This Evil review contains spoilers.
Evil Season 2 Episode 9
One of the first reports of unexplained aerial phenomenon comes from The Bible, when Ezekiel saw the wheel. It was redacted in the later editions, but we now know he probably just saw a weather balloon. Just like the Man in Black played by Jesse Ventura on The X-Files proved that President James Earl Carter, Jr., saw the planet Venus when he reported strange things in the sky. Evil season 2, episode 9, “U Is for U.F.O.,” gets to the bottom of these conflicting reports. After all, the unidentified object at the center of the episode flashes the sign of the cross.
The first witness is a Navy pilot, decorated and fully versed in testimonial decorum. She says the Falcon jet she was flying reaches speeds of Mach 2 and the object was traveling at five times that rate, and without creating a sonic boom. The second witness is a 17-year-old high school student. She also notes the object broke the speed of sound several times over without making so much as a peep. Both reports correspond on many points, including experiencing a sense of euphoria and, when led by the questioners, joy. They are excellent witnesses, but would they swear to their testimony on a stack of bibles?
“U Is for U.F.O.” goes over the top, throws everything into the goat’s head soup but a kitchen sink, and it pays off. This is the highpoint of the season so far. Each of the investigators from St. Johns appears to have a personal stake in the outcome which is strictly professional. That may sound like a contradiction, but Ben (Aasif Mandvi), Kristen (Katja Herbers), and David (Mike Colter) take the functions of their jobs very seriously, and this case poses a rare opportunity. It touches on each of their specialties, but just far enough outside to make it irresistible. And besides, Kristen saw a U.F.O. years ago and was too embarrassed to tell anyone.
The Church’s concern with the incident is itself fascinating enough for an episode. Hearing priests talk about keeping up with science is validating, incongruous as it may seem with their policy. But then a priest, who specializes in extraterrestrial testimony, pulls out some kind of olfactory EMF monitor like he’s an exorcist turning his kit into an altar. We know this is seriously arcane stuff. He doesn’t even need special dispensation from the Pope.
While there must really be a higher authority, the Catholic Church’s interest in alien life lies mainly in what they can bring to the collection box. Were they born without original sin? Have they heard the good word? Humans are leaving the church in droves, and someone has to put asses in the pews. While Bishop Thomas Marx (Peter Scolari) is perfectly serious about interstellar evangelical travels, it also has a tone of humor, even without the irony.
Michael Emerson gives a tour de force performance tonight. Leland Townsend is as convincing as he is conniving, and lethal to boot. Everyone but David buys that he’s a scared man who believes he is being chased by winged creatures. It actually comes as a surprise when he vaguely confesses to faking it. It also feels phony. We really don’t know who he’s lying to, if he believes what he’s saying, or jockeying for a better position during eternal damnation. Fans of the Goat Therapist, beware. Leland is hiding more than the truth from the malevolent middleman, but it has a tasty payoff.
The good news is Kristen’s husband is going away for another month. He’s pretty useless, almost clichéd in his inefficiency. Not only did he not say a word to a man who was openly harassing his wife, a member of his family at the very least, he’s got the nerve to be judgmental about it? She is the main character of a show called Evil and he’s getting holier than thou on her? Half the audience is probably hoping he takes the kids with him. That might include Kristen. Listen to how she tells the assembled family meeting she’s going to answer the door. If she had a packet of frozen french fries, no one in that room would stand a chance.
It has always been easy to compare Evil with The X-Files, but “U Is for U.F.O.” is begging for it. The team gets veiled threats from shadowy government figures, Naval officers look like aliens, and pilots explain how Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) are more of a hazard than alien craft. When the object gets religious and demons start taking notes it feels like a subliminal homage to the episode “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space.”
“U Is for U.F.O.” is also the most human of episodes. Kristen tells David the reason she’s been suppressing anger is because she hates people. She loves her kids, likes David, and tolerates Ben, but everyone else gets on her nerves. Kristen tells her therapist that the new job invigorates and empowers her, but every sentence is really subtext about her feelings for David. She even tells him not to become a priest. He’s only a month away from ordination. But she’ll miss him. It’s Mulder and Scully. It took a close encounter with a third kind to bring it out.
With “U Is for U.F.O.,” Evil confronts its own demons. It takes a page from Erich von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods and turns it into a pamphlet for sacrilegious conversion by way of the church. Vatican authorities automatically dismiss testimony of a teenager because she smoked a little weed, but Homeland Security will send her to MIT if she cops out. There are more shadowy figures in this episode than any other, and the power plays are sublime. As the season nears its close, it’s encouraging to see the fight escalate to the bigger conspiracies.
Evil airs Sundays on Paramount+.