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Catching Up With Evil Part 2: Incels and Demons

Season 1 continues with new revelations about demons, prophecies, and men's rights terrorists.
  • Kristen (Katja Herbers) goes there with Leland (Michael Emerson). (Photo: CBS)
    Kristen (Katja Herbers) goes there with Leland (Michael Emerson). (Photo: CBS)

    Sometimes a show sneaks up on you and the next thing you know it seems like you're the only one in your social circle who hasn't seen it. This recently became the case for me with Evil, from The Good Wife and The Good Fight creators Robert and Michelle King. The series quietly aired its first season on CBS during the 2019-2020 TV season before all 13 episodes were placed on Netflix, where it benefitted from a serious uptick in recognizability and chatter. With so many of my friends eagerly anticipating the show's second season, premiering June 20th at its new home on Paramount+, I've resolved to catch up on the first season and am chronicling my experience here in a three part series.

    Last week I wrote about the show's first five episodes, which confirmed what I'd heard — the show is a fun and addictive ride — and I'm continuing my catch-up this week with episodes 6 through 9. This middle stretch of episodes deepens and complicates the central conflict of the show, which concerns David Acosta (Mike Colter) a priest-in-training tasked by the Catholic church to investigate things like exorcisms and miracles, the skeptical Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers) who's there to Scully up the works, and the even more skeptical and tech-literate Ben Shakir (Aasif Mandvi). Along the way they've encountered demonic possession (or not), haunted VR headsets (or not), and sleep-paralysis demons named George.

    Demons on Parade

    This middle chunk of episodes is where Evil seems to coalesce into the kind of show it intends to be — one with a central demonology storyline from which can sprout any number of episodic arcs. It all starts in episode 6 (titled "Let x=9"), where David, Kristen, and Ben (this gang really needs a name; "the God Squad" feels too cliché, but let's keep brainstorming) investigate the case of a woman who claims to be a prophet of God and whose prophecies have, according to David's superiors at the Catholic Church, lined up with an ancient codex that predicts the end of the world. Via their research into this, they come across a document that displays 60 sigils, each one seemingly corresponding to a different demon. These sigils set the God Squad (whatever, it'll do for now) on a course that will lead them to people like David's father and, naturally, Leland Townshend (Michael Emerson), who shows up for a date with Kristen's mother Sheryl (Christine Lahti!) and gifts Kristen's daughters with journals that bear the mark of one of the sigils.

    Incels Out

    Leland isn't just busying himself by trying to date Sheryl to get close to Kristen. He's also decided, in his capacity as a therapist, to treat a socially awkward twentysomething male — the IT guy from the previous episode with the Scott Rudin-esque tyrant of a boss — who's recently been spurned by a cute girl at the coffee shop. Leland, being either a demon or just a very human agent of evil, decides to stoke the misogynist instincts in this young incel, eventually pointing him towards men's rights chat rooms on 8chan and begins feeding him prompts to act out violently. Targeting the men's rights movement is a perfect fit for the Kings, who seem both fascinated and disturbed at the myriad ways in which modern America is circling a very nasty and violent drain, and the idea that this particularly dark corner of society is being spurred on by a (possible) actual demon is a great fit. The arc spans several episodes and comes to a rather shocking conclusion that I will not spoil here.

    Good Romance?

    I should address the will-they-or-won't-they chemistry between Kristen and David, which the show has been seeding into each episode since the beginning. This is yet another nod to the X-Files vibe of the show's premise, as that show was often consumed by its fans' desire to see Fox Mulder and Dana Scully get together romantically. That desire came about organically, though, and as Evil rolls on, I find myself more resistant to a Kristen/David romantic plot the more the show seems to insist upon it as a possibility. I like them both individually. They certainly seem to have some kind of chemistry. Leland Townshend clearly doesn't want it to happen, so that's a point in its favor as well. But I almost never root for these "ships" to happen. Male/female friendships are already so rare in fiction, and I'm kind of dismayed that Kristen and David were thrown into some kind of fraught romantic holding pattern from minute one.

    The Kristen/David romance stuff really levels up in episode 8, "2 Fathers," as Kristen accompanies David to his father's commune and they both end up dosed with hallucinogens (as will happen on a commune) and the sexual tension ratchets up.. This is of course immediately complicated when Kristen returns home to find her husband — who, despite my suspicions, was not dead all along — has returned from climbing Mount Everest, the flimsiest cover story in history. Kristen's husband is the worst, and I'm very much onboard with Christine Lahti giving him eight kinds of grief when he returns.

    Going There

    Okay, I promised I wouldn't spoil how the incel storyline ends, but I will say that its end (in episode 9, "Exorcism Part 2") is just one of many examples of Evil making the bold choice that truly takes me by surprise. They'd already done so in "Let x=9," when Kristen comes home to find Leland there with her mother and daughters. Rather than scream at him to get out or even make idle threats, Kristen takes him out to her guest house/office shoves him up against a wall and slices his neck with a knife. She knows enough not to make it fatal, but the moment was a shock. And in a series that's gotten a lot of mileage out of something horrific happening to Kristen only to reveal it's a dream, the fact that this was really happening felt like even more of a jolt.

    Be Our Guests

    I am happy to report that Evil, in the great tradition of The Good Wife and The Good Fight, is killing it when it comes to guest stars. Those other two shows are famous for their many, many one-off and recurring roles for elite Broadway performers. Evil got off on that foot right away by introducing Tony nominee Danny Burstein as a prosecutor in the first episode. Since then, guest stars have included the great John Glove, Dascha Palanco, Kurt Fuller, Clark Johnson, and Peter Scolari. In this stretch of episodes, Vonde Curtis Hall (Christine Lahti's former Chicago Hope co-star) appears as David's father; Tony nominee Jen Colella (Come From Away) stars as one of the dad's two commune wives; Noah Robbins, who's really gotten a lock down on a particular kind of twentysomething office gnat with superiority issues, plays the incel Leland is mentoring; and most memorably, in episode 7 ("Vatican III"), Tony winner and B Positive star Annaleigh Ashford plays a terrifying woman who may have murdered three children and may also be possessed by a demon. As the season rounds into its final four episodes, I'm prepared for anything — and anyone — to show up. Stay tuned...

    Evil Season 1 is now streaming on Netflix and Paramount+. Season 2 premieres June 20th on Paramount+.

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    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Evil, Paramount+, Aasif Mandvi, Annaleigh Ashford, Christine Lahti, Katja Herbers, Michael Emerson, Michelle King, Mike Colter, Robert King