Michael Emerson

Evil (2019) s01e13 – Book 27

Thank you, “Evil,” for forcing me to realize I don’t know how to spell Baphomet. Oh, wait, I do know how to spell Baphomet. Apple just doesn’t know how to spell Baphomet. Seems like something for the Satanic Temple to investigate, whether or not Apple has deity spellings for other religions. Anyway. “Evil”. The season finale.

There’s a lot but also not a lot. Christine Lahti is back for the first time in a while, not always wearing red and, when she is wearing red, it’s not particularly symbolic. (The first episode established red was the devil’s color or something). She’s Michael Emerson’s unwitting stooge, which is insult to injury given her entire romance with Emerson is absurd. Lahti could do infinitely better.

The mystery of the week this episode involves a pregnant woman convinced one of the twins she’s carrying is possessed. The show throws its blue voters a bone when Mike Colter wonders how the Church can oppose abortion when it also says the unborn can’t be possessed because, I don’t know, they don’t have souls yet or something. The show immediately walks it back—kind of double-timing it by having Muslim turned atheist Aasif Mandvi come up with the solution. It’s a stupid solution, but the show’s given up that conversation. Which is fine; once you normalize Baphomet—through CGI—anything goes.

There are also a couple reveals for the show’s mythology, setting the course for season two, which will have the Catholic Church versus fertility clinics; definitely seems like a conversation best suited for mainstream CBS fare. Here’s where I’d eye-roll emoji in a tweet.

There’s a good scene with Mike Colter and Katja Herbers for the first time since winter hiatus. He’s questioning his faith, she’s supportive, he’s hot, she’s holding his hand too long. She’s wearing her cool leather dress outfit—this episode brings it with some of the costuming choices, with Colter starting out dressed like Shaft.

The show’s got its frequent annoyances, like when someone at a New York City fertility clinic tells Colter and Mandvi they might recognize some of the babies in their promos because there are “many from the area.” Over eight million people in New York City, so of course they’re going to be recognizable. Again, “Evil” is eye-roll emoji levels of dumb.

But Herbers, Colter, Mandvi… are they worth coming back for? Insert shrug emoji here.

You know who doesn’t think it’s worth coming back for? Any of the guest-starring priests. The show’s gone through a revolving door of guest-starring priests; not sure if they’ve hit twelve yet (ProPublica discovered, statistically speaking, one in twelve Catholic priests in the United States has been credibly accused of sexual abuse or misconduct—by the Catholic Church, so you know it’s more, so ew). The guy this episode is stunningly bad. So bad I’m not even going to bother digging up his name.

With all the reveals and twists this episode… “Evil” has gotten to late seventies horror thriller levels of silly but never late seventies horror thriller levels of fun. “Evil” is silly and slight. I think I get to stop watching it now?

Evil (2019) s01e12 – Justice x 2

There’s a lot going on in this episode of “Evil” but the only important thing—the only truly important thing—is it guest stars Gbenga Akinnagbe. It utterly wastes him in a “let’s not examine this too hard” plot about him being a radio comic in nineties Rwanda who encouraged the genocide. Emayatzy Corinealdi plays a Tutsi woman who tracks him down twenty-five years later to exact her revenge. It wouldn’t be so weird if the show didn’t turn it into a commentary on 2019 America, with phrases like “punching up” thrown around. There are optics to it. And to the way the episode does exposition about the Rwandan genocide. It’s not even a lukewarm take because the show’s not actually controversial (just manipulative) and it wastes Akinnagbe and Corinealdi in what ought to be an easy to do, albeit exploitative, tense talking heads standoff. She’s got him taped to a chair in a basement, after all; it’s not like there aren’t movies to guide the writers.

The show’s big addition? Mike Colter tied up in the room too; he went to see Corinealdi because she called the Catholic Church to report… her walls telling her to avenge herself upon Akinnagbe. It’s not a good main plot, but the episode doesn’t really have strong subplots either. Katja Herbers is standing off with Michael Emerson in court, with the bad guy from the pilot back. We get some big reveals on Emerson, but then the show’s got its biggest “reveal” at the end when—spoiler but because one must—Emerson’s having his therapy session with Baphomet. Not a bad Baphomet as far as network TV goes. But if Baphomet’s imaginary, it’s just stupid and if Baphomet’s not imaginary, it’s going to have to get stupider in a different way. Just because Baphomet can look good on TV in 2020 doesn’t mean he should.

