SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details of tonight’s The Exorcist Season 2 finale
EXCLUSIVE: “You know, we’ve been promising that war is coming to some extent from the very beginning of this show and I think Season 3 is the war arriving,” says The Exorcist executive producer Jeremy Slater of tonight’s ominous Season 2 finale and where the Alfonso Herrera and Ben Daniels led Fox horror series could go next if it’s renewed.
Of course, such a renewal for the show based on William Peter Blatty’s bestseller and the blockbuster 1973 William Friedkin film will come, if it does, under the specter of yesterday’s $66 billion Disney-Fox deal. A multi-asset deal that in part sees the former taking over the television studio of the latter, while Rupert Murdoch and clan retains the broadcast network. All of which is a perilous landscape for the Slater-created and Sean Crouch-showrun Exorcist.
Perilous is also a worthy term of tonight’s “Unworthy” conclusion to the show’s intense second season with the dissolution of the demon fighting duo of Father Tomas Ortega (Herrera) and ex-priest Marcus Keane (Daniels) and the death at the latter’s hand of the possessed Andy Kim (John Cho). Out of an emotionally and narratively complex ender, Tomas hits the road with fellow exorcist Mouse (Zuleikha Robinson) to battle the evil that has infested the Church and Father Devon Bennett (Kurt Egyiawan), while Marcus finally hears from God, though it really might have been too late.
Having overturned their own applecart in a season that saw The Exorcist already reinvent itself after last year, Slater and Crouch chatted with me about tonight’s finale plus their hopes and plans for a third season. Full of praise for Cho, Daniels, Herrera and their cast, the EPs also delved into the Walt Disney and 21st Century Fox mega-merger and why they can’t “imagine it leaves us in a great place.”
DEADLINE: What is it that Marcus sees at the very end of the finale that seems to leave him so overwhelmed?
SLATER: I think that’s definitely a cliffhanger that we would hope would drive Season 3. At that point it’s about six months after Marcus and Tomas have separated and so Tomas has been on the road with Mouse for the last six months. They’ve left to take the fight directly to the Vatican and clearly something has gone wrong somewhere along the way.
I think whatever that message Marcus is getting from God, it probably doesn’t mean good things for Tomas and Mouse. So I think part of the fun and mystery of Season 3 is what exactly happened to them, and is it something that Marcus can still locate them in time to kind of prevent tragedy from occurring.
CROUCH: You know Marcus commits a mortal sin in the finale so he thinks he’s damned. He thinks he’s going to Hell at the end of the season and God basically says nope, I more than forgive you, I give you what you want most. I give you my voice again. Use it to go find Tomas.
DEADLINE: With all that, it is a Hell of a set-up for a third season. Your Season 2 pick-up took a while, is a renewal coming soon this time?
SLATER: We’re still wondering and waiting and kind of trying to figure out what’s going to happen with this big crazy merger with Disney that’s taking place right now. Whether it means good things for our show or bad things.
DEADLINE: What do you think?
SLATER: I think there’s a lot more story to tell in this universe with these characters. I think we have a very passionate, very loyal fan base that would follow the show to the ends of the earth. So I think there’s a lot of potential avenue for the show to continue.
DEADLINE: The Fox and Disney deal will see the Murdochs retaining the broadcast network but Disney gets the actual TV studio, so realistically where could that leave you guys as a production, new season or not?
SLATER: Well, I can’t imagine it leaves us in a great place just because we are not necessarily on brand for Disney. We don’t really kind of fit their marketing model necessarily but who knows.
You know, Disney now owns FX and they’re now going to be big shareholders in Hulu, which desperately needs content. So, it’s one of those a door closes and two other doors open scenarios. I think our odds of just kind of continuing as is for another six years are probably slim but I do think there are places that would be a great home for us and it’s just a question of whether those stars kind of align.
CROUCH: Yeah, I don’t think Fox will make a decision for a while. I think they’ll hold off until April or May. They’ll see how their pilots come in and they’ll see what’s going to be on the air next year. You know, the Disney deal will take at least a year I’m sure to get government approval on. I’m also sure Fox’ll be thinking about what Disney will want on the air when it does go through next December. Whatever happens, this is something Jeremy and I, we’re not going to let go of this.
DEADLINE: How do you mean?
CROUCH: Well, because of the ownership, if it does get canceled or let go by Fox in May, that does open up for us to be able to go out to Hulu or Amazon or you know somewhere else with it. I know 20th the studio loves it and it does really well internationally and it does well online. So it could be one of those things that they wait and all of a sudden next December or next January we announce that there’s a deal with Hulu at that point for the next version of what this is.
