The Exorcist boss Jeremy Slater on season 1 finale
Spoiler alert! If you haven’t watched The Exorcist season finale, don’t return until you do, lest Pazuzu sets his sights on you next.
Well, it looks like The Exorcist’s job is done — at least in terms of saving Angela Rance and her family.
The Fox show’s season-ending episode saw Angela Rance not only face the Salesman in the corridors of her mind, but also best, and eventually defeat him, thus giving way to a demon-free existence for her and the rest of her family’s life. But Angela wasn’t alone in the Pazuzu-pounding department. Father Tomas was able to conquer the brief spell the demon placed on him to finally hear the voice of God and ultimately, activate his powers of exorcism. He was aided by Casey, Kat, and Henry as the trio decided not to flee to safety, but rather help him free their mother (and wife) from the demon’s clutches.
Meanwhile, Marcus and Bennett (who was alive) were under the threat of being possessed by a demon of their own. Luckily Marcus was able to convince Maria to take action and claim the power she so clearly wanted. After she did so, he and Bennett managed to escape their bonds and make their way to downtown Chicago just in time to prevent the Pope’s assassination. Later, after Bennett said his goodbyes, Tomas asked Marcus to teach him how to become an exorcist, admitting he finally heard God’s voice. Despite Marcus’ warnings, he remained adamant, causing the other priest to concede.
With so much going down in the final hour of the season, EW spoke to showrunner and creator Jeremy Slater about the episode’s biggest moments.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You mentioned trying to find new ways to depict exorcisms — was that why we saw Angela and the Salesman in her head with the door? Was that an attempt to visualize what was going on?
JEREMY SLATER: Absolutely. It was always really important to me, to try to reclaim the idea of an exorcism a little bit from some of the basic misogyny that’s built into its DNA. Every exorcism story is usually about this invading male presence that’s attacking some nubile, 17-year-old female and defiling her body and she’s being saved by two men. It’s become both a cliché, and unfortunately, kind of a cornerstone of the genre. So we knew going in that we wanted to do something different and part of that was letting our possessed people, our female characters, be active participants in their own salvation this season. That’s why it was really important to me to be able to see Regan, and Geena Davis, fighting back and being integral in her own salvation as opposed to sitting back and hopelessly waiting for someone else to come in and save her.
As far as the actual mechanics of what’s happening in that scene, it’s tossed off a little bit in the dialogue. But the basic idea is that because she was possessed once before as a child, it’s almost like having an immunity to chicken pox once you’ve already had it. Because she was possessed as a child, she built up some defense mechanisms. In her previous experiences, she had a little mental safe space, where she could go to and block out all the pain and horror that was inflicted in her body in the real world. And so, when the integration process happened some very small part of Angela’s mind or personality retreated to this space and wasn’t absorbed by the demon. So there is a tiny element of the real Regan left inside and that’s why the integration process wasn’t entirely successful.
From Maria taking getting possessed into her own hands, to even Kat choosing to break her own knee to save Henry, all the female characters have a sense of agency in this finale. Was that something you were also thinking about?
I suppose so. It’s always weird when someone points out female characters having their own agency and their own purposes as something that’s progressive because I don’t think it should be. It’s kind of a sad statement on our industry that it does feel a little weird when you don’t have a male character simply saving the day, and female character being the damsel in distress. But we had a writers’ room that, I’m pretty sure we’re 50 percent men and 50 percent female and a lot of strong, passionate, intelligent feminists in that room, and so it’s always been in our marching orders from day one to make sure that we’re not telling a story at the end of the day where the women are victims. Let’s make sure they have their own agency, their own desires. Let’s never make them plot devices that just need to be saved or punished or rescued. That was our agenda from the beginning and I think we came really close to it. I’m really proud of the work that our writers put in.
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In terms of Angela saving herself. What gives her the strength to stand up to the Salesman in that moment? Is it Tomas commencing the exorcism, is it her hearing her family taking part?
The idea was always that any one of these participants on their own wouldn’t have been strong enough to stop this overpowering supernatural force. You’re talking about a demon that’s millions of years old, and just massively powerful and dangerous. But it was that combination. It was Tomas fighting in the real world to reach and bring her back, and the voices of her family who refuse to abandon her, and really just Angela coming to that realization on her own, that she has been running from her past for 40 years. She has allowed fear to rule her life in a very real way. And it’s not until she lets go of that fear and opens that door and accepts the inevitable that she is able to move on. In the same way, Tomas isn’t able to become an exorcist until he lets go of those things that are holding him back. Angela has to make that same emotional leap before she’s ready to face the demon. So I don’t think any of the characters on their own could have defeated Pazuzu, but together, the combination of all of them was just enough.
Tomas and Marcus both talk about their relationships with God. Did you decide to show that because we’ve been dealing with demons all season long?
