Film and TV scenes that once inspired terror – cackling demons possessing the body of a young girl, dark prophecies about the number 666, preachers warning terrified congregations of the “father of lies” – now seem outdated.
The sleek procedural, which has been described as ”X-Files’ meets ‘The Exorcist”, follows the adventures of David (Mike Colter), a Roman Catholic priest who teams up with Kristen (Katja Herbers), a skeptic turned psychologist. clinician and Ben (Aasif Mandvi), a tech-savvy atheist, to investigate mysterious happenings on behalf of the Catholic Church. Their mission is to debunk or validate alleged miracles, demonic possessions and other unexplained phenomena.
“Evil,” however, is more than macabre entertainment. In three ways, it also offers unlikely deliverance from some of the most chilling divisions that divide America.
It shows that we don’t need to be possessed by politics
It’s a modern form of possession that you can’t summon a priest to battle for.
A friend or relative goes down a political rabbit hole. They are absorbed in political conspiracy theories. They obsessively watch cable news. You can no longer discuss politics or religion with them, because you no longer recognize the person you once knew.
When modern politics boils down to a battle between good and evil, it’s hard to find examples of people who aren’t divided by their differences.
This is not the case in “Evil”. The show’s three main characters are separated by race, culture, and religious beliefs. And yet, they respect each other deeply, listen to each other and support each other. They change each other’s minds. They make each other laugh. The warmth of their friendships is a mainstay of the show.
In a pivotal scene from “Evil’s” third season, David, the Catholic priest, pulls skeptical psychologist Kristen aside to fix a loophole.
“I know you don’t believe in God, but I do,” he told her. “And that requires action beyond what we have…when God demands something from me, I have to obey.”
“I would like to understand,” she said, on the verge of tears.
David assures her that she doesn’t have to understand or embrace his faith. What matters is that she knows how much he cares for her, despite their differences.
In today’s polarized cultural climate, this scene could be called a miracle.
In a sly way, the show offers an alternative model of how people in contemporary America can stay close even when they disagree.
“It was deliberate,” says Robert King, a member of the husband-and-wife team that created and produced “Evil.” (Robert and his wife, Michelle King, are also the creators of two other acclaimed series: “The Good Wife” and “The Good Fight.”)
Michelle is the child of Holocaust survivors. She believes that science and psychology offer answers to what some call evil.
Her husband has different beliefs.
“I come from a Catholic family,” says Robert King, who says he believes in personal evil and demons. “I believe the world is under the aegis of original sin.”
Their series is also a reflection of the couple’s relationship. Robert is Roman Catholic and Michelle is secular Jewish. Over their three decades of marriage, they have debated many of the issues explored on the show.
“We wanted to show that people can have different views on faith and they can still have meaningful dialogue,” Robert King said.
In the age of absolutes, he embraces ambivalence
There was a time when the rise of the Internet was greeted with optimism. Advertisements rave about the “global village”. Supporters said it would bring the world closer together. This belief now seems as outdated as the classic horror movie “The Creature from the Black Lagoon”.
There is growing recognition that social media can erode people’s mental health and pose a threat to democracy. The rise of the internet has even empowered dictators through what some call “digital authoritarianism”.
Part of what makes “Evil” so effective is that it fuses traditional horror elements with contemporary evils lurking online.
In one episode, a priest is believed to have been possessed. But the real culprit is an online gambling addiction.
In another, two young boys are terrorized by an entity that stalks them at night. But the evil source turns out to be someone who wants to raise their profile on a social platform that’s a thinly disguised version of TikTok.
The show tackles other modern horrors: gun violence, racism and fear – exacerbated by the reversal of Roe v. Wade – that women no longer control their bodies.
It does this by placing its messages in scary and unpredictable scenarios. It makes room for the existence of personal evil. The show also embraces ambivalence: some seemingly supernatural events turn out to have rational explanations, while others remain open-ended.
He says the show reflects today’s political climate, in which people often disagree on fundamental facts. Some say the 2020 presidential election was stolen; some don’t. Some believe that the fetus has a soul; some don’t. Some think the news is fake; some don’t.
The show affirms both believers and non-believers, he says.
“It made ambivalence a mode of entertainment,” he says. “That’s the beauty of entertainment. It’s a wonderful way to introduce these questions, and the (audience) can think about it independently at home.”
He portrays organized religion as a force for good, not just divisive
“Every hero finally gets boring.”
This quote from 19th-century philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson reflects a truism about the horror genre: People are more fascinated by villains than heroes. Horror franchises, like the “Alien,” “Predator,” “Halloween,” and Hannibal Lecter franchises, are built around villains. Many actors say they’d rather play villains than heroes.
Those who attempt to portray goodness in a show about faith also face another challenge: growing distrust of organized religion. The clergy sex scandal in the Roman Catholic Church, the growth of white Christian nationalism, and church schisms over issues such as racism and abortion turned many Americans away from organized religion.
But “Evil” does something bold. He portrays institutional religion as a force for good. Its hero is a devout Catholic priest, and he mostly portrays members of the Catholic Church as good and well-meaning people.
“The show isn’t just about the supernatural — it presents hope,” Foust told CNN. “It shows that material things don’t satisfy. That’s why I think people around the world are so discouraged. [the show] makes us think of things that satisfy.”
A reviewer thinks the show’s portrayal of David could help boost the image of Catholic leaders.
The series also renders compelling goodness through the character of Sister Andrea, a nondescript little nun who is often seen carrying a broom. Yet she’s also the show’s spiritual powerhouse, a person whose incandescent faith sends shivers down the spines of demons.
Sister Andrea could have been portrayed in a judgmental way, but she is one of the funniest and friendliest characters on the show.
Michelle King attributes the character’s charm to the actress who plays her, Andrea Martin.
“Evil” neither, at least until now. The series has been renewed for a fourth season.
It is normal for the show to air on Sunday evenings. It offers something to those who believe that humanity remains, as Robert King puts it, “under the umbrella of original sin.” It also offers something for those who are more concerned with the horrors of the contemporary world.
When a TV show can speak to so many people at such a divided time in our history and illustrate how we can disagree without becoming mortal enemies, that’s not bad. Its good.