Evil showrunners talk David's fate, that mass shooter plotline, and season 1's mysteries
Evil embarked on a twisted Yuletide adventure for its final episode of 2019. Kristen (Katja Herbers), David (Mike Colter), and Ben (Aasif Mandvi) investigated an apparent song epidemic, a psychological (demonic?) outbreak tied to a bizarre viral video about Santa Claus getting stoned (actually a new song composed by Jonathan Coulton). Meanwhile, David struggled over his recent tryst with Renee (Renée Elise Goldsberry). He received absolution after confessing his sin — and then — SPOILER ALERT — was stabbed just outside the church. We left David bleeding on the ground: Merry Christmas!
Evil returns Jan. 9 for the final three episodes of its debut season. We spoke to showrunners Michelle and Robert King about what lies ahead for the series. We also asked about the upcoming season of The Good Fight, a show all good people adore.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where did the idea for the song virus come from?
ROBERT KING: The writer’s room was struggling with wanting to do a Christmas episode. You start making lists of things you associate with Christmas, and one of them was this earworm problem of music finding its way into your head and not being able to escape. Evil is always going to try to find psychological angles to what might be considered supernatural experiences, or vice versa.
MICHELLE KING: We seem to be very focused on innocence this season, and it didn’t seem like anything was more innocent than a Christmas song.
ROBERT: There’s two lines in the script that said: “And then a song is played.” In parenthesis, it said: “Jonathan, good luck. You have to come up with a song that is infectious, and the lyrics make sense, but the lyrics don’t get in the way.”
This latest episode ended with a classic TV-Christmas moment, with David being stabbed in front of a nativity scene…
ROBERT: You don’t remember that from the Charlie Brown Christmas special? [Laughs]
How does that affect him as we go into the final three episodes of season 1?
MICHELLE: We don’t forget that this happened. We’re going to pick up after the break seeing the ramifications of that stabbing.
ROBERT: David is struggling with something a lot of Catholics do: Guilt, mixed with a sense of punishment. Is this punishment for what happened between him and Renee? That is one of the things that will take him to the end of the year.
As a lapsed Catholic myself, I’ve enjoyed the thread about the Vatican’s prophetic codex, and how that ties into the mysteries the cast is investigating. Is that rooted in actual research into the Vatican?
ROBERT: There was a prophecy, the message of Fatima, that was revealed by Pope John Paul II — I think about 20 years ago — that was held in the Vatican Library, and it was only shown to popes. It predicted a tormented future that could either be interpreted as the end of the Catholic Church, or the rise of China. It’s that kind of vague language of prophecy. The other thing it was based on, the visual of it, is the Voynich manuscript, discovered in 1660, in a language no one has been able to understand. What also interested us was what Ben says about [the codex]: “Wait. This document has never been seen by anyone other than popes, and now three nobodies in Queens? I’ll tell you what I think happened. All those popes showed it someone, and all those people couldn’t keep a secret.” There’s this pragmatic part of the myth that I always think we demolish. Human beings can’t keep a secret.
MICHELLE: That plays a little bit into making fun of a TV trope, which is this idea that our heroes are suddenly the only people in the world that see something special.
I loved that line from Ben, and in general, the way characters talk about religion on Evil. It seems so unusually realistic and complex. Does that come out of conversations in the writers’ room?
MICHELLE: That’s probably the core of the series, this idea of two people that have very different ideas about faith, and how you explain evil in the world, but approach each other’s points of view with respect. It mirrors what Robert and I have been talking about for our 30-plus years of marriage.
ROBERT: We love writing toward things that are seen as a little taboo. We write a lot about, for example, abortion, mostly because there’s no conversational hand grenade bigger than abortion, except maybe the Middle East. It feels like it’s always great if you can do a show that has everybody wondering, “What do the writers really believe?” Because so much of writing today, especially for TV, is preaching. We try to do a show that tries to not come out and say [what we believe]. Probably the only way we do is about Trump. [Laughs] That’s not on this show.
I don’t have a smart theory about this, but I’ve noticed that all the episode titles for Evil have a number in their name. Is this a clue to some larger puzzle? Should I be using those numbers to turn to specific Bible verses?
ROBERT: There is a puzzle approach with the whole season. It’s a combination of the numbers and other things you can find within the episode. It’s a fairly complicated puzzle. There is a pattern, and it won’t come together until the last episode. It’s not something you can figure out along the way, even though you should be keeping track.
Has the supernatural-mystery setting given you creative opportunities you wouldn’t get from a more realistic series, like the Good shows?
ROBERT: It exploded our usual palette. Good Wife and Good Fight follow the same usual look of the law firm. Even though we have the same production designer, Stephen Hendrickson, there was this real urge to go in the direction of a movie called Night of the Hunter, a very German expressionism design. What we really wanted to do was mimic the visual sense of looking upward. That’s why we have our house under a train. You’re looking above for a threat.
MICHELLE: There are spectacular actors in New York. We made the decision with The Good Fight and The Good Wife that once we used an actor to play a particular role, we weren’t going to bring them back to play a different role. If you’ve been doing it for 11 years, you have hundreds of actors you no longer have access to. To be able to start fresh, and have access to all the spectacular actors again, is one of the highlights of doing this new show.
The last couple episodes tracked the rise of a potential mass shooter, which ended — hilariously and disturbingly — with the character shooting himself in the face while admiring himself in the mirror. That’s such a timely storyline, but did you have any reservations about approaching it on Evil?
MICHELLE: Our headline was to not glamorize shooters. Just the fact of putting a person on television almost de facto glamorizes them. We went to great lengths not to have that be the case. In story terms, it’s the fact that he bumbles it and ends up shooting himself in the head. Also, the craft really came together. If you’re paying attention, you’ll see his clothes don’t fit as well, and aren’t as beautiful as our wardrobe designer routinely makes them on everyone else. Noah Robbins, the actor who played it, did such a great job and moved more awkwardly than he himself does in life. Everything was an effort to not make the Lone Gunman glamorous.
ROBERT: One of the keys for us was to take the Taxi Driver imagery and have that be the moment. As great a movie as Taxi Driver is, it does glamorize the lone gunman who’s out killing. We wanted to take that moment [of looking in the mirror] and show you, “Yeah, but at a certain point, if a person starts as an idiot, he’s still gonna be an idiot.”
You mentioned that “innocence” was a running topic throughout season 1. How will season 2 develop for the characters?
ROBERT: It becomes more personal to Kristen. She finds there’s a struggle within her own soul. What starts as something about the children moves to something that is about our leads. The threat increases.
Before that happens, we’ll get to see the fourth season of your CBS All Access series The Good Fight. Can you talk a bit about what we can expect?
ROBERT: This year is about the system sort of possibly breaking down. We’re interested in the idea of people rejecting subpoenas, or just not coming in. You’re used to watching a courtroom drama, and when someone is subpoenaed, they’re going to come in and testify. What we found interesting this year — and funny, in a terrible way — is that you can have all these great plans for a cross-examination, all these Perry Mason moments, and then the person says, “Yeah, but I’m not coming in.” And the judge is kind of like, “How can you not? You have to come in.” It will definitely be a fun year. Probably a little more absurdist than most years.