In the first 10 minutes or so of Peacock’s new 8-episode Mrs. Davis, viewers are treated to a bloody sword battle, multiple decapitations, a hirsute loner on a deserted island, and a nun on a white horse who rides to the rescue of a man who thought he was about to be arrested for a prostitute’s death — but who, it turns out, was really just an easy mark for deceitful magicians.
Like Betty Gilpin’s exasperated Simone, the nun at the heart of this (drama? comedy? sci-fi cautionary tale?) says later on in the episode, when confronted with the full scope of what she’s up against in the form of an AI named Mrs. Davis that’s kind of taken over the world:
“It’s … a lot.”
“F**k yeah, it’s a lot,” responds the scene-chewing member of the resistance who’s just explained everything to her — and, by extension, to us.
Mrs. Davis on Peacock: The Nun vs AI
I’m not going to lie: Trying to offer up a neat encapsulation that summarizes this new show from creators Damon Lindelof and Tara Hernandez feels a little like trying to explain the nature of infinity to a turtle.
Basically, Gilpin’s Simone is a nun who makes jam and who’s also apparently the last person on Earth who hasn’t yet succumbed to the seductive omnipresence and omnipotence of Mrs. Davis, an AI that everyone communicates with via Bluetooth earbuds.
Needless to say, the show doesn’t take itself too seriously — and, in fact, winks at us throughout it. Like via the man on the remote island mentioned above who gets rescued. I forgot to add that his name is Schrodinger and that he has a pet … can you guess? … cat. Later on, Mrs. Davis (aka, “the algorithm”) sends Simone on a quest to find the Holy Grail, a mission that super bro-y resistance squad member JQ dismisses with a firey speech in his Australian accent:
“Algorithms love cliches, and there’s no cliche bigger than the quest for the Holy Grail — the most overused MacGuffin ever!” (which he pronounces as “EV-ahhh,” before adding: “Not to mention, it’s f*****g pretend”).
Tonally, the show is all over the place, held together by an earnest performance from Gilpin, who turns Simone into a character you cannot help but get invested in. And don’t mistake that previous sentence as criticism, either. There’s actually a nuanced, compelling conversation here about a dynamic that’s more or less present in all of Lindelof’s work, going all the way back to Lost’s “Man of Science, Man of Faith.”
It’s also the perfect time for a show like Mrs. Davis that grapples with the tug-of-war between humanity and technology — a time when the creepy geniuses at OpenAI keep imbuing ChatGPT with staggering new abilities, Google co-founder Larry Page is berating an AI-wary Elon Musk for being a “specist,” and search engines are racing to bake AI into their products that already do a questionable job of surfacing content.
The perfect dramedy for the ChatGPT era
In terms of the weirdness of Mrs. Davis, meanwhile, I also found myself kind of appreciating it more over time — or, at least, getting accustomed to it. It’s sort of what you want in the streaming era, right? Show me something I’ve never seen before. And don’t be afraid to try something ridiculous. If you’re not a streamer like Netflix, optimizing for a million different hyper-specific demographics, then swing for the fences — or don’t bother.
“Peacock gave us just a tremendous amount of trust,” Lindelof told me about Mrs. Davis, adding that: “Truth be told, by time you get to the end of the 8 episodes, you would be an insane person to not go, ‘I wonder how Peacock reacted when they first heard about this one. And the answer is, like: Always delighted, always curious, and sometimes quite worried. And I think we wouldn’t have it any other way.”
New episodes of Mrs. Davis debut every Thursday, and four are available to watch now. The episode titles also, I think, illustrate the caliber of the storytelling herein:
Episode 1 — Mother of Mercy: The Call of the Horse
Episode 2 — Zwei Sie Piel mit Seitung Sie Wirtschaftung
Episode 3 — A Baby with Wings, a Sad Boy with Wings, and a Great Helmet
Episode 4 — Beautiful Things That Come With Madness
“Good creative hopefully comes from things that you’re just interested in,” explained Mrs. Davis co-creator Tara Hernandez, who’s previously written for The Big Bang Theory, to me. “And outside of being a fan of Damon’s work and knowing that he played in that sandbox, just this exploration of what does it all mean, which some people would argue is a faith exploration, and what are we all here for — that’s just of personal interest to me. Always sort of looking outside the here and the now.”
‘The audacity of the show … became mandatory’
Nuns, she continues, ended up becoming a “fascinating” starting point for a show in her conversations with Lindelof.
“And as far as what to put her, our nuns, Sister Simone, up against, technology being the thing that was sort replacing her … I personally think I have a hard time with change. So the pandemic, as I’m sure many of us experienced, was so difficult. To take this enormous way of life and shift it and become cloistered in our own way. Personally living a quieter existence while being really reliant on technology … it just felt like these were two things that were on my mind, morning till night, and in all the sleepless hours in between. And all you can do for your own therapy is write about them.”
So far, the reaction to the show has been strong — on Rotten Tomatoes, for example, Mrs. Davis currently has an 88% critics’ score and an 80% score — adding one more buzzy series to what’s proving to be a steadingly expanding roster of original content for Peacock.
“The audacity of the show basically became mandatory, in terms of its storytelling,” Lindelof said. “Because you don’t know if you’re going to get to make any more than these eight. If you’re gonna live high on the hog, don’t look down.”
Adds Hernandez: “… leave it all on the field, as my dad would say.”