This The Exorcist review contains spoilers.
The Exorcist Season 1 Episode 3
There were a lot of harsh words to be said about last week’s episode of The Exorcist but I still had a little bit of hope. Maybe, I considered, they are just getting their bearings. It’s not easy to step into something so iconic. But now I am a little bit hopeless and well, frankly, disturbed.
Last week left off with the demon’s “posse” harvesting organs from a low income neighborhood. This week, the episode starts with a flashback to how Katherine got in the accident. We learn that she was in love with her friend Julia. Just before the accident she learns that Julia shares the same feelings. The opening scene is mostly just a mixed bag of Katherine’s face and Julia’s chest while they both talk about what attracts them to other. It’s past a crush and plays way more on the side of desire, which was so evident. The constant panning between Julia and Katherine was overkill.
It’s that scene which I think set the precedent for an episode that would be a constant barrage of objectifying women and putting them in uncomfortable and dangerous situations.
Katherine and Julia are talking about the things they find attractive when Julia says “Look at me,” thus causing Katherine to take her gaze off the road and crash. Katherine wakes up badly injured and calls out to Julia, but it’s met with silence. The camera then pans to a shot of Julia through a hole in the shattered windshield. Dead eyes open, face covered in blood. It was the coolest shot in the entire run so far.
Jump to the future where Angela is waiting to greet Brother Bennet, who we met in episode one, and the rest of the group preparing for the Pope’s arrival.
Angela seems a little less concerned with Casey this week. Instead, it is Henry who is really noticing something strange in his daughter. At the end of last week’s episode he notices Casey talking to herself — we know she is talking to her imaginary friend, the demon. This week, Henry seeks the help of Father Tomas to investigate deeper.
Father Tomas has enlisted the help of Father Marcus to find some evidence as to whether or not Casey is actually being possessed. Father Tomas tries to interview Casey. When that fails because Father Tomas knows nothing about exorcisms, Father Marcus shows up and gets the demon to appear.
Earlier in the episode, Casey and Katherine are shopping for Julia’s memorial. The demon shows up and convinces Casey to be more revealing. To be a beauty, which is another illustration of what I mentioned earlier. It catapults this theme of Casey not being good enough the way she is because she is sporty.
Father Tomas and Father Marcus go on a fact-finding mission through Casey’s room. While there, Father Marcus finds a makeup compact and he uses it as a springboard for berating Casey for being a tomboy to get the demon to come out. He basically tells Casey that the compact is suspicious because what would a tomboy like her need with a makeup compact. Then Father Marcus goes on and on, for what seems like a lifetime, about how Katherine is the traditionally feminine one so she is obviously the more beautiful one. Then he calls the demon out for being weak because he settled for Casey, the less attractive one, when he really wanted Katherine.
Women who don’t adhere to what is known as “traditional” gender norms are often looked at differently, and it is something that needs to be talked about. But this didn’t do it any justice in the way it needed. This just hammered it in over and over without Casey having ever expressed anything of the sort. The show puts her in plain clothing, makes her sporty and that translates to “tomboy?” They create and perpetuate a dumb stereotype to exploit a stereotype to then pass it off as social commentary.
Moreover, Father Marcus’ line to draw out the demon was “You couldn’t have the good one, so you settled for this.” The “good one” being Katherine and “this” being Casey.
But it doesn’t end there.
Later on in the episode, Casey, all dolled up in a low-cut dress, heads off to the memorial with her family. There’s a performance by Katherine’s old dance company to honor Julia, which makes the family emotional not only because Julia is gone but also because the accident shattered Katherine’s knee and she can’t dance ever again. Casey seems to be overwhelmed by something too, when the hand of the demon, supposedly to comfort her, reaches an old hand over her shoulder and, well, pretty much down over her chest.
At some point during the performance Casey runs out and Henry goes after her which leads to the climactic scene on the train.
Henry passes out shortly — remember he is still recovering from a brain injury — and somehow Casey gets separated from him when people come on the bus, even though she could have very easily just stayed in the same spot because there were both in the corner of the bus, but we will let that go I guess. Anyway a bunch of young men get on and one tells her he likes her dress. Casey thanks him and tries to get back to her father but the guy blocks her. Then in an extremely intense scene, the guy grabs her inappropriately and it is pretty obvious that if no one steps in he, and possibly the rest of his friends, are going to rape her.
There’s no out for Casey, when the demon shows up and instead of just normally possessing her and giving her strength to take on this guy, he instead kisses her. They kiss intensely for a while which gives Casey the strength to scratch out the bastard’s chest and break his jaw. Henry wakes up somewhere in the middle of it and calls Casey out breaking her from the trance.
This episode did not offer much, but the real issue was just how hard it was to watch as a woman. Whatever they were trying to do in the way of social commentary fell way short. The majority of the episode just told this really beautiful young woman that she was not at all attractive because she played sports and then at the end she can only save herself with the help of a creepy old man who touches her inappropriately and is also taking advantage of her.
I get it. I understand that the sad reality is how real this metaphor is for women. But there’s no relief, and they rip all the strength from Casey too. A narrative that is about family dealing with their issues and struggles becomes a story about a young women being used as a pawn.
In one episode, just one, they have her made up, her clothing changed, she is berated for liking sports instead of dance, for being the ugly sister, for being jealous of her more feminine sister, have her harassed, touched , almost raped, and then give her strength only with the demon.
Maybe the problem is that in this series the demon has a human form and so everything becomes man vs man and man vs woman. Maybe the personification makes possession to us vs. them. I don’t know. What I do know is that I had a very hard time just having to watch these scenes with no relief. It needed a breath a slow takeover. Instead there was this.
On the flipside of Casey’s story, there is a storyline running in the background that deals with the socioeconomic climate of Chicago and the way the violence has taken a toll on the entire city. Violence and poverty are two very real issues in Chicago at this moment and have been for a real time.
The very real message the show sends in regards to the issues facing Chicago is done the right way, unlike the social commentary with Casey’s story. The Pope is about to arrive in a torn city where there’s a clear divide that runs down the center of it. Father Tomas thinks the Pope needs to spend more time in the south side of Chicago. He makes the point that it’s in those humble churches that the faith is the strongest. However, the Pope’s cabinet doesn’t want to put the Pope in danger, creating friction but also dissonance for devout Catholics. The idea being that faith and worship don’t hang on how much money a person has, yet poverty doesn’t afford you any advantages within it. The poor, as devout as they are, are being penalized for humility and poverty.
Maria Walters, who we still don’t know much about, seems to be a philanthropist at the head of some organization meant to better the city of Chicago. She understands Father Tomas’ work and is dedicated to lifting Chicago out of the dark. I am assuming that the rebuilding of Chicago will play in, somehow, with the darkness that has infiltrated it. We have already seen the two overlap in regards to the brutal murders in the southside, but what is next? The two have crashed and it will have to be addressed as the story continues to play these stories against each other. Bring on the Pope!