (Bruce Davidson), he taunts Maria by calling her Renfield. It’s an apt comparison. In Dracula, the title character never grants Renfield the full powers of vampirism. While he keeps the inmate and former real estate agent under his influence, he also keeps him somewhat at a taloned arm’s length, never fully converting him into a creature of the night. If anything, Renfield’s a servant—created to be used and eventually discarded.

Maria’s the same way, and Father Marcus plays to that for his and Bennett’s rough-and-tumble escape. The difference is that, unlike Renfield, Maria hasn’t completely lost her mind (yet), even after the harvested-organ ash enters her system. For whatever reason, the evil isn’t been able to fully integrate itself into her soul. That leaves all sorts of possibilities open for season two (and God, I hope this show gets a season two). Does her partial cognizance cause her to second-guess her allegiances? Does it mean she’ll flip to the other side? Or will it only make her that much more desperate to enter Satan’s inner circle?


If The Exorcist does come back, there’s already enough fertile ground to explore these shadow-conspiracy elements. The first season remained relatively micro, taking a note from the source material and focusing mostly on a family being torn apart by evil and the priests who try to save them. The second season has the chance to go more macro, to dissect the nature of evil on a global scale. Why is it appealing to people like Maria?

More importantly, how do people like Father Marcus and Father Tomas reconcile its power? How do they fight it when they know that, in their dying moments (and, like everyone else on the planet, they will die someday), the last thing they’ll see could be a demon perched at the foot of their bed? Marcus points this out to Tomas, but he’s also pointing it out to the audience, too. These are hard questions and themes that are much different from The Exorcist’s first season. But even if it continues to cover familiar ground, I wouldn’t necessarily mind. As “Three Rooms” (and the first season in general) proves, this is a horror series that continually knows how to keep its story interesting, even if it’s a story we’ve seen several times before.


Stray observations

  • I was so happy to see that Father Bennett’s alive, and that the show decided to keep him alive for next year.
  • Father Marcus’ takedown of Simon has such a strong contrast with Tomas’ fight against Pazuzu. One’s all passion, vocalization, and faith. The other relies more on brute force.
  • More Bruce Davidson, please!
  • Having Pazuzu paralyze Angela as its final act feels like the right story choice. I don’t think she could have gotten away completely unscathed, but it makes sense that she ultimately prevails against her lifelong enemy.
  • “Poor little Renfield, left all alone to eat your bugs.”
  • “There’s no retirement here for people like us.”
  • That’s a wrap on The Exorcist’s first season. Although I’ve been a little quiet in the comments section, I’ve enjoyed reading what you all have to say, and I hope we get the opportunity to engage with one another next season. Happy Holidays!