Evil has become a very solid hit for CBS since it debuted a few weeks ago, and it's pretty easy to see why. The atmospheric drama mixes psychological mysteries with some potentially very creepy subjects as we watch priest-in-training David (Mike Colter) and skeptic forensic psychologist Kristen (Katja Herbers) investigate claims of demonic possession, hauntings, miracles and more for the Catholic church. And, the newly formed team already has a naughty nemesis they need to look out for: Leland Townsend, played to perfection by Lost and Person of Interest vet Michael Emerson.
Like Kristen, Leland is also a forensic psychologist, but he makes it his mission not just to try and undo all the convictions she helps to secure, but quickly appears to be working behind the scenes to put some of the scariest and most difficult situations in their path as they work. And, that's not to mention what seem to be his very creepy personal attacks on Kristen and her young daughters, especially. With Evil weekly playing around with whether or not David and Kristen are dealing with the religious / supernatural or things that can be explained by science, it begs the question: Is Leland Townsend a demon or not?
CinemaBlend's own Nick Venable had the chance to speak with Michael Emerson recently, and when he asked him about Townsend's true nature, here's what Emerson had to say:
I would say I'm more a part of like an ongoing battle between the forces of our investigators, who represent the church, and the forces of some ill-defined but tangible army of evil on the planet. So we'll see where that goes. I mean, you know, I don't know in advance what developments will be made. I'm operating currently on the assumption that I'm a human being, but who knows where those things go? And, it's all right with me if I don't know, 'cause I like there to be mystery and wonder in the playing and in the reception of the show. So it's fun. We'll just see what develops.
So, how does an "ill-defined but tangible army of evil on the planet" sound to you? Demonic? I know! We learned in the pilot that David has already had run-ins with Leland, and he clearly had something to do with David's "friend" Julia, who most likely met a bitter end. David told Kristen that Leland pretends to be normal but is instead someone who encourages others' evil thoughts because he enjoys sowing chaos and destruction. While that certainly sounds like something a supernatural agent of evil would do, as far as Michael Emerson knows right now, Leland is simply 100% grade F no-good human.
Unsurprisingly, last week's Halloween episode ramped up the "is this supernatural or not?" X-Files style tension with an episode that had both a very real-looking demonic possession and Kristen's daughters being freaked out by a sleepover guest who was, well, freaky. And, just for extra spook factor, Evil kept things mighty ambiguous. When Michael Emerson was asked about the constant play between religious versus psychological / scientific answers for each week's mysteries, he said that he likes not having things be so cut and dry.
Yeah, I like it that way. I'm glad that that's sort of the plan. Because I've been on shows where that was a really successful strategy. You know, that J.J. Abrams "black box theory" of the mystery at the middle should be left to be puzzled over. So I think it's good policy. It is for me, as a performer, and it's what I like to see when I watch TV. I don't want to have ready answers. Sometimes people make out like they're unhappy if their questions don't get answered, but I think they're misunderstanding our role, and their role as a viewer. I think it's best if you think of the mysteries, or the unanswered questions, as the landscape, or backdrop, of the action. And you don't want that to go away, because it's a thrilling backdrop. That's a great landscape to be navigating. So I think it's better if people kinda embrace the confusion.
Alright, Michael Emerson. I've embraced the confusion and I'm...well, I'm creeped right the hell out every week. We can all see if Leland Townsend turns out to be more than a human agent of destruction as Evil continues, Thursdays on CBS at 10 p.m. EST.