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Catching Up With Evil, Part 3: The GOAT

Our Season 1 catch-up concludes with the series playing a nasty little trick on its audience.
  • Michael Emerson and friend in Evil. (Photo: CBS)
    Michael Emerson and friend in Evil. (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 this Sunday 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.

    Previously I wrote about Evil's first five episodes, which confirmed what I'd heard — the show is a fun and addictive ride — and the next four episodes saw the show level up its construction of an overarching plot about demons at work in the world. This week I finished the last four episodes of Season 1, which saw the dangers posed to priest-in-training David Acosta (Mike Colter), psychologist and mom of four Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers), and techno-skeptic Ben Shakir (Aasif Mandvi) increase exponentially, with some of the scariest episodes of the season. But more than anything, the end of Evil Season 1 showcases the show's resolve to continue to shock its audience with just how far it's willing to go to tell this story of Evil among us.

    The Frighteners

    Things get seriously scary in the stretch run of Evil's first season. That doesn't mean that there isn't any of the show's customary cheeky business to be had. The Christmas-themed 10th episode ("7 Swans a Singin'") even brings back the Jonathan Coulton-penned silly animated song interludes that were all the rage on The Good Fight, although this time they're in service of a plot about Catholic school girls who can't stop singing the melody to a viral video, eventually going so far as to ritualistically stab their ears in order to stop hearing it. So, yeah, these last episodes get a bit dark.

    In the span of the three back-back-to-back episodes just before the season finale, David Acosta finds himself — in chronological order — violently attacked by a crazed man with a giant knife; preyed upon by a sinister nurse while he's in the hospital recuperating; and attacked from behind by a friend of his and thrown down a flight of stairs when he happens upon her plot for grisly revenge. In short, it's a rough few episodes for our man of psychotropic God. The hospital episode in particular ("Room 320," directed by Peter Sollett) is one of the most unsettling hours of TV I've seen in a while, with a chilling performance by Tara Summers as the evil nurse. With David in a near-constant drugged-up stupor, he has no idea what's real and what he might be imagining, and the entire plot and visual aesthetic has a whole Jacob's Ladder vibe.

    Consistent with the Kings' M.O., these episodes carry with them the whiff of social consciousness, or at least connections to the world we all live in. The Christmas episode with all the girls who can't stop singing the melody is based on real-life cases of mass hysteria where young school children have had fits of uncontrollable laughter en masse. David's hospital nightmare can't help but bring up thoughts of our country's own nightmarish health system. And David's friend who shoves him down a flight of stairs is on a mission of revenge with its roots in the Rwandan genocide. Episodic as these interludes may be, they all serve to send the stakes for the season ratcheting up to ever more perilous territory, especially as Kristen's four daughters appear to be under greater threat of harm.

    The United States of Leland

    Throughout the season Kristen's kids have been a welcome asset to the show. This is not always guaranteed when it comes to kids on an adult-oriented TV series. But Kristen's four school age daughters — all with "L" names that I couldn't possibly be expected to distinguish — have been pretty great. They're not cutesy or precocious, and they act like actual kids in that they can be excitable and scared and they all talk over each other all the time. So when the possibly demonic Leland Townshend (Michael Emerson) starts threatening them, the stakes get raised.

    These last four episodes of Season 1 really bring some clarity to the Leland character. We've already seen him insinuate himself into Kristen's life by dating her mother, Sheryl (Christine Lahti), and he spent a bunch of time grooming a twentysomething incel for what he hoped would be a mass shooting at David's prayer group. In this last stretch, we see how his influence over Sheryl has become even more insidious; rather than simply sneak around with him behind Kristen's back, Sheryl seems to be acting at Leland's behest, encouraging Kristen's kids to lie to their mom and essentially spying on her daughter for Leland. Sheryl may not realize she's gone over to the dark side, but she most definiately has.

    Episode 12 ("Justice x2") pulls a nasty little trick when Kristen reveals that she's done a background check on Leland, revealing him to be Jake Perry, a pathetic former insurance adjuster who likes to talk a big game. It's a wildly satisfying scene, and the audience happily comforts itself that Kristen has successfully de-fanged Leland. He's no demon. He's just a puffed-up nerd making idle threats. Until the next time we see Leland, when he's unloading to someone (a shrink? a mentor?) about how powerless Kristen made him feel, and that someone is revealed to be …

    They Are Who We Thought They Were

    So … that goat. One of the best things about Evil as it finishes up its first season is the way it continually tempts its audience into believing that the show isn't about exactly what its title plainly tells us it's about. The show's obsessions with technology, the ways in which Kristen is able to get the upper hand on demon George (through lucid dreaming) and Leland Townshend (through Google searching), even just the simple fact that David the believer is outnumbered on his team by two skeptics in Kristen and Ben, all tries to trick the audience into disbelieving what we've seen with our own eyes. We've seen possession, omens, murder, and all the while we keep giving in to the temptation that there's a reasonable explanation. What Evil does in these final episodes is pull the rug out from under us and declare itself: yes, this is a show about demons. Yes, Leland's master is a giant-horned goat demon (perhaps Satan himself), and no amount of tongue-in-cheek comedy about the devil sitting in a shrink's office therapizing his patient can negate that.

    Now all those dark omens that we can no longer Scully our way past start seeming a lot scarier: Kristen's daughter, who was conceived via the demonic fertility clinic; Kristen's husband promising to exchange his own life for their daughter Laura's miracle heart cure; and that ominous moment as the season comes to a close where a crucifix burns a mark into Kristen's hand. Bad things are happening. And it's not just big tech, toxic masculinity or sleep paralysis at work. Big goat demons walk among us, and Kristen is in trouble.

    Bring on Season 2!

    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, Katja Herbers, Michael Emerson, Mike Colter