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Monday, October 24, 2016

Quick! Hide The Crucifixes! You Know What She Did With Them Last Time #TheExorcist #NBC #3weekroundup

Quick! Hide The Crucifixes! You Know What She Did With Them Last Time #TheExorcist #FOX #3weekroundup

All pictures courtesy of FOX

Today, on this calm and crazy today, I bring you another three-week roundup review of one of this fall’s brand new (sorta new?) shows. Being as how it’s Halloween season, everybody seems to be getting into the spooky spirit, at least FOX is. While AMC has their zombies ready to start popping and locking, American Horror Story is all kinds of strange (my theory on what is happening coming soon, hopefully), Scream Queens doing its strange thing and even Marvel getting into the spirit with the devilish dealmaker himself Ghost Rider burning up the small screen, FOX has decided to go full-steam ahead and hit us with a small-screen adaptation of the famous novel and film of the same name The Exorcist (ooh, I can hear the creepy music as you read). But will this new(ish) show have you seeing halos and Virgin Marys in pieces of toast, or will you be puking up pea-green vomit at how bad it is? Let’s find out together.

Angela Rance and Father Tomas
FOX’s The Exorcist follows the spooky adventures of a family and the two priests they encounter due in-part to their daughter being possessed by some strange demonic spirit. Father Tomas Ortega (played by Alfonso Herrera, a relative newcomer to English-speaking American TV) is a rising star of a priest in a once-struggling Chicago parish (don’t know what side, but it is obviously the white side as most of his parishioners are white or Hispanic). Though I would hardly call him a “true believer” he does have a certain level of authenticity that allows him to work the crowd and get people interested in listening to the call of God. Where once the congregation of the church was few and far between, now it is simply few, in large part thanks to his teaching. He’s young enough and handsome enough to engender confidence and halfway strike me as a politician. He also stands on the cusp of greatness or something special without knowing it. A regular guy, we get the feeling that his priesthood is fairly new (I’d say within the last eight years). I say this because he still has a woman with whom he, uh... talks to. Though it doesn’t outright say that he’s broken his priesthood vow of celibacy, the show does show us just how close he is to this woman who he once fell in love with in his youth before things got messy, she got married and he joined the priesthood. Yeah, you know a man is heartbroken when you don’t get together and he either goes off to war, takes a vow of celibacy, or does the unthinkable (speaking of, I think my own vow needs to be updated). How intense is this secret sex-less love affair? They hand-write letters to each other. I have a journal/book full of love letters that I wrote and that was only to one girl ever! So... yeah. His sister, whose son he babysits every so often tells him that he needs to get a new hold on life and do something other than think about this woman. And that’s when some of his parishioners come to him for help.

The matriarch of the Rance family, Angela Rance is played by the always lovely Geena Davis, who looks virtually the same from her 80s days, but with a fuller face and slightly older. Rocking conservative mom chic (think Bre from Desperate Housewives), she is very concerned that her oldest daughter has something very wrong with her, possibly demonic. But she can’t say for sure. See, she suspects her eldest, Kat (played by Brianne Howey) of something dubious because of the girl’s past. She recently was involved with a lot of experimentation including drugs and Wiccan culture, and possibly devil worship according to Angela; in fact, she recently returned from one of those stints that dignified families dare not talk about and maybe even lie about to keep from having people frown and look down upon them for.

As she worries about her eldest, Kat, Angela’s youngest daughter Casey is near perfect or at least closer to normal than anyone else in the family. She plays field hockey, likes boys, attends mass with her parents, gets good grades, and even knows how to make her down-in-the-dumps sister laugh. She is trying to keep it all together as her family is still suffering through a great trauma having to do with the patriarch of the Rance family, Henry (played by Alan Ruck; Spin City, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). About a year or so ago, he was out with his wife and just forgot who she was and where they were. He has some mental deficiency (dementia, Alzheimer’s). Now, he’s a shell of himself as he appears more childish than adult, forgetting even the smallest things like putting on his hat to go outside in the cold of the fall/winter. Yet, he seems open to outside influences (think the little girl from Poltergeist or the little boy from the Shining).

