This Evil review contains spoilers.
Evil Season 2 Episode 3
Evil season 2, episode 3, “F Is for Fire,” begins at its hottest point. Dr Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers) is having trouble sleeping, but she’s not being kept awake by some demonic force. Her husband has been off on some mountain climbing expedition, and the last time she tapped an axe, it was into the skull of a serial killer. Even forensic psychologists have needs, and when they do, sometimes the only cure is a nocturnal mission.
Technically, the monster-of-the-week would register higher on the Fahrenheit gauge. It’s an Islamic spirit tied to the element of fire, with flames where his hair should be. But Kristen’s devil-in-Miss Jones routine is a slower burn which the series, and Herbers pulls off extremely well. They set mood music, tilt cameras, drench scenes in torrid gelled lighting, and raid the closet for a change of wardrobe. Dr. Brouchard is completely transformed, but it is too strictly engineered of a transformation. It feels textbook, and Evil is about breaking procedure.
Last week’s episode, “A Is for Angel,” ended after David Acosta (Mike Colter) heard an all-too enthusiastic confession from Leland Townshend (Michael Emerson), who had shooed Sister Andrea (Andrea Martin) out of the room only moments before. The nun knew something was up, and David knew she was in the know. The last words of the episode, “alright, I’ll help you,” were positively uplifting. Sister Andrea’s help, apparently, only goes so far, and Martin perfectly captures her expanding her limitations.
First, Sister Andrea wants nothing to do with David’s sigil map, because he’s not supposed to be in possession of it. He was told to look into it, but not have a physical, visual aid for reference. The nun will not break the rules of the church, even if they are not official commandments. However, when David begins to explain the background, and how it all leads to something more sinister at RSM Fertility, we can see her interest grow. By the time she’s separating alphabets from language to language, letter by letter, Sister Andrea projects her entire process. Even better than this, she leaves the audience with a thousand questions about her past. Why is she such an expert on so many things? She is like Deep Throat, the Well-Manicured Man and X on The X-Files combined, but with far better grounding in reality.
Once Sister Andrea gets to the clue of the coded message, she quickly deciphers the letters of a name, and surprisingly, the family has been wondering why it took so long for the church to get there. David’s backlog of cases is a subtle running joke, but it’s become contagious. But so does the demon at the center of the episode’s mystery. The thing haunting the little girl is called an Ifrit, in Islamic mythology, it is neither good nor evil, just very moody, and often burns very hot.
The subject of the investigation is a girl named Mathilda Maubrey, played by Matilda Lawler, who also played Brenda, the little girl in the mask who took Kristen’s children grave-digging in season 1. Mathilda is the foster child Brian and Jane Castle are thinking of adopting, but mysterious fires keep starting whenever the kid is left alone. The biological mother was arrested for arson. Kristen thinks the daughter might be replicating her mom’s behavior. Ben Shakir (Aasif Mandvi) is open to the idea the mother might have been put away for crimes Mathilda committed. Or the answer might be found behind door number 3.
Mathilda is very bright, and Lawler plays her intelligently but with a desperate edge. She sweetly tells Kristen she doesn’t need to give examples of the things she’s being questioned about. But she’s really saying she’s at the end of her patience and doesn’t like to be patronized. She is not an angry child. She says she only gets mad after talking to her mom because she misses her. Her parents probably should have led with the nanny-cam tape, though. It is the reason they called in the church, they say. Why make the team linger over this without that information? Kristen throws out a perfectly good tea set. It comes back, but still.
Even though we believe Mathilda, what is she doing with chlorine tablets and brake fluid? Her father has a point. Besides the invading entity, the family also has to endure religious intolerance from the clergy itself. The spiritual workers from the two faiths don’t wrestle the spirit as a tag-team, the priest and the sheikh face off against each other in a pious preliminary.
Poor Ben is forced into defending a mythology he doesn’t buy into because of some form of nationalistic pride. Watching how the priest treats the sheikh before the exorcism rites begin, the audience tends to side with Muslim-raised skeptic. Not only does Ben have to contend with the holier rollers doing wheelies on his family’s faith, Kristen pushes his agnostic buttons with all the guilt of a lapsed Catholic. It’s a good thing he’s got a dream demoness waiting up for him at home.
“Why do you have a retainer,” Ben asks his nighttime friend, and the entire atmosphere gets uneasily creepy. What exactly is he being tempted by and, could the demoness have stolen Lexis’ dental-wear? Kristen’s daughter has been sporting a devilish smile since chomping off the finger of an orthodontic nurse. As it is a night terror scene, it could be foreshadowing of something exceptionally dark and frightening in a very skewered way. The detail could also be some Freudian holdover because Ben had just been chastised by his own sister on his faith. But it could all be leading up to his interpretation of god’s latest punchline, straddling the team “in the middle of Queens watching a sheik and a priest exorcize a 9-year-old girl.”
Kristen’s mother Sheryl (Christine Lahti) turns out to be even more manipulative than any of us, audience or characters, may have given her credit for. I can understand what Leland sees in her. She makes up a fake name, and books herself some sessions with Kristen’s therapist Dr. Boggs (Kurt Fuller). This may sound like it’s underhanded enough, but when she’s caught, she goes all in, dropping to her knees and begging forgiveness from the doctor. It’s scary, but mainly because it works.
“F is For Fire” continues to fan the embers of ambiguity. Everything about Mathilde’s fire-starting abilities seem to have as much of a rational explanation as a spiritual one. Kristen does go burning her candles at both ends as a direct result, but with mitigating factors. But the episode also benefits from the grey areas between the Islamic and Christian beliefs, and the inherent pecking order of spirituality. Evil doesn’t offer easy outs, they prefer intellectual subversions, like ending an episode on a little girl starting fires with a glance.
Evil airs Sundays on Paramount+.