The Season 1 finale of “Evil” — when it aired all the way back in Jan. 2020 — ended on quite the cliffhanger: It appeared that Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers) had murdered serial killer Orson LeRoux (Darren Pettie), who’d been threatening her family and, after a crucifix on a rosary burned her hand, Kristen might actually be possessed? It was a lot.
Nearly 17 months later, and after “Evil” switched from broadcast network CBS to streamer Paramount Plus, the jury is still out on the possession — but yes, Kristen totally killed LeRoux. And, as her therapist (Kurt Fuller) points out in the Season 2 premiere, she seems fine with that.
Kristen isn’t the only one on a complicated path in the second season. David (Mike Colter), who is heading toward the priesthood will be affected by racism in the Catholic Church, with Leland (Michael Emerson) taunting him about joining a racist institution. Leland, as always, is up to no good, but he has also broken up with Kristen’s mother, Sheryl (Christine Lahti), in the harshest way — and he’s also demanding an exorcism of his own.
With more than a year to work on this season, creators Robert and Michelle King share that they couldn’t help being influenced by what was going on in the world around them when making the show. But more than the COVID-19 pandemic, it was the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 affected the show’s storytelling most. An episode later this season will be “about how police shows impact the behavior of police — and that there’s a certain culpability in TV itself,” Robert King says.
“It’s very easy to do the liberal sop, ‘police are bad’ story. Hopefully we went at it in a more interesting way,” Michelle King adds.
Here, the Kings talk with Variety about the show’s much-delayed 13-episode second season, including what lies ahead for Kristen now that she’s a murderer, how “Evil” continues to contend with whether the supernatural is real within the world of the show, how being dumped has changed Sheryl as a character and why they chose not to incorporate the pandemic into the show.
Kristen murdered LeRoux! What are the risks and rewards of making your protagonist a murderer?
Robert King: I’m not sure if I’d call it risk, but what interests us is having a suburban housewife be a killer. That one could love your family and your children so much that you kill. And you get away with it. Or apparently get away with it. That interests us, because that felt like, to get into pretentious, Dostoyevsky territory. And not just the usual way you sympathize with characters: Could we maintain sympathy?
Clearly in Katja, we have one of the most sympathetic actresses I know. She was up for the challenge — we talked with her. We didn’t want to walk it back. We didn’t want to hint at something and then say, “Hey, don’t worry, we’re not going there.” Because it felt like so much of the show is examining the way that evil affects people you wouldn’t think of as evil — that seem all like the cream of the crop of society.
So I would say we were challenged by it, but that seemed to be the point of doing this kind of show. The show only works if it at least dabbles in the territory of “Hannibal,” the great show on network, where villainy is not an unseen thing. We have in the first season parents who kill their child because they’re worried about protecting their family. But then the question is, what Kristen did — is that a good thing, is it a bad thing?
Ben (Aasif Mandvi) seems to be onto her. I assume that will play out among the three lead characters, maybe even more than the police?
Robert: I think you’re right. The difficulty for the character is, even if the police were to mistakenly forgive you, are you forgiven? And how much does she still need to be forgiven by her unit, by Ben and David? Even people who don’t believe probably have some sense of karmic justice in the universe. And how much do you owe that?
At this point, the show seems to be showing that yes, there are supernatural things — it’s not a question anymore. But will we learn one way or the other whether Kristen is possessed, or is that going to remain a question? She’s not acting like herself.
Robert: She’s not acting like herself.
Michelle King: I think it remains a question.
Robert: The show seems to work best when it leaves it vague enough that it’s a little disturbing. The problem is when things are certain, you kind of let the show off the hook. You kind of know what to expect. I think here, we hope, you’re never sure whether something has a psychological cause or a supernatural cause. Katja’s character Kristen is seeing hallucinations this year, but that could be based on medications. We’ve been reading books about medication-based hallucinations, and they’re not very different from the ones she’s seeing in the show. I think we’re hoping that we’re still living in the realm of a question.
Why does Leland want to stop David from becoming a priest so badly?
Robert: I would say the biggest thing is he wants to tempt him. But I do think he thinks one of the more effective people within the church is probably David, because of his visions. So, the more he’s disconnected from the church, and his ability to assess exorcisms, evil, the more you knock down one of the knights on the chess table. It’s not the only game plan, but you’ve knocked down the knight, so you can go out to the queen, and then eventually the king. The season does answer some of those questions fairly explicitly, but I think we want to leave that open as long as we can, to not be sure what is Leland’s ultimate plan.
Will we start to learn more about the scope of Leland powers this season?
Robert: Some more.
Robert: We are so irritating to you, I’m sure! The answer to almost every question is yes — and no. Because again, I think the show is trying to get away from too much definition, because definition creates an easier understanding of narrative. And not as much that kind of Lynchian discomfort that comes from something that’s a little more in touch with the subconscious. So I think our way of doing it is to have the supernatural and the psychological share a bed together. And have children!
Not that Sheryl was a shrinking violet before, but the Leland breakup seems to have unleashed something in her. Can you tell me more about that?
Michelle: Well, part of it is that Christine Lahti is such a strong actor. It feels like a pity not to take advantage of that.
Robert: And I would say in the writers’ room, we thought we made her too much of a wilting flower last year. And what felt fun to us is Leland and Sheryl going at each other as hard as they could. Especially if Sheryl is not, like, confused about what Leland is. When she says “I’ve dated demons before” — you’re not sure if she means she was a groupie and dated someone Keith Moon-like in a band. Or is she very aware of the supernatural? Most of what we do we do because it’s funny.
Michelle: Seems fun in the moment!
Robert: So a lot on this show, if you want to look for a reason, it’s often, this is comic. This is better than not doing something comic. And Michelle’s right, Christine Lahti is A) open for anything and B) she’s such a strong presence. It was like on “The Good Wife” when we were working with Christine Baranski the first year, suddenly we heard in a take, when the director yelled cut, this laugh she had — which is just a force-of-nature laugh. And so Michelle and I were like, “Why are we making her the bitch boss? She’s funny!” We joined the universe in understanding that she’s funny, but suddenly it gives you a new direction.
I think the same thing with Christine Lahti: You’re very aware of that this is the wrong direction to go in: “I’m hungering after a man. Oh, I want my man.” It’s better that like she’s rebuffed in a very angry, mean speech from Leland, and she says, “Fuck you, fuck you. You try to come back to me? No. Even if you walked across broken glass, I would kick you in the face.”
I assume every storyteller these days has to weigh whether to include the pandemic in their shows. With “Evil,” it seems to be a portent, and a threat looming out there. But is the show not going to have COVID in it?
Robert: Not this season. We were worried about how many shows were going the COVID route. I mean, we didn’t have any crystal ball about a vaccine. We’ve learned this from “Good Fight” — you’ll write toward something you think is current in the moment, and then when it’s broadcast four months later, it’s like, “Wow that’s yesterday’s news.” When we were writing these episodes —July, August, September of last year — COVID was the horizon. There was no other horizon than COVID, except maybe the election. But it felt like a mistake to aim right toward that. And so we had some talks in the room about whether the very last moment of this season would be suddenly everybody’s wearing masks. But the worry is even then, you’re kind of playing in a playground that feels like other shows we’re doing with more profitability.
Michelle: It feels like the only reason to do a COVID show is because you have no option — because it is so important thematically or to the storytelling. And that didn’t seem to be the case with “Evil.”
“Evil” streams new episodes Sundays on Paramount Plus. This interview has been edited and condensed.