In today’s media landscape, television shows often have two lives. There is the first life, when the show initially airs on network TV, and the second life, when the show is added to a streaming service like Netflix or Hulu. This second life has recently been afforded to the CBS series Evil, which originally premiered more than a year ago but was just recently added to Netflix’s catalog. With a whole new audience now able to dig into the series, it’s time to make the case for a show that may have been overlooked during its initial run.
Evil was created by Robert and Michelle King, who you may know as the powerhouse duo behind The Good Wife and its spinoff, The Good Fight. While it is considerably different in style and tone from The Good Wife (and perhaps less so than from The Good Fight, which has become increasingly surreal as it tackles our current political reality), it retains the Kings’ penchant for biting dialogue, complex characters, and heightened workplace drama.
On its surface, the series is an investigative procedural that follows Dr. Kristen Brouchard (Katja Herbers) a forensic psychologist and supernatural skeptic, and David Acosta (Mike Colter), a priest-in-training, who are hired by the Catholic church to investigate supposed supernatural incidents. Also on the team is Ben Shakir (Aasif Mandvi), a tech expert who, like Kristen, is there to prove David’s belief in divine existence wrong. While the show reads like a procedural on paper – Paste magazine calls it a “procedural trojan horse” – the show expands beyond those generic confines, as the conflict between good and evil builds and evolves throughout the course of the season, taking the series in unexpected (and terrifying) directions.
As is par for the course for investigative procedurals, the two leads have excellent sexual chemistry that anchors the show and creates a compelling emotional centre. Mike Colter’s obvious charm – his luscious, velvety voice and perfectly symmetrical face, which even I, a known lover of Kristen Stewart, find appealing – is of course one of the things that makes their chemistry so captivating (and so believable). But it’s their often conflicting viewpoints and perceptions of the world that make their chemistry really leap off the screen. David’s calm, steady demeanour, coupled with his steadfast belief in a higher power perfectly balances out Kristen’s dogmatic pragmatism and fierce protectiveness of her four daughters. But like Mulder and Scully before them, they also respect and care for one another, making their many disagreements all the more profound.
Indeed, this push and pull between David and Kristen is the most stimulating and thought-provoking aspect of the series. Though each episode tackles a new potentially supernatural phenomenon and ends with something approximating a conclusion, nothing is ever really solved. Though at times Kristen is able to find a logical, scientific explanation for these occurrences, a haunting suspicion that some things can never really be explained continues to plague each member of the team. It is a truly creepy show, but not in the way monster-of-the-week supernatural dramas often depict horror.
In this sense, it’s difficult to put a finger on how the show builds this sense of terror – there are no jump scares, and the monstrous figures we do see are not your typical graveyard monsters. One of the more frightening recurring figures in the show is a demon-like creature named George who visits Kristen in bed every night. Unable to ascertain whether she is asleep or awake when he comes, she devises a plan to differentiate between dreams and reality (the results of which I will not reveal here). It is sequences like these that effectively blur the lines between what is a purely psychological phenomenon and what is a supernatural one, with neither interpretation every providing an entirely satisfying explanation. It is this very ambiguity that accounts for much of the show’s haunting power.
As told by the show’s antagonist – a therapist named Leland Townsend (Michael Emerson) whose goal is to encourage others to commit evil – the most powerful evil that exists in the world is not the demonic forces that the team hunts, but the horror that mortal human beings choose to inflict on one another. Indeed, part of the show’s brilliance lies in its commitment to illuminating the many forms that evil can take, human or otherwise. In one episode, the team investigates a supposed case of divine intervention when a woman miraculously comes back to life after being declared dead hours before. While supernatural causes are explored (and in fact never fully ruled out), the investigation eventually leads to a discovery of systemic medical racism being in the hospital in which the woman was initially treated.
In one of the series’ most disturbing episodes, the team is sent to investigate a family who believes their nine-year-old son is possessed by a demon. While Kristen believes he is simply a burgeoning psychopath, David has faith he can be saved with the right intervention. At the same time, Kristen’s mother buys her four granddaughters VR headsets and they are drawn into a terrifying virtual game that they cannot escape. The shocking conclusion – which is worth not spoiling – is one of the most chilling things I have ever seen on television, and it rattles both Kristen and David’s faith in their ability to do their work. As this episode in particular exemplifies, the writing on the show is so sharp and nuanced that both characters’ often disparate understandings of human behaviour are allowed to exist simultaneously without canceling each other out. And in this episode, as with many others, neither explanation offers either character much comfort after what they’ve just seen.
As the show suggests, evil corrupts just as much as it terrifies. And true evil, it’s suggested, has no cure. If this sentiment intrigues you, it’s time to give Evil a chance.
by Kira Deshler
Kira holds a Masters’s degree in Media Studies from UT Austin where she studied queer female fandom and representation. She loves lesbian cinema, any and all TV shows about crime, and coming of age stories about teenage boys who love music. Every Christmas she watches Carol (2015) and has an emotional breakdown. You can follow her on Twitter and Letterboxd, and can find her thesis site on queer female fandom here.
Categories: Anything and Everything