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Series / Evil (2019)

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David Acosta, Kristen Bouchard, and Ben Shakir.

Evil is a 2019 horror/suspense thriller series with elements of Mystery Fiction and supernatural fiction. It was created by Robert and Michelle King, who previously created The Good Wife. The first season aired on CBS, while the second season onward aired on Paramount+.

The show begins when Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers), a forensic psychologist who works for the District Attorney, meets David Acosta (Mike Colter), an "assessor" and priest-in-training whose job it is to investigate so-called demonic possessions and miracles and evaluate if they are actually the result of the supernatural or if there are more mundane answers. Acosta already employs the skeptical Ben Shakir (Aasif Mandvi) as his technical support and when he needs someone to interview a serial killer with him, he gets the Catholic Church to hire Kristen as well.


Kristen is a lapsed Catholic and former mountain climber who retired from climbing to have four children (all daughters) with her husband. But her husband is busy in his job guiding other mountain climbers and she has to pay off her student loans, so she takes the job with Acosta. However, she soon finds herself over her head when she starts getting night terrors involving a demon named George...and a rival forensic psychologist named Leland Townsend (Michael Emerson) reveals that he's a psychopath that pushes others to commit evil.


This show provides examples of:

  • Accidental Suicide: A shy young man named Sebastian is encouraged by Leland to cultivate his resentment against women and to plan a mass shooting. But shortly before the big day, Sebastian is playing with his new guns and accidentally shoots himself in the head.
  • Alliterative Family: Kristen's daughters are named Lynn, Lila, Lexis, and Laura.
  • Anticlimax: Done deliberately. An entire arc in the first season involves Leland grooming a creepy young incel guy into a potential mass shooter. In "Exorcism Part 2" the creepy young incel is goofing around with his arsenal of guns at home when he accidentally shoots himself in the head,
  • Arc Number: 60. Apparently, "the Sixty" are some group of demons that want to influence the world.
  • Artistic License – Gun Safety: Deconstructed. The young incel who Leland is grooming accidentally shot himself when he foolishly pointed a gun at his own head with his finger on the trigger. Leland rants at his stupidity on hearing this.
  • Bad Influencer: Malindaz in the episode "7 Swans a Singin" makes a deal with Leland to increase her follower count and includes a Brown Note in one of her videos that causes self-harm among people who watch it.
  • Artistic License – Traditional Christianity: In the episode "Rose390," Acosta claims that prayer is just asking God for something, who is then obligated to give it to you. Most real life Christian clergy find this view of prayer very annoying and actively try to refute it. First, contrary to popular belief, prayer is actually any time you want to talk to God about anything. Second, even when you do ask for something, that episode is a perfect example of why God is not in the slightest obliged to actually give it to you.
  • Baphomet: He appears at the end of the episode "Justice X 2". Hilariously, he's acting as Leland Townsend's therapist, helping him deal with his anger after Kristen put him in his place earlier in the episode. He returns in this capacity in the Season 2 episode "U is for UFO", where it's further established that he's a Middle-Management Mook serving as a go-between for Leland and "the manager" (implied to be Satan) until Leland kills him for a direct link.
  • Battleaxe Nurse: Nurse Linda Bloch, a.k.a. "Plague", who's assigned to David after his stabbing. She keeps him too doped up to say anything and is good enough at Faux Affably Evil to get away with it for a while.
  • Brown Note: A Jonathan Coulton song about Santa tripping on edibles carries a barely audible signal that makes kids want to puncture their own eardrums. No, really.
  • Cessation of Existence: Discussed by David and Kristen. David says he can barely fathom the idea, and that if it's true life has no point. In-Universe though it's made clear there's some kind of afterlife, and it likely fits with Catholic teaching.
  • Christmas Episode: "7 Swans a'Singin". A gag Santa cartoon in which Santa is tripping on edibles becomes an ear worm that people can't stop singing, with subliminal messages compelling them to hurt themselves.
