Mrs. Davis is Damon Lindelof's Silliest Sci-Fi Show — And His Most Compelling
Betty Gilpin stars in the Peacock series as a nun at war with AI.
Mrs. Davis is a very, very goofy show. From the opening scene, where a medieval nun gets impaled with a sword and subsequently impales a soldier with the sword sticking out of her torso, to the action scene at the end of the pilot where characters jump through a giant prop donut on a motorcycle, there’s truly never a dull moment.
But while it has its silly moments, it’s also one of the most poignant explorations of faith and religion in television — and it balances these two elements with masterful skill.
Mrs. Davis follows Sister Simone (Betty Gilpin), neé Elizabeth, in her humble life as one of the members of the Our Lady of the Immaculate Valley. By day, she makes jam with her sisters and her jovial Mother Superior (Margo Martindale). By night, she rides her horse around Reno, exposing a group of people she has a strange hatred toward: magicians.
She gets these assignments from the enigmatic Jay (Andy McQueen), who makes falafel for her in his restaurant. But one day, Jay gives her an assignment that’s bigger than anything she’s seen before: taking down Mrs. Davis, the algorithmic AI that changed the world, apparently for the better).
Mrs. Davis gives people everywhere tasks that they happily do in the quest for “wings,” an intangible award that other users can see. Think of it like a blue check on Twitter. (Or, at least, what a blue check was before Elon Musk got involved.) Everyone on Earth seems to love Mrs. Davis, with one exception: Simone. This infuriates the AI so much that it moves mountains just to have a conversation with the nun. When that finally happens, the two come to a bizarre agreement: Simone will find and acquire the Holy Grail, and in return, Mrs. Davis will shut herself off forever.
Mrs. Davis is the latest TV show from Damon Lindelof (Lost, The Leftovers, Watchmen) in collaboration with Tara Hernandez (The Big Bang Theory), and his fingerprints are all over the sprawling plot, which bounces from a medieval “Hands on a Hardbody” competition in Scotland, to the Vatican, to a remote island to the middle of the sea without much of a break. Like Lost, this show is also chockfull of flashbacks, which flesh out the lives of Simone and her sidekick Wiley (Jake McDorman) while providing even more opportunities for silly side plots.
Wiley (Jamie McDorman) is part of a “Resistance” that seeks to fight against Mrs. Davis and becomes the subject of the first Lindelof-style twist. It’s also a perfect microcosm of what makes the show so great. While its ranks are made up of super-macho and super-nerdy men, their missions are incredibly well-written and woven expertly throughout the plot. Plus, their headquarters, the “Hippo-campus” is a reference to an antiquated chapter of American history — the American Hippo Bill, a proposal put before Congress in 1910 to introduce hippopotami to the Louisiana Bayou. (Needless to say, it didn’t pass.) It’s silly, well-written, and somehow both eclectic and grounded — just like the rest of Mrs. Davis.
There are so many twists and turns that can’t be spoiled here, but the fight between Mrs. Davis and Simone quickly becomes about way more than just a massively popular app. Because of Simone’s own ties to her — or “it,” as she constantly corrects people — their conflict becomes a fight about faith. Everyone around her, even her own sisters at the convent, quickly finds faith and purpose in Mrs. Davis, while Simone finds faith in her personal relationship with religion.
Part and parcel of this personal relationship is her dynamic with her mom, Celeste. Just as people look at Mrs. Davis as an all-powerful deity who provides a purpose, she’s also a maternal figure. In the UK, she’s even referred to as “Mum.” It’s unclear whether Simone projects her feelings for Mrs. Davis onto her mom or vice versa, but there are multiple times when what she says could be interpreted to be about either figure. Celeste now works for a security firm, so she’s in the intelligence business just like Mrs. Davis, another screenwriting masterstroke that highlights this parallel.
While there are countless twists, they’re not all “drop-the-popcorn” level reveals. Sometimes — and this is a compliment — they’re really, really dumb. Thanks to the comedic chops of co-showrunner and Big Bang Theory alum Tara Hernandez, the absurdity of a cult of personality around an app is highlighted through breaking it down to its core and not personifying it the way everyone else does.
Mrs. Davis is ultimately a series about the unexplained. We can’t comprehend how AI works, it just does. We can’t describe why faith is such an integral part of our culture, it just is. We can’t figure out how a magician does their tricks, but we clap anyway. The ultimate magic trick of the show is how it manages to balance satire and observation, religion and humor, adventure and romance, all without anything seeming too obvious and overdone.