This Evil review contains spoilers.
Evil Season 3 Episode 6
Evil proves you don’t have to be likable to get likes. “The Demon of Algorithms” opens with one of the most promising examples of demonic possession the series has offered so far, but it’s just clickbait to something more sinister. The monster of the week is so human it can trick artificial intelligence.
The Catholic Church’s metro area paranormal team – Father David Acosta (Mike Colter), Dr. Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers), and Ben Shakir (Aasif Mandvi) – almost come to the same conclusions in the two cases they encounter. Their initial findings lead to something diabolical enough to ready a call for clerical help. Their instincts are as wrong as they are correct in both cases, which is the underlying reason “The Demon of Algorithms” is one of the most satisfying installments of the season.
Clickbait is on the rise, by design, in all sectors of society. It seems like some people would sell their souls for likes. That causes them to do some very unlikable things, like eating glass, and getting stitches all in an attempt for a few extra heart-emojis on the viral app VidTap, which is the new TikTok. The company is masterful at predictive online scrolling, and their algorithms go for a metaphorical jugular. People click on their darker desires, and the suggested tracking promotions note that and lead to ever-creepier video offerings. But the technology only responds to its teachers, and human nature is so infectious a viral trend can be downright demonic. It is self-possessive.
Evil is adept at finding the barely perceptible threads to bind their web of suspense. By the time the page flips on The Pop-Up Book of Contemporary Demons and the opening credits roll, a fully satisfying arc has already laid out enough tantalizing terror for whole episodes on some shows. But Evil pulls back the covers at the end. The demon terrorizing the teenager in the case has completely ambiguous motives, but real scars that need stitches.
Kristen’s introductory pre-exorcism psychological evaluation finds clues of mental dysfunction and supernatural gaps. The setting is delightfully devilish, mixing more Stephen King than The Exorcist into the binding of the foul-mouthed, possibly demon-possessed teenager to the safety of a rickety bed. Ben, of course, finds far more insidious evidence by reading the room, something which winds up biting him in the ass when he confronts the malicious energy online.
The jump scares come as personal temptations. “Did you see the one with bloody tears?” Kristen asks as she compares notes on a meme trend to hell. If there are thousands of apps showing thousands of possessions, it does appear to be more of a mental health epidemic than a satanic one, but then Evil reboots. The magician, The Great Heller, who is tracked to be the source of what Ben calls “idiocy,” is worse than satanic panic for the same reason Ben calls him out. In a world where good and evil are always at the tipping point, the true danger is the idiot. Ben’s conclusion sums up what should have closed the case: Don’t be an asshole.
Of all the characters to break character and issue a non-anonymous public service announcement against stupidity, it’s best the audience gets it from Ben, who is so unexpected in the role even his teammates give him second glances. But Mandvi’s impassioned callout on magical fakes and scams has been a long time coming, and couldn’t be coming from a better place. He’s sick of false leads in his day job, and is disappointed at the whole human race for cloud-chasing them while he’s trying to sleep.
Regardless of the social media aspects versus the spiritual consequences, Monsignor Matthew Korecki (Boris McGiver) is really disturbed. His anguish is real when he realizes, satanic or viral, the stitches are real. You could almost feel sorry for him if he didn’t both break the news of the church’s finding of no impropriety in Leland’s (Michael Emerson) talking with Kristen’s kids, or the ultimate good reference the Monsignor gives an unmasked danger to children. Without giving too much away, between the Archdiocese finding no evidence, thereby allowing Leland to do whatever he wants, and aiding his maladjustment forward, is devastating commentary from Evil. It moves the plotline into ever more dangerous territory, which is positively delectable, enough to whet the appetites of Kristen’s kids.
Just the idea of the young Bouchard brood brewing plans to kill Leland, going so far as determining the pros and cons of poisons, is a subversive flirt with taboo. It almost justifies the all-too-many moments of vocal haranguing the children inflict on family, audience, and innocent passersby. It is very disconcerting that Kristen’s kids continue to go behind their mother’s back, but it appears to be a family trait, and there is a very subtle foreshadowing in the secret meetings in Bumble Bee Valley. Leland’s avatar tells the kids to crush up the pills they give their mom so there’s less chance of getting caught doing silly pranks. When we see their father, Kristen’s husband Andy’s (Patrick Brammall) predicament, we realize everything has been laid out comfortably.
The Bumble Bee Valley sequence is a powerful counterpoint to the online dangers the team is scrutinizing. It mirrors and refracts the threats while also being a coincidental outgrowth of the virtual battlefield. But the most exciting and illuminating conflict takes place in David’s mind, which is a minefield of temptations, and a longing for communication. All she wants to do is talk. What’s wrong with talking? He can talk about the entity, the prophet Grace Ling, why he left the door open at the Hotel Percival. The demon in Dr. Bouchard is as psychologically in tune as the forensic psychologist she resembles, and she turns psyops into foreplay. She weaponizes the guilt of the suicidal priests in the video David watches, and drills him with the big questions.
Sister Andrea (Andrea Martin) is always a welcome and exhilarating addition to any sequence she enters, but tonight’s demonic encounter is as epic as any face-off found in Jason and the Argonauts. But it is disconcerting that David would bar Sister Andrea, of all people, from his room. This struggle is not over, and probably won’t be over until David decides it is over.
In a sense, this is what the VidTap executives believe. The job of their app is to keep people engaged, not make them better people. The app is not the problem, it’s the viewers who don’t know when they’ve crossed the line. Which is why the Marie Taylor case is a perfect centerpiece for the episode. The cloud-chasing possession is like Munchhausen-by-proxy on high, and even as Kristen offers counseling, the devil inside is not only very real, it’s getting thousands of likes on social media.
“The Demon of Algorithms” gives the impression of answering questions, and closing end-games, but is ultimately as ambiguously compelling as the inspirational message left for Andy to ponder. “Today is the first day of the rest of your life” can be a blessing or a threat, and Evil leaves a taste of both in a satisfying episode which oddly leaves you wanting more.