This The Exorcist review contains spoilers.
The Exorcist Season 2 Episode 7
The Exorcist, season 2, episode 7 “Help Me,” takes place entirely during the performance of an exorcism, but that doesn’t limit its focus. Most of the episode unfolds from the perception of the possessed, Andy (John Cho), and that is a forced perspective at best. In the twisted psychology underlying spiritual hijackings it’s hard to tell the angels from the demons.
The devil’s got her hooks in the poster-boy foster parent, and she’s playing with his memories. Through flashbacks and fantasia we see more than spiritual battles playing out in Andy’s head. He has equal weights of responsibilities, guilt and blame on his shoulders, and is fighting to retain what’s real from what the demon is putting into his head. Most of the demon-inspired memories are far better options than staying in that room, tied to that bed, with men of faith Father Tomas (Alfonso Herrera) and ex-father Marcus Keane (Ben Daniels) yelling at him. That’s torture the likes of which is usually reserved for hell itself. When Nicole (Alicia Witt) appears on the pillow next to Andy, relaxing his troubles and focusing his mind, we can fully understand the temptation to nod off into the alternate reality.
Of course, Andy’s much too observant a parent and husband, and catches most of the subtle manipulations seducing his decisions. He catches a little hint here and there to distinguish the woman he loved from the alien soul impersonating her, or the fantasy child who first held out her hand in diabolical understanding after his wife died. Nikki’s demonic outbursts belie her urban roots as she shoots him with her fingers much the same way Harvey Keitel fantasized about popping his girlfriend in Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets. But here it has much deeper subliminal effect. Andy slips into immediate unconsciousness and wakes up in a memory without the compass of reality. With or without the ADR effects, Cho easily parses the demonic frustration from the human anger, and offers empathy for both.
Bring her back, bitch, Andy screams at almost-lover and possible betrayer Rose Cooper (Li Jun Li) when his paranoia outgrows his head. Really, Andy, is that the best you got? Think of all the things little 12-year-old Regan got to say when she wasn’t spewing bile a couple hundred miles an hour. Andy’s fully grown and already proved himself a belligerently restrained host after a little wine. We buy the stifled outburst of the demon because Andy does seem to be good enough a person to curb the worst impulses. He genuinely comes across as a nice guy. What’s not to like? He immediately says yes to taking in the thick-skulled goth kid Verity. He consistently and casually puts other people’s needs ahead of his own. He remembers only the good outcomes, never the bad detours. He can be trusted, and for the most part, counted on.
But not when Nikki needed him the most. This is where the guilt comes in, and it might even be stronger than Catholic guilt. Andy blames himself, a little bit because he didn’t get to the lake in time, and a little bit because he didn’t see the signs that Nikki was suicidal. He is not only a failed husband but a failed therapist, and all because he is always, first and foremost, a devoted father. This is where most of the old school thriller suspense is built. The scene where the kids hold Andy back from saving Nikki is haunting and sad. The scene captures the root cause of Andy’s guilt but never loses that Children of the Damned vibe. Kids are spooky, whether they’re wearing masks or not.
You don’t remember what those kids were like, Nikki reminds Andy, before she drops another subtle shadow onto the encroaching darkness. We get a hint there is something off about the kids being in the garden the first time Nikki mentions it, but we brush it off. That tingle is part of the collective subconscious in fear that goes back to how the contrary Mary got her garden to grow. The payoff comes in broad daylight and doesn’t lose a bit of bite as Nikki is internally tagged the demon. Then the devil evokes sympathy. We don’t only see the devil from the outside form of Nikki. We get a peek at the devil peering out through Andy’s eyes.
In the eyes of the devil, god is pretty scary, and so are its righteous ways. The demon inside Andy sees two red-eyed men of god, one frothing at the mouth, the other so malicious the air around him turns to stench. The men of god are burning at the flesh, demanding the demon leave. The relative peace the demon found on this almost remote island is threatened with a clerical eviction notice. The Christians are as vicious and single-minded as the administers of the Inquisition to the prone antichristian.
The scene isn’t without its humor. At one point Father Tomas spins his head around in an obvious nod to the image burned in everyone’s mind from the original film. Those images haunt devils too. The film was told from human perspective but the nightmares were universal. What keeps the devil up at night? Twelve-year-old girls with eyes in back of their heads and projectile vomit on tap. Instead of pea-soup vomit, the exorcists have to save Andy from drowning in his memories. The watery sludge coming out of his mouth looks fetid with death. But I also think you can see Andy breathe during the CGI frozen time sequence, though it is impressive how much froth Marcus can keep in.
Marcus and Tomas toss the roles of good cop bad cop back and forth like Frisbees on a beach. But when it comes to the real police, Rose is the only one sane enough to wonder what to do with the corpse in the corner and a demon for an alibi. She keeps the proceedings planted in solid ground as the spiritual and mental earth shifts threaten to knock her off her feet.
In this modern, technological reality TV world, there are hundreds of amateur exorcists sitting alongside ghost busters who haven’t taken Basic Demonology 101, which would include proper pronunciations. “Help Me” works because the mystical rites and the prayers are almost drowned out by the mundane justifications and recriminations. In the end, it’s all about the choices Andy’s made and the choice he’ll make, and whether he can trust his free will.