And then the voices start. Angela hears strange noises in her house like voices in the walls, chairs move on their own at night, her daughter stalks her bedroom in complete darkness during the day. The daughter is said to have been in a car crash where one of her best friends (a Wiccan) died but there’s far more to the story than that, and Angela suspects the girl’s “depression” is anything but. She goes to tell Father Tomas and finds doubt at the expression of her claims. However, Tomas is not quick to forget of her complaint. When a raven flies straight into his office window while he speaks with Angela, he starts to suspect that there is more to this situation than he’d like to believe. See, he’s been having these dreams...

Through the dreams, we meet our second priest, Father Marcus Keane. The man who opens the show, Father Marcus (played by Ben Daniels) subs in as the older, wiser, more experienced exorcist. In the first scene in which we are introduced to him by name, he shows how much of a bad boy priest he is in that he is stationed somewhere in South America (looks like Brazil or Colombia) and is confronted by another Vatican priest sent to remove him from a current exorcism that’s taken too long. But as is revealed, he thinks he can save the young boy before the boy is taken. Refusing to leave, he holds a gun to the other priest’s head, and I nearly lost my sh*$. Holy Charles Foley where did he get that gun, what sorta punishment is he gonna be in after this, and how can he be so determined to not be removed that he’d pull a gun on a dude? Is this what Jesus would do? Good God, this priest is really ‘bout that life. We switch back and forth between his latest exorcism of that same boy, and Father Tomas back in Chicago (though this will not be the format of the show ala Lost-style).

Father Tomas visits the Rance house after Angela invites him. He talks to the eldest girl to see if she really is just depressed, but can’t determine if there’s more there. However, after dinner, something strange happens when Henry Rance says something coherent but completely paranormal. He mentions Father Marcus by name and tells Tomas where to find him in Chicago.

As it turns out, the dream/nightmare Tomas had wasn’t actually a nightmare but was him ghosting into the past, months prior when Marcus performed that exorcism on the boy. The demon too powerful for the boy and for Marcus to control, he lost him as the demon snapped the boy’s neck. That incident wound Marcus up here, at St. Aquinas, somewhat of an American school/nursing home for wayward priests. A mix between jail and mental lockup, Tomas visits Marcus here to find that he is really just a mentally scarred priest who sees horrendous visions and is trying to escape the torment of losing souls to the devil’s charge. Tomas is put off by the man and Marcus doesn’t find Tomas as prepared and pure as he should be to even speak on the subject of possession. Tomas doesn’t seem to truly believe in possession but knows that he was in the room that night Marcus failed at his last exorcism. Both men offended, Tomas leaves and goes back to tell the family that they are probably not going through a possession. But upon going up to the family’s attic after strange noises, he is confronted by a body-malformed Casey (the younger daughter) with eyes wild and voice devil-deep as she moves in a strange marionette-like dance through the air and across the floor, her limbs incongruously patterned toward actual movement. She starts to attack him when Angela comes up and turns on the light to have the girl reset back into near-perfect Casey. Though she tries covering well, her mother switches her suspicion to her youngest daughter now, even though she didn’t see what Father Tomas saw.

Episode two starts with another brief flashback into the early childhood of Father Marcus. Orphaned at a young age, he was sold to the church (yeah, Catholic church buying young boys, because... you know, that’s cool and not suspicious). As a young child, still only 12, 13-years-old, he performs his first solo exorcism, a story he later shares with Tomas after leaving (breaking out?) of the bad priest center.

Father Marcus meets Casey
Meanwhile, Angela finally sees her youngest daughter sitting at a table up late at night talking to herself or rather having a demon talk through her. A man, the demon speaks in an aged, sickly voice like in the original movie. She finally looks over to her mother and that’s when the woman grows scared. She calls on Tomas again to do something. but he has his own problems.