  • Crossover: To promote the season finale in January 2020, CBS aired a promo during The Price Is Right that started as a short promo bumper. But then it switched to a scene showing George bidding $666 in Contestants' Row to deny someone bidding $665, before suddenly cutting to black. Which is then followed by a scene of the normal closed captioning plug for the Showcase Showdown. There was also an ad with George similarly invading The Young and the Restless.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: David Acosta. Townsend taunts him with the knowledge of what happened with "Julia," a friend of Acosta's that presumably died.
  • Didn't Think This Through:
    • Acosta, you just told a known Insane Equals Violent child who feels murderous intent towards his baby sister that prayer is where you ask God for something, and then God gives it to you. What did you think would happen?
    • Kristen's mother, Sheryl, starts dating Leland. When Kristen finds out, she plays her mother a recording of Leland talking about a teenager getting raped in prison multiple times, in the context of him trying to make that come about. You'd think this would be conclusive evidence to Sheryl that Leland really is a psychopath like Kristen says. Instead, she concludes that Kristen just doesn't want her dating anyone, and not only continues to date Leland, but takes his advice on how to interact with her granddaughters.
  • Disappeared Dad: Kristen’s husband is away leading mountain climbing tours overseas when the series starts, but he returns later.
  • Documentary of Lies: In-Universe. Against his better judgment Ben winds up taking a second job as the designated skeptic on a ghost-hunting show. The show is completely faked, much to Ben's disgust.
  • Doting Grandparent: Sheryl adores Kristen’s daughters and is prone to shower them with gifts and movies.
  • Dream Within a Dream: First-season finale "Book 27" has a dream, within a dream, within a dream. Kristen has a dream of talking with Orson LeRoux in an interview room. She wakes up from that into a dream where she sees George and the giant horned devil that is manipulating Leland Townsend. Then she wakes up from that to be in bed with her daughters, only for Lexis to say "I saw it too" and start vomiting blood. Then she finally wakes up for real via a Catapult Nightmare.
  • Droste Image: "Rose390" opens with Eric lying on his bed, pointing a webcam at his feet, and at the TV that is hooked up to the webcam. Many Droste Image pictures of sneaker-clad feet are the result.
  • Dutch Angle: Dutch angles are used heavily in every episode; the tense or spooky moments are usually tilted from vertical.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Sebastian first shows up in 3 Stars, being a former IT person who Byron Duke fired. When he appears again in "Vatican 3", Townsend starts grooming him.
  • Ear Worm: In "7 Swans a 'Singin", the ditty from a gag Santa cartoon becomes an earworm that people can't stop singing. The choir at a Catholic school can't sing carols because they are stuck singing the cartoon ditty. It turns out that there's a subliminal message in the tune that actually causes the affected girls to try and stab themselves in the ears.
  • Enfant Terrible: Eleanor approaches the church in the ninth month of her fraternal-twin pregnancy, and comes to believe the male twin is malevolent, and requests an exorcism. She is initially rebuffed by the church, as an exorcism on a womb is highly unorthodox. Later, while attending mass, she appears to suffer a miscarriage, but her son is shown to still be alive. However, her daughter now mysteriously no longer appears on the ultrasound. Eleanor's doctor attributes this to Vanishing Twin Syndrome, whereby one twin absorbs the other. However, he conveniently ignores that this should only be possible about 12 weeks into the pregnancy, not 9 months (nearly-born babies don't absorb each other). Eleanor, horrified by the whole ordeal, attributes this to her son eating her daughter. David later arranges an emergency exorcism, but she gives birth before it can be completed, to a seemingly-healthy baby boy.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Leland, a devout devil worshipper, is highly offended in "I is for IRS" by the existence of the New Ministry of Satan, a Scam Religion that uses Satanic imagery simply as a means of getting attention and members that can be goaded into spending money on the organization.
  • Evil Is Petty: George the demon urinating on the floor to prove his existence.
  • The Faceless: "Brenda", the little girl who isn't really named Brenda who joins the Halloween party in "October 31". She keeps her mask on for the entire episode. The story she tells implies that her parents tried to kill her in a fire, but she survived with horrible facial scars, but we never find out. The last shot of her is from behind, after she's discarded her mask, as she says "BOO!" to some trick-or-treaters.
  • Faux Affably Evil:
    • Leland Townsend. By all accounts, he is a nice, kindly person in front of the judge or DA...but in front of David and Kristen, that nice façade drops and he taunts them with just how evil he really is. Specifically, he will taunt Kristen with passages from her therapy sessions that he stole.
