Evil‘s move from CBS to Paramount Plus for its second season felt like a gift from the literal heavens; what would network TV’s most ambitious drama do once freed from the constraints of broadcast television? Early on, it was hard to tell, outside of the occasional, hastily-edited “fuck” into dialogue; but as Evil‘s second season went on, it embraced the freedom of its new home, shedding its more purely procedural skin of season one for some truly bonkers storytelling of season two. And rather than ratchet up every possible knob of vulgarity at once, Evil tweaked itself through its second series, getting a little bit hornier, a little bit gorier – and ultimately, a lot more sprawling as the season went along.
In case you missed it, Evil‘s been fucking going for it this season, tackling prescient reflections on Amazon (“Z is for Zombies”), the police (“C is for Cop”) – and of course, other such balls-to-the-wall ideas like faith conversions in virtual reality, UFO through the eyes of God, and demon-infested fertility services. There was even the much-teased silent episode (the admittedly-disappointing “S Is for Silence”), and an episode where the church tries to send the IRS after the Church of Satan… to say Evil is ambitious is an understatement, as these thirteen episodes displayed a versatility and creative curiosity direly lacking in the bloated world of modern dramas.
It isn’t a perfect season of television, by any means: part of Evil‘s grandiosity occasionally comes at the cost of intimacy, jumping from plot to plot to plot with so much as a moment to gather itself. Sometimes, Evil has the attention span of one of Kristen’s children, making a bunch of scattered noise that is certainly engrossing and evocative, but sometimes incoherent beyond “oh wow, it’s weird that Kristen’s daughter, who came from a really sketchy fertility clinic, is growing a tail and sharp teeth” – or in the case of the silent episode, just offering an ineffective central drama.
The cumulative effect can occasionally be seen with characters that feel like ciphers for Evil, and not always in a great way; if there’s a glaring hole in this second season, it’s just how little is explained what Sheryl is about, and what her journey through this series actually is. Her proximity to Leland’s activities is fascinating and endlessly watchable, but understanding the woman underneath is a bit more amorphous, an obvious (if rare) example of Evil‘s storytelling rhythms manifesting an underwhelming result, rather than the richness of theme and character the show’s whirlwind narrative approach is often able to enhance.
The much-maligned procedural format, however, allows Evil a weekly runway for self-correction; if one case doesn’t ignite the central stories of its main characters, it can just move onto the next one, trading in creepy dolls (eat your heart out, Chucky) to cursed monasteries, or a reality TV show producer with an evil twin spirit inhabiting her body. Thankfully, the character stories are the lifeblood of the series, and are often filtered through its riveting oddball premises – and generally speaking, mix to offer the kind of complexity and dimensionality you hope to see from a small ensemble cast. Even Ben, who was mostly relegated to B-tier character status last season, rose to prominence at various points in season two (though again, “C is for Cannibal” kind of forgets about his story), with interesting stories leaning into exploration of South Asian spiritual horror.
Unfortunately, there is so much going on that entire story lines – like whatever the fuck is going on with Ben’s succubus (or girlfriend), Kristen’s husband Andy, or Sheryl’s *waves arms* everything – is utterly ignored in the season finale. On paper, that would seem to make for a maddeningly disappointing end to the season: instead, “C is for Cannibal” is just 45 minutes of pure insanity, cramming cannibalistic college students, demon genealogy, sex-addicted priests, and blood pacts into the same script… and somehow making it work, to the point I leapt out of my chair when we reach the finale’s understated, tender final moment.
All of this is happening while Evil arrives at perhaps its most important metaphorical fulcrum yet; David’s ordination, which has served as an intriguing entry way for the show’s conversations about faith, temptation, and moral determinism. There’s so much going on that it ends up initially feeling like a minor inflection point amongst the mosaic of madness around him, but “C is for Cannibal” brings David, and his proximity to God, into the forefront for fascinating reasons in the finale’s back half, setting an important backdrop as the episode shifts back to the season’s primary concern: Kristen’s quickly declining mental state following her (hastily excused by the police) murder earlier this season (along with the adultery, the violence, the general Kristen of it all the past 12 episodes).
(Side note: what show has the audacity to casually reveal during a season finale that its holy co-protagonist is a sex addict? Evil ALWAYS delivers, my friends)
Written by Rockne S. O’Bannon (who I am contractually obligated to mention was the executive producer of The CW’s Cult), “C is for Cannibal” has to pull a lot of threads together, and smartly uses David’s ordination (ostensibly a minor event amongst many other things going on) as a device to thread everything else together: most importantly, it opened a window into a deeper explanation of what’s actually going on with Evil‘s visions, demons, and Leland; thanks to Andrea Martin’s dynamic performance as Sister Andrea (hands down the best addition of season two), that conflict is given dramatic weight, which helps in turn breathe life into the college kid trying to eat flesh, and Kristen’s increasingly unstable mental state as she tries to protect herself, and her daughters, from the many temptations around them (as best as she can, of course – as Sister Andrea makes quite clear, the job is never done, and has a very, very high failure rate).
Of course, where it all ends is the culmination of Evil‘s efforts as a TV show; Kristen’s confession to David is the kind of emotionally charged TV we just don’t see a lot of anymore, especially on network TV, where relationships are almost . Thematically rich shot composition, deep moments of honesty between main characters (who’ve been separated for long stretches of the season, further enhancing the moment) – and of course, powerhouse performances from Katja Herbers and Mike Colter, embracing all the lunacy, hilarity, and raw emotional intimacy of the series, in a tense season-closing scene.
Even more powerful is how the final scenes of the season don’t involve some kind of high-level confrontation; yes, “C is for Cannibal” does feature Kristen beating Leland (deservedly) with her high heel and Sister Andrea stabbing a demon in the chest, but for the most part, these are teases towards larger confrontations to follow, rather than trying to serve the Masters of Season Finales and offer up any kind of neat resolution.
Ultimately, I think it’s that particular resistance to temptation that still sits with me; there are really no endings in this season finale, except that David is now “officially” a priest (though one reminded to not bring racial politics into the search, lest he bring embarrassment upon the diocese, of course). Everything else is inched forward, rather than resolved or explained; only the most confident of television shows are able to do this, and still deliver a finale that is exciting and satisfying in their own ways, without being underwhelming or disappointing in (almost) any way.
Evil is all of those things, and more; though its second season is not an infallible body of work, its successes and failures stand head and shoulders above the dearth of interesting, creative television in the adaptation and sequel-riddled year of 2021. Evil is daring, sexy, brash and occasionally hilarious (my god, I laughed so hard during the four-way phone call in the season finale), an intoxicating blend of tone and genre that brazenly rejects the inherent assumptions of the procedural form. Simply put, it’s one of the best shows on TV.
(also – can we get Mike Flanagan to direct an episode of Evil? Pretty please?)