Catching Up With CBS Psychological Horror Series Evil, aka ‘Satan Trolled Me’

Tween terror Eric (Luke Judy) chats with Evil investigators Kristen (Katja Herbers) and David (Mike Colter).
Photo: Jeff Neumann/CBS
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CBS already had a show called God Friended Me, about people who do good deeds at the direction of what appears to be a celestial Facebook account. Now it has a counterweight to all that uplift: Evil, a series that imagines dark forces have also adapted with the times and taken their outreach online.

We got a look at Evil’s first episode during San Diego Comic-Con, and found its sinister perspective on social media to be its most intriguing element. Now that the show’s four episodes in, we have a much better sense of how Evil is cleverly using the internet as a part of its storytelling.

But that’s not the only thing Evil has going for it; so far, the show has offered an enthralling mix of imperfect characters and mysteries-of-the-week, as well as some indications of a larger mythology in the making. Also, it stars Mike Colter as an intense priest-in-training with a murky past and the ability to communicate directly with God. Who needs Facebook when you’ve got Luke Cage handling your business?

Kristen, Ben (Aasif Mandvi), and David do some Evil research.
Photo: Jeff Neumann/CBS
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Actually, even Luke might need a crack team to help him battle the big bad in Evil. Colter’s devout but troubled character, David Acosta, has that going for him at least, with forensic psychologist Kristen Bouchard (Westworld’s Katja Herbers) and tech whiz Ben Shakir (Aasif Mandavi) helping assess his cases. We’ve seen a lot of horror stories that deal with exorcisms, but Evil takes a step back and shows us what happens before the Catholic Church authorizes such a drastic action: In the context of this show, at least, it requires ironclad proof that the person is really demonically possessed. Same goes for declaring the authenticity of miracles.

Though David is a true believer, and Kristen and Ben are both skeptics, they all bring the same intensity when it comes to evaluating each case. So far on Evil, we’ve seen a “possessed” serial killer; a teenage soccer player who makes a “miracle” return from the dead; a suspected occurrence of “diabolical obsession” involving a demanding Broadway producer; and a boy whose homicidal urges make his vaguely religious family suddenly start to believe the devil is real.

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Nearly every situation has involved tech in some way. That serial killer was coached on how to fake his symptoms with the help of someone he met on a message board (4chan gets a name-drop). The high-strung producer was acting even weirder than usual because his virtual assistant had been hacked by an IT guy with a grudge. The show also makes frequent use of everyday tech like YouTube videos, nanny cams, and surveillance footage—and also dives into tech’s more advanced realms, like the use of uncanny deepfakes and games played on virtual reality headsets.

Kristen and David look for clues.
Image: Elizabeth Fisher/CBS
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So far, David, Kristen, and Ben (with uncredited help from Ben’s very patient sister, Karima, who’s even more of tech whiz than he is) have an excellent debunking record, at least as far as the Catholic Church is concerned. But Evil has a much bigger game that it wants the audience to play along with—and questions that crop up along the way are frequently and deliberately left to linger, sorta like a more spiritually-minded X-Files.

Just one example: David, Kristen, and Ben were able to show that the young athlete’s incredible revival wasn’t a genuine miracle—she had a rare medical condition, a situation not helped by incompetence in the ER—but they aren’t able to explain why the angelic image of another young woman who died the same day appears on the footage they pulled from the hospital’s closed-circuit cameras. When he hears about that part of the incident, David’s boss, Monsignor Korecki (Boris McGiver), advises David to just let it go. The miracle was disproven, and that’s all the Church needs.

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And there’s unexplained malevolence, too, like a second Alexa-like device that starts spewing hurtful invictives without any interference from the Broadway bigwig’s disgruntled employee, or any known human for that matter. (Ben’s hasty solution: Tossing the thing into a garbage truck.) We also observe, rather uneasily, as Kristen’s kids become fascinated with an augmented reality horror game that encourages them to use a virtual Ouija board to open what sure feels like an actual supernatural doorway.

Kristen and her many daughters.
Photo: Jeff Neumann/CBS
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While David’s still a bit of an enigma—we know something tragic happened with a woman in his past named Julia, and we also know that he takes psychedelic mushrooms to clear a path for his chats with the Almighty—we’ve gotten to know Kristen quite well at this point. Previous to working with David, she was an on-call expert witness for the DA’s office in Queens. She has four young daughters that she’s raising solo (her mom, played by Christine Lahti, pops by for babysitting duty) while her long-absent husband works as a climbing guide on Mount Everest. Kristen also goes to therapy, has tons of student loan debt, is weirdly fond of canned margaritas, and is a onetime Catholic who’s forthright enough to ask David, the wannabe priest, “Do the scandals bother you?”

She’s also recently started having night terrors involving a demon who calls himself “George” and menaces her while she’s frozen in her sleep. That would be disturbing enough, but then her youngest daughter starts having a similar nightmare. In another “there’s a logical explanation, but still...” instance on the show, Kristen realizes that the imaginary George resembles the monster on the girls’ favorite TV show. (There’s a funny meta moment where the family watches a behind-the-scenes video of the George lookalike, played by the actor who also plays George, as he’s getting his special effects make-up applied.) Clearly, he’s been conjured up by her anxiety about her new job. But then why does he feel so insidious and capable of real harm?

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George is a lot to take in, but Dr. Leland Townsend (Lost’s Michael Emerson), who may or may not be a real doctor—and may or may not be a human being, for that matter—is Evil’s most hideous villain so far. His default mode is a prickly mix of smarm and lewdness (one of the first things he says to David is “Don’t you have altar boys to rape?”). On the one hand, he’s a professional foe for Kristen, a situation that worsens when he slimes his way into her old spot at the DA’s office and begins gleefully sabotaging the cases she’d previously worked on.

Michael Emerson is clearly having the best time ever playing Big Evil operative Leland Townsend.
Photo: Elizabeth Fisher/CBS
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As David explains it to an incredulous Kristen, Leland is a “connector”—someone dedicated to spreading evil by encouraging other people to do horrible things. That Leland is a textbook psychopath is something Kristen can immediately grasp, but we can see (as David does) that Leland’s giving off hellishly bad vibes. He’s definitely linked to “the 60,” an Omen-esque demonic organization that’s started organizing its troops for an as-yet unclear course of action. We don’t know much about them yet, but the show 100 percent has plans for them down the line.

Leland is terrifying, and the way Evil has tapped into a broad spectrum of technology to demonstrate how ominous stuff can infiltrate literally any modern person’s life is also terrifying. But the show has also shown that sometimes awful things can happen without any explanation whatsoever. Last week’s grim case featured a nine-year-old, once perfectly normal, who gradually morphs into emotionless time bomb who resists all forms of treatment and is then murdered by his own parents as a last resort after he tries to drown his infant sister. We never get to find out if the kid was affected by environmental factors, or if a demon was influencing him, or if he just transformed into a monster on his own. Which is the scariest? Evil leaves that up to you to decide—no specific religious leanings or iPhone required.

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Evil, which was just picked up for a second season, airs Thursday nights (with a Halloween-themed episode tonight!) on CBS.


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