Though Emerson fits the sad old posturing incel a lot better than the seventies Bond villain with kinks for religious symbolism and too many sweaters. Will he get less tiresome? Will the family get less tiresome as dad Patrick Brammall, now getting subplots instead of Aasif Mandvi, goes away for a bit then comes back, having now been the real parent when the sick kid needs an emergency procedure to add some child in danger drama and working mom Herbers isn’t taking the call. No. No, they’ll be even more tiresome.

Then there’s Brammall’s whole Buddhist subplot where the show equates him meditating to Herbers getting back with the child rapists at the Church. Religious pluralism, big shrug. He gets some ominous foreshadowing this episode too. Not just with the possibly dying child and Herbers not having told him any information about the possible medical procedures because she’s too hot for Colter to remember.

Also a religious judges are going to be the literal death of us all moment.

It’s amazing with all the stuff “Evil” has got and has had going on they’ve never actually delivered. I’m surprised they wasted Gbenga Akinnagbe, but I really shouldn’t have been.

Evil (2019) s01e11 – Room 320

I resent how affecting this episode of “Evil” gets because it doesn’t deserve to be. The stuff about Katja Herbers and Aasif Mandvi discovering how the guy who attacked Mike Colter before hiatus is the same guy who posed as a creepy little girl in AR to stalk Herbers’s kid early on in the series… not affecting. It’s all connected in “Evil” just gets an eye-roll because it’s so contrived. Terrorizing its viewers about technology and the possible demonic influence—blah.

But Colter trapped in a hospital bed where a racist nurse (Tara Summers) is apparently killing off all the Black patients? Effective. Affecting. Even though Peter Sollet’s horror direction is lousy and the episode’s never as scary as it ought to be. It’s always manipulating, which just happens to work out because Summers is so unstoppably evil (because her white colleagues don’t care about the Black patients enough to check on them) and Colter’s so sympathetic.

There’s also a reveal on the pre-history of the show, with Herbers just now finding out she’s not Colter’s first psychiatrist sidekick. Previously he had Megan Ketch, who has longer hair than Herbers and no kids (or husband) but otherwise looks the same. No explanation of why no one mentioned Ketch’s existence to Herbers before—it’s almost like Mandvi didn’t work as steadily with Colter before Herbers came along either. Ketch teams up with them to try to catch the bad guy. The one who put Colter in the hospital, not the bad guy in the hospital.

There are all sorts of question marks and plot holes due to Colter being constantly overprescribed painkillers and unable to discern what’s real and what’s not. It’s also not clear if he’s in a Catholic hospital… seems like… no. But then yes. But then no. I guess it doesn’t end up mattering given the conclusion, which is in the open-minded “Evil” so we can find out later on Summers was really inspired by Michael Emerson (blissfully not present this episode) to kill her Black patients and get away with it because the hospital doesn’t notice all of her Black patients dying on a daily basis when in the hospital for routine things.

Maybe the scariest thing about “Evil” is how reasonable it seems Summers could get away with it.

Is it a good forty-two minutes of television… no. But it’s an effective forty-two minutes of television, which is something given how silly it gets when it’s trying to be scary.

Evil (2019) s01e10 – 7 Swans a Singin’

This episode of “Evil” has a particular creative pedigree. Nineties neo-noir wunderkind (albeit flash in the pan) director John Dahl. Eighties and nineties sci-fi guy Rockne S. O'Bannon scripts. Seeing either of their names in the credits for “Evil” just tells of careers gone wrong; seeing both of them in the same episode, well… it feels like “Evil” is a pasture to be put out to. Though O’Bannon feels like he gets how to do an “Evil,” he knows just what contemporary middle class fears to exploit. Kids, obviously. The episode’s about a Catholic girls school where everyone spontaneously starts humming the same song from an inappropriately crude Christmas cartoon on YouTube.

But the actual fear is of YouTube influencers, particularly the make-up ones. Taylor Louderman plays the influencer, who ties into the Michael Emerson plot, natch, and she’s terrible. Also the show using Emerson as the occasional bad guy in his office sending out evil into the world isn’t working. It’s not like Emerson ever wasn’t silly, but he’s even more silly in his crappy little office engineering the downfall of western civilization. Or talking dirty with girlfriend Christine Lahti on the phone.

Lahti’s going to be all “Evil” at some point, as she starts manipulating her granddaughters this episode. While wearing red!

While Mike Colter, Katja Herbers, and Aasif Mandvi investigate the school and the humming, Colter has also got to deal with someone sending him pictures of his transgression with dead fiancée’s sister Renée Elise Goldsberry (who went from being featured guest star to third tier subplot) and Herbers has her home nonsense going on with the daughters and husband Patrick Brammall. Though Brammall’s growing on me. His performance isn’t getting worse. New Church boss Peter Scolari is just getting worse. And Lahti’s not fun anymore because she’s now just around to act as a constant threat to her granddaughters, who are obnoxious but still kids and the grandmother betrayal thing is really harsh.

