[This post originally appeared as part of Recommendation Machine, IndieWire’s daily TV picks feature.]
Where to Watch “Evil”: Paramount+
“S Is for Silence,” Episode 7 of Season 2 of “Evil,” isn’t completely without words. Sure, most of it takes place at a cloistered monastery, where the priests and nuns who reside there claim to have not spoken a word for decades. But after walking a formal tightrope for two-thirds of the runtime, the show’s main investigative trio ducks out of the enclave’s boundaries for a quick, whispered huddle.
It’s something that clues you into the fact that the no-talking framework is less an arbitrary constraint and more a genuine attempt at understanding how the primary folks on “Evil” each respond to a tiny self-contained universe where they’re not allowed to voice anything.
Ostensibly, the group is brought out to investigate some mysterious activity happening on the monastery grounds. But before long, it’s not just other unusual discoveries that send some minds reeling. David (Mike Colter), on the verge of becoming a priest, is left with only his thoughts, leading to some of the greatest subtitles in TV history. Kristen (Katja Herbers) bonds with one of the nuns there, as they both parse out the physical marks their daily concerns leave on them. All the while, the team’s de facto expert skeptic Ben (Aasif Mandvi) dives into research without his usual full complement of tools.
The tiny details in “S Is for Silence” — an episode written by series creators Michelle and Robert King and directed by the latter — are a trove of practical effects. How do you alert people to danger in a place largely devoid of electricity and where people can’t shout? You have a haunting system of stick clapping. Do you get Vatican-issued notepads to communicate with guests? No, you grab some branded magic erase pads, probably a donation or picked up for free from some local rummage sale. And barricading a door with a chair or seeing claw marks on wood are such primal indicators that little else needs to be added to make this at least a somewhat-ominous trip.
Over its opening two seasons (with a third on the way, mercifully), “Evil” has seen its internal mythology grow deeper with each passing week. It’s episodes like this one, finding the perfect balance between personal trials and the larger forces at work in the series, that make up the best “Evil” stretches. So, even without the many hours of seeing David struggle with whether or not he’s fit for the priesthood, or knowing what drastic action is causing Kristen so much guilt, “S Is for Silence” exists as a thoughtful, eerie standalone. As much fun as this show has with jargon and lore, it’s great to see it cut through all that to prove there’s something just as strong underneath.
Though the initial thing that brings Kristen, David, and Ben to the monastery is a perfectly preserved dead body, the eventual reveal of what’s been plaguing the area is as stomach-churning as “Evil” gets. (And this is a show that went awfully dark four episodes into its CBS run.) Yet, it’s a testament to the show’s emotional equilibrium that episodes like this can find plenty of room for levity, too. Toss in some wine barrel antics in amongst the crucifix wounds and you have a show that can do pretty much anything, even without saying a word.
Pair it With: There’s no shortage of other stories, fictional or otherwise, set at various religious institutions. But for one that’s episode-length and also gets at the balance between two different ways of life, try “God is the Bigger Elvis” on HBO Max. The Oscar-nominated short doc gives the first-person account of Dolores Hart, who left her career as an emerging film star to become a nun.