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The Exorcist - Safe as Houses & Unclean - Double Review: "Faking a Posession"

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The Exorcist 2.02 "Safe as Houses"
Directed by Deran Sarafian & Written by Adam Stein

The Exorcist continued its fine form into its second episode of the season with Safe as Houses, which looked at the two separate storylines and developed them further, spending equal time between Andy and his foster kids in their home and Tomas and Marcus, who are busy trying to free an evil spirit from Cindy, a woman whose husband is hunting them down for kidnapping her, and currently has them locked in a barn whilst the demonically possessed Cindy is taken away.

But the episode itself decided to instead open in The Vatican City, in the underground Officio di Exorsismo. It's pretty clear that the Exorcism that was performed last season has had a drastic impact on the Church right the way up the ladder, and Father Bennett (Kurt Egyiawan), a demonic posession expert who is very much a believer, is present in full force, not holding anything back. He believes that corruption is rooted deep within the Church and has even gone so far as to accuse a Cardinal. We're in very much uncharted waters here in terms of The Exorcist storyline, as director Deran Sarafian and writer Adam Stein are introducing some completely new material that does a good job at broadening the world of this universe and showing the various goings on inside the Vatican. At this stage it's too early to tell how all three storylines will connect together, but for now, the groundwork is very much established for future shenanigans in the Catholic Church to come.

It's pretty clear that Bennett is facing an uphill battle in his struggles as the Cardinal who he's accusing, Cardinal Guillot, doesn't even try to hide his disdain for him. Bennett believes that Guillot is among one of the possessed, who has become so tightly linked with the demon inhabiting him. However, Guillot is willing to submit to holy water to prove his apparent innocence, and his fellow Cardinals willingly believe him once they see that the water doesn't harm him. It's going to be an uphill struggle for Father Bennett for sure based on these early moments, and it isn't long before the conspiracy of demonic possession is pushed on Marcus Keane, the rogue priest who was stripped of his duty. Bennett is asked about their whereabouts but he declines, even to his direct superior, and instead is sent on a case of a woman in what looks to be a completely unrelated incident. And to make matters worse, Bennett's superior is spotted with those under Guillot's control. He does his best to reach out to Marcus to let him know that the corruption is headed for them. It's understandable that we didn't get to see the Vatican corruption arc continued in the premiere after where it left off at the end of Season 1 as we had to introduce a whole new cast, but the second episode of the season was the perfect time to bring it back into the picture and the transition across the Atlantic worked really well. Whatever the show is building up to in regards to this development will no doubt have big repercussions, and you almost wish that they'd spend a tad bit more time in Italy.

Marcus himself is with Tomas, where we left off in the last episode. Here, both of the characters find themselves pushed into a corner and are running out of time. This is where we got to see Ben Daniels shine with a speech about Lucifer being the poison cursing through Cindy's veins, and once again reminded us just how great the cast is. Both Daniels and Alfonso Herrera have been fantastic as Marcus and Tomas respectively, and have really helped add that extra dynamic to the show with the two leads. Their interactions are always great, and whenever they're surrounded you can't help but want them to get out alive. The fact that there's a clear difference between the two characters has really paid off in the show's benefit as well, making them all the more distinctive.

Eventually, Tomas and Marcus are able to successfully pull off the exorcism of the demon from Cindy even if they have risked Tomas opening himself up to the demon in the process. This is a win for them that earns them the gratitude of the police who had been previously out to kill them, and effectively wraps up the two part storyline that kickstarted this show. It was a nice side distraction that made the most out of Patsy Cline's Walkin' After Midnight, and allowed the audience to be reminded about the perils of what these two characters do before thrusting them into the greater challenge.

The weakest of the three storylines is unfortunately the slowest, at least in this chapter, with Andy and the children feeling like it dragged this week. The change of pace and tone almost feels like we're in a completely different show without Marcus and Tomas present, but the focus on Caleb allowed us to see that he was under the influence of a demon rather than simply just being suicidal. Rose herself is debating about whether or not to report the incident as suicidal behaviour which would risk putting Andy in trouble, but the tension behind the is clear. Caleb admits that Verity took him out to the well and she shouldn't be without her fair share of the blame either, and Verity ends up telling a different version of events to cover her own tracks. It ends up being enough for Rose to take Caleb's word that it was just a small thing and nothing too serious, but of course, with evil on its way, time is slowly running out for the kids. In a way the slower pace does allow its time to focus on setting up and create a morbid atmosphere, but I kind of wish things could move at a quicker pace here, especially as we've seen how quickly the show can deal with the Cindy storyline in the past. The pacing is a bit jarring at the moment but once Marcus and Tomas arrive on the island, things should hopefully improve for the better.

The Exorcist 2.03 "Unclean"
Directed by Ti West & Written by Manny Coto

The third episode of the second season was written by Manny Coto, who's notable for being the executive producer and showrunner of Star Trek: Enterprise, so I was interested to see how he would approach the horror genre in a show that's tonally different from both that and his previous work that he's written scripts for, 24: Legacy's pilot and 24: Live Another Day, the mini-series that proceeded it. Here Unclean puts Father Tomas and Marcus on a collision course with Andy and the kids, as hell continues to visit his foster home.

It looks like all the pieces are being put together to lead Marcus and Tomas to Andy's home, but first they're investigating a next exorcism i Washington following on from a vision from Tomas. It takes them to a suburban home, a completely different scenario from the one that they tackled in the first two episodes, and was mainly designed as a stop gap before they met up with Rose but at the same time allowed for a harrowing and dark scenario that occupied much of this episode. Harper (Beatrice Kitsos) is the child who needs saving and she has even been able to draw pictures of Marcus and Tomas fighting a monster, which is odd when you consider she hasn't met them yet. Harper's mother tells them that whatever is inside Harper knows that Marcus and Tomas were on their way, after reading the book by Chris MacNeil. It turns out that the name of the demon inhabiting Harper is Tobias, who of course, doesn't have the best of reactions to being called forth by Tomas and Marcus, exploding a combination of vomit and screaming. The mission this time is very simple - get Tobias out of Harper before she dies. Very much a rinse and repeat then, of Safe of Houses.