DEADLINE: And what does Exorcist Chapter 3 look like? Any blueprints beyond tonight’s finale and its set-up?
SLATER: We have ideas for sure. I mean, we obviously have a great mystery built in with Tomas and Mouse having driven off into the sunset together and then six months later Marcus learns that either they’re in danger or something bad has happened.
In this season, we’ve also set up the idea that at this point the Catholic Church has been compromised. It has been infiltrated by these sleeper agents including Father Bennett, who has now been turned to the other side, to give us a great face to the evil conspiracy. So we’re really stacking the deck against our heroes and we’re really saying that if they’re going to stand a chance at kind of toppling this conspiracy, we’re going to need to form some sort of resistance. Whether that means reaching out to members of other faiths and other religions or whether that means Marcus reaching out to sort of his contacts in the supernatural underworld, I think you’re going to start to see the first steps in a larger war.
DEADLINE: OK, it sounds like you have Season 3 very well planned out …
SLATER: You know, we’ve been promising that war is coming to some extent from the very beginning of this show and I think Season 3 is the war arriving. It’s the exorcists being wiped off the map and it’s that first resistance being formed. In terms of what the central possession storyline would be for Season 3, of who the actual family or victim would be, we have ideas. Yet, part of the joy of having the writers who are in this is sitting down with 12 really smart people and letting the best idea win. So we’re trying not to get too attached to anything just yet.
CROUCH: I will say this, as Jeremy pointed out, I think we’ve done Catholicism Season 1, Catholicism Season 2 and now the Catholic Church is compromised. So I think it’ll be important in Season 3 to go outside of Catholicism and bring in the other faiths because we don’t know who we can trust in the Catholic Church. So we’re going to need to go look at Judaism and dybbuks or other faiths in the future seasons.
DEADLINE: Looking back now on Season 2, which almost didn’t happen, as the relationship between Ben and Alfonso’s characters deepened and evolved, did this season match the goals you had in mind when you started sketching it out?
SLATER: I can only speak for myself but this season has far exceeded my expectations and it’s really a testament to the writers and directors that we put together in our cast.
This season, we wanted to learn from our mistakes in Season 1. We wanted to double down on the things that we had done well and minimize the things that we have struggled with in the first season. A big part of that was making sure if this second season had a satisfying finale because you know I was really unhappy with how our first season ended last year – and I take all of the blame for that because I’m the guy who wrote the last two.
DEADLINE: How did Season 1 not end well for you?
SLATER: Well, we were spinning a lot of plates last year and we did not manage to successfully stick the landing on all of those different plot threads. So, this year it was really important to Sean and I to have everything tied together. Tied together both thematically but also narratively That would make sure that by the time you got to the end yes, there are still cliffhangers, there are still some outstanding questions but hopefully the entire thing feels like a much more cohesive whole.
DEADLINE: An end where your heroes are split and one of your core characters is dead, not very standard Big 4 TV…
CROUCH: No, not at all. You know, I was looking at our board just now as I’m clearing out my office, it’s 100% what we wanted, the end of this. And, yes, we had to fight a lot to get there because, like you said, it’s a bit of a downer this season with some hope.
DEADLINE: That last scene with Ben’s Marcus, feels like a lot of fear and darkness…
CROUCH: Yeah, but there’s definite hope, but we had to fight for this dark ending. We had to fight for Andy’s death and for Marcus to be the one who pulls the trigger. I mean, that’s a huge deal and we got it. We got everything we wanted. We had this plan in place.
The day before filming #201, our first table read with @lijunli @bendanielsss @ponchohd @JohnTheCho. Nobody knew the hell we were about to put these poor people through (well, except @jerslater and I. We knew). Great actors, but even better people! I miss them dearly. pic.twitter.com/6KcZnUxIID
— Sean Crouch (@Seanecrouch) December 16, 2017
DEADLINE: And you had Zuleikha Robinson, Brianna Hildebrand, Alicia Witt, Li Jun Li and John Cho on board for Season 2 along with Alfonso, Ben and Kurt…
SLATER: As the finale shows, John is a powerhouse of an actor…
CROUCH: I’m biased but I think John Cho has the performance of the year on TV, not just our show but all around. And then the children, if you have five kids like we did you plan that one of them is maybe not going to work out and that one you’ll have to sort of write to the side but were all stellar. Then our problem became how do we give them all the story they deserve because each one of them could have been the lead in every episode.