    • Nurse Linda "Plague" Bloch mostly maintains her friendly façade, even as she's abusing black patients under her care (and it's implies she eventually kills them). The mask slips when she's thwarted.
  • Feet-First Introduction: "Room 320" introduces Linda the killer nurse this way. It's set up in advance when Harlan, the patient next to David, tells her to watch out for the nurse with the squeaky shoes—so we actually hear Linda's shoes before we see them. Then after we see the shoes we finally get a pan up to her face.
  • Fingore: George has taken a knife to both Kristen's fingers and her daughter's during her night terrors.
  • Frame-Up: "Vatican III" Exorcism subject Bridget has knowledge of three child murders, and claims a demon named "Howard" made her do it. But Kristen's husband Dwight is the real murderer, and turns her in to the police.
  • Ghostly Chill: In "3 Stars" this is cited as evidence for Mr. Duke's demonic possession: the temperature of the room drops whenever he enters it and rises whenever he leaves. It turns out to be a disgruntled IT guy hacking the thermostat.
  • Glasses Pull: Dr. Boggs pulls off his exorcism sunglasses at the end of "October 31" when the possession case, which he thought was a case of schizophrenia requiring hospitalization, ends with David successfully expelling the demon.
  • Guess Who I'm Marrying?: Sheryl informs Kristen that she's agreed to marry Leland, when the mother-daughter relationship is already at a low point.
  • Halloween Episode: "October 31", in which David and Kristen are called in to a difficult exorcism, Ben moonlights as the skeptic on one of those dumb ghost catcher TV shows, Sheryl starts a romance with Satan (that is, Leland), and a creepy child comes to the Halloween party with Kristen's daughters.
  • Haunted Technology: A recurring set piece, from the AR goggles in "Rose390" to the possessed personal assistant in "3 Stars".
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: The Kings seem to love this trope:
    • Each Season 1 episode has a number in it ("177 Minutes," "3 Stars," "Rose390," etc.)
    • Season 2 episodes are titled "_ is for ______", for instance the premiere is "N is for Night Terrors".
  • Ill Girl: Kristen's youngest daughter Laura suffers from a rare heart condition which may rectify itself, or may kill her before she turns 20.
  • Intimidating Revenue Service: In "I is for IRS", the IRS contracts the team to investigate the New Ministry of Satan's petition for tax exempt status. When their representative is introduced to the team, there's a Dramatic Thunder sound effect as the title sequence comes up, and later Ben makes a crack about the IRS being more powerful than God or Satan.
  • It's a Small Net After All: Googling the not-exactly-unique name "David Acosta", Kristen immediately hits on a video interview with David during his AP days. At least he's only the second David Acosta in the search results.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane:
    • That's what David Acosta is supposed to assess, whether or not a person is actually possessed by a demon or whether a miracle actually happened or not. Most of the time, it falls on the "mundane" side, although David still believes in the "magic" side. Kristen and Ben are his skeptical colleagues, who find any ordinary explanation.
    • This applies to Kristen's night terrors. First, she assumes that they aren't real, just dreams, but then a serial killer taunts her with knowledge from the dream that only she knows...but then she realizes that someone fed him that information after stealing her therapist's notes. But then her daughter starts seeing the same demon in her dreams...until Kristen realizes it's because they both watched the same scary movie that had the same looking demon. Except then they watch a Behind the Scenes segment with the person who developed the monster makeup...and he reveals that it came to him in his dreams.
    • The second episode has a Broadway producer's smart speaker get hacked by a disgruntled tech support guy to trick him into thinking he was being haunted. However, the tech insists he stopped several days before the team started investigating, and yet the hack has continued, and metastasizes to the Shakirs' own smart speaker when Ben takes it home to investigate it. After it starts ranting at his sister in Urdu that Iblis has her child, he throws it in the back of a garbage truck rather than investigate further.
    • Leland Townsend. By day, he acts as an Evil Counterpart to Kristen, giving false testimony as a forensic psychologist and trying to discredit her work for the D.A., For the Evulz according to him. However, David speaks to him as if he's an actual demon, and he appears in scenes where David is praying or trying to interpret a psilocybin-induced hallucination trying to distract him.
