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‘The Envoys’ Puts a Fresh Spin on an Already Great ‘Evil’ Formula

Miguel Angel Silvestre and Luis Gerardo Mendez are the anchors for a story about two Vatican priests wrestling with what it means to be a true believer.

THE ENVOYS: Luis Gerardo Mendez  as 'Pedro Salinas' and Miguel Angel Silvestre as 'Simon Antequera' in THE ENVOYS streaming on PARAMOUNT+ Photo: MTV Networks Latin America Inc./Paramount+ (C) 2022 VIACOM INTERNATIONAL INC. All Rights Reserved.

“The Envoys”

MTV Networks Latin America Inc./Paramount+

[This post originally appeared as part of Recommendation Machine, IndieWire’s daily TV picks feature.]

Where to Watch ‘The Envoys: Paramount+

The short black-on-white credits sequence, the collars, the fact that they’re probably next to each other on plenty of subscribers’ Paramount+ homepages: There are plenty of surface-level parallels between “The Envoys” and fellow Catholicism-centered thriller “Evil.” (Additional thoughts on the latter here and here.) Aside from the obvious, though, the new eight-episode drama from Mexico (originally released last year under the title “Los Enviados”) also takes what could be an obvious skeptic/believer story and gives it room to breathe.

Maybe the most notable change in “The Envoys” is making its two leads a pair of priests, sent at the behest of the Vatican to investigate some strange recoveries in the small Mexican town of San Acacio. Originally on an assignment to determine if these two individuals’ surviving a severe brush with death rise to the level of a Church-sanctioned miracle, Fathers Pedro (Luis Gerardo Méndez) and Simon (Miguel Ángel Silvestre) discover a wider web of odd and sinister circumstances.

Often, these two-hander looks into the paranormal break down on lines between science and faith. One of the first ways that “The Envoys” flips those expectations is by positioning Pedro, a priest with medical training, as the more traditionally pious of the pair. His overall methods skew closer to official Church teachings and his conception of what makes a proper investigator is more rules-based and rigid.

By contrast, Simon is the more rebellious of the two. With a background rooted more in law, he’s the one usually in search of a loophole. He’s aggressive, another foil to Pedro’s gentler, more observant instincts. Simon’s ethically flexible approach to getting answers is just enough to make Pedro skeptical, but their arguments about the proper way to be guided by faith are tame enough to end up at “agree to disagree.”

It’s one particular late-night heart-to-heart between the two in the show’s first episode that drives home that divide, doing so in a way that gives “The Envoys” a proper foundation when things start veering far away from Pedro and Simon’s expectations. Even when they enlist the help of local doctor Adriana (Irene Azuela), this is still largely a two-man crew doing what they can to prove the existence of a benevolent God (whether to themselves or those above them in the Church hierarchy). Given the various entrenched forces putting up roadblocks in their path, ones in the immediate area of San Acacio and others closer to where their original assignment came from, it’s a mystery that requires them to do a lot of soul-searching in addition to looking for answers.

“The Envoys” comes from director and series creator Juan José Campanella, who has put together a prolific international TV career, both before and after the success of “The Secret in Their Eyes.” While the show doesn’t take quite the same procedural tack as “Evil” — instead following the San Acacio saga over these eight episodes — the patience that comes with the added runtime lets “The Envoys” paint on a bigger canvas. There’s more room to mess with what sometimes gets close to self-seriousness. The longer the season runs, the more the show embraces its horror DNA, along with some of the surreal streaks that line up so well with stories that draw on complicated relationships with organized religion. There’s a blend of an appreciation for the specifics of Pedro and Simon’s chosen paths with an acknowledgment that they each have room in their conceptions of faith to joke about celibacy and the seven deadly sins.

So “The Envoys” lands on the same fertile ground as not just “Evil,” but “Midnight Mass” and “Hellbound” and any other recent show that wrangles with what it means to be a true believer. Is the better spiritual ally someone who belongs to the same congregation or someone who conceives of good and evil in the same way, only under different names? The turns in “The Envoys” are less based on misdirection than following the particular logic and expectations of someone who sees the world through a specific prism. Even with two men with the same job and the same task, that viewpoint on the world isn’t so easy to pin down.

True to form for a show about vocational horror, “The Envoys” reaches a point where Pedro and Simon can’t pull themselves away from the unraveling saga they’ve stumbled into. Campanella and the series’ writing team set up a classic example of men of faith having to put their beliefs in practice. Pedro and Simon don’t just gather evidence for a report, and the occasional decision to split them up rather than have them be a continuous pair works wonders. Toward the midpoint of the season, Pedro asks of Simon, “But we have God, don’t we?” “The Envoys” knows better than to answer that question directly and instead watch its twin title characters come to their own conclusions.

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