SLATER: Sean just hit on what was probably our biggest challenge this year – the number of characters we added. When you’re doing a show for Netflix or for HBO, you have the luxury of making a 75 or a 90-minute episode if time dictates. When you’re doing something for a network every episode has to be 43 minutes and 45 seconds regardless of whether you don’t have enough footage or have way too much footage.
So when you’re juggling storylines for Marcus, for Tomas, for Bennett and Mouse, for Andy, for Rose and then for five kids in this household and you’re having to do it in 43 minutes every single week, it really kind of compresses the amount of real estate that you have to play with. That means you need those actors that can kind of come in and kill it in a single scene because a lot of these kids only had one or two moments per episode to really sort of make an impression and it’s a testament to I think every actor on the show how, how much you are invested in their safety by the end of this season.
DEADLINE: Which begs the question, why did you decide to kill John’s character off at the end?
SLATER: I actually knew that our possessed person this year was going to die before I even knew who the possessed person was, before we even had the character of Andy or long before we ever sat down with John in the first place.
SLATER: Because I knew that this season was probably going to be our Empire Strikes Back if you’re looking at the larger kind of shape of the franchise as a whole. It felt important to shake up the status quo by the end of Season 2 because I thought that if you ended the second season with another successful exorcism and Marcus and Tomas kind of walk off into the sunset shoulder to shoulder just like last year, it’s kind of just hitting a reset button. It’s just returning everything to the status quo and I think you know the joy of serialized storytelling is that the characters can change and evolve.
So the idea of an unsuccessful exorcism, the idea that these characters could potentially fail and that failure could splinter them apart and put them in very different positions for Season 3 always felt like the right story to tell creatively.
DEADLINE: Sounds like a plan…
SLATER: Yeah, but It became very hard to actually go through with that once we cast John and once we saw what he was bringing to the character. We all kind of fell in love with the character of Andy and Sean and I had plenty of moments where we kind of sat back and wondered are we making a mistake? Should we, should we give this family a happy ending after all?
But narratively it always felt like the right choice to kill him and we also felt pretty strongly that because foster kids were involved.
DEADLINE: As a former foster kid, I have to ask, what do you mean by that?
SLATER: Because of the things that Andy had done, if we had tried to wipe the slate clean at the end of the season, if we had successfully exorcised Andy, it wouldn’t have been satisfying. You can’t say okay now all these foster kids can return here and we’re going to sweep all these dead bodies under the rug and pretend none of this ever happened. It felt like a bit of a creative cheat. Andy, the things he’s done over the course of this year needed to be answered for.
CROUCH: Yeah but man, we teetered. In Episode 7, we were both up in Vancouver on set. That was the episode where the exorcism basically began and we saw it from his point of view and those scenes where he was being exorcised by our heroes, it actually really hit home. It made it really tough for us to go through with it because we knew at that moment our heroes were going to lose. And that’s a tough thing to know that you’re writing about heroes that are actually losing the bigger battle.
Can’t believe this is network television. #TheExorcist
— John Cho (@JohnTheCho) December 16, 2017
DEADLINE: Yet, so much of the season was the relationship between those two, between Marcus and Tomas, the exploration of Marcus’ childhood and sexuality. With such a rich story in Andy and the kids and the island, why did you want to pull back the curtain on Marcus?
SLATER: We decided to dig into Marcus’ back-story because it’s so fascinating and complex and it’s something that we didn’t really get to spend a lot of time with last year.
You know, we never really got to explore Marcus’ sexuality not because there wasn’t a desire last year, but because there just kind of wasn’t the real estate. It felt like by the time we had a chance to actually tell those stories last year, we were kind of racing towards our end game. So this year, it was important to us to kind of take both characters in new directions while at the same time recognizing the reason the majority of our fans tune in is to see this relationship between the two of them. It’s their brotherhood, it’s their bond, their bromance, it’s whatever you want to call it but you know it’s like you said, their relationship.
— The Exorcist (@TheExorcistFOX) December 11, 2017
CROUCH: And it’s real between Alfonso and Ben I mean, they, they love each other. They really are those two guys. And having a one and two on a call sheet like that will make you have an A show no matter what, no matter what you write at that point if you have two guys like that on the call sheet and then John, you know, John finishes up, makes it an A+ show.
SLATER: They have such magnetic chemistry on screen together and last season unfortunately the plot kept pulling them apart in different directions. So we said going in, when we’re planning out this second season, we need to put these guys together as much as possible. We need to let their kind of brotherhood build over the course of the season. Because the only way it’s ever going to hit you in the gut at the very end when their partnership dissolves is if we’ve made you fall in love with this over the course of the last 10 hours. Which I hope we did.