Wait, forgot—the Christmas cartoon also tells kids to get stoned, because you should fear YouTube and counter it by… well, it’s unclear. “Evil” tries to terrify its audience with fear of tech but, other than calling the Catholic Church to investigate, has no opinion on alternatives.

There’s an okay cliffhanger? Or at least a surprise one. The episode woefully underuses Mandvi.

Evil (2019) s01e09 – Exorcism Part 2

This episode actually surprised me, which I didn’t realize “Evil” could do, but I was wrong. I really didn’t expect the show to head-on confront the Catholic Church enabling, supporting, and facilitating child rape with it being a-okay and turning their number one “defending child rapists” lawyer Renée Elise Goldsberry (from the show creators’ previous success, “The Good Wife,” playing a character named Renée, and giving a terrible performance) as a super-sexy woman from Mike Colter’s past who’s going to coerce him into physical relations or die trying.

When Goldsberry showed up in the first few minutes, after the show established it’s a follow-up on the episode where Colter and Katja Herbers argued over an exorcism but also Michael Emerson’s incel shooter training camp (are all psychologists bad for incels, or just the white men?), I was happy to see her. Any good guest stars would help, especially since incel shooter-in-training Noah Robbins is so bad it’d make more sense if his character were an undercover cop trying to bust Emerson and also Herbers’s decidedly not sexy husband Patrick Brammall is back and, after briefly seeming like he and Herbers might be good together, decidedly is not good with Herbers or anyone else. So, Goldsberry, who’s been not bad in the past but I’m now wondering, was a welcome sight.

Then she started acting.

I mean, the deposition thing is really bad—who wrote all “Good Wife”’s realistic-y lawyer stuff because they ain’t working on “Evil”—where Goldsberry tries to out-lawyer Jennifer Ferrin (who probably ought to find a better agent, like, real talk) while trying to obscure Herbers and Aasif Mandvi being atheists who don’t think Colter should’ve tortured the plaintiff in her exorcism. The best part is how the case resolves because it’s so obviously how poorly thought-out the plotting.

Also Peter Scolari is Colter’s new boss at the Church and he’s terrible.

The big surprise, besides the Catholic Church propaganda (guess who the incel wants to shoot? Good Catholics who don’t abandon the Church because of child rape, isn’t it progressive) and Goldsberry being bad, is Emerson’s ostensible demon. He’s less an evil mastermind and more an incompetent jackass. He has a silly “break stuff in my room” scene like he thinks he’s Kylo Ren, he’s just in his late sixties or whatever. It’s buffoonish. Though I suppose at least it’s not as gross as if “Evil” really is about being Catholic Church propaganda.

Also, also. A correction from an earlier post. Black Catholics are a thing in urban areas and “Evil” supposedly takes place in New York, just a really poorly shot one. They still aren’t in that survey I mentioned and they still seem overrepresented on the show.

Evil (2019) s01e08 – 2 Fathers

So this episode has—you guessed it—two dads in it. Well, it’s probably got more than two dads in it, but only two where it’s important they’re dads.

The first dad is Vondie Curtis-Hall as Mike Colter’s dad. They estranged because it’s TV and there’s no way a guy’s not estranged with his dad if he’s on TV. The show doesn’t really get into the big stuff of the estrangement, but it appears to be over Colter’s religiosity. Not about Curtis-Hall running a hippie commune with his two wives (I was going to name the actors but there’s no point, they’re immaterial to the episode—the actors’ performances, not the characters… though sort of the characters).

Curtis-Hall is… sort of a guest star. Sort of. I mean, I like Vondie Curtis-Hall but it’s a nothing part; he looks great for seventy too, like they had to make him up to appear older. Colter and Katja Herbers head to the farm to see him because Colter sees Curtis-Hall is using the “Evil” demon sigils in his art. They drop acid, it’s a whole thing. Colter and Curtis-Hall bond over being Black men (sort of); what’s most interesting about that part is it’s more important they bond over being Black men in America than actual demons overrunning the planet.

Herbers just gets messed up and horny for Colter, which is particularly bad because her husband—the other dad in the title—is back.

Patrick Brammall plays the dad. It’s good the show found someone who sucks as bad as the kids to play the father. They really choked on the casting. Also Christine Lahti is tripled down on being the devil’s willing concubine. Kind of hoping she just goes all in on the bad by the end of the season, maybe kill one of the grandkids, who knows. It’d be something.