The set up almost seemed like it was the show setting into a formula and were it not for Andy and his family's introduction earlier in the series I'd have been worried that it would be following a mostly formulaic approach similiar to Supernatural's earlier monster of the week episodes, only with less variety as there's only so much you can do with demonic possession stories. Thankfully this doesn't look to be the case but there were alarm bells there for a second, especially given Fox's past history of turning even the most exciting concept into a bog-standard procedural.

The show itself does a good job with spending time to making us care about Harper and her mother. It's clear that Harper is good at drawing and we get a sense for how their life would be if Harper had never been possessed by Tobias. It isn't long before Rose shows up, who has turned up to get Harper - successfully making the gap between the two storylines in a way that was perhaps different to what I originally expected. But it's good to see that Rose is playing an active role in the storyline rather than just being the damsel in distress (although to be fair, Andy's home has remained relatively unscathed from the horror within so far), and it doesn't take Marcus long to work out that Rose needs to go for them to complete the exorcism. He explains that he and Tomas have been called there by Mrs. Graham about their daughter, but Rose tells him that she's been in and out of hospitals her whole life.

It turns out that things haven't quite gone the way that they expected and the show ends up offering a last minute twist on the typical possession story, almost Scooby Doo-esque in a way that plays against type with our expectations. It looks like that Mrs. Graham has been drugging her daughter to make it look like she was possessed, and certainly loses any contention for best parent of the year award. It looks like she's been reading too much of Chris MacNeil's book, and promptly whacks Tomas over the head with a hammer to prevent the secret from getting out, just interrupting one of the show's quieter moments as Marcus confronts Harper in the bedroom.

Thankfully for Marcus, Rose was able to call the cops in time, who quickly take Mrs. Graham in after she was restrained by Marcus. Tomas and Marcus realise that if they had performed the Exorcism as planned it would have killed her, and as a result we got a darker, deeper look into what some of the human characters are willing to do. Rose at least can promise that Harper will be put in a foster care, and as a result, Harper looks set to play a part in the storyline going forward as it seems inevitable she'll end up at Andy's, another addition to his group of kids. It's probably a bad sign too, given what's currently happening there. But at least Rose now is at least on a first name basis with Marcus and Tomas, so when things turn sour, they can be called.

The way this show pays attention to what's going on really pays off in its favour. There's several great scenes of foreboding imagery that continue to establish the backdrop for Unclean very well. For instance you have the shot that's reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds with the horde of black crows in the field, something which is unlike anything anyone's ever seen before. You know because of the religious connection that they have something bad is coming. It may be taking its time to come, but Unclean does a good job at slowly and subtly building the suspense.

Meanwhile, Andy is burying the dead lamb that Shelby, another one of his foster kids, brought to the door at the end of the last episode. It's very much a dilemma that's still going on between Caleb and Verity, as Caleb is still insistent that Verity led him to the woods, Verity is denying it and Shelby thinks that the woods themselves have something wrong with them. Andy himself it turns out has more real-world problems to deal with as there must be two people in the foster home to look after the kids rather than just the one, and so he decides to offer Rose to stick with him to look after the kids. Shelby meanwhile is still convinced he's hearing things, and they aren't going away anytime soon.

The show itself also continued its country-hopping Vatican conspiracy story this week as things switched to France. This demonic ritual led by Cardinal Guilott kicked off the episode, but thanks to Bennett's newfound ally in the female exorcist Mouse, Guilott and his cronies don't stay around for very long as they're disposed of in one of the show's more gorier sequences. Her character is one that we're introduced as we add another one to this growing list of cast members (surely they won't all make it to the end of Season 2 alive, right?) and it quickly becomes apparent that Mouse and Bennett are going to be the new Marcus and Tomas of the side-story, their methods being very different and their characters being opposites. It turns out to Bennett's horror, Mouse has Sister Deloris, fully integrated with the demon, chained up and is acting off its information, but she has to at the same time remember it's a demon. They aren't exactly the most trustworthy sources of information ever.

Overall, Unclean was an improvement on Safe as Houses and certainly the episode that I preferred. Both were still pretty good episodes of television however as the storylines continue to balance across its three threads. Will we ever see Mouse and Bennett meet up with Tomas and Marcus? Or will they be the Tomas and Marcus of Europe? How many countries does the show plan on crossing off its list before the end of the season? It remains to be seen just how evil the evil in the woods around Andy's house is, but from what we've seen so far, it's not going to go quietly into the night.

What did you think of these two episodes? Which one did you prefer? Let me know in the comments below and be sure to check out the next episode of The Exorcist on Fox this Friday at 9pm.

About the Author - Milo MJ
Milo is an Arsenal FC supporter and loves TV shows like Battlestar Galactica, Justified, The Wire, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Person of Interest. He reviews Preacher, The Exorcist, Star Wars Rebels, Star Trek Discovery, Silicon Valley and Veep for Spoiler TV and will be covering Castle Rock, Counterpart, Krypton, Marvel's New Warriors, Rise, Marvel's Runaways, Succession and Trust. He also contributes to comic reviews on a weekly basis for All-Comic. He also regularly watches and reviews films on Letterboxd, and you can find his ever-changing list of 300 favourite movies here.
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