The CBS procedural sets up a freaky season 2.

By Darren Franich
January 30, 2020 at 11:00 PM EST
ELIZABETH FISHER/CBS
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In the series premiere of Evil, Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers) had it all. Or anyhow, she represented some version of what Having It All looks like on network television. And it only took a few episodes for Evil to become the best show on broadcast TV. (It narrowly missed my Best of 2019 list in the tied-for-#11 slot, but I’ve been wrong before.)

Kristen’s trade was forensic psychology, the kind of wonkish law-adjacent profession that could launch multiple CBS spin-offs. She looked fabulously professional — blazers, leather jackets, flared sleeves — which is no mean feat with four daughters. Her mom offered unpaid childcare. Her husband was off climbing literal Everest.

Psychology plus mountaineering doesn’t equal a Cape Cod mansion. The daughters shared a bedroom, and an elevated train loomed loud over the Bouchard house. Then again, Kristen had her own guesthouse-office out back — and the girls had a private swing set. Even Kristen’s problems were cool and sexy. Her new job was tracking Vatican secrets. The biggest threat to her marriage was sensitive David Acosta (Mike Colter), a dreamy Father-to-be. Her internal struggle was aspirational: Shall I hold back my feelings for this sexy priest? She worried about her youngest, Laura (Dalya Knapp), who had a heart condition — and then she miraculously got better.

By the end of Thursday’s season finale, Kristen has lost so much. Her mom Sheryl (Christine Lahti) is engaged to villainous Leland Townsend (Michael Emerson). Kristen finds out that RSM Fertility, the clinic she visited for one of her pregnancies, has strange ties to several Evil cases. That could mean awfulness ahead for her daughter Lexis (Maddy Crocco), who’s dreaming of a malicious softspoken goatbeast. Also, Kristen just killed a man, and now a crucifix burns her skin.

Maybe necessary to add a double “apparently” to that last sentence. Evil creators Michelle and Robert King played a witty game this season, scrambling archaic Catholic doctrine with small-print psychotherapeutic verbiage. (Don’t miss their awesome postmortem conversation with my Evil-loving colleague Chancellor Agard.) Was Satan launching weekly torments on New Yorkers? Or has everyone just gone crazy because internet?

You could look at the finale, titled “Book 27,” as a full embrace of the supernatural. Kristen, David, and Lexis experience separate visions of the Hairy Horned Demon, the same entity we saw chatting amiably in Leland’s office. If that devil is “real,” its purpose has twisted. “Book 27” begins with Orson LeRoux (Darren Pettie) outside Kristen’s house. The freed killer only wants to talk to her — but every step seems to take him closer to hurting her family. Kristen has already been a target for Leland all season, and the penultimate episode ended with the Devil idly suggesting that he could eat Kristen’s heart.

Was he being figurative? We don’t actually see Kristen murder LeRoux, yet all blood-on-the-knee evidence points to her executing the executioner. In David’s vision, Kristen walks glassy-eyed toward the reaping Goat Devil. Is she going to get slashed — or pick up a scythe of her own?

The latest case is almost a repeat. Eleanor (Laura Heisler) is worried that she needs some priestly help with a possession. “Why are all these exorcisms women?” Kristen asks — an interesting question, though not quite accurate in this case. Eleanor is pregnant with twins, boy and girl. She thinks her little man has the big problem. “Is this even a thing? A fetus becoming possessed?” asks Ben (Aasif Mandvi).

Then Eleanor swallows a communion wafer and starts bleeding all over a church. The doctors tell her the male fetus absorbed the female. It’s called Vanishing Twin Syndrome. “Just because you have a name for something doesn’t mean it’s not insane!” Eleanor says — a line that could work as a motto for Evil.

A familiar tune leads Ben and David to RSM Fertility, a clinic that connects many freaky events that they’ve been investigating. “It’s like Boys from Brazil!” Ben says. David has a more classical explanation: Matthew 13’s line about sowing weeds among the wheat. Are psychopaths “trying to poison a generation”? If so, how? Are all the samples from Timothy Hutton?

Evil can be scary or funny, wittily askew in its druggy-flirty depiction of supernatural investigation. I’m not sure how well the Vatican-Demon-Drug Dreams mythology will hold together. But I love how the Kings turn weekly investigations into short-story fables of modernity, moral or topical or weird as hell.

The finale showed off the Kings’ thoughtful introspection, too. David quoted Henry IV: “When this body contained a spirit, a kingdom was too small to hold it. Now two paces of the vilest earth is room enough.” He remembered a brave soldier with a funny Will Ferrell impression. The soldier died. How is it possible for the massive weight of the human soul to disappear into nothingness?

Kristen interpreted his faith as a symptom of a deeper malady: Fear of death. Maybe she’s right. Yet she’s seeking something, too. Kristen chose the Agnostic Catholic Investigation Squad over Everest. It doesn’t seem like fear motivates her. But Evil captures the deep abiding terror of modern life better than any show I’ve seen since Twin Peaks: The Return. This delightful first season has pitted poor, unprepared humans against all manner of techno-torment: hackers, misogynist social networks, deepfakes, videogames your kids don’t tell you about, freaking YouTube videos.

Evil is not technophobic, necessarily, but it sees how all the advances of the 21st century have brought us perpetual digital millimeters from bad people. That’s a recurrent fascination for the Kings across all their shows, and in the finale, Orson torments Kristen from all angles. He calls her. He tells the cops she assaulted him. He comes to her house, and leaves her a cute little note.

Now he’s dead. Understandable, maybe — and horrifying. Is Evil‘s hero, well, evil? Did she absorb something of Orson’s terrible essence, like the proverbial devouring twin? “Lot of blood in your religion,” Ben said. Something tells me that, in season 2, there will be a lot more.

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