This The Exorcist review contains spoilers.
The Exorcist Season 2 Episode 3
The Exorcist Season 2 Episode 3 “Unclean” shows how to expand on source material. This episode goes far outside the original book and, at least in the main plot, looks at possibilities barely hinted at. “Unclean” also throws an odd twist on a recurring theme, that former Father Marcus is a renegade priest unfettered by the Holy Roman ecclesiastical hierarchy given to flights of extreme. And when they do it, they actually reaffirm his traditionalism.
The rites of possession have rules that must be followed. There is a progression. Standards must be approved, pre-existing conditions must be checked. Everything has a place and there is a place for everything. Whether you are looking for extreme power or a response to foreign languages, there is a process that must be adhered to. But what if you don’t? What does a priest, and the possessed person, truly risk when there is no possession involved? It certainly is a different kind of hell. In “Unclean,” Father Tomas, who’s never been defrocked, hasn’t questioned the church, hasn’t turned around his collar, wants to throw out the book and defy a devil who’s caught in this throat. Yes, he sinned. He gave into temptation, and he had fun doing it. But his faith was reaffirmed and his church is his rock. Marcus is too ready to toss that rock and smash demons to bits. Tomas always wants to hold back.
They flip this tonight. Tomas is convinced that a little girl who shows a lot of signs of possession is indeed housing more than an imaginary friend. At first, Marcus is pretty much on board. The kid failed her Spanish test, but it was a pop quiz and she’s missed a lot of school. She’s missed too much school for Marcus. He doesn’t know right away. It takes a well-placed state social worker to bring him up to speed, but he’s got a feeling in his gut that Tomas is grading the devil on a curve.
The kid’s pictures show she’s got talent. Her mom’s very proud. She’s worried sick, but she’s proud. You kind of get the feeling she’s proud of being worried sick. Munchausen by Proxy, the affliction that the depressing little kid who talked to dead people in Sixth Sense discovered while crashing a wake, is when a parent gets attention because they have a sick child and make the child sick because they get addicted to the feeling. What we have here is possession by proxy, and to hear Marcus tell it, that’s the biggest danger there is in the supernatural world: Natural evil. Say what you want about demons, they’re demonic, and you can count on them to be demonic. They have standards. But people? Who knows what evil lurks in their hearts? Not even the shadows.
But what gives the departure its brilliance is how it merges the shadowy mind with the subliminal biblical reference. The earliest roots of possession, spiritual or traumatic, run rampant in the testaments old and new, to the very garden of Eden. “Lilith, otherwise known as Lilitu (Sumerian for wind or female demon), gets a bad rap for being one of the most notorious ‘unfit mothers’ in history,” exorcism researcher Marie Bargas was the first to confirm after a string of rushed emails. “In some versions of mythology she is cursed by God to destroy children. Lilith evolved past the slaying of infants to the more sophisticated method of killing her children softly which is a form of revenge against an unhappy marriage.”
This locks the two exorcists on course for their trip to the island of lost children off of Seattle. We learn tonight that Andy Kim’s (John Cho) wife Nicole was driven to commit suicide, but we’re now not sure whether she was the victim of the demonic force that inhabits the island. Rose Cooper (Li Jun Li) knows the perfect place for the young newly dispossessed child. Of course, the concerned brethren will make sure that what they unleashed into the young girl’s psyche doesn’t have lasting mental repercussions. Also of course, they will come face to face with a demonic force that is hell-bent on the energies of birth. The malformed lamb delivery that was a centerpiece of last week’s show opened the small-screen cinematic window to evil, and this week a flock of evil birds flies through it. It’s going to be a very long time before a certain kid will be going outside to read on the porch again.
Now, to be fair, Tomas has reason to be concerned. The hallucinogen-induced demonic imaginary friend Tobias lives behind the little girl’s tooth. This is vaguely reminiscent of the “other” personality inside the psyche of the kid in Stephen King’s The Shining. Also, the kid did spew pea soup that looked so thick it couldn’t have come from a can. So we understand why he was so quick to jump to demonic conclusions. But as the cooler heads prevail in the states, heads roll in Antwerp, Belgium, under the concerned and watchful eye of Father Bennett (Kurt Egyiawan). Actually, it’s the tongues that roll right before the main satanic council of the Holy Roman Church does a little projectile vomiting of their own. In full color red that somehow clashes with the Cardinal’s robes.
Both the psychological detour and the international intrigue are departures that work as expansions on the universe of the original film and novel. We are fully in the world of the roguish priests and they are making their way through a world of their own. The scenarios do not seem contrived, even as they pull the players together. The Exorcist manages to keep an atmosphere of mundane inevitability in favor of a larger pull towards reverentially irreverent clichés. The biblical subtext is as subtle as the neuroses and psychoses masking themselves as supernaturally malevolent.
“Unclean” may not turn out to be the best episode of the season, but it is the most ambitious. We get more than character development, and plot movement, we get possibilities and explanations of the things the exorcists have been mentioning in passing. Why are so many exorcisms denied? Because something like this might happen. Why are the priests so slow to believe they are helpless? Because they’re human. Why is Marcus always right? Because he’s a pain in the ass.