We’ve reached the midpoint of The Exorcist’s second season—episode five airs tonight—which means the story is well underway but there are still plenty of mysteries left to reveal. Last season was excellently spooky, but this season has been even scarier in the best sort of way. Here are three big reasons why.
The new setting is insanely ominous
Last year, Father Marcus (Ben Daniels) and Father Tomas (Alfonso Herrera) battled a demon in Chicago, which meant city sidewalks, crowded subways, and neighborhoods packed with rows of houses. This year, the action has moved to Washington’s seemingly idyllic Nachburn Island—a place that has quickly revealed itself to be a hot spot for “weird shit happening in the woods,” just as The Exorcist’s producers promised at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con. It’s accessible only by ferry, so forget about making a hasty escape, and its natural beauty is tainted by extreme environmental oddities: a lamb born so deformed that it looks like a monster; icky insect nests in the trees; masses of crows flinging themselves into buildings; and deep-water fish carcasses washing up where they have no business being. If that weren’t enough, Nachburn also has an eerie true-crime past. Local folklore speaks of a murderous “Island Witch” whose abandoned property is tailor-made for campfire ghost stories, plus there was the strange case of an otherwise kindly man who snapped and methodically slaughtered almost his entire family, as well as one painfully recent suicide. You want atmosphere? This place is oozing over with it.
The characters are more isolated, and way more complex
Last year, Tomas had his sister and nephew, as well as his congregation, to lift him up. (He also had his ex-girlfriend to tempt him, but she’s thankfully out of the picture now.) Though he was tagged a rogue and was eventually excommunicated, Tomas still had certain factions of the Catholic Church behind him, including a group of particularly understanding nuns. Now, both men are on the run from the horrifying forces that’ve infiltrated the Vatican, and there’s already been one scene straight out of an action movie, in which the Rome-based Father Bennett (Kurt Egyiawan) urgently instructs Tomas to destroy his cellphone so he won’t be discovered.
Drawing Tomas and Marcus out of their familiar world has allowed us to get to know a lot more about them, which has in turned raised the show’s stakes even higher. We care about these guys. They are both very flawed—by now, they’ve both literally been to hell and back—but also very likable. The younger Tomas starts to believe he’s become a more powerful exorcist than Marcus, but when he realizes he still has a lot to learn (about both demons and human beings alike) he owns up to his mistakes. Marcus believes in their partnership and their crusade and his faith is still incredibly strong, but he can sense that his relationship with God is not what it used to be, and he’s troubled by that. He’s also still evolving as a person, especially now that he’s no longer a priest. In recent weeks, The Exorcist finally paid off on a first-season hint by introducing a love interest for him in the form of wildlife expert Peter Morrow (Christopher Cousins).
(Seriously, I can’t be the only Exorcist fan who cheered when the long-suffering Marcus finally got to experience a brief moment of happiness and romance.)
Meanwhile, in contrast to the Rance family of last season, who were surrounded by Chicago classmates, co-workers, friends, and unfortunate field-hockey opponents, group-home leader Andy (John Cho) and his foster kids are totally cut off from the rest of the world—and not just because they live on Nachburn Island. The children have been removed from their families for various reasons: Verity (Brianna Hildebrand) was abused by religious parents who believed they could “pray the gay away”; blind Caleb (Hunter Dillon) was deemed “too much work” by his cruel father; Truck (Cyrus Arnold) is autistic, and one suspects his parents lacked the patience to care for him; and Shelby (Alex Barima) is the sole surviving child of a drug-addicted mother. They don’t have anyone except each other—and Andy.
But Andy’s not the picture-perfect substitute father he seems to be at first. Of course, he’s understandably haunted by his wife’s suicide, and he’s got an overwhelmingly big job caring for so many kids. But last week, we learned that one of the children—the suspiciously adorable Grace (Amélie Eve), who spent her time hiding in her attic bedroom because of her “agoraphobia”—wasn’t actually real. It seems Andy’s grief has made him vulnerable to the island’s supernatural menace, which has been tricking him into thinking a shy little girl lives in his house. Unfortunately for Andy, Grace is actually a demon who quickly turns nasty when she doesn’t get her way.
The evil is more unknowable
In season one, we learned that the demon terrorizing the Rance family was actually the second coming of Pazuzu, back for another crack at Regan MacNeil’s soul (Geena Davis played a grown-up version of the character from the original film). Yes, it was freaky, and it was presented in a unique way, having the entity appear as a leering old man when it interacted with its unwilling hosts. But anyone who has seen The Exorcist movie is familiar with Pazuzu, including its fondness for Ouija boards and head-spinning.
In season two, we’re still not sure exactly who or what we’re dealing with, why it’s chosen that particular island to set up shop, or why it’s forged such special connections with Tomas and Andy. Also, while we’ve seen Marcus and Tomas perform one exorcism already this season, we haven’t gotten a sense of which of the other main characters will become possessed—if that is, in fact, where the story is going, which seems likely, but who knows? No matter what, nobody is safe. As we saw last week when Truck attacked Verity while he was under Grace’s control, the characters don’t have to be full-on possessed to be dangerous. At this point, it feels like anything could happen and anyone could be victimized—which makes The Exorcist not only intensely suspenseful, but also more terrifying than ever before.
The only weak spot so far this season has been Father Bennett’s subplot. He’s been running around Italy and Belgium, accompanied by a ruthless holy warrior improbably named Mouse (Zuleikha Robinson), trying to learn more about the Vatican’s demon problem. Even with a gruesome possessed woman and unlimited wicked Catholic muckety-mucks to interact with, their scenes just aren’t as thrilling as the ones set on the island. It seems like these two may sneak back to Chicago in the coming weeks in search of more information—and at some point, they’re going to have to meet up with Marcus and Tomas, and probably whatever is masquerading as Grace, too. Given the care The Exorcist has taken to craft its twists and turns thus far, no doubt this seemingly extraneous storyline will yield a big payoff eventually. And none of us will ever likely sleep again after we watch it.
The Exorcist airs Fridays on Fox, and you should be watching it.