Mrs. Davis airs on Peacock on Thursday, April 20.
“What’s the f-?” combative nun Simone (Betty Gilpin) asks in the final moment of the four-episode premiere of Mrs Davis, just before the credits. She expresses a question I’ve asked many times while watching this new sci-fi show (from creators Tara Hernandez and Damon Lindelof) that has some brilliant moments but is mostly defined by relentless weirdness.
The show is set in an alternate version of 2023 where the world is dominated by an AI known as Mrs. Davis in the US, Mum in the UK, Madonna in Italy, and probably many other names around the world. It’s a new setup that feels much more like a person pod story than The Terminator, raising some extremely current dilemmas about how the AI revolution will transform the world. Here, the algorithm has unlocked the secret of human happiness, giving everyone fulfillment by sending them on a quest. Further emphasizing her near-godlike powers, Mrs. Davis rewards her most loyal followers with angelic wings that can only be seen in augmented reality.
Mrs. Davis Photos
There’s certainly some biting commentary here about the chosen narratives and the sense of satisfaction in pursuing video game accomplishments, especially seen through the lens of Simone’s ex-boyfriend Wiley (Jake McDorman) who is born rich and desperate to gain something of his own, but the execution of the themes is utterly surreal. For example, Wiley is confronted with his shortcomings by his former rodeo mentor, a cartoon cowboy who bursts into a meeting room carrying his own spittoon to tell a story that involves strategically taking a bull’s testicles.
A cloistered nun who believes Mrs. Davis killed her father, Simone is one of the few people who hasn’t fallen under the thrall of the AI. Like Sister Night at Lindelof watchmen series, she wears her habit as a vigilante costume to eliminate rogue magician scammers. Riding a horse that may or may not understand human language and joking about her extracurricular activities with her enigmatic superior mother played by the ever-excellent Margo Martindale, Simone is instantly compelling as a fierce yet curvaceous hero who’s ready to take on anyone. and especially fear standing still. The magicians’ schemes are among the many ways the show reminds us not to believe what we see as scenes are constantly given new context and revealed to be convoluted constructs created solely for the benefit of a specific character.
The dizzying effect sometimes feels like a continuation of Lindelof’s meandering narration on Lost, and other times a parody of it. For example, Ms. Davis seems to make mistakes and spout numbers in a way reminiscent of the mystery sequence in Lost. There’s even a scientist named Schroedinger (Ben Chaplin) trapped on an island with only a cat for company! Just like Michael Haneke’s home invasion thriller funny games was intended to scold the public for their love of violence, it almost feels like Hernandez and Lindelof are taking the same tactic of making fun of anyone who comes to a Lindelof show for the sake of putting the pieces of the mystery together. The showrunners repeatedly pull back the curtain to reveal truths that would have been nearly impossible to predict.
But the mystery is so tempting! Rather than speaking with a single AI voice, Ms. Davis uses a variety of people as intermediaries. It’s a deeply chilling twist, adding a chill to already dark moments in the real world, like a family of four sitting in a restaurant with each person focused only on their phone. In one of the most striking scenes from the early episodes, Mrs. Davis grants a wish for $1 million – not by wire transfer, but by bringing in an endless stream of people to empty their wallets, merging a collection plate church with a GoFundMe campaign.
It’s also a highly meta show, with characters repeatedly mocking the storylines presented to them as proof that the algorithm is so predictable. After entangling Simone in machinations that look like a Wile E. Coyote scheme – complete with enticing traffic signs and a giant magnifying glass – Mrs. Davis sends her on a quest for the Holy Grail that turns into something between The “Da Vinci Code” And Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It’s hilarious on the upper schlock, involving the evil priest Father Ziegler (Tom Wlaschiha from Game of Thrones), a huge replica of Excalibur, and Simone receiving divine messages in the form of a very annoying dove.
Gilpin brings the same manic energy she showed in SHINE to Mrs. Davis, whether it’s berating Wiley for being easily distracted or describing her surprisingly tangible relationship with God. She also shows her deeper emotional range when grappling with her complicated role in the patterns of very powerful beings. Simone’s mysterious ally Jay (Andy McQueen) provides a soothing contrast while Chris Diamantopoulos is one of the show’s comedic highlights as JQ, the leader of a ridiculous underground group devoted to fighting Mrs. Davis. With his exaggerated Aussie accent, his propensity for ending calls by smashing burner phones in half, and his aversion to shirts, he’s a perfect parody of all action hero fantasies.