Tomas is dealing not only with problems from the higher-up priests in his diocese but he also has to deal with the sudden appearance of Marcus after the man originally rejected his ask of help on dealing with the family. Marcus wants to spend some time in the parish meeting the family and seeing if there is a reason for the sudden possession outside of the home. With the help of another crazy man who came to church one day, Marcus deduces that there is not one but possibly many demons in the girl and that the one she speaks to regularly is the leader of some kind of demon uprising. There’s a serious concentration of demons in her area and he makes it his mission to find out why. He also informs Tomas that if the young priest really wants to participate in the exorcism, then he needs to cleanse himself of that love affair as the demon will call out anything it can to use against him in the process.

As it turns out, Tomas and his non-woman woman live close enough for her to visit him when he calls. They sit and talk, and she touches briefly on her unhappy marriage and he tells her that they have to stop, but still can’t pull the trigger to actually stop. She wants more letters and he doesn’t say no.

Casey on the left, Kat on the right

Throughout the whole of the episode, we see glimpses of some young black boy roaming the city on his bike. At first, this seems like a cut scene to fill time, but it proves itself more at the end of the show when we see a league of men come into the boy’s home and slaughter his family, stealing nothing but their organs. His ears covered in Beats by Dre, he doesn’t hear the murders before the killers get him, too. Upon their departure, we see that the league of men truly is a league as there are more flooding out of the brownstones on either side of the street, each equipped with their own cooler full of organs, and finally piling into one van.
Finally, we see the young girl’s demon, a man dressed in a modest suit, balding, creepy-uncle-looking old man who listens to her. She leans her head on his invisible shoulder as they talk like sweethearts on the porch and the high schooler is seen by her father acting strangely.

Episode three reveals some of the blander mysteries surrounding the family, specifically what really happened to Kate’s friend and what happened to Mr. Rance to make him the way he is. As it turns out, Henry doesn’t have some mental disease that suddenly came on while he and his wife were out, but was actually on a construction site... or maybe not, now that I think about it. In any case, he was somewhere that had scaffolding that fell down upon him cracking his head like a coconut. Ever since he’s been very... not right. However, this episode surprisingly shows him as the most lucid and caring he’s appeared since first we as viewers were introduced to him on the show. He goes to visit Father Tomas alone one day to talk about Casey. After seeing his daughter lean her head upon the invisible shoulder of the demon at the end of the second episode, even he knows that something is drastically wrong with his youngest born. Mind you, he didn’t even know about his wife’s carried-out plan to poison the girl with holy water and definitely didn’t see her vomit green ooze nor yank from her throat a long, live centipede-thingy.

His oldest, on the other hand, didn’t actually have a drug problem or devil-worshipping problem as was eluded to in the first episode. In fact, the story about her and her friend getting into a car crash is not only true but proves character-revealing for her. Kat was in a dance troupe before the accident. In that dance troupe, she had a best friend who wanted to be more than best friends—all-female dance troupe, by the way. Kat was very much so down with that and we saw a little bit of them flirting with each other in the car. Unfortunately, as Kat’s would-be girlfriend asked Kat (the driver) to turn and look her in the eye—probably for one of those daring Fast and Furious kisses—Kat looked back to the road and saw a plain-suited man standing in the middle of the street. The man looked mysteriously similar to the demon who is following and living within Casey. For right now, we’ll just call him The Salesman.

Casey and the Salesman

To reverse it a little back to Kat, she and this girl were in love which is why she has been so mopey and depressed. The strange thing, however, is the way in which Angela is acting. It seems the whole family knew Kat and this girl had a deeper connection than just friends, which would lead you to believe that they’d understand her melancholy after losing her. What then comes into question is how Angela feels about that. Though it is not said, I’m wondering if Angela disapproved of her budding lesbian relationship. Again, the show has made it rather clear that the Rance’s aren’t a family full of true believers. Angela herself says that she more likes the idea of God rather than actually takes it seriously, even though she does plenty of church work to help the parish. But that, along with the fact that she was genuinely concerned about her daughter’s possible Wiccan conversion, and that she leaped to the possibility of demonic possession so quickly makes me think she has more belief in the evil than the good, and that she’s committed to keeping up appearances. Whether she judges her daughter’s sexuality or not I’m sure will either play out in a natural course or not be mentioned at all as the show complicates more.

