Evil: Rose390
October 19, 2019 8:08 PM - Season 1, Episode 4 - Subscribe

Kristen, Ben, and David are hired to evaluate Eric, a seemingly psychopathic 9-year-old boy...

Eric takes a liking to David, which leaves them hopeful they can curb his violent behavior. Also, Kristen is most affected by this investigation as she worries about her young daughters who lied about a horror game their grandmother, Sheryl, bought behind her back.

TV Fanatic recap
posted by oh yeah! (16 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Huh, weird, the TV Fanatic recapper says this was the show's weakest episode to date. While I thought it was easily the strongest since at least the premiere.
posted by Justinian at 9:41 PM on October 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Wow, I completely disagree with the TV Fanatic writer. That's someone who wants formulaic broadcast television and is confused when they get something unexpected. Also, the writer really doesn't like young girls and for some reason isn't frightened by either a) a pedophile hacker who takes control of several AR headsets used by several young girls; or b) a supernatural entity manifesting via connected devices terrorizing those girls. Or, really, c) Leland Townsend and Co. targeting Kristen's family (as he threatened to do last episode). I think maybe the TV Fanatic writer isn't paying attention.

And that doesn't even include the horror of an apparently incurable and uncontrollable psychopathic young boy who repeatedly attempts to murder members of his family, including an on-screen depiction of an apparently drowned baby. Oh, and then the mother murders the boy. I guess that's not really scary because it didn't include anyone vomiting pea soup.

The title of the show is Evil. Do they really expect it to limit itself to the typical supernatural tropes of episodic television which, honestly, are neither very frightening nor any sort of uncomfortable presentation of the self-evident existence of evil because, you know, the tropes are familiar and fantastical?

As poorly executed as it has been, the show made clear right away that it wanted to confront the audience with things we couldn't look away from and which we will later recall uneasily in the middle of the night. For adults, that means it can't be a predictable monster-of-the-week genre show, nor can it be a predictable serial-killer-of-the-week procedural -- neither of which, by design as familiar and comfortable, can truly get under our skin as if we were infected from contact with incomprehensible malice.

If you are religious and/or believe in the supernatural, then you already accept the existence of some kind of malign force and you might occasionally ask yourself: does it want to hurt me?

If you don't believe in the supernatural, as I do not, you nevertheless can't deny the existence of people who drown a baby out of jealousy, without remorse, and that this is true reminds you of why so many people do believe in supernatural evil.

It's not at all clear to me that there wasn't a supernatural monster-of-the-week in this episode; but even if there was not, there certainly was something monstrous, something that defies easy explanation or dismissal. The boy may have been possessed and a demon may have manifested itself to the girls. Or we saw a psychopathic young boy murdered by his own mother and a hacker and possible pedophile targeting young girls. These two possibilities are complementary to each other with regard to our innate fear of malevolence.

And here's an anecdote, brought uncomfortably to my mind by some scenes in this episode. A stepsister of mine, who passed away three years ago, suffered from mental illness and severe addiction. She had three children, who I've written about here in the past. For several years when the younger two, a boy and girl, were endangered by the conditions living with their mother, which included profound neglect, their father and his wife reluctantly accepted them into their care. The stepmother resented their presence, in part because they were troubled kids, and also because she and their father had their own child. The stepmother didnt like these two kids eating food she hadn't explicitly given to them, so she added locks to the cupboards and the refrigerator. The girl, the younger of the pair and about four, would frequently leave her room to sleep with her brother, where she felt safe. This was intolerable, apparently, and so the stepmother rigged up a string and bell to alert her if the little girl left her room.

I wouldn't call my late stepsister "evil". At least one of her live-in boyfriends, who beat her (and was eventually imprisoned for it), and possibly abused those two younger kids, is certainly a "bad" person. I wouldn't necessarily call him "evil", though I'm sure my mother would. I wouldn't call the stepmother "evil", either, but I am horrified at how she treated these already traumatized children. These kids are now young adults -- the girl with a small child of her own -- and their lives have entered another, all-too-predictable stage of tragedy.

This is all horrifying but mundane, far too common. If the profound harm in these cases was never knowing and deliberate -- and being generous we might assume it never was -- it nevertheless is in some sense incomprehensible because there's a limit to the damage and pain we can accept as apparently inevitable within daily life. We often look away, in part because we are afraid.

And yet, beyond this, we know and sometimes are confronted with the truth that some people, some times, deliberately cause such damage and pain -- and much, much worse -- and find it pleasurable to do so. How do we live with this knowledge?

As I wrote in the first episode thread, there is something we know in our bones as children but learn to ignore as adults -- there are monsters, and sometimes they come in the night.

If a television series has the audacity to title itself with the name Evil, I expect it to remind us what that is and what we once thought it was and to whisper to us that the two may not be as different as we find it comforting to believe.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:05 PM on October 19, 2019 [8 favorites]

Read what IF said and then pretend I also said it, thanks.
posted by Justinian at 1:13 PM on October 20, 2019 [4 favorites]

Sometimes I think I need my own focus puller when I am watching a show, but did this episode not start with someone -- presumably the boy -- using a set of those AR goggles? And then we swing into the story?