It’s always been important in a show like that if you’re presenting the idea that evil is real in the world, you need to present the counterpoint that every shadow has a light source and that if there are forces of darkness in the world, then there also have to be forces of good. It’s always been something we’ve struggled with in terms of how much to show and how much to suggest. I’ve been adamant from the beginning that I don’t want this to turn into the kind of show where you have helpful, heroic angels walking around and interacting with the cast. At some point it just becomes Supernatural and they’ve kind of staked that territory very well for themselves and I don’t think we’d want to compete in that area. But it also was important to say, you don’t want the finger of God to rip the roof of the house off and come down to Angela and point to Angela and say, “God saved the day.” That is what makes faith a little harder. It’s easy to see the evil in the world, and sometimes you have to look a little closer to see the good.
We do have the presence of good in our show. We have these little hints and suggestions. Like these voices that Henry keeps hearing saying the “1-6-2” over and over again and he can’t figure out what he means. It’s the page number of the book that ultimately leads Tomas to saving the family. It’s an idea that there is an agency for good out there working, but they’re never going to directly interfere in the way the bad guys will directly attack. All they will do is give you a nudge in the right direction and help you along. It would be disingenuous to do a show about Catholic faith and then act like our heroes are all alone in the universe. Their power does come from a higher source, and we have to be respectful of that. And we also have to play fair with the audience. Because nothing drags me out of a show faster than a magical cheat where suddenly a blindly white angel suddenly appears in the middle of the room and saves the day. The first time you do that, it takes all the suspense out of the show because you say, “Okay, well now you got a magic rescue button that you can press whenever things get too tough.”
Marcus does eventually save the Pope. But was there a chance he might have gotten killed?
There were a lot of different versions of the entire story of Pope Sebastian’s visit and we didn’t settle on the right one until pretty late into the season, because we had versions where the heroes failed to stop it and the Pope was killed. We had versions where the Pope had already been turned, and what you thought was an assassination attempt wound up being a display of his power — the idea that there was a satanic Pope in the Vatican, and he was already taking steps to ensure their success. At the end of the day, we tried quite a few of those, and we knew we were going to have to separate Tomas and Marcus in order for this story to work, in order to give Tomas his hero moment and allow him to become an exorcist. He had to walk that path alone. It did feel a little weird to give Tomas this resounding victory and then have Marcus go off and completely fail to save the Pope’s life. It felt like a little bit of a cheat to the audience that we’ve been stringing this assassination threat story along for the last ten episodes only to have it peter out unsuccessfully. What you see at the end of the episode is that yes, the Pope’s life has been saved but it’s probably a temporary save. His enemies are closing all around him. This isn’t the last time they will try. And my guess is, if we’re lucky enough to get a season 2, we’re going to start exploring that political intrigue that’s probably taking place within the Vatican. This idea that agents of evil have probably infiltrated every faction of church and state and that they are installing their people in positions to take power as soon as that power vacuum exists. You saw Pope Sebastian get a stay of execution, but it probably will not be a very long one.
<pAnd is Maria in charge of the Friars going forward now?
Yeah. Maria’s story isn’t quite done yet. What’s interesting about her going forward is that her integration wasn’t entirely successful in the way that Superintendent Jaffey’s integration was. The demon’s very unhappy that it is trapped inside her body because that is not what it was promised, Marcus or Tomas. It got tricked into accepting a lesser host. So you’ll see that the demon’s eye, it’s pupil is a little jittery. It’s trying to get out. Maria might have finally gotten what she’s wanted her entire life, but that demon isn’t necessarily happy with this new arrangement. There might be some conflicts between the host and the new hands on the steering wheel. There’s some interesting stuff to explore if we get more seasons. She’s a fun bad guy, but I don’t that Maria would ultimately be the Big Bad for your show. There’s probably a larger threat out there, and Maria and Jaffey and Brother Simon are just paving the way for that threat, which, we haven’t seen him or her yet.
Also, Bennett is alive! Was it a feint for the audience, or was he always alive?
Yeah, we were having a little fun at the end of episode 8 of leaving you in limbo in terms of wondering whether he was alive or dead. We went back and forth in the writers’ room too. Is it better to give him a dramatic death and make him the ultimate sacrifice? But I do think Bennett has a larger part to play, especially if we start getting into political intrigue within the Vatican. [He] makes a pretty good mole on the inside. So we decided at the end of the day, we liked the actor and the character too much. Let’s bring him back and put him through a little more abuse.
In terms of season 2, aside from the political intrigue, would there also be a focus on Tomas and Marcus’ exorcisms within America?
Definitely. Our goal for this first season was to tell a compelling story with a beginning, middle, and end. That was the Rance family possession, which has now ended. The family is saved. Angela for the first time in her life feels safe. She’s no longer looking over her shoulder; she can actually be happy and fulfilled and safe. Marcus and Tomas’ story is just getting started. Our challenge for Season 2 is to figure out: What is the emotional spine of the next season? For this season it was very much about the Rance family. They were the reason we cared and got invested. So you’ll see a new possession case, a new family or individual who needs Marcus and Tomas’ help in season 2, and at the same time you’ll see our larger mythology. The world is starting to change around Marcus and Tomas and their enemies are getting more ambitious and are taking moves to consolidate power. So trying to balance that political paranoia of never quite knowing who you can trust, with another strong emotional story about these two different men coming together to save a family in peril, that’s always going to be the basic DNA of The Exorcist.
Fox’s 2016 TV series stars Geena Davis.