No Michael Emerson, which is fine. Aasif Mandvi has a romance subplot with returning guest star Nicole Shalhoub, where she reveals she has a really silly woo secret. Kind of hope she’s never back again because “Evil” will just waste her.

“Evil” wastes everyone.

Evil (2019) s01e07 – Vatican III

This week’s “Evil” is a sixty-forty split between “why Catholics don’t get the mental health care they need” and “how to make an incel.” There’s more to both, obviously. The main plot is about possessed Annaleigh Ashford (who should sue her agent for malpractice) confessing to a triple homicide of Hispanic tween boys. She gives the Scooby Gang (clinical psychiatrist and lapsed Catholic Katja Herbers, true believer, priest-in-training, and hallucinogen abuser Mike Colter, and lapsed Muslim professional skeptic Aasif Mandvi) the location of the bodies and so they sit on that information instead of investigating for themselves, despite having the full power of the Catholic Church at their disposal.

I mean, they can hack into ICE and get surveillance camera footage, which might be international espionage given Vatican City and all, but they can’t take the time to go see if maybe Ashford buried the bodies where she said.

Meanwhile, nebbish Kevin Spacey impersonator and apparent sex god Michael Emerson recruits another disillusioned young white man, this time—through implication—a young white Jewish man—to the incel lifestyle. Noah Robbins goes from getting turned down by his barista to giving her a dead animal to plotting to mass murder women in the span of forty minutes, with a couple “therapy” sessions from Emerson to egg him on.

Now, we’re also finding out Emerson thinks he’s a demon and it’s his job to inspire… incels, basically. And to be a sex god who—unbeknownst to Herbers because, thankfully, her family is off-screen this episode—can make women do whatever he wants. I really hope Christine Lahti gets to play the sex-positive grandma with an appropriately attractive partner after this show. She deserves it. She’s not even in the episode and she’s one of the show’s biggest regrets. Though most of the show is just wishing Herbers, Colter, and Mandvi were on an actually good show and not this “deplorable Catholic men are in the control of wannabe demons” thing.

The politics of the show are still a little hard to discern—the Catholic Church isn’t portrayed bad, just behind the times. Also grossly incompetent (their secret manuscript from 500 years ago somehow has had all its iconography scanned and added to a wikipedia Demonology page. Yet they can hack ICE. Or maybe only because they have lapsed Muslin Mandvi on the payroll, which has optics of its own.

Hey, it’s a CBS show. You just wish it were a better one.

Evil (2019) s01e06 – Let x = 9

So in addition to Christine Lahti becoming bride to the unclean one through some really good third grade poetry imagery because “Evil” is really condescending to its target audience, the Christians who vote blue, the episode also confronts the whole “child rape” thing with the Catholic Church. Confronts as in lapsed Muslim skeptical charming aloof guy Aasif Mandvi makes a crack about it; a serious crack about it sure but a crack. “Evil” really wants to pretend people haven’t figured out the Catholic Church basically functions the way it does to protect child rapists. Like, when did it start. Was it before the Borgias? After? Because it started hundreds of years ago.

And “Evil” wants you to forget about it because Mandvi is the most successful character on the show and because it’s like “American Horror Story” for your grandma or something. It’s a CBS-ed horror story. With conspiracies and symbolism and blah blah blah.

But it’s also one of the most successful episodes in a while because Katja Herbers gets a bunch to do and she’s awesome at it. The scenes themselves vary, but she’s always good. Until the second half twist—surprise, sexy grandma Lahti’s new stud is none other than decently not sexy grandpa Michael Emerson, who also has kind of been stalking Herbers since the beginning of the show in order to further his life goal of promoting evil in the world. Can Lahti give him up for Herbers and the four adorable granddaughters, who Emerson has drawing secret symbols and singing creepy religious songs? Oops, I spoiled it in the first sentence. But whatever, doesn’t matter. “Evil”’s very deliberately plotted. To the point it supersedes everything else going on in the show; in some ways it feels like a very standard eighties nighttime mystery drama—Herbers and Mike Colter’s workplace romance—and very edgy for the USA Network in 2005. Like if they’d done a “Da Vinci Code: The Series” and it was surprisingly mean-spirited. But with some patronizing exploitation.

Still, the acting can be great. Herbers is great here. Colter is not. But he’s okay, it’s the script. And Mandvi’s awesome. Of course he’s awesome, he gets tapped selling the “eh, it can’t be all priests, right?”

