The cast of the new Exorcist series on FOX
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Beyond Pea Soup and Rotating Heads? THE EXORCIST Comes to Television

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Pilot “Chapter One: And Let My Cry Come Unto Thee”
Written by Jeremy Slater
Directed by Rupert Wyatt

[All images: Chuck Hodes/FOX]

The newest addition to The Exorcist Universe (a five motion picture series that includes two versions of the same prequel), starts in a mysterious, dimly lit street. A priest stops to wash his face and head at a public tap, while two feral dogs who wandered over from the set of The Omen menace him from what looks like a mound of …. something. The priest hears screaming, and looks up to see his destination – a single lit window atop a jigsaw puzzle of an apartment building.

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As The Exorcist title card in bold, blood red letters fades from the screen, we switch to a different continent altogether and a rather sparsely attended Sunday Mass at  St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Chicago. A young priest walks down the aisle delivering a homily relating the story of St. Peter trying (and failing) to walk on water. He ends with the positive(ish) “Sometimes you have to just start walking.”

After Mass, we see Angela Rance (Geena Davis) give a donation to (we now learn) Father Tomas for the church restoration fund. Fr. Tomas asks how Henry is doing, and then asks their daughter Casey if her sister Katherine is alright. Amid the post-Mass chitchat, a bedraggled, possibly homeless man seems to be observing/saying something to  Fr. Tomas from across the street, then vanishes.

At the Rance home, Angela cannot lure sullen Katherine out of her room with the promise of post-church donuts.

Young Fr. Tomas may soon have bigger problems than finding volunteers for the summer parish festival.
Young Fr. Tomas may soon have bigger problems than finding volunteers for the summer parish festival.

Later, Fr. Tomas reads a letter from a Jessica in Evanston (we know this is important due to the return address close-up), while his nephew Luis (Matthew Velasquez) sleeps in front of the TV. Fr. Tomas’ sister Tara comes to pick up her sleepy son, drops some backstory about the now-married Jessica and a vague incident in Fr. Tomas’ past, and questions her brother’s commitment to his vocation.

We move back to our other cityscape (which from the Lady of Guadalupe icon, is probably Mexico City), where the priest from the teaser (addressed as Fr. Marcus), gets a visit from a  fellow priest/workplace frenemy. A tense discussion of Fr. Marcus’ current assignment (including cryptic backstory references to an incident in Haiti) ends with Fr. Marcus responding Fr. Fenemy’s criticism of his professional methods with a handgun!

Fr. Marcus returns to the interior of the in the jigsaw apartment building and the exorcism of a small young child named Gabriel.

The tone of the scene moves to grey, and while sleeping in Chicago, Fr. Tomas witnesses the exorcism in Mexico City.

Fr. Marcus urges Gabriel to fight, trying to reassure the child with a rhyme about a “cat with feet of cloth and upside down eyes”. Fr. Tomas can only watch as two pupils appear in each of Gabriel’s eyes, his teeth scatter across the floor and the exorcism goes horribly wrong.

Back in Chicago, the restoration of St. Anthony’s continues. While elderly Mrs. Flynn tries to navigate the computer screen attached to the organ and a frantic parishioner begs Fr. Tomas to bless her “gatto blanco”, an electrical short caused by the restoration workers sends Fr. Tomas down to the oh-so-creepy basement to trip the circuit breakers.

Sullen teenager = demonic possession, according to Angela Rance
Sullen teenager = demonic possession, according to Angela Rance.

Instead of waiting upstairs in the parish offices like a normal person, Angela Rance triggers the first jump scare of the episode by following Fr. Tomas down to the basement so she can talk to him about Katherine. They end up back at the parish offices anyway.

According to Angela, the reason her daughter  is “different” since returning from college and a mysterious accident is … demonic possession (of course).

Fr. Tomas gently states that “demons aren’t real” and that most cases of possession are due to more mundane reasons such as illness (both mental and physical). One of the many crows gathering outside the office window decides to  participate in the conversation by impaling itself in the window and bleeding out on an open Bible. Fr. Tomas grabs the Bible while agreeing to stop by the Rance home later and talk to Katherine. While on the train to the Rance home, Fr. Tomas continues to dream/witness the exorcism of Gabriel.

Discussion with Katherine reveals not much more than a depressed young woman dealing with a (still not explained) trauma that sent her home from college. According to Katherine, her mother is jumping to the conclusion of demonic influence because Kat “liked” a friend’s Wiccan Facebook page. Angela is upset over the condition of Henry, and needs to blame someone besides God. Katherine doesn’t blame God, only herself.

After a tense dinner which includes delicious meatloaf, Katherine insults her ailing father and gets a what-for from Fr. Tomas. As Fr. Tomas prepares to leave Henry, whom we’ve only seen as a distracted, non-verbal man unable to focus on any one topic, seems to slip into  lucidity to tell Fr. Tomas that “he’s at St. Aquinas” and “it’s just off 41.”

These cryptic clues leads Fr. Tomas to an Interwebs search. Besides learning more about exorcism (including an article headlined “Two Dead Following Georgetown Exorcism”), he discovers there is a St. Aquinas Retreat Centeron Route 41!

Before heading off to St. Aquinas, Fr. Tomas sees/dreams the end of Gabriel’s exorcism. It does not end well for Gabriel.

Father Marcus believes in his methods, but cannot save young Gabriel.

          Father Marcus believes in his methods, but cannot save young Gabriel.