I thought the goggles/Rose/demon were the source of the Evil in this episode and perhaps it was just luck that Ben was there to witness the girls messing around with them.

If I got the first part wrong, I apologize.

I thought this was an excellent episode. Chilling because there were so many ways to interpret each of the issues.
posted by alwayson_slightlyoff at 3:45 PM on October 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think what got me in this episode was Kristen and the others seem shocked by the idea of a 9 year old psychopath. Guess they aren't familiar with the case of Mary Bell. It also reminded me of Sam Manzie, a 15 year old who murdered 11 year old Eddie Werner. Manzie's parents tried to do everything possible to get their son help, but despite that couldn't prevent him from killing a child (something he claims he disclosed to a therapist he wanted to do). But it seems unlikely someone working in Kristen's capacity would be unfamiliar with such cases. Bell's case in particular is of interest as she grew up to have her own child (and now has a grandchild) without any other issues. So she seemingly was successfully treated after murdering to two toddlers.

The question of can god make a 9 year old psychopath is interesting. I mean doesn't catholicism posit that God is all knowing and all powerful? If so then he certainly CAN create a 9 year old psychopath. In terms of why would he, doesn't that go to Job? That we may not understand why we suffer but we must have faith that this is God's plan? That there could be some reason to do so that we can't know or understand so we must just endure? It seems weird that they are shocked by the idea of a 9 year old psychopath since there clearly are other cases of child killers.
posted by miss-lapin at 4:33 PM on October 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think knowing that there can be such a thing and seeing it firsthand are different. They were confronted with something terrible that they'd only read about and that can be a shock.

alwayson_slightlyoff: The episode did start with someone with the AR goggles on flipping off a lightswitch. I should have looked at the room he/she was in so that we could identify who it was, but I didn't think of it. Maybe I'll stream the beginning later and see if the person is identifiable.
posted by Justinian at 5:31 PM on October 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

"I think what got me in this episode was Kristen and the others seem shocked by the idea of a 9 year old psychopath."

It's not that common, though, and I think first-hand experience with such a child would be shocking even to professionals well aware of this. Kristen, I think, wasn't so surprised at the boy's actions, as she was surprised and shocked at the mother/father murdering him. Which happens, too, with far less justification than this case, but it's not something you expect.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:33 PM on October 20, 2019

I liked this much more as well. It felt tightly written, and for me the girls playing with VR goggles was a well-integrated parallel that contrasts child and adult fear. Here, the adults fear an unknowable child, and the children fear the unknown. The VR thing was a really good way of a telling a story of children's fear within some tight confines: what else can you do in a B story with four girls, in their own home, with an adult around in theory, and not make the storytelling so overwrought (a la moving toward horror) as to overtake the main plot? Well, not much! The VR idea worked perfectly.

I also felt some thematic stuff shifting into place, in the sense that the only reason we don't fear technology or find it preternaturally intrusive is that we have granted its operation, however uncanny, as "rational". Certain types of suspense have the characters extending their "rational" explanations to the breaking point, and it is seemingly fertile ground to apply this to technology. Perhaps there is a "Black Mirror but supernatural" aspect developing; you can see it in earlier episodes if you choose to look at them that way. This is the nexus of what I consider some interesting and fairly rare cultural commentary, though with themes that interest me, I'm in danger of over-reading them.

Like Ivan Fyodorovich I have reflected a couple times on the name of the show: it's bold and I think I ended up watching this network TV show because of that bold title. They must be going someplace dark, on a longer time scale than an episode, to call the show "Evil", I thought. The parents apparently offing their own dangerous child is, from one perspective, unrealistic and a pat procedural ending, but in another sense it fits into the broader theme of unknowable Evil and how far do the characters want to poke in that direction.

review: Michael Emerson's character is the highlight of the series

I may be alone in finding Michael Emerson's character the hammiest part of the show and didn't miss that at all.
posted by sylvanshine at 9:08 PM on October 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

The father being out of the picture on Everest: way to develop Kristen's character's relationship with Luke Cage before dropping a husband into the mix, or Chekhov's Gun situation with him dying out there as the creepy VR kid implied?
posted by Justinian at 10:10 PM on October 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

I absolutely love Emerson but, like you, I think he'd be more frightening if he turned it down a notch. It's not so much his fault; the character is being written as a mustache-twirling villain. I'm pretty much hating everything to do with Thompson except Emerson the actor.

I think they hit exactly the right tone with "George", and I've missed him.