I mean, icky. But also… CBS tame for 2019. Both sides but we’re pretending politics don’t exist.

Also… Emerson basically just seems like he’s doing a Kevin Spacey impression.

Evil (2019) s01e05 – October 31

There’s something up with the racial optics on “Evil.” The all-Black Catholic parishioners is a thing. The show kind of dares you to notice it, but it’s a thing. Black Catholics are not a familiar TV trope; I can’t think of one besides Frank Pembleton and they made a big deal out of the Catholic thing. Irish folks, Latinx folks, they’re mass media Catholics. Not Black people. Or maybe “Evil”’s just doing a godawful job introducing the general audience to the realities of Black Catholic life. Like the possessions and the ominously mentioned “Sixty,” which the head Catholic guy (who’s white, see, optics) told Mike Colter not to worry about.

Clearly it’s a building storyline because this episode leaves Colter and Katja Herbers on the outs. Even more than on the outs, Colter didn’t help her save her kids from a possibly dangerous Halloween prankster. We don't really know if she's dangerous because deus ex machina; even if she's not it's some really exploitative manipulation. The grandkids are in danger because grandma fell for a psychopath because she's a drunk. And easy.

See, grandma Christine Lahti starts the episode getting picked up by the guy who’s stalking and threatening her daughter, Michael Emerson. Emerson and Lahti are a lot closer in age than I thought—she’s only four years older—but one assumes, even if Emerson is playing his actual age of sixty-five, Lahti isn’t playing her age of sixty-nine. She certainly seems like she’s playing at least ten years younger. Though, I guess both Emerson and Lahti look great for their ages (I seriously thought he was like forty-nine)… so maybe it’s some CBS boomer thing. I don’t know.

Regardless, I don’t buy Lahti would fall for slick, slimy, and not hot Emerson. I also don’t buy that Herbers is keeping her mom in the dark to the degree of not mentioning the psychopath-creating clinical psychologist she met. Emerson gives her his real name. She checks his LinkedIn. Or whatever the “Evil” variant.

It just doesn’t seem likely. Even if you assume the characters are real dumb… it doesn’t seem likely.

Anyway, Aasif Mandvi has an okay (comparatively) plot about meeting YouTube ghost-hunter Nicole Shalhoub and getting flirty while appearing on her dumb show, but comparatively is the key word. Mandvi doesn’t get anything to do where you’re left wondering how he can function when the show isn’t happening. Colter and Herbers are all of a sudden dangerously near that point. This episode does them no favors. Not them, not the show.

And the Exorcist homages were stupid.

(Also, I checked the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI)—Black Catholics aren’t a statistically significant thing according to them).

Evil (2019) s01e04 – Rose390

The show goes a little overboard with the scary tech angle. Even more than last time. This time it’s pedophiles hacking AR games and grooming kids when they’re playing on their headsets. The kids in question are lead Katja Herbers’, as it’s not clear the problem child at the center of the episode (Luke Judy) is even using the headset. It’s also not clear if the hacker is a pedophile or if they’re Michael Emerson, who doesn’t appear in the episode, but maybe because he’s hacking AR games to encourage kids to kill.

“Evil” appears to work a lot better either with Emerson and without Herbers’ kids or without Herbers’ kids and with Emerson. Maybe because with Emerson around you can’t believe Herbers wouldn’t have her family locked in a safe room, clutching a shotgun. The show hasn’t really done anything with Emerson threatening her family. It’s just an “of course he did, he’s the bad guy,” which seems narratively and dramatically suspect.

Mike Colter gets something to do except mope about not getting as good of God visions when he trips anymore. Funny how he played Luke Cage but now he’s the one chasing the dragon. Wokka wokka. This episode is all about him bonding with annoying little Judy and even trying to give him psychiatric advice even though Colter’s just guessing what he ought to say. One would assume, despite him shrooming to see God, Colter at least knows not to mess with burgeoning serial killers’ minds. Surely the Catholic Church wouldn’t let him act so irresponsibly. For a different kind of wokka wokka.

Speaking of the Catholic Church, Clark Johnson’s back as Colter’s exorcist priest buddy. It’s nice to see Johnson but it’s a kind of crap part. He’s around to add some dramatic heft and he doesn’t even get to add much.

But it’s a more solid episode. The stuff with the family is actually good and disturbing instead of being annoying. Sure, the show’s take on hacked AR games probably ought to be a little more grounded in reality if they’re going to terrify parents. It’s all so creepy they could’ve gotten away with Herbers reading a number aloud to call to report the game or something.

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