Ever since the first image of Simone (Betty Gilpin) – dressed in a sapphire blue nun’s habit angrily striding down a crowded hospital corridor – dropped, it was clear that Mrs. Davis was something unique.
After watching the first four episodes of creators Tara Hernandez and Damon Lindelof‘s new project, describing Mrs. Davis as unique is something of an understatement. Audiences haven’t seen something this weird, funny, absurd, and clever in quite some time (FX’s Legion, ABC’s Pushing Daisies, and AMC’s Preacher are the closest comparisons that come to mind).
Peacock’s high concept series has a fairly straightforward, albeit ludicrous logline: In the near future, the world has been overtaken by a power Artificial Intelligence called Mrs. Davis (in later episodes, we learn “she” is called Mum in the UK, and Madonna in Italy). She is seemingly plugged into the ear of everyone on earth, a fact that is visually captured by director Owen Harris in the close-ups of the slightly larger than average Air Pods nestled in ears.
The only person outside of Mrs. Davis’ range are people like Mr. Schrödinger, a man trapped on a deserted island for 10 years, or Simone, nee Elizabeth (Gilpin), a nun living off the grid outside of Reno.
Hernandez and Lindelof’s script make it clear several times in the first episode, “Mother of Mercy: The Call of the Horse”, that Simone is a) not your average nun and b) this is not a niche religious show. Simone is deeply in love with and married to Jesus, visually manifested by diner employee Jay (Andy McQueen) in her prayers, but that doesn’t prevent her from being a kick ass vigilante or a wise-cracking badass when the situation calls for it.
In this capacity, Gilpin is the perfect woman for the job. Fans of Netflix’s beloved cult fave GLOW or Blumhouse’s The Hunt (the actor’s previous collaboration with Lindelof) know that Gilpin is just as believable delivering sarcastic one-liners as she is kicking someone’s ass. Half of the fun of the first four episodes, as Mrs. Davis flashes back and forth in time, is discovering how Gilpin’s Elizabeth became Simone, where her stomach scar comes from, and how she went from a relationship with Jake McDorman‘s Wiley to Jesus (hint: it involves a bull named Jezebull, jam, and magic).
To casual viewers, this could all be a bit too much, but the first episode is a good benchmark for what to expect from the rest of the series. Not only does the premiere quickly establish the show’s premise, it establishes the zippy pace and go-for-broke tone of the series. Moving from a cold open in Paris 1307 featuring the women of the Knights Templar to present day Reno as multiple items are blown up in outlandish fashion to Simone’s first proxy meeting with Mrs. Davis via her kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Davis barely takes a beat to let viewers catch their breath.
The show doesn’t get any less wild over the next three episodes, which introduce David Arquette and Elizabeth Marvel as Elizabeth’s con-artist magician parents, as Wiley’s well-funded anti-Mrs. Davis organization, fronted by JQ (Chris Diamantopoulos) a buff Australian who is incapable of buttoning his shirts to cover his chest.
In episode three, the show hops to London, in which hordes of men attempt to outlast one another at the medieval-inspired ‘Excalibattle’; then in episode four, Simone and Wiley cross paths with German priest Hans Ziegler (Tom Wlaschiha), a disgruntled baker, and a Pope doppelgänger. While some of these plot developments and character beats work better than others (episode three is the weakest of the bunch, possibly because it sidelines Simone in favour of focusing on Wiley), Mrs. Davis never plays it safe.
It’s the opposite, actually. Even in its weirdest and wildest moments, Mrs. Davis feels fresh and energizing. There’s a rampant “anything goes” energy to the proceedings, particularly in the show’s witty wordplay, multiple timelines and globetrotting destinations, as well as its deep bench of supporting (character) actors, including Margo Martindale as Mother Superior and Katja Herbers (Evil) as the mysterious Clara.
Whether the series can nail down its convoluted hunt for the Grail, which is further complicated by the end of the fourth episode, remains to be seen. Regardless of whether these competing storylines and bizarre interactions synthesize into a satisfying whole, however, Mrs. Davis is the kind of big swing television series that stands out in a crowded marketplace. And that’s worth praying for.
Other Observations (Spoilers For Episodes 1-4):
- One of the show’s most endearing elements is its subtle world building. In addition to Mrs. Davis’ reach (more on that in a moment), there are little details like the ability to “buy” your wings (a status symbol visible only in pictures) in exchange for a Death Day Tattoo, an individual expiration date at which point individuals must turn themselves in to be killed.
- It’s unclear how Mrs. Davis took over the world, but her powers are both awe-inspiring and not so vaguely threatening. One need only look at the field full of pianos in episode two or the ability to make people give generously in episode four.
- Gilpin and McDornan have good chemistry in both the present and the past. While Episode three’s Excalibattle stuff drags a bit, jumping back to Simone’s pre-nun days does wonders to establish their shared history.
- Does anyone really believe that Simone’s father is actually dead? If so, you probably also fell for that ruse with the Germans on the roof that Wiley and JC tried to pull on Simone in episode two.
- I’ll be intrigued to see if Jay’s scenes prove contentious with viewers. I appreciated that episode four complicates the “obedience” aspect of their wedding vows, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t think of Hannibal‘s mind palace every time the show cuts to the diner.
- This review hasn’t touched on it much, but the series (and Gilpin, in particular) are exceedingly funny. From Simone’s disdain of Wiley’s headquarters in the ‘Hippo-Pot of Meat’ to her wide-eyed response to their proposal to take down Mrs. Davis (“That’s a lot“), to Wiley’s endless supply of disposable burner phones, to the dove that won’t leave her alone in the hospital, the show is chock-full of visual and aural gags. I’m here for it.
Mrs. Davis airs Thursdays on Peacock. Episodes 1-4 are now available.