Let’s get this out of the way upfront: Mrs. Davis — co-created and co-written by Damon Lindelof and Tara Hernandez — is a genre-spanning joyride. It’s action-packed with gory sword fighting and exploding body parts, it’s full of sci-fi elements, and it’s got an epic quest that explores complex and lofty themes without crawling up its own butt to do so. It’s fun and has adventure and romance, laughter, and tears. It contains all varieties of nuns, from ass-kickers to devout, pious types, to those who enjoy hard liquor, one of whom is played by Margo Martindale. Then there’s the central nun, Simone, who is portrayed by Betty Gilpin and who sets out to destroy an almighty algorithm that’s literally in people’s ears. At one point, David Arquette is dressed up as a nun, too, and that somehow ends up being a minor moment.
This Peacock series is filled to the brim and also tackles “big” life questions while also never feeling overwrought or overcomplicated. Through deft sets of screenwriting hands, the show ends up being a lean, mean masterclass in accomplishing a lot while seeming breezy. Even if you fear that a show involving an almighty algorithm (named Mrs. Davis) might hit too close to home, this show is worth your time, and I hope to assure you of this soon.
Now onto the matter of my headline, through which I wonder if Damon Lindelof was winking at us while deciding that one Watchmen season was the right amount. Viewers felt bittersweet disappointment as a result but also realized that he was correct. A practically perfect season (and the obliteration of Doctor Manhattan as we knew him) could not be followed up without disappointment with that world and characters.
Yet Lindelof went and co-created Mrs. Davis as a followup that — miraculously and successfully — evokes the feel of HBO’s Watchmen in a completely different world with new characters. I know this declaration seems hyperbolic, yet the series feels like a spiritual successor for these reasons:
1. Yes, we have another Badass Lindelof Nun: Damon Lindelof’s TV shows have never shied away from including religious themes. Don’t worry — I certainly do not intend to dive into a treatise of Lost or The Leftovers here. Yet 2019’s Watchmen feels incredibly relevant to discuss while looking back on Sister Night, who moved far past the initial “hell yeah!” of being a Badass Nun, much like the series itself transcended its comic book trappings.
In that 2019 show, Lindelof added infinite layers to the foundation of Alan Moore’s graphic novel, and the HBO series radically recontextualized the source material while transcending Moore’s critique of the superhero realm. In doing so, Lindelof rewrote nerd-history and simultaneously informed his audience of historical atrocities that had been rewritten for far too long. The show entertained with new characters, including Angela Abar, a masked detective who married a god and who assumed the Sister Night code name. Watchmen ultimately turned out to be her origin story as a deity-like being.
There’s a similar inner journey with Simone, who frequently feels like an amped-up version of Sister Night but stands as an entirely separate character with a different set of goals. Simone tangles with elements of the almighty and, due to her unique qualities and connections, she is the person most capable of saving mankind from worshipping a chunk of code that makes life easier but also chips away at humanity. As well, Simone has assumed the Nun Life after a particularly intense set of life experiences and a divine encounter (to say more on that would be a spoiler). She carries a personal and justified grudge against the algorithm, and the show does a terrific job of fleshing out her own origin story of sorts, albeit without technical superpowers.
2. Batch*t crazy quotient: I actually think that this is the most important commonality because it communicates the irresistible spirit and sheer fun of Mrs. Davis. Watchmen, of course, was full of oddball characters, not only those modified versions of Moore’s original characters but also Lindelof’s own creations and variations. That included a literal tin-foil obsessive and cops dressing up as superheroes and Ozymandias launching bodies into the sky and also causing squid rain, and so on. And there’s one Watchmen character in particular who would be right at home in Mrs. Davis.
As you’ll recall — and work with me here because I’m headed somewhere — one of the most memorable scenes starring Sister Night also included a mysterious entity who viewers soon referred to as Lube Man. We received one mere minute of Lube Man in Watchmen, yet he will always be remembered. His scene was unlike anything else on TV: dude wearing a shiny body condom flees from Sister Night, greases himself up, and slides into a sewer grate, never to be spoken of again (at least not onscreen). He was pure WTF.
Why did I trot this GIF out again? Well, other than the fact that I will always love watching Lube Man, there’s this: the experience of watching Mrs. Davis is like witnessing the Lube Man scene over and over again. Yes, you heard me.
As in, you’ll be impressed by the sword-fighting nuns in the action-packed opener of the series, but man, as trippy as that scene is, Mrs. Davis is only warming up. The show consistently one-ups itself while bouncing back and forth in time almost effortlessly, bringing us tales of magic and mysticism, and the battle between faith and technology, which somehow coalesce into a coherent story that will keep people coming back each week. Is there a Lube Man crossover? No, but he’s there in spirit.
3. A similar “really?” premise ends up working: As difficult as it might seem after the raging success of Watchmen, I do recall a time when people skeptically wondered if a follow-up to Zack Snyder’s too-faithful movie was necessary. Obviously, Lindelof’s creation exceeded all expectations (other than those of Alan Moore, who hates everything), and this is also the case involving my own expectations for Mrs. Davis.
As much as I initially dug the premise of taking down an algorithm, as this show approached, I wondered if (as mentioned above) this show would feel too true to real life to work. I mean, aren’t we all fighting against the algorithm in our own way? We’re watching angry MAGA relatives hit the top of our Facebook timeline and wondering how Elon Musk appears to be swiftly burying tweets that criticize his ongoing Twitter debacle. On a more serious and possibly consequential note, some people fear that AI won’t be stopped, and perhaps we’re running headfirst into a Terminator II scenario.
Algorithms can be scary. So I worried if Mrs. Davis would be too on-the-nose to be fun. I also wondered whether the show adds anything to the conversation about how algorithms already influence a vast chunk of our collective consciousness. Yet I am pleased to report that this series uses the algorithm as a springboard for a rip-roaring adventure that, like Watchmen, entertains amid the consideration of serious subject matter. Yes, there’s the danger of an AI that dissuades independent thought and is worshipped by mankind, but you won’t feel stressed out by watching this happen.
Now, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about Watchmen during this review of Mrs. Davis. I took that angle because I believe in the “spiritual successor” points, but also, I cannot tell you much about the events of Mrs. Davis without ruining the pleasure ride. I cannot even hint at what Simone’s quest is. I can’t tell you about why she took those nun vows (oh boy) or about her relationship with her parents or lovers or anything about the background of her ex-flame, Wylie (Jake McDorman), a resistance leader with a past so layered that it could fuel its own spinoff. I won’t disclose who created Mrs. Davis or why. I suspect that these points will pop up again when people watch the show. Get ready.
For now, it’s enough for me to say that if you were bummed that Watchmen had to end, do give Mrs. Davis a shot. Whether or not we end up with a second season, I can trust that Lindelof, Tara Hernandez, and Peacock will make the correct call. As it stands, they made a mighty fine full first season.
‘Mrs. Davis’ premieres on Peacock on April 20, 2023.