Before finding Fr. Marcus at St. Aquinas, Fr. Tomas has a cryptic, unsettling conversation with an elderly man wearing large dark glasses. After a outwardly benign conversation Fr. Tomas sees Fr. Marcus and leaves. The audience then sees why “Brother Simon” wears those glasses – both his eyes have the double pupils seen in the possessed Gabriel.

Fr. Marcus is hardly the confident, gun-toting Exorcist we saw in Mexico City. He seems shrunken inside himself. After Tomas recites the nursery rhyme about the cat with feet made of cloth and upside down eyes, Fr. Marcus believes Tomas is sincere in his request for help with a possible case of demonic possession. But he is unwilling to help.

Besides cynical comments warning Fr. Tomas “they’re going to love you” and the messages he’s experienced may not be from God, Fr. Marcus sends Fr. Tomas away with nothing. The older man then cries to the black charcoal outline of a cross on the wall of his Spartan room – “so this is your sign?”

A shadowy, strange moment of Katherine’s ghostly glowing face cuts to Fr. Tomas returning to the Rance home. He asks Angela “Do you believe in God?” Angela replies “I like the idea of God … that good things happen for a reason and we’re not just random molecules smashing into each other.”

Fr. Tomas tells Angela Rance that he’s never heard God’s voice in his life; now he thinks God has spoken to him –  helping the Rance family is his purpose.

Father Tomas pulls "explore the creepy attic" duty at the Rance home.
Father Tomas pulls “explore the creepy attic” duty at the Rance home.

Noises, shrieks, and thumping coming from above lead Fr. Tomas to the attic. In the light of his phone, he sees not the supposedly possessed Katherine, but an emaciated, disheveled Casey. Casey lurches towards him and attacks Fr. Tomas before disappearing into the shadows. A rat rises into the air and is twisted by an invisible hand.

Angela ascends to the attic to see a fit and healthy Casey. With a “demon-possessed cat that ate the canary” expression Casey tells her mother that Fr. Tomas just killed a rat with his bare hands and “where there’s one, there’s probably a whole bunch, right?”

Father Marcus Keane prepares for battle.
Father Marcus Keane prepares for battle – he does have Tubular Bells on his side.

Fr. Tomas leaves, disposing of the rat as a smirking Casey observes from the Rance home. Fr. Tomas’ walk to the train station alternates with Fr. Marcus suiting up, assembling the tools for battle and leaving St. Aquinas. He strides into the darkness accompanied by the iconic Tubular Bells theme.

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TV pilot episodes usually land somewhere in the middle of a sliding scale, with Totally Amazing Start That Reaches Heights Following Episodes Never Live Up To at the top, and I Want That Hour of My Life Back & Goodbye at the bottom.

For me, The Exorcist pilot episode is at the high end of the scale, maybe in the 70% range.  As a horror fan, I’m probably predisposed to give it some time. But even if you’re not into the genre, there’s enough promise in the story and characters to build on. For now, it’s enough to keep me interested and watching even if I wasn’t recapping the show.

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Parish News and Notes

Jeremy Slater, creator and Executive Producer for this new series, noted that The Exorcist series takes place in the same universe as the 1973 movie, while laying a separate path for the television story set 40 years on from the original film. “It was important to start laying in bread crumbs right from the beginning, start introducing our Dharma Initiative, our bad guys who are out there.”

That being the case, each recap for The Exorcist will take a look at the names, places, people and events mentioned in each episode. Since this series centers (at least for now) on the everyday existence of a Catholic parish in transition and the experiences of one family in that parish, we’ll also check out particularly interesting elements from that angle as well.

*The episode title refers to Psalm 102 “A prayer for one in affliction: the fifth penitential psalm.” It’s also used in the original exorcism of Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) in the 1973 film.

 Hear, O Lord, my prayer: and let my cry come to thee. Turn not away thy face from me: in the day when I am in trouble, incline thy ear to me. In what day so ever I shall call upon thee, hear me speedily.

*Angela Rance seems of two minds regarding her relationship with God. Right off the bat when meeting with Fr. Tomas she states that her daughter is afflicted by a demonic possession. Yet near the end of the episode, says that she “likes the idea of God”, which seems to imply a more ambivalent relationship with her faith.

Angela also tells Fr. Tomas after Mass “Father, that was a lovely service.” Usually a parishioner would say something like “that was a wonderful homily” or use the word “Mass” instead of “Service.”

  • Looks like the Rance family follows the “donuts after Mass” tradition instead of hot ham & rolls – at least this week.

*The St. Aquinas Retreat Center? If the center was named after, say, St. Rose of Lima it would be the “St. Rose of Lima Retreat Center” or “The St. Rose Retreat Center” but not “The St. Lima Retreat Center”. Is this a deliberate hint to indicate Something Is Up and Not Right, an oversight by the show, or just something that looks odd to me?

*Saint Thomas Aquinas was a Dominican friar, scholar, author of the Summa Theologia, and is regarded as one of the great scholars of the Church.

*Fr. Tomas is pastor of St. Anthony’s Parish. If it’s the famous St. Anthony of Padua, he is (among other things) patron saint of finding lost objects.

St. Anthony, St. Anthony, look around. Something’s lost and must be found!

 *Mrs. Flynn is playing “Sleepers Awake” by J.S. Bach before the organ computer program freezes up.

*For those of you playing “Guess the Homeland of the Next Pontiff Bingo” Fr. Tomas’ abuela predicted he would become the first Mexican pope. Unfortunately, with the election of the former Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as Pope Francis, South America may have to wait a bit for their next Pontiff.

 

The Exorcist airs Friday nights at 9/8c on Fox.

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