It's realistic she'd continue to have these nightmares and night terrors, given what she's working on and given how subconsciously she must be feeling like her life is imminently about to spin out of control. Her mother isn't much help and her husband absent, she has four young children, her marriage is in trouble, she traded career respectability for job security and, as she pointedly said in the first episode, she "doesn't take risks", despite having been a climber. To wit: because she's a climber. The fact of the matter is that her life is far more insecure than she could possibly find comfortable. I like her quite a bit; it's like she's been sent from central casting as the woman of my dreams and I doubt I'm alone in being fond of the character. She needs to be in peril -- or be the peril -- because, again, the show needs to make us very uncomfortable. I feel like someone had some really good ideas and the potential is there -- somewhere in the execution there have been fumbles. If all else fails, blame network execs is my motto.

On preview: both, or neither. There's a lot unsaid and implied about the absent father of four girls in a dangerous profession along with a not-entirely-responsible grandmother as caretaker and a psychologist mother who was a mountain climber and insists she doesn't take risks. There's potential to make the audience very unsettled about the dad,for a variety of reasons.

I loathe the shipping of the leads. It reeks of formulaic television. What might have been interesting is if she projects stuff onto him but he is not, was not, and will not ever be attracted to her and that's made clear to the audience right away.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:32 PM on October 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm with you on the not shipping the leads just because I am generally an anti ship person these days. I like the idea that two people can like each other and get along, but not want to screw each other or have a romantic relationship. And I am happy that more shows (like Russian Doll) seem to understand that not every show needs shipping.

I did wonder when she hid and cried after Eric's murder if her upset was just about what happened OR if she knows her husband is dead and is lying for some reason. I mean it seems weird she's communicating with her husband, but doesn't show her kids the texts or have any other proof that he's ok.

I think the murder of Eric ties back, actually, to the last the episode in which Kristen uses a deep fake against Leland. The idea that good and evil are far more complicated than we care to admit. Is killing a child to save two others evil? Is using a faked recording to save your career which helps other evil? Is it a "tiny fib" like Ben's deep fake that allows evil to get a strong hold on Kristen? I think this is the direction the show is heading in.
posted by miss-lapin at 12:30 AM on October 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

I'll admit I was a touch surprised when Townsend appeared put out that Kristen used a deep fake in court. I would have expected him to be ecstatic because, as you say, it's the first step along a bad path. I would also hope the show doesn't consign that she did that to the memory hole and we'll see some consequences in the future.
posted by Justinian at 1:38 AM on October 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'll admit I was a touch surprised when Townsend appeared put out that Kristen used a deep fake in court.

I think it's possible that Leland is just acting put out and that later it will be revealed that this was actually part of his plan. To give Kristen this kind of choice. So while she's worried about her kids, it's really her that is in danger of heading down the road of becoming like Eric. But if that's it, it'll be part of a much larger arc. To draw a parallel it would be a bit like the last season of Sabrina. A character is led to believe they are helping others all while being manipulated to a darker purpose.
posted by miss-lapin at 1:04 AM on October 22, 2019

The episode did start with someone with the AR goggles on flipping off a lightswitch. I should have looked at the room he/she was in so that we could identify who it was, but I didn't think of it. Maybe I'll stream the beginning later and see if the person is identifiable. posted by Justinian at 8:31 PM on October 20

Justinian, if you ever have an opportunity to review the beginning and glean any clues, that would be great!
posted by alwayson_slightlyoff at 4:13 PM on October 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Well, this is surprising news - TV Line: Evil Scares Up Early Season 2 Renewal

Also per the link, season 1 is only 13 episodes, which I'm glad for. I hope they keep season 2 short as well, I can't imagine how much sloppier the legal sub-plots will get if they're trying to churn out 20+ episodes.
posted by oh yeah! at 5:42 PM on October 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

The VR subplot spooked me. When Rose told the girls to chant "hail, hail, hail" in unison with her, I had to turn the TV off for a bit. The girls are innocents, they seemed so defenseless, and watching Rose manipulate them was too chilling. Especially since she was leading them down her garden path by playing on their friendliness, curiosity, naiveté, obedience. Not any sort of sin.

What was interesting about Eric is that he was an innocent in his own way, too. His love of comic books, his guilelessness toward David...he just had this horrific impulse toward violence. Or he had a demon in him that was impelling him toward violence and working away at his soul. Who knows. If it was a demon, who was Eric before the demon? Did his mother send his soul to Hell whens he killed him?

It's interesting how this show keeps externalizing evil, talking about demons and disorders. Like there's the natural state of innocence (amorality?), and then it gets worked on by the world or demons or illness and so the soul/mind slowly transforms into something else (something categorically immoral or moral? someone categorically healthy or sick or dead?). But then that idea was also complicated by Eric. It might not have been a demon working away at him, it might have just been that that's who he was -- a natural-born homicidal manic.

Personally, I don't think that the existence of a 9-year-old psychopath (or an any-age psychopath) is especially mysterious. I mean, it is mysterious, just not *especially* so. Why does any kind of person exist? Why do people exist? *shrug*
posted by rue72 at 11:06 PM on October 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

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