This Evil review contains no spoilers.
Debunking crusaders Dr. Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers), David Acosta (Mike Colter), and Ben Shakir (Aasif Mandvi) are back to breach the boundaries of belief and delusion in Evil season 2. The premiere season ended begging answers to questions which befuddle some of the most studied theologians.
Of course, the biggest and most pressing question is whether Kristen took an ice axe to whack serial killer Orson LeRoux (Darren Pettie). The answer comes in the first episode, but you’re not going to get it here. For the purpose of the overview, it doesn’t matter what the audience knows. That’s the job of professional investigators, and their inquiries find their way to the former on-call forensic psychology expert for the District Attorney’s office at a disquietingly insidious pace. A dead serial killer is the least of Kristen’s problems anyway. Wait until you see her daughter’s teeth.
The move from CBS to Paramount+ brings a few freedoms. Kristen gets the question of a language barrier out of the way in the first episode, calling Leland Townsend (Michael Emerson) a fucker, but the writers never flex that muscle again (at least through the four episodes screened for critics). The show is more concerned with exploring different kinds of curses, and the dark psychological mysteries behind as-yet-undetermined anomalies and seemingly extraordinary occurrences. The nature of evil isn’t well-defined by either science or religion. Each tries to control circumstances, and each usurps the powers. Cloud-seeding was invented to assist ecoculture, but was used for deforestation. Demons are no crueler than angels. The show explores concepts like these with a practical approach and supernatural departures.
Each of the three main characters visibly project their most defining inner thoughts with glances, attitude and body language. Kristen telegraphs her obfuscation as if it is a slight-of-hand magic trick. One of the more subtle running jokes of the show is how she tries to verbally enforce her plausible deniability on Ben. At the close of the first season, Kristen tried to get Ben to forget he saw a bloodstain on her leg using only the force of will. She does it several times this season, and also tries out her comic book superpower on her kids, who see it as a kind of comic relief.
Ben, “the magnificent,” has weaponized skepticism. When he doesn’t believe something, or is even remotely cognizant of the possibility of a reasonable explanation, you can visibly witness it lose its mystery. One bemused eye-roll from Ben could topple centuries of ardent faith. David, on the other hand, exudes an air of encouraging indulgence, even and maybe most especially when he is at his most cynical. His brings beneficent acceptance to the most extreme proclamations of faith-filled mysteries, regardless of how delusional they may be. This extends to everyone but Leland, who brings an obsequious belligerence to his spiritual turnaround. You have to forgive him, though, he’s a little nervous. He’s about to get married to Kristen’s mother Sheryl Luria (Christine Lahti). He’s not worried about a prenup. He’s already put a down payment on an exorcism.
David is less gracious to secular disruptors who seek to undermine the power of faith on a street level. He is suffering a different kind of crisis of faith this season. Weeks away from being ordained as a priest, he brings America’s original sin, slavery and its resultant corrosive offenses, to the pulpit in hostile territory. The Catholic Church is steeped in bigotry, and David gets pressure from all sides in his attempts to gently confront it. He may not cast the first stone, but he lands his second punch of the series on someone for implying he went “from Uncle Tom to Father Tom.” But David is open to spiritual alternatives. He doesn’t chase away the Baptist minister who offers solace, and he doesn’t disrespect the Muslim faithful.
Evil’s monster-of-the-week episodes reflect a diverse extradimensional rogues gallery. The Church has a backlog of unexplained mysteries, miracles, and possessions to verify, and occasionally they go beyond Christian mythology. We encounter a djinn, which requires Islamic intervention, and exposes David’s bosses as closed-minded theological tyrants. Even the atheistic Ben goes to bat for the religion he abandoned when it comes to papal prejudice. Ben believes nothing and no one is infallible. That’s why there are no 13th floors on elevators.
There is a growing ambiguity over whether the characters are losing perspective in how they discern supernatural reality and if they are becoming increasingly suggestible to the expectations of their jobs. Even Ben has an imaginary friend now, and she’s kind of cute, in a damnation-for-all-eternity kind of way. All it takes is a simple question from Leland, who may very well have gotten some small return on the deal he made with the devil while his parents were watching M*A*S*H in the next room. Is Leland seeking an exorcism to get close to David, or to renege on a teenaged whim? According to the advance press, the drama lies in whether he’s being genuine. But so does the comedy.
Evil proudly and effectively mines oddball humor, even in the most dire situations. David has a vision of Kristen being drawn to a diabolical fate, while Leland just wants to be taken to Funkytown. Kristen’s husband continues to serve the same function as Richie Cunningham’s brother Chuck on Happy Days. We get some vague news his venture is in a holding pattern, but barely even a phone call. There is less sexual tension between Kristen and David this season, but only because she’s expanding her horizons, not because she takes his vows more seriously.
One of the most delightful additions this season is Andrea Martin as Sister Andrea, who knows much more than she lets on and lets on much more than she knows. She takes David to task for his self-injurious leaps of spiritual research, stares down Leland, and can accompany herself on the piano while deciphering monastic code in twelve languages. She doesn’t need hallucinogens or antipsychotics to be able to discern a hallucination from a vision. Just a metronome to keep time with it.
This review is based on the first four episodes, but there is an upcoming episode called “U is for UFO,” which teases inalienable questions about how cosmic the series might be getting here. Maybe those machines Ben uses do exist. Evil season 2 succeeds best where it counts most. It is creepy, spooky and fun. The thrills are sometimes cut by the humor, and sometimes made more deliciously insidious because of it.
Evil season 2 premieres on June 20 on Paramount+.