Hold on, I’m getting a message from a hidden resistance cell dedicated to thwarting the onslaught of AI. A top-secret organization called the WGA? Anyway, they say that Jason Ning and Jonny Sun wrote this episode of Mrs. Davis and that without union screenwriters, everything any of us have ever read, written, or posted about television shows like Mrs. Davis would not be possible. Huh, sounds like those writers should be paid and treated fairly. Something to consider!
That whole business aside, it’s worth singling Ning and Sun out because, in this episode, they help concoct Mrs. Davis’s best visual and conceptual metaphor for faith yet, for my money anyway. Jesus as the humble owner of an extradimensional falafel stand, marrying all the worshippers who fall madly in love with him at first sight? Sure. Undertaking a self-consciously mythic mystical quest on the blind hope that doing so will liberate humanity from algorithmic oppression? Okay.
But none of it beats the sight of Sister Simone descending into the murky depths of the ocean, tethered to the surface by a single oxygen tube, the darkness illuminated only by the beautifully designed rings of light encircling her neck and limbs, waiting for a sea monster to materialize and swallow her whole.
That, my friends, is a leap of faith. Simone has to trust that everything she’s been told — about the quest, the Holy Grail, Mrs. Davis, Jesus, the whale, all the stuff they’re using to ensure she can get inside of it and make it back out alive — is true. Not just true, but reliably, unshakably true, the kind of true you’ll stake your whole life on. (It’s no accident that the whale’s first and only apparent victim in this episode is the false priest, Ziegler, while his zealot master, Mathilde, spends the rest of the episode in shock after learning the Grail killed her estranged daughter, Clara.)
Simone has cozied up to that kind of truth before. How else would you describe abandoning a life of genial atheism and a future with a man she loved in favor of becoming a freaking nun because you love Jesus that freaking much? But the life she staked on this leap of faith is the kind that stretches decades ahead, the kind with a future. Even if she’s miserable, hey, she’s still alive.
Using yourself as bait so you can be devoured by a psychotic sperm whale, by contrast, is … not the kind of leap of faith you save up retirement funds in order to execute, let’s put it that way. Looking back over the literature of both Grail-hunters and whale-hunters does not reveal a wealth of and-they-lived-happily-ever-after endings, you know?
But this is Mrs. Davis, a show where the improbable is a virtual guarantee. So Simone does make it out of that whale and back to the shore somehow, despite severing her own breathing line in order to reach out and grab the Grail from its slightly too-distant resting spot.
Note: This all plays out on another plane of reality within the network of caves that leads to Jesus’s restaurant, where Simone meets the Virgin Mary, who explains that the Grail is actually the carefully preserved top of Jesus’s skull. I don’t remember that from Catholic school. (Or from years of reading conspiracy theories about the Templars and the Illuminati, for that matter!)
Whatever triumph Simone feels upon surviving her Jonah/Pinocchio/Millennium Falcon hero’s journey and recovering the Grail is short-lived, however, as a horde of nearby beachgoers plugged into the Mrs. Davis matrix approaches and begins singing Eddy Grant’s “Electric Avenue” at her. This, like many such things on Mrs. Davis, happens for reasons best known to the writers (who deserve protection and pay commensurate with their enormous contributions to the art form. Ahem.).
While all that is going on — and while sparks fly between Simone’s mom, Celeste, and mission leader Schrödinger — Wiley’s on a mission of his own. Forced to stay behind by Simone for fear he’ll rashly commandeer the quest in yet another attempt to prove his mettle, Mrs. Davis informs him that she’s been using the server farm of the Resistance, whose existence and location she knows full well, as her home all along. This information is presented to Wiley as part of a blackmail scheme: Create more Resistance cells with their own server farms for her to inhabit or she’ll expose the fact that Wiley accepted an expiration date in order to get the digital wings he’s been decrying as the opioid of the masses all this time.
But Wiley sees through the whole thing, certainly faster than I did as a viewer. Mrs. Davis isn’t in that server farm at all — she’s just trying to trick Wiley into blowing up his headquarters. He knows this … but he does it anyway to spare the feelings of all his merry men from learning that Mrs. Davis has had eyes on them the whole time, and thus everything they’ve been doing is useless.
Now, I’m not exactly sure how blowing up their HQ because Mrs. Davis is inside it hides the fact that Mrs. Davis knew where they were all along. But whatever! I’ll roll with it just to see more preposterous male-bonding scenes between Wiley and his right-hand man, JQ, whose Road Warrior wasteland barbarian get-up as they blow up the HQ is actually the most clothes he wears in his big scenes this episode. (He and Wiley have a mostly nude bro-off outside the expiration center, featuring glorious Hollywood musculature and slightly suspicious underwear bulges.)
There’s one more thing that needs pointing out about this episode, and it’s how much Betty Gilpin brings to the table by bringing Simone to life. (If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard, “I’m only sticking with this show because of Betty Gilpin,” I’d have, I don’t know, several nickels.) I keep coming back to her delivery of the line where she talks to Wiley about his tattoo from the Big D: “the expiration date,” she says, pawing at the front of his T-shirt, “that you stamped on your big — Jesus — meaty chest.” Even in the middle of this serious moment, touching Wiley’s shredded bod gets Simone hot under the collar, leading to a singularly inappropriate swear given the circumstances of her life; Gilpin utters the word as if compelled, like she’s coughing up the world’s horniest hairball.
These are the moments that make Mrs. Davis work when it’s working. Not all the kooky crazy ideas and images, not the tedious metacommentary like Wiley getting mad that he’s “the love interest” in this story, but little eruptions of humanity, in which Gilpin’s Simone acts like a woman in love with two men and haunted by the betrayals of her parents and forced down a strange life path because of all that. Sometimes it seems the rest only gets in the way.