INTERVIEW: ‘The Exorcist’ Creator Jeremy Slater Discusses Season 2’s Latest Twists & Terrifying Demon

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Ahead of tonight’s episode, The Exorcist series creator and executive producer Jeremy Slater took some time away from the show’s rainy Vancouver set to talk to With An Accent. Last episode saw a major shift in the action, as the slow-burning psychological horror built over the past six episodes exploded into a harrowing, chaotic scene with deadly consequences.

Under the influence of the demon, Andy killed Harper Graham’s mother, who had broken into the Kim house to reclaim her daughter. Slater elaborated on the reason for that shocking twist: “We knew that someone had to pay the price. We knew that we needed a body count this season just because last season the demon that had Casey and Angela, it did wind up hurting a lot of people in the process. [We needed] something to kind of signal a shift that the demon had now manifested, and the evil was out in the open and the exorcism has to begin in full.”

There was some discussion about Rose becoming the unwitting victim—and the episode did tease Rose being the target of the demon’s threats. Ultimately, the writers were reluctant to move in that direction because they fell in love with Li Jun Li’s performance. Slater even teased that Rose will be needed in the upcoming episodes “in a big way.”

Once someone suggested Harper’s mom, he explains, “It felt like perfect symmetry because you hate her so much. What she does to her daughter is so monstrous that you really kind of want to see some comeuppance. So you could see the perfect way to have Andy do something that’s absolutely horrible and unforgivable, but at the same time I think there’s a small part of the audience that’s rooting for Harper’s mom to get it. She really may be the most monstrous character we’ve ever had on the show.”

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With Andy clearly in the demon’s grasp during this episode, there’s no turning back. This isn’t the same Andy we met in episode one, but just how much of him was inspiring his motives to kill Harper’s mom? “How these beings operate and really what’s going to get their hooks into you…it’s all about wish fulfillment, about getting what you want when you want it,” Slater says. “And so, in that moment, it took his natural desires as a good father to protect his family, to protect this new surrogate daughter in his house, and really amplified it to a horrible degree. It may have not necessarily been Andy who was plunging the knife into her, but it was definitely preying on Andy’s emotions and giving him that push on the back that he needed to go that extra horrible step.”

As The Exorcist developed its demonic mythology over the season, we’ve seen the power and scope of their influence in the world, and Andy’s story is just one small part of that larger world. “We talked a lot about it at the beginning of the year, should this demon be tied into the larger conspiracy? As we’ve shown in the show, the demons do have a plan—they’re infiltrating every level of church and state. They’re trying to eliminate the opposition and place themselves in positions of power. But it didn’t feel like the right time to tell a story that was centered around that.”

Instead, for Andy’s demon, the writers found their inspiration in the Gemini Killer from The Exorcist III. Rather than this demon being concerned with the greater conspiracy, it’s become a serial killer with the entire island under its horrific influence. Its evil could stretch back as far as thousands of years. But it doesn’t want the same things Casey’s demon did last season. Slater clarifies, “it doesn’t want integration; it has no interest in taking Andy’s body and integrating with it and living in Andy’s body for the rest of its existence.

“It’s much more interested in this sick game it plays where it takes one of the most perfect and loving things in the world—which is a parent’s love for their children and their family—and distorts it and uses it as a weapon against them,” he continues. “There’s no greater sacrilege than forcing a parent to kill their children and that’s really what this demon gets off on. That’s been its goal with Andy from the very beginning. So in episode five when we see those flashbacks to the demon’s past, we see it’s been doing this for a really long time and it’s good at pushing those buttons and leading the possessed to this point where you will commit this unforgivable sin and turn against your family. That’s what’s in store for Andy if the priests can’t save him.”

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And this demon isn’t messing around. It’s been working its way into Andy’s mind for a while now, learning what tricks to use against him. When asked about the shift from Grace to Nicole, Slater explains how the narrative is affected by that decision. “It was always in the cards from the very beginning. We always knew that the demon’s first form would be a child. That’s Andy’s weak spot. He’s someone who loves kids so much that he sees this young, struggling child who needs his help with a problem, and it’s a problem he can actually solve when the rest of his life is kind of falling down around his ears. That would be the great way for the demon to get its hooks into him. It’s really effective for a long time up until episode five where he rejected Grace.

“The demon realized that this form was no longer working anymore. It was longer effective. So that’s when it changed tactics and said, ‘Well, you know what, if the kid isn’t working, what if I take the form of your dead wife?’ And hits Andy where he’s weakest. It’s great for us as storytellers…we kind of told all the story there was to tell with the creepy little kid, even though Amélie Eve is adorable and we all loved Grace and it was so fun to write those scenes.”

In these episodes, the demon changing forms to Nicole gives The Exorcist a chance to play up an entirely new dynamic. Slater praised the pairing of Alicia Witt and John Cho, who have brought top-notch performances in creating Andy and Nicole’s relationship onscreen. But, of course, this isn’t the real Nicole that Andy is faced with now. “Even though she’s not actually Nicole, Andy doesn’t know that at this point,” Slater elaborates. “He’s so far into the delusion, but that still lets you play all these scenes and relive your greatest regrets and that’s something you’re going to be seeing a lot of in [tonight’s] episode. The entire episode is really about this relationship between Andy and Nicole. It’s the one great regret of his life, the fact that his wife killed herself and he wasn’t there to save her. He didn’t catch the warning signs in time and he’s harbored a lot of residual guilt over this for years and blamed himself. He’s asked himself, ‘Is there something I could’ve done?’ That’s a weakness the demon is absolutely going to exploit in this next episode.”

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It sounds like Marcus and Tomas will have their work cut out for them! But they may have more problems to deal with on top of Andy’s exorcism. Andy’s family doesn’t enjoy the same privileges as the Rances, so his exorcism will come with a different kind of challenge. “One of the things that was useful for the priests in the first season was that this was a fairly well-to-do family, the kind who close their doors to the outside world. And they put Casey in that bedroom and [they were] working on this exorcism for as long as it took in order to bring her back. There was only that one slight mistake where Kat called the cops and upset the entire plan. Our heroes don’t have that luxury this time around because there’s a foster home with kids who are being monitored by the state,” Slater explains.

“Traditional exorcism, as we said on the show, can take weeks, sometimes even months in order to successfully destroy the demon,” he continues. “And they’re just not going to have that sort of time here. So it puts a great ticking clock on our priests in terms of finding a way to save Andy and bring him back. Every day that goes by, the odds of getting discovered, the odds of the cops kicking in the door and finding Lorraine Graham’s dead body increases exponentially. Hopefully that’s going to give us some great tension for these last episodes.”

Slater voiced his hopes for the rest of the season: “We’ve got a lot of plates spinning and a lot of different plot threads between Tomas’ visions and what’s happening with Andy’s possession, and Bennett and Mouse are still heading toward Seattle…they’re going to arrive there at some point this season. Our hope is by the end of the season we can bring these three different plot threads together in a really satisfying way.”

The Exorcist airs Fridays on FOX at 9/8c.