On its face, the new CBS series Evil may seem markedly different from the other spooky fall shows. It’s from the creators of The Good Wife, for one thing and it’s on network TV–and CBS at that. Despite the seemingly staid pedigree, though, the pilot contained some of the most unnerving scenes I’ve seen so far this fall. Let’s get into it.
The Synopsis: What Evil Is All About
Mike Colter and Katja Herbers, image via CBS
Evil stars Katja Herbers, whom you might know from Manhattan or Westworld, as psychologist Kristen Bouchard. A mother of 4, she primarily conducts defendant evaluations for the DA’s office. That’s where she is when we meet her, questioning accused murderer Orson LeRoux (Darren Pettie). It’s a standard procedure for her, but it all goes sideways when it’s suggested that LeRoux may have been possessed.
That’s where David Acosta (Luke Cage‘s Mike Colter) and his contractor Ben Shakir (Aasif Mandvi) enter the picture. Acosta works for the Catholic Church as an “assessor,” someone who investigates supernatural phenomena like claims of demon possession or miracles. When we meet him and Ben, they’ve been tasked with assessing LeRoux.
When Bouchard loses her job, Acosta offers her a new one. As a psychologist, her experience is invaluable to the work he does. As Acosta puts it, possession can look like mental illness and mental illness can look like possession. He could use someone who can tell the difference. Bouchard accepts the offer, with a kind of begrudging bemusement–she’s a skeptic–and they work the case.
Real Thrills from the new CBS series Evil
George, please stop; image via CBS
You’ve probably heard the Nietzsche line about gazing into the abyss, with its warning about the abyss gazing back. It’s often quoted without its prelude, which contains a warning about fighting monsters. In it, Nietzsche warns against becoming a monster, too. Fighting monsters, whatever or whomever they are, is tough. You have to fight not to lose yourself.
Once Bouchard becomes part of the team, that’s probably in the back of her head. Whether or not monsters are real doesn’t matter. Your mind can create hellscapes as easily as it can make paradise. So if you spend a few days with demons on the brain, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when they show up in your home. That’s what happens to Bouchard.
Late at night when she’s sleeping, a demon, who introduces himself as George, strolls into her bedroom. Reader, I was scared. And it’s not because the George sequences are particularly frightening, at least not in a way I can put my finger on. They’re just disturbing, with the way he invades her room, the sanctity of her body, and ultimately, her mind. Outside of certain scenes on Euphoria, I can’t think of anything else I’ve seen on TV this year that’s been more unsettling.
Evil Is Compulsively Watchable
But the show isn’t just cheap thrills. As a pilot, it must set the table for what is to come. We can see the contours of the show being set up, but although some of it is predictable, like the burgeoning flirtation between priest-in-training Acosta and the still very married Bouchard, it works.
The pilot also sets up the antagonist, occult expert Leland Townsend (Michael Emerson). Townsend gets his kicks encouraging folks to do bad (all by themselves), but we don’t know his motivation for that. I want to know his motivation for that. That’s the mark of a good pilot, hooking viewers with intriguing storylines.
Above all, though, it’s a confident pilot. We may not know where the show is going yet, but it does. And that makes me want to keep watching. Will you be watching Evil, too? Confess in the comments or tell us on social media.
You can catch the pilot on demand or CBS All Access. Evil airs on CBS on Thursday nights at 9C/10E.
Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. She now splits her time between the Appalachian wilds (of Alabama) and the considerably more refined streets of New York City. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf.