Evil certainly had its share of surprises throughout its freshman season. Mostly, they had to do with the grisly mysteries taken on by its trio of Catholic Church-sponsored investigators, but its characters also sometimes did things you wouldn’t expect. The finale, “Book 27,” dropped the biggest Evil shock yet.
All season long, Evil has been very cagey about whether or not its supernatural elements were real—inviting the viewer to straddle the same line between scepticism and belief that new team member Kristen (Katja Herbers) also struggled with. With each case (usually, the objective is to prove or disprove possession and miracles to see if the church needs to bother), priest-in-training David (Mike Colter) trusted his faith, and gadget guy Ben (Aasif Mandvi) looked for a logical reason behind each seemingly baffling phenomenon.
And though Kristen, a forensic psychologist, approaches her job from the position of science—she’s a former Catholic, but she’s certain she doesn’t believe in possession—there were things that happened from time to time that gave her pause. Some of them could be explained away, like the cheeky demon who plagued her recurring nightmares; his presence sure seemed uncomfortably lifelike, but he was just a dream, of course. Or the spooky visions she had after accidentally getting dosed by hallucinogens at a party. Definitely unsettling, but again—not real.
But along the way, Kristen and company also met a woman who claimed she could speak to God—and whose prophecies had a way of coming true (at least, until she was arrested in an immigration raid)—and who created drawings that eerily completed the missing portions of a 500-year old document kept under strict Vatican control. How? And in the penultimate episode, “Justice x 2,” a heart defect that’s plagued Kristen’s young daughter her entire life is suddenly, miraculously healed. How?
Evil’s murkiest character is Leland Townsend (Michael Emerson), ostensibly Kristen’s professional rival who delights in offering conflicting evidence when they go head-to-head in court, but also not-so-vaguely implied to be an actual agent of Satan operating on Earth. It’s true the guy is rotten to the core—he does stuff like encourage incels and serial killers, gloat about how young prisoners are more likely to get raped behind bars, and produce YouTube videos that contain subliminal messages advocating teen suicide. He also woos Kristen’s mother, Sheryl (Christine Lahti) and is able to influence her somehow to stay with him even after Kristen offers actual proof of what an awful person he is, driving a wedge deep into the family.
But is Leland just a raging shit-starter who’s really good at social media and bringing out the worst in people, or is he, like, supernaturally bad? Evil, again, keeps it very fuzzy, though in “Justice x 2” Kristen knocks him down a peg by revealing she knows his true identity, thanks to her friends in the NYPD—he’s not really a hellish envoy, he’s actually a twice-divorced former band geek from Iowa. But just when you think you’ve got Leland figured out, Evil takes you inside one of his therapy sessions, and his doctor is…a demonic goat (pictured a few paragraphs above; also HOW?) who suggests Leland find someone to take care of his irritating Kristen problem. Take her heart out, he suggests, so that he and Leland can eat it together.
Not knowing exactly if you should trust what you’re seeing is a big part of Evil’s appeal; the show gave you just enough “Ben clowns a group of phony ghost hunters” to balance out all the “David frees a woman’s soul from the devil” stuff. And while Leland was often puppeteering the show’s wickedness, Evil also made sure there were plenty of instances of humans behaving monstrously without getting an obvious nudge from him, like the parents who murdered their Omen-esque tyke after he threatened their new baby. There were also two different storylines across the season about racist health care workers targeting African American patients (including David, who barely lived through his experience).
The finale, “Book 27,” took all that ambiguity that’s been building up over the season and let ‘er rip, introducing a whole new insidious layer to everything that’s been going on—and one of the characters may never recover.
Though the season finale contained its share of “aw hell no” moments, including the sight of Leland and Sheryl getting engaged, as well as the reveal that a local fertility clinic is in league with Lucifer (with the goal of, apparently, creating pre-damned souls while they’re still in the womb; guess where that Omen-type kid mentioned earlier came from?), Kristen’s steady breakdown provided its biggest narrative thrust. Her nightmares have been a recurring plot point all season, but in “Book 27” she got a special visit from Leland’s furry therapist—a figure that one of her daughters, the very daughter who was conceived with the help of you-know-which fertility clinic, has also started seeing in dreams.
Kristen’s frustration over everything that’s been building up over the season—her mother’s betrayal, her mountain-climber husband’s perpetual long-stretch absences, the constant harassment from Leland, and just her growing awareness of just how much of the world is rotten—has changed her, but not in the way you’d think. When Orson (Darren Pettie), the smarmy serial killer we met all the way back in the first episode, is unexpectedly exonerated (thanks, Leland), the creep starts showing up at Kristen’s house. It’s implied at first that he’ll be the instrument used to rip out Kristen’s heart, until the tables turn and instead, it’s implied that Kristen snuck out of her house with a climbing ax and brained the guy. Self-defence, right?
That would’ve been one way to take it, but Evil puts Kristen on a different path, and suddenly “take her heart out” feels like maybe it wasn’t meant to be taken literally. Now that she’s a murderer, she’s also apparently possessed, burning herself on a rosary and appearing as a “bad seed” sowed by the devil in one of David’s mushroom-induced visions. Was turning Kristen toward Satan—who is, apparently, quite real—the long game Evil’s been playing all season? It definitely seems like it, and that’ll surely make for some interesting dynamics when the show returns for its second season.