Evil review: Season 3 is hellishly fun
Evil (TV series)
Recently ordained priest David (Mike Colter), vivaciously inquisitive psychologist Kristen (Katja Herbers), and trusty handyman-of-logic Ben (Aasif Mandvi) drive down a haunted highway. It's a lonely stretch of I-95 where truckers see visions and hear Satanic static. The trio keeps the mood up with a "Happy Together" sing-a-long. Then the radio blasts gross sounds, something red flies behind them, and the car shuts down. You're ready for anything, really: A demon, a scary truck, the terror of dead silence on an empty midnight road. They get out to check the engine, and Kristen sees something in the darkness of the forest. A person? A creature? The wind?
The moment should feel unusual. Evil (streaming Sundays on Paramount+) is generally a big city horror show. The three assessors explore possessions, chthonic infestations, and other spiritual oddities around New York City. But the series taps fears that are fairy-tale primal, even when the subject matter is freakishly modern. The dark forest is always here: The doomscroll of iPhone news, the search engine advertisement for a predatory videogame, the meme that kills. Christ, cryptocurrency. Evil isn't just about the internet. (It's also about parenting, the Vatican Secret Service, God's possible absence, centuries of Church-validated racism, the impossibility of home renovations, and why celibacy is hot.) But creators Robert and Michelle King have turned Evil into a paranoid opera for our derealized times. It's not uncommon for a character to declare themselves "disgusted with the insanity of reality." It's also not uncommon to see a hairy-breasted five-eyed demon working on an elliptical.
Season 3 picks up where last year's finale left off, with Kristen and David mid-smooch. She's married with four daughters. He just became an official Man of God, which means he's off the market, ladies. Evil zigs and then zags away from that will-they-or-won't-they moment, and expands its scope. A riotous new opening credits sequence foregrounds the massive cast around the central trio. There is more attention paid to Sister Andrea (Andrea Martin), a no-nonsense nun who sees demons constantly, and to Kristen's therapist Kurt (Kurt Fuller), now a regular bench player in Evil's squad. Kristen's cheerful husband Andy (Patrick Brammall) says he's home to stay. Ben's brilliant sister Karima (Sohina Sidhu) offers technical insight into his most confounding cases.
And I haven't even mentioned Kristen's mom Sheryl (Christine Lahti), who remains locked in a baffling danse macabre with Leland Townsend (Michael Emerson), Evil's most visible agent of general badness. That would be a lot of characters for, like, a lay-around Netflix show with more budget than plot progression. But in its third season, this former CBS show retains the fundamental forward momentum of a network procedural, even when it merrily throws the formula out the window.
This past Sunday's premiere focused on a scientific experiment to find the weight of a human soul. It required the participation of a dying priest, Father Frank Ignatius, played by Wallace Shawn. Pause for a moment on the casting of Shawn, who plays a deeply moving death scene and then really turns his performance up. The formerly stern priest gets more or less resurrected with a scientifically-confirmed weight off his shoulders. His first act is to kiss old friend Monseigneur Koreckie (Boris McGiver): "I always wanted to do that." Unrepressed priest-on-priest romance, and we're only halfway through the episode!
In the five episodes I've seen, Evil's weekly investigations run the gamut. There's a Google Maps prank that seems to be killing people, a pair of virgin newlyweds with possibly-possessed sex problems, and then "one of the worst building collapses in Bushwick history." As with The Good Fight, the Kings' other great ongoing series, the breakneck speed of a genre thriller becomes an excuse to chomp through a lot of recent headlines. When Sheryl asks a celebrity influencer to endorse a new cryptocurrency, she literally just says: "It's the same thing Reese Witherspoon did with Ethereum."
But one central pleasure of Evil is that you never know when the next scene will cut to the episode's assessment A-plot, or to one of the main character's ongoing plot threads, or to some ambient other bit of weirdness. Kristen's daughters (played wonderfully by Brooklyn Shuck, Skylar Gray, Maddy Crocco, and Dalya Knapp) might find themselves playing a creepy online game, or freaking out over trains. The season's most spine-tingling subplot is about something going on in the pipes at Kristen's house. Ben swings by to help with the plumbing — and sees an eyeball floating in the toilet. Mandvi's exhausted reaction is priceless. "I try to figure out these cases that don't make any sense," he moans, "and then we just move on to the next thing."
Actually, Evil's third season digs deep into its own history. Old cases pop up in unexpected ways. The most one-off-iest subplot suddenly reveals a massive part of the show's mythology. There's a part of me that worries about Evil's evolution toward greater serialization, but the scripts successfully tee up big revelations even as the central mysteries get more confounding. David is now Father David, a jobbing holy man worn down by ill-attended 6 a.m. masses and repetitive confessions. His visions are getting more frequent, but he's not sure how much to trust them. "How do you know it's God that's helping you," he asks Sister Andrea, "and not someone or something else?"
Evil is one of my favorite shows. I have to admit, though, I greet every episode with David-like doubts. How can any drama sustain this much enthusiastic strangeness? How long can the show ride the razor of questionable reality, with so many events that are either definitely supernatural or immediately explainable? But there's so much sheer acting talent and narrative trickery built into every episode. Colter remains impossibly charming as a decent person whose spiritual confidence masks profound insecurities. Herbers is a dream of witty toughness and parental anxiety, balancing daily concerns about her children with curiosity about the bizarre world her cases open up. Emerson keeps layering Leland's god-of-carnage self-absorption with pitiable impotence, so it's genuinely hard to tell if he's a mastermind or a grasping pawn. So many horrible things keep happening on Evil, yet everyone always seems to be having fun. Joy this nasty is positively blasphemous. A
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