  • New-Age Retro Hippie: In "2 Fathers" David and Kristen go to visit his father. It turns out his father lives in a hippie art commune with two wives, and a big crowd of artists that conduct weird seances and have wild parties where the sangria is spiked with hallucinogens.
  • Nightmare Sequence: In the first episode, Kristen starts getting night terrors where she opens her eyes in the middle of a dream and becomes paralyzed as a demon named George walks around her room and hurts her with a knife. Despite the fact that she proves these are dreams and not real (via a sign she previously wrote in her room that she couldn't read in the dream), they don't stop and she keeps having them. Even her youngest daughter Laura starts having them, although Kristen realizes it's because they both saw the same scary movie that had the same looking demon in it.
  • Offing the Offspring: Eric's psychosis/demonic possession escalates to the point where he tries to drown his baby sister. When the team returns with an exorcist, the police have been called. Mom says Eric ran away but strongly implies she killed him to protect the baby. Cue credits.
  • Ominous Pipe Organ: In "7 Swans a'Singin", an Ominous Pipe Organ sets an appropriately creepy mood in the scene where David comes into the church for confession.
  • Only in It for the Money: Kristen makes it clear that she’s only joining David’s team to earn the extra money she needs to pay off her student loans.
  • Paralyzing Fear of Sexuality: David for the most part. His training for priesthood is the assumed reason, but "7 Swans a'Singin" it is revealed that he is a former sex and drug addict.
  • Polyamory: In "2 Fathers" David visits his father for the first time in years (with Kristen tagging along) and is shocked to discover that his dad has two wives.
  • Precision F-Strike: As a CBS series, Season 1 had to have the show hold to network standards. The Season 2 premiere shows the jump to Paramount Plus with Kristen openly calling Leland a "fucker."
  • Psychic Nosebleed: In "October 31" the TV crew in the haunted strip club starts getting nosebleeds. Subverted when the nosebleeds turn out to be an allergic reaction to a chemical in a projector illusion.
  • Psycho Psychologist: Leland Townsend is a forensic psychologist in league with actual demons. As such, he uses his knowledge to push unstable people into committing murder, and label innocent ones with falsified diagnoses which destroy their lives.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: Townsend presses Sebastian to go on a wild shooting spree, giving him lessons on guns and prepping him for a massacre. At home, Sebastian is posing in the mirror with his loaded and cocked guns, blowing imaginary smoke off the barrels...and then squeezes the trigger with one pointed at his head and blows his own brains out. Townsend actually loses it at the realization his big plan was ruined by vastly overestimating Sebastian's grasp of how to handle deadly weapons.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: In "Rose390", Eric attempts to drown his baby sister, but when David pulls her out of the pool, she starts crying almost instantly, with minimal CPR. This is most likely to the due to the Infant Diving Reflex, which puts babies in a state where they use less oxygen upon being fully submerged in water.
  • Recovered Addict: In the second episode, David tells Kristen that he used to have visions, but he doesn't anymore. At the end of the episode, it's revealed why: in order to have those visions, he needs to ingest mushrooms that he bought from a drug dealer. He finally gives in and buys some in order to have a vision in the end. Later, in "Exorcism Part 2", David admits to having gone to cocaine rehab several years ago.
  • Retired Monster: In "Justice x 2" David's friend Sonia abducts and assaults a stand-up comic because she's convinced he's a former DJ from Rwandan hate radio. She turns out to be correct.
  • Serial Killer:
    • Leland Townsend is one by proxy, inciting other people to kill.
    • Nurse Linda "Plague" Block is heavily implied to be one of black patients under her care (either as a result of racism or because they're more vulnerable isn't clear).
  • Series Continuity Error: Both "177 minutes" and "3 Stars" involve deepfaking. The concept is introduced in "177 minutes"... and yet has to be explained to Kristen in "3 Stars".
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Townsend finds a disgruntled Hollywood Homely teen named Sebastian who has bad luck with the ladies, grooms him into a full-blown incel, and has a man implied to be another member of The Sixty teach him how to fire guns so that he can shoot up David's all-women prayer group. We then cut to Sebastian toying around with his guns, building up to him finally going out to commit his act of terrorism... only for him to accidentally blow his own brains out before he even leaves his house.
