This Evil review contains spoilers.
Evil Season 2 Episode 5
We stumble right into the action on Evil season 2, episode 5, “Z Is for Zombie.” Grainy film footage captures tattered young people fleeing slow-moving zombies, the kind which annoy the younger generation of the genre’s fans. Kristen’s (Katja Herbers) daughter Lila (Skylar Gray) is under the covers sharing a virtual movie night with her friend Alex who is watching next door, and has no idea the life she is about to reanimate, but the imaginary fiend leaves blood on her shoe.
The Pop-Up Book of Terrifying Things MMXXI, which opens each episode, usually never gets past the first pop-up, in this case “The Hairbrained Butcher,” but we can imagine their chapter on Zombies will be filled with useful tidbits on living dead things. The book actually makes an appearance in the episode, as it was probably used for quick reference. The opening discussion about 28 Days Later versus The Walking Dead rings very true, especially coming from the jaded children. This also darkens whatever foreshadowing it portends. Most of which will be more zombie movie nights, but it also follows Lila’s dark descent into her ultimate fate: becoming her mother.
Lila and Alex’s adventures in “Zombieland” follow the traditions of the Frog Brothers in Lost Boys, and are almost as much fun. They are convinced they can scare off hungry flesh-eaters with flashlights because “zombies are afraid of bright lights.” They follow the mythology to its source by going to a botanica, and credit the blue and green tinctures with corresponding events. It is their belief which sells the scenario, but also makes us wonder if Alex’s father, Brandon, is now a new kind of zombie, but with Mr. Hamlin’s salary.
The episode also shows how easy it is for the characters to infuse real situations with supernatural importance. Alex’s dad is staring at walls, he’s got a cut on his hand, he’s dead inside. He is not the same man he used to be. Is he a working stiff or just another pod left over from Invasion of the Body Snatchers? A bite from a zombie turns you into a zombie. A salary bump from corporate turns you into a slave driver. The curse which spawns the CongoRun zombie conspiracy may not fit with true Haitian spiritual practices, but it is only masquerading as allegory. The practice is truer than Evil makes it sound. Rumors of zombie workers enslaved by the lies of their oppressors are as real as the demonization of union labor, and the very real possibility that Alex actually infects her father with a corporate demon adds a delicious spice of conspiracy.
The idea of blurring lines is the same with Kristen’s online profile. Is she leaving more than a virtual trail when she pops out at night to tempt fate? Targeted marketing may be more frightening than demonic possession, but a bookie’s enforcer really is the scariest of the evening’s gallery of rogues. We have to give Ben (Aasif Mandvi) a lot of credit for getting an extension on the payback, but hope the father doesn’t get crucified on the vig.
Kristen is called in as the first line of defense for the Parish’s resident exorcist. As Kristen’s daughter lays traps for the undead during sleepovers with her friend Alex, the mother frees Father Joe Mulvehill from the trappings of his mind. The father confided to David Acosta (Mike Colter) that he fears he is under some kind of spiritual attack. He is reluctant to seek help because it isn’t proper for exorcists to wear their demons on their sleeves, or spontaneously spout blood from their backs. It doesn’t sit well with the higher ups on the clergy or the lay people whose faith is tested enough.
“Secular professionals love priests when we open food kitchens and protest nuclear weapons,” Father Joe tells Kristen during her officially unofficial appraisal. “We unnerve them when we start talking about demons and angels and true evil.” He worries that even she might be unnerved. Of course, the even-keeled forensic psychologist has been trained to take all of this in stride, so when the word “mania” comes out of her mouth as she reports back to the team, it comes as a buried punchline.
The diagnosis also can be interpreted in two ways, and because the priest is also covering up a gambling addiction, the odds are with the house. David believes the underlying root of the problem is the residual effect of Father Joe’s experience during Leland Townshend’s (Michael Emerson) exorcism. He makes a good point that this is only one of many, and who knows how many entities have left their mark on the man with the turned around collar who shoos them away. Kristen lays his relapse on trauma.
This brings up Ben’s elevator nightmare. Not everything has to do with demons and angels, fire, brimstone and eternal damnation, he implies, while the rest of the team tell him to take a time out. David tells Ben he’s earned the time off because he came close to death. Kristen micromanages Ben into corners. So, when he throws all that off, tells them he wants to get lost in his work, and comes up with the code to the evil algorithm which brings temptation to the world, we are more than relieved.
The assessments highlight each character’s main drive and preconceptions. David looks for a supernatural source he can study. Kristen would like to be able to write off the paranormal as psychological. Ben is practical. When he was a carpenter, he used a hammer. To find a demon card dealer on the internet, he’s got a hack.
We only truly find how insidious the tracking devil is when Kristen starts getting ads asking if her husband is boring her. It’s enough to trigger her own fiery flashbacks. Both the Jinn of a few episodes ago and Ben’s elevator experience make a deep impact on this installment. In some ways, the past informs the present, but it also clouds issues. The main concern is the very problem both Father Joe and the zombie kids are facing. Superstitions become very real for those who are immersed in them. They follow them home, and they can’t always be cleaned out of the cache.
While we are waiting for a tour de force from Leland tonight, we only get the choicest bits. The Sisters of Mercy sure clean up well. Andrea Martin is superb and sublime as she takes over the very atmosphere of any room she is in. “I don’t trust you,” Sister Andrea says by way of introduction to the exorcist who sands his leather kit to make it look weathered. We knew from her very introduction Sister Andrea was something special, especially from her own truly unaffected air of cynical humility, so getting such a visceral payoff is exhilarating. It takes David’s breath away. It sends Leland running off crying. Kristen loses the ability to close her mouth. The audience feels sorry for Ben, who misses it.
There is a lot which you might miss in “Z Is for Zombie.” The episode ties so many things together, from the shared trauma the team is experiencing separately, to how the work and their lives are on a collision course. Ben taps into Leland’s computer to find he’s the devil betting on Father Mulvehill’s soul. Lila channels Kristen to break a case but busts a union. David finds something to believe in, Sister Andrea. And the botanica which specializes in zombie cures and hair-braiding carries a book on stem cells; this could tie everything back to RSM Fertility.
Evil airs Sundays on Paramount+.