New CBS Show 'Evil' Raises Questions About the Limits of Science and Religion

Tuesday, 10 September 2019 - 11:37AM
Tuesday, 10 September 2019 - 11:37AM
New CBS Show 'Evil' Raises Questions About the Limits of Science and Religion
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Photo Jeff Neumann/ ©2019 CBS Broadcasting
The answers that come from science are often less interesting than the questions that engender them. Part of the sheer joy of science fiction is that it is speculative: it takes the mysteries of our lives – our deepest yearnings, our darkest desires, our greatest fears, and our most poignant hopes – and then advances them by asking... "what if?" an aspirational question that acknowledges the fact that there is simply much that we do not – and cannot – really know.  What if there's an afterlife? What if there are other dimensions? What if we could travel back in time? What will we see there? Who will we be? These are the questions most often entertained by science fiction writers and filmmakers. 

Outside of the aspirational, however, are deeper existential questions: the great "whys." Why are we here? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is there suffering? Why, if there is a beneficent God or creator, is evil permitted? 

These questions, not typically confronted in science fiction, are the ones raised by Evil, a new CBS series billed as a "psychological mystery that examines the origins of evil along the dividing line between science and religion." We had the opportunity to view the first episode ahead of its September 26th premiere.

Watching Evil is a bit like having a debate with someone who sits in opposition to whatever your prevailing viewpoint is on religion, particularly the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The female protagonist, Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers of Westworld) is a court-appointed forensic psychologist – and lapsed Catholic – looking after four young daughters, seemingly without the help of a spoken-of-but-unseen husband. Her job is to ascertain the suitability of defendants for trial, sniffing out phony insanity. When she is asked to join David Acosta (Mike Colter of Luke Cage fame) – a priest-in-training and "assessor" working for the Catholic church – to investigate the possibility of demonic possession in the case of mass murderer Orson LaRue, she finds her world-weary skepticism challenged.

There's something eminently fragile in Herbers' Bouchard: rather than a genuinely lapsed Catholic, she seems to be trying to navigate the "dividing line" between science and religion proposed by the show's creators. She clings to shreds of her faith, while relying on her scientific training to confront what Acosta believes could be supernatural. For Bouchard, science is miraculous (and horrifying) enough without the necessity of belief, faith, or presumably God. To some degree, science has displaced her faith.

"Do you think science can answer every question?" Acosta asks Bouchard in one scene.

"I do," she replies. "Just not all at once."

For Acosta, religion – or more accurately, the mysteries confronted and embraced by religion – is the vessel that holds what science doesn't. "Science," he says, "is only good for repeatable phenomena. And most of life – the most interesting parts – don't repeat. And so science doesn't recognize it." 

Evil's weakest points are where the characters seem too sure of themselves: the eureka! flashes of realization that cross Bouchard's face or the melodramatic trepidation exhibited by Acosta when he hands Bouchard a rosary or discusses the presence of a certain variety of psychopath in society. Those moments, while amusing, belie Evil's power to dispassionately challenge its characters and force them – and by proxy, its audience – to confront their beliefs. Nevertheless, the show's strengths are in its cast's and writers' ability to probe both sides of the argument without becoming overbearing. Rather than frame caricatures of zealots bent on conversion, Evil maintains a cognac standard that doesn't aim to argue one side or another, but rather explore both along their parallels and intersections, while still managing to entertain through the mystery aspects of storytelling. 

Evil premieres on September 26th on CBS at 10/9c.

Science Fiction
Sci-Fi TV Shows