[Warning: The following contains spoilers for the Evil Season 1 finale. Read at your own risk!]
We were promised a "mind-boggling" end to the first season of Evil, and we got it. The CBS drama's Season 1 finale, titled "Book 27," closed with a fantastic shock: Kristen (Katja Herbers), who had probably just committed a murder, dropped a rosary into her palm as a test — and it burned her hand. In the seconds before the episode cut to black she faced herself in the mirror, staring down the show's biggest spiritual and psychological question yet.
And her probable murder victim? That would be Orson LeRoux (Darren Pettie), the killer from the pilot who claimed he was demonically possessed and who had been stalking Kristen and her girls since his release from prison. When Orson went too far, Kristen grabbed an ice pick from her closet. The next time Ben (Aasif Mandvi) saw her she had blood on her leg, and she did not seem at all remorseful.
On top of the state of her own soul, Kristen also has to worry about one of her daughters. The case of the week led David (Mike Colter) to suspect that a fertility clinic has been impregnating women with demonic babies via IVF. Kristen used that same clinic to get pregnant with Lexis (Maddy Crocco), who got a little too chatty with that horned beast this week. Could sweet Lexis be headed for Evil's Creepy Kid Hall of Fame?
Before we strike a deal with Leland's (Michael Emerson) demonic therapist to speed up production on Season 2, TV Guide caught up with co-creators and showrunners Robert and Michelle King to break down this episode's shocking twists and tease what's next for Kristen and her family. (Head here for our full recap of the season finale.)
I can't start anywhere other than that ending. Did you always know that would be the final shot of the season?
Robert King: No, we didn't actually. We were always challenging ourselves in the writers room to go in an unexpected direction. Probably what we thought we were going to do was more how Episode 12 ends, right there where that devil therapist is in with Leland. That probably was our expectation. But you watch people's performances, you watch the dailies, and you watch this accumulation of evidence of how Katja's character handles her children, and it felt like the appropriate place to go — that you could be such a protective mother that you veer over into being the thing you're afraid of being.
Setting aside whatever scientific explanations Kristen might turn to here, when it comes to the Church's perspective, does the cross burning her hand definitely mean possession?
Michelle King: Yeah. I mean, if you went strictly by what someone of faith would think, yes. That's what we're looking at. But obviously, we have ideas of other reasons that could have happened, not faith based.
Can you tease how Kristen is going to respond to this next season?
Robert: I would say that a lot of the response is in her look at the mirror, which is a bit of 'Holy sh--,' and another like, 'Am I in trouble?' In other words, she has enough perspective on herself to wonder whether she gets over her defects. So there's a bit of self-reflection there, and a bit of concern for your own moral state, I would call it. Even if it's not about your eternal soul, even a secular humanist would be worried about their moral --
Robert: Yeah. Very good.
In the pilot, David offers Kristen a rosary and she doesn't take it. I'm trying to remember: Have we seen Kristen hold a rosary at all this season?
Robert: I'd have to go back to see whether the possession episodes did, but I don't think we have... We didn't intend for her to ever hold one, but I'm just wondering whether something happened on the set.
It's heavily implied that Kristen killed Orson LeRoux. Obviously we don't see it, but is that something we're supposed to have any doubts about?
Robert: The only doubt that you might have is in — I think Katja did an excellent job in her performance when her friend Mira [played by Kristen Connolly] called and gave her the news that he was dead. It's a little bit, you know, the Mona Lisa smile: Is it a smile, is it not? And I thought Katja did that well. We want the audience to be able to argue both ends of it and just be troubled by it but also like, Holy crap, did they go there with the lead character? We're not into pulling schmuck bait turns between seasons, so this is a serious question. It's not going to be changed in some way. I'm sorry, "schmuck bait" might be a term we use in the writers' room. Do you know what that means?
I can't say I do.
Robert: Schmuck bait, we call it in the writers' room, is where you pull out some melodramatic event, and then you immediately turn it back because, you know, you can't kill Leonard Nimoy in Star Trek because if you kill him then the series changes.
Can you say anything about what clues in Season 1 people should be revisiting during the break to make some sense of what's going on with Kristen?
Robert: The puzzle that was part of all the episodes this season, the 13 episodes this season, points people to a place that brings in clues for next year. But I would say one of the biggest clues in all this was the tendency for toddlers and children to be possibly corrupted and turned villainous. So both [Kristen] observing that demon birth in Episode 8, but also David when he was high on the drugs that he was using and sees this child like in a vulture-like stance on a chair — there are clues that kind of lead into what we're planning to do next season.
Why did you decide to tell this story about IVF and pregnancy?
Michelle: We liked the idea that evil is not content to just hurt those that are right around them, that they would go to the source, that they would be trying to corrupt the unborn as well.
Robert: And then everything we wanted to do that touched upon religion, we want to have a psychological aspect. And there's something interesting about the "nature versus nurture" argument towards child rearing. Was the child in Episode 4 always fated to be a psychopath, or is there anything parents can do to kind of grab the steering wheel of a child who might have a corrupted genetic makeup? That's still scientific, and you could consider it a religious concept. Obviously we're parents and we're interested in that psychological question.
Michelle: And our assumption is that Kristen would be deeply interested in that as well.
What are the events of this episode going to mean for Kristen's relationship with Lexis?
Robert: I do think that is a psychological parenting question. If you're worried your child is turning bad, like breaking bad, you start creating the conditions that you're most worried about by being worried about it. It's difficult because you want to give your child the benefit of the doubt, but if you're harping on them and worrying about them and thinking they may be going wrong, you actually can create the condition you're most worried about, and that is what we want to approach in the relationship with Lexis.
Michelle: And what's nice about this on a psychological level is suddenly Kristen's under even more pressure because her mother is no longer available to help her. So I mean, just on purely the pragmatic level things are going to be tougher for Kristen at home.
There was a really great, intimate scene between David and Kristen in this episode where they're sitting on the stairs talking about death and faith. There was a lot of silent conversation happening between them, and I was wondering how much of that was scripted.
Michelle: I think it was all scripted pretty much.
Robert: The kind of silent little hand clap that Kristen's character does for David, I think we said that she nods to him appreciatively, but there were all these turns to it — it really does come out of the chemistry of Katja and Mike. We can't wait 'til next year, and we hope they bring all that energy back, because there's a lot they just bring to it that the script just guides them toward. I really like that scene because it seems very real. Two people who disagree about God and death and so on, just listening to each other.
As you mentioned earlier, you have been laying out a very elaborate puzzle with the numbers in the titles and with literal puzzle pieces. And I have to confess I still don't have a full idea of what it all means. Should I have more of a clue by now?
Robert: [Laughs] We didn't even tell CBS we were doing this. We just wanted to do it because it made us happy. I don't think anybody has been distracted by it. It's kind of like — Alfred Hitchcock would put himself in all his movies at some point, but he found that people were watching the movies waiting to figure out where to he was going to put himself. So he then just started to do it right at the beginning... And I think that's the way one would hope these puzzle pieces are treated: It's a fun thing if you want to hunt, but hopefully you're not distracted by it. That's why they're only one frame long. But it is a puzzle. It is something where you bring the pieces together, and you bring the tiles together, and it will solve something. But what the heck, everybody has a busy life.
Evil Season 1 is available to stream on Netflix and CBS All Access.