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Mrs. Davis Isn't Your Mother's Hero's Journey

The Peacock series gives Betty Gilpin the chance to shine in an unpredictable, genre-blending romp.
  • Jake McDorman and Betty Gilpin in Mrs. Davis (Photo: Greg Gayne/Peacock)
    Jake McDorman and Betty Gilpin in Mrs. Davis (Photo: Greg Gayne/Peacock)

    Mrs. Davis criticizes itself before the audience can. Peacock’s sci-fi series, created by Tara Hernandez and Damon Lindelof, is about a nun named Simone (Betty Gilpin) who’s sent on a remarkable quest, but she isn’t happy about being part of such a clichéd story. In fact, every time Simone says the word “quest” there’s an air of distaste in her tone, and she bristles at the idea that she would be “the chosen one” (or at least that anyone would be corny enough to call her that). It’s a clever move: By poking fun at its familiar plot, the series gets to have its hero’s journey and push beyond it, blending multiple genres to explore the complexities of faith.

    To clarify that she’s not a typical holy crusader, Simone is introduced as a horse-riding nun who spends her days making jam at a convent and her nights thwarting Nevada magicians trying to use their sleight of hand for evil. She is one of the only people in the world who hasn’t embraced Mrs. Davis, an all-knowing algorithm that lives as an app on everyone's phones. Thanks to advances in artificial intelligence, the algorithm has a remarkably human persona as it speaks to users via earbuds. But it’s pushier than most actual people: If someone like Simone refuses to acknowledge it, then it encourages dedicated users to speak to her by proxy. In fact, Simone’s rejection seems to make it want her attention more, and eventually she has no choice but to hear what Mrs. Davis has to say. The algorithm does indeed have a quest for her, and if she’s successful, Mrs. Davis swears it will delete itself. All Simone has to do is find the Holy Grail.

    The long road to discovering the ancient artifact allows the series to become a multitude of shows at once. It balances elements of mystery, romance, action, comedy, science fiction, and fantasy along with westerns, heists, and family dramas. When anything can (and will) happen, genre shifts from scene to scene or episode to episode play like a natural extension of the show’s identity. Shrewdly, though, the series does use one consistent structural conceit to help the audience stay grounded in the midst of all this chaos: Every episode is a self-contained mission within the bigger mission, offering a small piece of the puzzle that will reveal both the location of the Holy Grail and Mrs. Davis’ true intentions. Sometimes that means Wiley (Jake McDorman), Simone’s quest companion and ex, competes in an Arthurian endurance competition called the “Excalibattle.” Sometimes, it means Simone drops everything so she can get a cake to the Pope.

    “This is so dumb,” Simone says about one such reveal. The same can be said about many elements of the series, but not as an insult. By harnessing silliness, it can tackle topics like religion, reliance on technology, generational trauma, capitalism, gamification, and the inevitability of death without getting too preachy. That sense of playfulness is also intrinsic to Gilpin’s sensational performance. There are times when she showcases her ability to be emotionally raw, but it’s her impeccable comedic timing that shines through, in turn making those vulnerable moments more impactful. As Simone, she treats her quest like an annoying errand rather than an epic adventure. She treats her religion the same way, acting as if she’s too cool for God.

    But Gilpin also makes it clear that despite her witticisms and snark, Simone roots all of her decisions in her faith. Her beliefs are crucial to the series, because even though the show isn’t trying to convert anyone, it does offer a compelling perspective on the ideologies that drive people. Devotion is a complicated act — even those who appear to be the most unwavering have moments of uncertainty, and those who seem the least pious may be more devout than they appear. Simone embodies both ends of the spectrum, with every turn of her quest revealing another nuanced layer of the path that led her to a life of sanctity. Mrs. Davis’ approach to unpacking those layers transforms what could have been just another hero’s journey into something far more unpredictable and downright fun.

    Mrs. Davis premieres April 20 on Peacock. New episodes stream Thursdays through May 18. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Brianna Wellen is a TV Reporter at Primetimer who became obsessed with television when her parents let her stay up late to watch E.R. 

    TOPICS: Mrs. Davis, Peacock, Betty Gilpin, Damon Lindelof, Jake McDorman, Tara Hernandez