Of the many questions we had when it was announced that Fox was working on a TV series based on “The Exorcist” novel and movie, three came to the forefront: Is this a sequel or a reboot? How will it tie into the original film and book? How are you going to take a possession story and expand it out to an entire season?
Now that we’re halfway through the first season of “The Exorcist,” we have answers to those questions, and some of them are quite shocking. As we head into the back half of the season, executive producer Jeremy Slater sat down with Entertainment Weekly to discuss those big reveals, and a bit about what we can expect moving forward with those answers. Let’s take a look at some of the bigger points of what is ahead.
****SPOILERS FOR “THE EXORCIST” ARE ABOUND. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!****
The fight for the soul of a young girl filled the entirety of a feature film, but how could we make it work across an entire season of one-hour shows? When it is just one cog in a machine that’s slowly winding to life. With hints of a conspiracy building throughout the last few episodes, we’re introduced to the Friars of Ascension. But who do they serve and what do they want? Of the group, Slater says:
“It was important to us that if we were going to have a cult of bad guys [as] villains, we didn’t want traditional Satanists. We didn’t want a bunch of monks in black hooded robes, chanting over a pentagram with a bloody altar. This big climactic scene at the end of the episode is really our attempt to re-contextualize what a Black Mass looks like. It’s not a dark, disturbing ceremony. In a lot of ways, it’s very beautiful and open and loving. It just so happens that the ceremony requires ashes harvested from a human victim.”
As with any conspiracy, it has to pervade our inner circles and taint our trust with those who are supposed to be our biggest allies. Is that the case here?
“…Bennett says he doesn’t know yet, that there’s evidence that suggests that the bad guys may have infiltrated even the highest levels of the Church. If that’s true, we have no idea who we can trust. We don’t know where our enemies are, or where they’re going to strike. As we race towards our finale, we’re going to start to see this sense of paranoia creep into our world of the characters [as they] realize that they’re on their own in a very real way. There’s no one they can necessarily trust to help them.”
We also learned, in one shocking twist, that the series is actually a sequel to the original film and book. Having hidden her identity from her loved ones, Angela Rance was forced to admit that she was really Regan MacNeil, the target of possession and exorcism of the first film. With the return of her estranged mother, who her family was told was dead, it brings up not only a chance to know what’s happened, but forces Regan into a position of dealing with her lies and fighting for her family.
Of that reveal, and the appearance of Chris Macneil, Slater said, “What next? What happened in the 40 years since the story ended?” And to really present it from both women’s sides, because the worst thing we can do as storytellers would be to just take Chris’s side, or to just take Angela’s side, and just one of them was right, and the other one was wrong. Life really doesn’t work that way. It’s much more complicated and messy. That’s something we’re trying to capture. The emotional scars and wounds are deep enough that it’s not the sort of thing you’re going to see get healed in the space of a single episode. This is going to be a major storyline playing out in the second half of the season, this question of whether mother and daughter will reunite, whether this family can come back together in the face of this unspeakable tragedy, or whether they’ll just get torn apart all over again, like they did 40 years ago.”
Regan and her mother aren’t the only ones making a return. Beaten but not entirely destroyed, the demon that tortured the Macneil’s so long ago, now in the guise of The Salesman, appears to be the driving force behind the current possession, and not for reasons we immediately thought.
“His defeat at the hands of Father Damien Karras, the fact that he was very nearly killed in that encounter, and barely escaped with his life, and probably spent the last 40 years regaining his strength and pulling himself back together, it’s left a burning resentment. As you go on, you’ll see that the Salesman desperately wants to hurt this family in general, but this woman in particular, and what better way to get revenge against the last surviving person who hurt you than to take everything she loves?”
Now that the battle for Casey’s soul has begun, what lies ahead for her and Marcus, and for us as we head into the second half of this season?
“When we see Casey, she has obviously reverted to a very feral animalistic state,” Slater says, “The demon is very, very close to taking over her body at that point [but] Marcus manages to pull her back from the edge. That’s a story that’s absolutely going to carry into episodes 7-10. It’s the first salvo in this larger exorcism that we teased in episode 5. We’re going to start seeing the battle between Marcus and Casey pick up where it left off, and all of that begins at the end of this episode.”
You can read the rest of Jeremy Slater’s comments at EW’s interview. The stakes have never been higher, as Casey’s soul is the target for a larger plan against the Rance family, and their struggle is just one of many as the Friars of Ascension put into motion their plans that very well could spell the end of our world. Will Father Tomas find his faith, will Marcus become the weapon he was meant to be, and how will the story of Regan Macneil end?
Find out as “The Exorcist” airs on Fridays at 9PM on Fox.