  • Shoot the Dog: Kristen attempts to record Townsend admitting to his motives in reversing her work for the D.A. It fails due to him anticipating it and using a jammer. So she has Ben deep-fake what he said and passes it off to the defense as the real thing. It's technically evidence-tampering, but he did say it and mean it, and it means keeping a fifteen-year-old from being tried as an adult.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Townsend recites part of Abbot and Costello's famous "Who's on First?" routine when trying to distract David from his prayers in "177 Minutes".
    • In "3 Stars", Townsends efforts to distract David from his studies with impure thoughts lead him to quote John Donne's "To His Mistress Going to Bed".
    • "October 31" features a Shot-for-Shot Remake of the iconic scene from The Exorcist where one of the priests arrives outside of Reagan's house.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: In "Justice X 2", Leland starts on another rant to Kristen about how he's going to kill her whole family and make her suffer, only for her to curtly cut him off by stating he talks too much. She then proceeds to lay into him, revealing how she's uncovered his original identity as a nebbish loser in high school with two failed marriages behind him. Leland is left speechless and indignant, and can only walk away trembling in rage. He later vents about the event to his therapist, a currently-enigmatic Baphomet-looking being.
  • Sickbed Slaying: Linda the hospital nurse in "Room 320" turns out to be a Serial Killer who uses her position to torture and murder black patients on her ward.
  • Significant Background Event: As Mr. Duke's assistant in "3 Stars" talks on the phone about how much better Duke has been in the foreground, Duke is seen jumping to his death off the balcony in the background.
  • Social Media Is Bad: A minor thematic element. The greater connectivity provided by social media means that everybody can find a group of people they have something in common with. And this includes evil people. The reason the world is getting worse, David theorizes, is because the sociopaths and monsters who would otherwise be living isolated lives where the damage they could do is limited are now able to find each other and organize.
  • Streisand Effect: In-Universe. In "7 Swans a'Singin", the dimwitted influencer Leland has been manipulating comes to him for advice, after Kristen and the gang discover an evil hidden message in the video. Leland tells the influencer to take her video down, which will only make it more attractive.
    Leland: The forbidden is always more desirable.
  • Struggling Single Mother: Kristen. She’s neither widowed or divorced, but her husband is overseas for work and she’s burning the candle at both ends with work, raising four children, and while managing her mental health issues.
  • The Teaser: Played with. Pre-credits sequences on this show tend to be long - ten minutes or more - and hit several dramatic breaks, making them more like the first act.
  • Tom the Dark Lord: A demon...named George. And the serial killer Orson LeRoux said that he was possessed by a demon named Roy.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: "Rose390": The McCrystals have had to deal with their eldest child Eric exhibiting homicidal behavior for two years. This culminates with him trying to drown his infant sister, after which it's implied they choose to kill him in order to save the rest of the family.
  • Two Guys and a Girl: David Acosta, Ben Shakir, and Kristen Bouchard are the assessment team.
  • Unfortunate Names: Julia Lemonhead. Goofy name, and she hates it so much that apparently the character took up the practice of law to enable her to lash out against others because of it. You'd think she'd just change it.
  • The Unreveal: We never do find out just what is up with "Brenda", the little girl who shows up at the Halloween party in "October 31". Is she horribly burned, as she implies with her story? Is she a demon? What's her real name?
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Kristen and David, though neither can act upon any feeling (David is training to be a priest, and Kristen is married with four kids). This makes them Star-Crossed Lovers, with no confirmation they will ever progress further into a relationship.
  • Villainous Breakdown: After Sebastian accidentally blows his own brains out and his arsenal is found, Townsend loses control of his emotions for the first time in the series, screaming and trashing his office. Luckily for him no one else is around.
  • Vorpal Pillow: In "Room 320" this is how Linda the murderous nurse appears to kills Harlan, the patient on the bed next to David.
  • Wham Shot: In the final scene of the Season 1 finale, "Book 27", Kristen picks up a crucifix and it's shown burning her hand.

Alternative Title(s): Evil