After learning in the previous episode that the pope will be visiting Chicago in the coming weeks, we get to see a meeting of the planning committee for his trip that consists of local priests and archbishops. There, we not only see Father Tomas voicing his opinion about both his parish and a bad part of the city where one woman who is in charge of these arrangements insists the Pope not visit, but we also see the other black priest who Father Marcus pulled a gun on in episode one... in South America somewhere. Apparently, this guy travels internationally all the time and gets put on the craziest swing of cases: first dealing with an exorcism, then dealing with the planning of the Pope’s trip to America, and then seeing to it that Father Marcus receives his walking papers. Oh yes, after the gun stunt over a year ago, the black priest went to his superiors and told on Father Marcus. That, coupled with the fact that the boy died in the exorcism, and Marcus’ more recent breakout from St. Aquinas, have all led to Marcus being excommunicated from the church. Yeah, crazy. The strange thing is that the black priest guy only realizes that something strange is going on when he visits Chicago and sees a man self-immolate on the street before the planning committee. The guy erupts into flames with a bible in his hand and no gas or accelerant around or on him. Strange.

Before the excommunication, Marcus and Tomas search Casey’s room for evidence of her possession. She has stolen things that she claims were given to her by The Salesman. When they invite her to Tomas’ office, Marcus interrogates her to try capturing the possession on camera so they could get proper permission from the Vatican. Marcus gets her to talk and then turn into The Salesman who reminds him of the other demon he tried dispelling from the boy. Tomas doesn’t seem nearly as freaked as he should be here as he sees the girl’s eyes go fully black, her voice change into a man’s, and things levitate, rattle and fall all over the room. Almost like he’s seen this before or something (yes, he saw this in a dream but still). But I digress. Marcus now knows that it is as he thought, something huge is going on because the demons are communicating with each other, telling info and relaying messages across time and human-barrier lines. That slaughter we saw taking place at the end of the second episode Marcus believes took place because the human minions of these demons are gathering all the project supplies they need to create bodies for a slew of demons. Yeah, it is about to get hell-a complicated. And none of that even touches on the guy that Casey beat the crap out of on the bus/train or that awkwardly long, disgusting young-girl-with-old-man kiss. Ewww!

Pa and Ma Rance

What’s my grade? So far, I give it a B-. OK, this is a toughy because I enjoy the show but I’m not sure what it is, but it feels like something is missing here. I’m leaning towards the acting on this, though, the only real problem I have with the acting stems from one person, Father Tomas. In the earliest minutes of the premiere, he looks like someone who might have some charisma, be the fun in the show, but he’s really not that. He’s also not Father Karras from the film—a hard-nosed, streetwise punk who goes into his first exorcism with wild abandon only to realize that this is all real and serious. He’s almost a non-factor of a character here. He doesn’t have the fervor and heated anger that one might expect when the church tells them no on something they know is right. He isn’t so wide-eyed that we as the audience can identify with his wonderment about the things happening before him (again, his reaction in the room to Casey when she spoke was so lackluster; I get that she had already attacked him in the attic, but come on). And worse still, he doesn’t seem driven by anything and isn’t written in a way that makes his lack of conviction interesting or exploratory. Shameless plug, when I started outlining season two of my episodic novella series The Writer, I had a distinct problem: I had no motivation for why the titular character would continue down the path he started on in the first season. He was a mess on the inside, even if it didn’t show that on the outside. So his actions and even thoughts had to ring true to that malaise of existence he felt. He did stuff for no particular purpose because he was still so raw from the events of the first season. But that was purposeful meandering so the character could return to what was thrust upon him in the first season.

