‘The Exorcist’ Recap 1×03: Take Back the Nightmare

A scene from The Exorcist.

A scene from The Exorcist. Photo via Fox

Previously on The Exorcist: teenage homework-enthusiast Casey Rance is possessed by a demon, and is occasionally counseled by a malevolent old man whom only she can see. The death of a friend has rendered Casey’s sister, Kat, relatably pouty. Their father, played by Cameron from Ferris Bueller, may or may not be pulling a Cameron and feigning some kind of mental break. The mother, Angela, played by Geena Davis, is seeking help with her demon problems from dreamboat priest Father Tomas, who teams up with UNHINGED BADASS PRIEST Father Marcus, WHO CARES MORE ABOUT JUSTICE THAN ABOUT SOCIAL NICETIES! Meanwhile, every homeless person in Chicago is also possessed and doing the devil’s work– specifically murdering people and harvesting their organs– but no one in Chicago seems to find this unusual. Also, the Pope is coming.

This week’s episode starts with a flashback to the night of the car accident that killed Kat’s friend. Kat was driving, and the two girls were confessing to feelings of attraction for each other for the first time when one of those homeless ghouls appeared in the road, causing Kat to swerve. Almost the entire scene is a close-up of Kat’s face, and if there’s a reason for that, we don’t know it yet.

In the present, Father Bennett, whom Marcus pulled a gun on during an exorcism in the past, arrives in Chicago. Angela, who’s helping with the Pope efforts, gets someone to shoo away a homeless doomsayer, then says to Bennett that the man’s presence makes her question freedom of speech.

Let’s talk about Angela for a second. Geena Davis is the most famous person on the show. The pilot kind of had her in the position of, if not a protagonist, at least the character through whose eyes the audience is introduced to a lot of stuff, because we couldn’t trust the two teens and because the Catholic Church is, if you will, Byzantine. But at this point she’s faded into the background somewhat, and all we really know about her is that she’s kind of a paranoid reactionary, a fascist even: she suspected Kat of demonic possession initially because Kat was mopey from grief and adolescence, and because Kat “liked” her friend’s Wiccan craft store on Facebook. Angela seems to think the number of employees she has means she inherently has a good grounding in reality, and now apparently she’s also the kind of person who awkwardly works in callous political statements when meeting someone for the first time. Are we supposed to relate to her? Think of her as a lowkey hypocrite living in a cautionary tale? The show doesn’t seem to want to spend enough time with her to figure it out.

Henry talks to Tomas and we learn that Henry’s mental problems come from a piece of scaffolding having fallen on him a year ago– another supposed freak accident.

The mysterious old creep convinces Casey to shoplift a revealing dress to wear to a memorial for Kat’s friend. That’s right, the TV serial adaptation of The Exorcist actually features a scene in which a character who is quite possibly Satan gets a teen to shoplift slightly provocative apparel. Jack Chick would call this moralistic and lame.

Tomas, who keeps letting white people call him Thomas, makes the case to Bennett, a socialite, and some other Catholic officials that Chicago is actually chill and not a terrifying Hell on Earth. Then a dude shows up outside on fire. The show achieves the fire effect using sub-Sharknado CGI, which I guess must be cheaper and more efficient than whatever effect Pink Floyd used on that one album cover.

Tomas tries to get Casey to admit she’s possessed by basically sitting with his chair backwards and saying, “Yo, being possessed by a demon is rad, right? A narc might not like it but I’m definitely not one of those.” Then Marcus is like, shut the fuck up and watch an exorcist at work. Marcus gets Casey to admit that she resents Kat. He generally insults Casey until she knocks a picture frame off the wall with her mind. He takes out a music box he stole from her room and from inside it, a compact mirror. The old creep appears, and we learn that he sold her the mirror. Then Marcus tells the demon that Casey is the one really wearing the pants in the demon/Casey (Dasey?) relationship. Casey’s eyes go black and she speaks in (I guess) the salesman’s voice, which doesn’t feel that scary anymore. It’s just a pretty girl in Wes Borland contacts lip syncing to an old guy getting mad.

The whole thing is on video, with the demon Casey speaking Aramaic, but the Catholic Church, via Bennett, instead of allowing the exorcism, excommunicates Marcus. Marcus, savvy and cunning as ever, responds with a power play of his own: rambling incoherently about the grisly details of the recent murders until they throw him out.

In her bedroom, the creepy salesman appears to Casey and gets her to masturbate with a curling iron while it’s on. Marcus gets drunk and talks about his feelings at Tomas. Kat and Casey meet up with the dance group Kat is taking a break from, which her dead friend was also a part of. Casey freaks everyone out by talking about how Kat could have died instead, then leaves the memorial dance performance early in a sweat. Which is so funny because that’s exactly how I always get when I burn my genitals with a curling iron!

The socialite gives Tomas money for his parish. He’s hesitant, and there’s something sinister about her, but he ends up taking the money. Bennett takes Marcus for a ride. After seeing that guy on fire, Bennett is convinced Chicago is not safe for the Pope. The police found no accelerant, Bennett explains– the man simply combusted. Marcus asks if the Church has been compromised, and Bennett says he doesn’t know but he’s trying to find out. Bennett hands him his bus ticket back to Florida as well as a ticket from the first stop on the way to Florida back to Chicago, with a list of “friend” names written on the back of one ticket– presumably people familiar with the occult.

Henry, taking Casey home, tries to tell her, with concern, that she ruined the evening, but he blacks out, either because his brain is failing him or because of demons, or probably these two things are connected anyway. Before Casey can figure out what’s going on, a bunch of Chicago Cubs fans get on the train, and a bro starts harassing her. The bro is basically straight-up groping her in front of a bunch of passengers when the Salesman appears. Casey passionately makes out with the Salesman. Now Casey has the strength to throw the bro to the ground– so I guess the devil is good? But the scene goes on and on, with Casey throwing another bro across the train with her mind, then scratching the first bro’s chest into a bloody mess and finally unhinging his jaw. The episode ends with her staring dead-eyed at an awakened Henry and pissing on the train car floor. The music from the music box plays.

I mentioned the pissing scene in the original Exorcist last week. It’s this relatively small, quiet moment, and yet it is so terrifying. I think the fact that the show did this sexualized, ridiculously violent, vengeful version of it, a scene whose turning point you might cheer in a Tarantino movie, kind of rules, though. I have a much bigger issue with the way the show handles Casey as a character in general. Where the original Exorcist’s Regan was basically an innocent victim of demonic possession, Casey seems to keep consciously giving the Salesman permission to do all this stuff, with trepidation and reservations, but ultimately with trust and affection– sort of like an abusive relationship, I guess, although that doesn’t quite seem like what they’re going for, either. The show is already so convoluted and over-the-top that any time it gets down to serious issues it can only do so in a ham-fisted way. The only hints we have of Casey’s motivation are a few references to Kat, which haven’t added up to anything substantial. A lot happens on this show, and a lot of it doesn’t make any sense. I’ll see you next week unless the many shocking truths in this recap get me excommunicated from the Web.

‘The Exorcist’ Recap 1×03: Take Back the Nightmare