‘Mrs. Davis’ Review: Betty Gilpin’s Exhilarating Peacock Series Is a Mind-Blowing Good Time

Tara Hernandez and Damon Lindelof's genre-bending odyssey about a nun hellbent on destroying an almighty algorithm is equally brilliant and bonkers.
MRS. DAVIS -- "TBD" Episode 104 --Pictured: Betty Gilpin as Simone -- (Photo by: Sophie Kohler/PEACOCK)
Betty Gilpin in "Mrs. Davis"
Courtesy of Sophie Kohler / Peacock

Perhaps it’s a blessing (very much in disguise) that the spoiler discourse is once again raging (thanks “Succession”!), since it’s difficult to imagine a show better suited to run roughshod over entrenched positions on dispensing plot details than “Mrs. Davis.” Are you of the opinion that nothing remarkable or surprising about a yet-to-be-seen television show should be shared in public forums like the internet? Well, then good luck telling your friends about Tara Hernandez and Damon Lindelof’s borderline indescribable creation — a new series any artificial intelligence skeptic or general fan of savvy storytelling should embrace with glee. “Great,” thinks the galaxy-brained spoiler subversive. “Lean into the knowledge. Tell me everything about it.” OK! …um, except so much of what makes “Mrs. Davis” a riotous good time are the many, many unexpected twists and turns, whether it’s a pivotal revelation that changes our hero’s journey or just the seemingly random stuff that’s said, revealed, or blown up.

Quite a few things erupt in “Mrs. Davis,” and knowing what they are ahead of time certainly wouldn’t ruin the show. But part of what makes the eight-episode odyssey such a refreshing escape from the over-familiarized, I.P.-drenched landscape of modern television is that every moment feels if not wholly unique, than just a few degrees away. Episodes consistently feel like they’re flexing the capabilities of the human imagination so hard that the vein in your forehead might actually explode. Among its clever micro-concoctions and big-picture ideas about faith, technology, and why never the twain shall meet (except, maybe, just here and there), Hernandez and Lindelof’s bonkers limited series is also about the value of giving yourself over to a story; of recognizing when to pay attention to what matters, and when to make room for life’s unknowns.

So take a page from the book you’re about to read, and let these ambitious raconteurs spin you a yarn. Sometimes breaking your brain is the best option. Only then, can you examine which parts were really working in the first place.

And with that, we wade into the treacherous waters of plot description. Unlike the spoiler discourse, “Mrs. Davis” is fun! There are jokes aplenty, colorful aesthetics, equally iridescent performances, and a spirited tempo. The premiere spans a state, an island, and more than 1,000 years in a matter of minutes, hopping between three distinct stories that will all come together eventually. What makes sense even sooner is, arguably, also the most peculiar element: Simone (Betty Gilpin) is both a nun, wholly devoted to her faith, and a scam-hunting vigilante. She despises those who dupe others into believing the impossible, yet she can still give herself over to a God she can’t see, test, or fully understand.

“Mrs. Davis” parses this divide with style and smarts. Simone isn’t the reserved, sanctimonious nun of yore, nor the strict, hellfire-promising nun of earlier yore. She’s silly and crude. She lives in a convent that supports itself by jarring strawberry jam, and she drinks whiskey on her birthday with the mother superior (Margo Martindale). She drives a tractor, keeps bees, loves Swedish meatballs, and, oh yeah, hunts down shady magicians who use their tricks to take advantage of gullible rubes, guided by assignments from a local restaurateur named Jay (Andy McQueen).

Tied to this pursuit is the titular Mrs. Davis, who is not Betty Gilpin’s character, but an algorithm driven by advanced artificial intelligence. When the series begins, Mrs. Davis is already a global property, integral to nearly every functioning society. Whether it’s an app on your phone or a voice in your ear, Mrs. Davis connects with users on a profound, ostensibly benevolent level. If you do enough good deeds, you’re rewarded with wings — glowing angelic virtual appendages that other users can see when they look at you using the app. But unlike Facebook or Twitter, no one knows who created this social platform or who’s tweaking its code, and Simone doesn’t trust it — for a variety of reasons, but especially when it sends her on a quest to save the world.

MRS. DAVIS -- Episode 106 -- Pictured: (l-r) Jake McDorman as Wiley, Betty Gilpin as Simone -- (Photo by: Greg Gayne/Peacock)
Jake McDorman and Betty Gilpin in “Mrs. Davis”Courtesy of Greg Gayne / Peacock

Simone, as a character, may sound like a hodgepodge of chaotic concepts, but later episodes tie it all together and Gilpin’s sharp elasticity keeps her from ever feeling adrift. The star of “The Hunt” (co-written by Lindelof) and three-time Emmy nominee for “GLOW” can cut through bullshit with the same acuity as fellow Peacock favorite Charlie Cale, and Simone is often called on to acknowledge outlandish moments via an exhausted quip or terrified shriek, serving both as audience proxy and its most perceptive member. Yet her fierce suspicions don’t make her distant or jaded. Her faith encourages earnestness, and Gilpin can capture that, too, with striking conviction.

The rest of the ensemble — brought together by casting director Victoria Thomas (“Watchmen,” “The Last of Us”) — hits all the tricky notes, as well. Jake McDorman (CBS’ “Limitless,” Disney+’s “The Right Stuff”) thrives as Wiley, an insecure cowboy, Simone’s oldest friend, and leader of the resistance movement against Mrs. Davis. Chris Diamantopoulos gets his best gonzo role since “Silicon Valley,” as Wiley’s uber macho No. 2 man, J.Q., and Elizabeth Marvel (“Homeland”) nearly steals the show as Simone’s hardened mother who gains prominence later on.

“Mrs. Davis” can be overwhelming if consumed too quickly or casually. Hernandez and Lindelof’s eagerness to throw viewers for a loop — jumping to unforeseeable settings or focusing on previously unknown characters — can send you spinning, second-guessing whether you missed something or if it’s yet to be explained. The middle episodes, in particular, can dive so deep into fresh rabbit holes that you forget why you started digging to begin with, but a) there’s so much absurd humor baked in, it’s hard not to smile as you throw up your hands, and b) I suspect such knotty follies will only prove more enjoyable during repeat viewings.

“Mrs. Davis” earns your attention, and if it occasionally floods the zone with an abundance of imagination, a surfeit sure beats a deficit when it comes to new ideas in today’s TV. Even better, the limited series offers answers and closure. By the time the finale rolls around, a rewarding conclusion seems nearly impossible, and yet whether you’re enjoying the show as an intellectual exercise or pure, blissful entertainment, the closing moments are exceptional. I would argue the series offers stronger commentary about technology’s impact on consumers than it finds novel ideas about religion, but the text is dense enough where interpretations should prove plentiful. More than anything, it’s incredible fun — a story acknowledging the power of storytelling, and a jubilant means of engaging with contemporary fears.

How you interpret that vis-á-vis spoilers is a personal choice. “Mrs. Davis” cannot be spoiled in the sense that knowing certain choices will ruin the show, but too many of what we’ve collectively, confusingly referred to as “spoilers” absolutely could still diminish its impact. So go with God, or Mrs. Davis, or whoever you choose to trust as your TV guide. Just circle back here when you’ve watched. We’ll have more to talk about then.

Grade: A-

“Mrs. Davis” premieres Thursday, April 20 with four episodes on Peacock. New episodes will be released weekly.

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