The phenomenal Betty Gilpin (“GLOW”) stars as Simone, a nun who has committed her life to Jay (Andy McQueen), a magnetic figure who works at a diner, makes falafel for Simone and gives her tickets for jobs to do from his boss, an unseen force behind the kitchen door. The tickets are targets for Simone to unmask. For example, in the premiere, she shows up in time to stop a group of magicians from pulling a scam on someone—people who use artifice and trickery to diminish the role of belief in this world. Simone is ultimately given a big target—Mrs. Davis, an AI like Siri or Alexa, has become part of the fabric of the entire US population. Mrs. Davis seems like a force for good, especially in how the program encourages acts of kindness to give users “wings” that identify them as decent people. But Simone knows there’s something wrong with an AI this powerful, not only because it’s like worshiping a false God.
Got that? It’s just the tip of a narrative iceberg that’s almost impossible to put into a plot summary paragraph. I didn’t even get to the cowboy named Wiley (Jake McDorman), Simone’s ex-boyfriend who leads a group of action-movie-quoting musclemen who form a resistance against Mrs. Davis. Or what about Simone’s parents? Her dad (David Arquette) was a magician who died doing an impossible trick, but her mom (Elizabeth Marvel), a security expert now, doesn’t think Pop is actually gone. And most of the plotting is driven by Simone trying to get her hands on the Holy Grail, which will lead to Simone’s demise. Yeah, that Holy Grail. If that’s not enough belief-driven plotting, there’s even a character named Schrodinger (Ben Chaplin). And he’s got a cat.
The main thing that holds “Mrs. Davis” together thematically is iconography. Just the image of a nun and a cowboy traversing the globe conjures up themes of religion, Americana, heroism, faith, etc. Muscle men, a magician, the Knights Templar, even the Holy Grail—it’s almost as if Lindelof was done unpacking the role of the hero image in society and decided to ask himself what else drives culture, good or bad. It results in a show overflowing with ideas that don’t always work together. The show’s ambition can get tangled sometimes, such as in the fourth episode, which dives right into the world’s religious center in a way that’s more haphazard than insightful.