Satan, psychopaths, and a demon named...George?
By Clare Rushing
A psychologist and a priest walk into an exorcism. Both have different opinions on what’s wrong with the “possessed”, but who’s right? That’s the sort of question every episode of Evil (available on Netflix and Amazon Prime) raises. Starring Katja Herbers as Dr. Kristen Bouchard and Mike Colter as David Acosta, the dark comedy offers a new take on traditional procedural cop and demon hunter shows, complete with compelling characters and bizarre twists. Add in an ample dose of psychopathy, paranoia, night terrors, and wholesome family moments, and you have a basic idea of what Evil is all about.
The show follows the personal lives and shared work of a forensic psychologist (Herbers) and priest-in-training (Colter) as they assess possible supernatural events on behalf of the Catholic church (i.e. demonic possessions and miracles). Each of the 13 episodes blends cheesy humor with genuinely unsettling scenarios, from a viral makeup video with a disturbing subliminal message, to a cheerful preschool teacher’s uncannily accurate predictions of doom.
An overarching mystery ties the devil’s dozen episodes together, leading to an unexpected cliff-hanger that, once you reach the edge, you’ll realize you probably should have seen coming. Because nothing is accidental in Evil; every plotline and every moment is part of a bigger story that gradually reveals itself.
Looming over the entire series is an ongoing theme: everything can be explained by science…except for what can’t. This idea shines especially bright during an episode featuring a return character who believes the church’s exorcism made her mental health worse. In an applause-worthy monologue, Dr. Bouchard explains that, while demonic possession is not listed in the DSM-V, psychiatric treatments are no more an exact science than exorcisms.
Despite her own skepticism, Dr. Bouchard claims she observed an improvement in the woman’s condition after the exorcism. The real reason for the decline, she points out, is the woman’s new psychiatrist, who prescribed her a medication with dangerous side-effects and a controversial therapeutic method that puts patients through “their own personal hell”, irony absolutely intended. The scene captures everything Evil does best, suggesting that although exorcisms are scientifically unproven, sometimes the treatment that works can’t be explained by science.
Evil handles real-world biases between psychology and religion with respect, and takes an honest approach to difficult moral questions not often seen on television. The friendship between a believer who became an atheist and an addict who joined the church in search of stability allows for a sincere discourse on the ethics of exorcisms, the hypocritical nature of miracles, the importance of empathy, and the value of having faith–whether it’s in a higher power, your family, or science.
While there are a few shortcomings and reveals that feel disappointing (bespoke demon babies?), the writing, acting, and costuming are the perfect balance of hilarious and terrifying. Creepy, bizarre, and chuckle-worthy, Evil provides a much-needed subversion of old tropes and a cast of compelling main and side characters who are as relatable as they are ridiculous. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself shouting “what is this show??” after every episode, and quickly selecting the “play next” option.
Season 2 should be a wild ride, especially with the should-have-seen-it-coming twist at the end of episode 13 (if you’ve seen it, you know the one). While the original date has been delayed, rumor has it the next installment of this sinfully good series will premiere sometime this year, on CBS.