Friday, September 30, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Exorcist' - Marcus Arrives in Chicago While Angela Tries to Force the Demon Out in 'Chapter Two: Lupus in Fabula'

FOX's The Exorcist - Episode 1.02 "Chapter Two: Lupus in Fabula"

While Bishop Egan denies Tomas permission to perform the exorcism on Angela's daughter, Father Marcus breaks out of Saint Aquinas and joins forces with Tomas, though he urges him to get his ex, Jessica, out of his life and heart. The Rance family's relationship with the demon deepens. When Marcus catches Angela stealing holy water, he instructs her on how to use it. A series of bizarre ritual killings begin taking place.

The Exorcist had a solid if a little too formulaic premiere. It focused on a traditional and familiar story about demonic possession. It once again centered on a nice, conventional family that is uprooted by a demon taking over one of the children. It was a slow build but the show was very effective with the final reveal of Casey being possessed and not Katherine. It was an ominous tease for the future that showed that Father Tomas was in way over his head. This wasn't something he was prepared to do as a priest. But now, he feels like he needs to help this family. He does have the support of Father Marcus who has performed exorcisms before. There was a call to action at the end of the premiere. Something needed to be done because it can no longer be denied that something is happening with this family. Not a whole lot of progress is actually made in "Chapter Two: Lupus in Fabula" but it is able to maintain the effectively slow and ominous tone of the premiere.

The intimate focus on a small family unit is enough to tell a captivating story for a movie or the premiere of a TV show. However, it would be difficult to maintain that quality across thirteen episodes. It's not impossible. Sometimes small, intimate storytelling really works. The Exorcist just doesn't feel like a series that would benefit from that. So instead, the show does the right thing in trying to expand its world in its second episode. The Rance family may be how Tomas became aware of demons actually existing in this world. But there's much more happening in his parish as well. It's not just one demon plaguing this part of Chicago. There's actually many of them with a sinister agenda. Of course, it's unclear what that agenda actually is. The faithful in the community are preparing for a visit from the Pope. That's an expositional detail that should become very important later on in the season. It's clear the demons are preparing for something. They will brutally and horrifically destroy lives in order to satisfy their needs. It's just cryptic teases and brutal images in this hour. But there is the potential for so much more.

The main plot actually sees Tomas not becoming the rogue priest who needs to help this family. Instead, he's continuing to play things according to the rules. He recognizes that Casey is possessed. It's something that's really happening. He saw it with his own eyes. He's just not actively doing anything about it. Instead, he's going to his bishop hoping to get permission to perform an exorcism. He just takes it when Bishop Egan laughs his concerns off. He thinks the girl needs therapy not an extreme religious ceremony. He doesn't believe in exorcisms. He hasn't seen a demon like Tomas has. It's just a silly plot point that is meant to delay progress on the main story with Casey. That's problematic. And yet, it's understandable. The same cannot be said for Tomas' weird romantic story. He's still pinning after the girl who got away from years ago. Jessica serves as a representative that he has plenty to lose in this world should he battle demons. It's just so awkwardly dramatized. It's not tantalizing to watch the two of them finally meet. Nor is their connection all that tense or sexy on the screen. It's largely just lame and offers no reason for actually existing. It doesn't define Tomas in any important way. In fact, it will largely just be a source of conflict later on this season when he should be focusing on the demons in his parish.

However, "Lupus in Fabula" does serve as an insightful hour for Marcus' backstory. He was an intense presence in the premiere. At times, it was a little too over-the-top. The show wasn't all that subtle when it came to Marcus reciting from the Bible in the hopes of casting out a demon. But now, the audience learns that he was banished to Saint Aquinas because the boy in Mexico died. He was being punished there. So, it's a big deal when he breaks out and shows up in Tomas' apartment. He knows that this is where he needs to be. Forces beyond his control have brought him and Tomas together. It just takes the entire episode for the two of them to come together as partners. Neither of them trust the other. Marcus just shows up having broken into Tomas' apartment. He's telling Tomas to share all of his secrets without offering up any of his own. It's only after Marcus shares the story of how he saw his first demon at age 12 and felt relieved because he had found his purpose in life that the two of them seem united. Of course, all of that could be truly tested now because it appears Marcus no longer has the ability to cast out demons.

Tomas is focused on the Rance family and the demon that has taken over Casey. Meanwhile, Marcus has no connection to this community and is able to see the bigger picture. That includes the additional demons that are roaming around. He has a fine and simple chat with Casey while she's helping feed the homeless in the church. But he's also able to spot the homeless man who has also been touched by demons. This man actually craves it. It makes him feel important and not alone in this world. To everyone else, he seems like a crazy man who just wants to touch a young and beautiful girl. To Marcus though, he sees trouble brewing. He witnesses the man get in the van carrying the killers as they go to retrieve a bunch of organs. That's a brutal sequence that really sends a chill down the spine at the close of the episode. Marcus isn't able to connect all of those pieces together just yet. But he does have a run-in with another demon. One who is able to taunt him because he is unable to cast it out. He has lost his touch. He has all the knowledge of demons and how to perform exorcisms. But now, he doesn't have the power to do it. He has lost his purpose which could be so crippling for him in the future.

This world building is important for the longevity of the story. But the Rance family drama isn't lost throughout the episode either. Angela is frustrated that Tomas isn't doing anything to help her family. Marcus does more for her than Tomas. He catches her stealing holy water and tells her she should sneak it into Casey's drinking water. That will bring the demon out in an unsuspecting way. It certainly gets the job done. After dinner, Casey runs to her bathroom to throw up. It's another really graphic scene. It then takes a turn for the gross when Casey pulls a long bug-like creature out of her throat. It's a horrifying sight that clearly terrifies her as well. She's still somewhat aware of what's happening to her. The demon doesn't have complete control. And yet, the demonic spirit is corrupting her. It's making her more violent and erratic to the rest of the world. She is able to injure another lacrosse player just because she hates what she was doing on the field. She can achieve an unobtainable feat in Jenga to the amazement of her father. The holy water isn't enough to help Casey. She is falling further and further into the grasp of the demon. She is seeing another spirit who appears so comforting and willing to listen to every horrible thing that is happening to her. The man isn't really there. Only Casey sees him. That can't be a good sign at all. It's an interesting look at what it means to be possessed. It dramatizes it in a different way which could be refreshing moving forward.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Chapter Two: Lupus in Fabula" was written by Heather Bellson and directed by Michael Nankin.
  • The show is very subtle with its build up to that final moment of brutal murders. The kid of the family is seen just a few times just riding his bike around the city. It's never an important story. But it doesn't make it some random thing that happens in the end either. Of course, that way could have been just as good as well.
  • This appears to be a good day for Henry. He only really has trouble when saying grace before dinner. That serves as a reminder that he's not alright even though you couldn't tell based on the rest of the episode.
  • What exactly does Angela do for work? The family says she's gotten too focused on it and is neglected her family responsibilities. But she's at the church worrying about her family more than anything else.
  • Kat doesn't really fit into the tone of the show as well as the rest of the cast does. At times, it feels like a "Emma Roberts in a Ryan Murphy show" type of performance. That's not the right energy. But then again, she's not really being asked to do much.
  • Those opening credits are pretty cool. I always appreciate it when a new show makes the effort to have a title sequence. Yes, it can be time consuming but it can be entertaining as well. This one does a great job at evoking the tone and style of the show.