As Robert and Michelle King’s “Evil” plays with the line of if the terrible things happening in the show are caused by man or monster — humanity or the supernatural — one area that the showrunner duo finds rich to mine is technology.
“Unfortunately we don’t have to go looking for techno-weirdness; it just comes banging on the door,” Michelle King said at the CBS Television Critics Assn. press tour panel for the show Sunday.
The Kings received a set of virtual reality goggles as a gift, and that felt like a place to mine both the “day to day evil of child molesters could manipulate children,” noted Robert King, as well as the supernatural because technology has “a magical element to it.”
Similarly, the Kings have a home assistant, and one night one of the speakers just started laughing. “Michelle asked that we collect all of those and throw them away,” Robert King said.
Citing the recent Nest camera hacking case, Robert King continued, “You’re never sure who has access” to you once you allow that into your home.
But an earlier inspiration was C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters,” which Robert King noted focuses on “devils talking with each other” about “the best way to seduce and tempt.” In “Evil,” Leland (Michael Emerson) is a character who has globbed onto technology as the way to tempt people do do bad things because “you don’t have to go one person to one person. You can basically go on Facebook and not get caught with it because Facebook doesn’t have any problem with the lie,” he said. “Technology has left itself open.”
Thus far, Leland has used technology to inspire a young man who felt slighted by a romantic rejection to join an incel community online and plan a mass shooting — only to end up shooting himself first. But other characters have experienced hackings or other violations of privacy through their technology as well, including Kristen’s (Katja Herbers) kids’ virtual reality game getting taken over.
“It’s a mom with four daughters, so there is an element of innocence,” Robert King said they were playing with. “And it’s harder when technology can move fast.”
Calling out the “multi-billion dollar companies [that are] infecting our homes” with technology such as virtual assistants, Robert King said he feels it’s not being an “old fogey” or “about prudishness to say, ‘I don’t want that.'”
“Michelle’s right to put them in the trash,” he said of their own home assistant. “We’re being listened to, we’re being observed. Your information is being used, and it’s harder when you have to think about your kids.”
The second season, he continued, will be a “deeper dive” into technology and that “supernatural sense of invasion that is where we’re headed.”
The first season of “Evil,” though, has included a couple of stories dealing with more traditional supernatural elements: exorcisms. Priest-in-training David (MIke Colter) believes certain people are possessed, but his new, more skeptical partner Kristen has there to assess from a scientific and psychiatric point of view — to mixed results. Robert King said that going forward, the characters will move outside of that realm further as they dig deeper into the Codex, a document that depicts a hierarchy of demons who are on Earth.
Robert King noted the show started from him and Michelle King arguing over why people do what they do. He considers himself more religious than his wife and partner on the show, saying he goes to mass every Sunday and he is interested in soon enough exploring “the element of those who believe in Christ and those who believe in Christianity can be co-opted, too.” Sparked by the recent Christian op-ed about Donald Trump and impeachment, Robert King revealed they considered doing such a story in the first season but “self-censored” themselves and “are leaving it for next season” instead.
“Evil” airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on CBS.