In Father Tomas’ case, the lukewarm taste of his character seems accidental. As said, he doesn’t strike me as a true believer, one willing to die for the church and his beliefs. He also doesn’t feel too committed to the parish, though he sticks up for the people when the planning woman frowns upon the badder parts of the city. When that earns him a $100,000 check to help out his own parish, he isn’t thrilled about that. And outside of those few nightmares/ghosting sessions in which he saw Marcus’ last exorcism, he really doesn’t seem enamored with the call of the spirits guiding him to help this family. He’s just there as a non-omniscient narrator, placed in certain rooms at certain times to move the story forward. As has been too common of a refrain this new fall TV season, his character feels as if it could be cut out of the story and you’d lose nothing.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I think Father Marcus is the best thing about the show. He’s emotional, broken, seeking purpose again, a true believer, a burdened slave to his calling. In the world in which even some of the supposedly most devout Christians turn to science long before turning to God for their answers, he is the only refreshing one to have seen science’s limits and fully give himself over to the realms of the spiritual. And he’s also right... a lot. His character is so fascinating because he is a rebel for his belief in a society, a system which is built solely on belief. I often go for plot-driven shows more than character-driven because character-driven shows often become more formulaic, quicker, but here I am enamored by this guy. Though we haven’t seen it yet, I think that if we get a scene in which he plays off of Geena Davis’ Angela and Hannah’s Casey, we could really have something amazing. The show is filmed well enough. The first episode reminded me of film quality but the second and third regressed slightly to TV quality. Strangely, I think this show would be a huge cult hit if it came on on another day (try Thursday or Monday) or it had Bryan Fuller (the same guy who did Hannibal) as its showrunner. It has this atmosphere that screams that it wants to go creepier, but it hasn’t quite got there yet. It is gory enough, though, and will get worse, so if you are squeamish, this might not be for you.

Should you be watching? Sure. Pay heed to the last sentence of the previous paragraph and know that this show looks like its only going to focus on the one case of Casey and whatever demons that come with/from that, so it moves slowly. But I think that this will be a half-season pickup (only 10-13 episodes) so they should be able to hold the tension long enough for you to not lose interest. But I will warn that fans of AHS: Roanoke Nightmare or Scream Queens might be a little disappointed, simply because there’s not much mystery here as is in those shows. Things are pretty straightforward and the questions you might have on one episode are quickly answered in the next. Don’t expect a big, mind-blowing twist. The Exorcist airs Fridays at 9pm on FOX, right after Hell’s Kitchen.

What do you think? Have you seen The Exorcist? If not, do you think you’ll tune in? If you have, what has been the scariest part for you so far? Do you like where the show is going? How long do you think the demons have been targeting the Rance family. Let me know in the comments below (hint: click the no comments button if you see no comments).

Check out my 5-star comedy novel, Yep, I'm Totally Stalking My Ex-Boyfriend. #AhStalking
If you’re looking for a scare, check the YA novel #AFuriousWind, the NA novel #DARKER#BrandNewHome or  the bizarre horror #ThePowerOfTen. For those interested in something a little more dramatic and adult, check out #TheWriter. Both season 1 and season 2 are out NOW, exclusively on Amazon. Stay connected here for updates on season 3 coming summer 2017. If you like fast action/crime check out #ADangerousLow. The sequel A New Low will be out in a few months. Look for the mysterious Sci-fi episodic novella series Extraordinary to premiere sometime this winter on Amazon and my blog. Join us on Goodreads to talk about books and TV, and subscribe to and follow my blog with that Google+ button to the right.

Until next time, "The power of Christ compels you. The power of Christ compels you! The power of...”

P.S. Have you all seen these hilarious church signs? I remember walking by one just after PokemonGo came out and it said something about how we should come in to catch... the Holy Ghost. It’s strange though because so many of them are Pokestops. That makes me wonder if my dear Christianity teamed up with the PokemonGo creators to drum-up business or if they are subtly trying to say that the modern church has more monsters in it than anything else. Hmmm? Something to think about, right?

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