Betty Gilpin in Mrs. Davis (Photo: Supplied / Design: Tina Tiller)
Betty Gilpin in Mrs. Davis (Photo: Supplied / Design: Tina Tiller)

Pop CultureAugust 4, 2023

Review: The bonkers Mrs. Davis needs to be seen to be believed

Betty Gilpin in Mrs. Davis (Photo: Supplied / Design: Tina Tiller)
Betty Gilpin in Mrs. Davis (Photo: Supplied / Design: Tina Tiller)

Lost creator Damon Lindelof’s new series took its time getting here – but it’s worth the wait, writes Chris Schulz. 

This is an excerpt from The Spinoff’s weekly pop culture newsletter Rec Room. Sign up here.

It opens like a new season of Game of Thrones. Bodies are burnt on a bonfire. Heads roll in an epic sword fight. A battle is being fought over the Holy Grail, and the Knights Templar is revealed to be a group of nuns who’ll decapitate anyone who threatens to steal their prized possession. In a quiet nunnery filled with tables and wine barrels, that’s exactly what they do, engaging a group of grail-questing knights in a vicious fight to the death. After several grisly decapitations, the nuns win.

Five minutes later, we’re on a remote island. A marooned scientist sets off a homemade firework made out of phosphate and cat poo. After 10 years stranded like Castaway’s Tom Hanks, he’s rescued – only to be told an artificial intelligence known as “Mrs. Davis” has taken over the world. She’s solved the world’s problems. There is no famine, no war, just a know-it-all algorithm connecting everyone through an earpiece. “She has given purpose to the purpose-less,” his devoted rescuer says.

Then things really get crazy. A Reno man is a passenger in a car being driven by a woman he’s just met. A cow in the middle of the road forces her to drive into a billboard. He thinks he’s having a sneaky hook-up; she loses her head in yet another decapitation (yes, losing your head is a recurring theme here). The police show up, then a nun arrives on horseback. She reveals it’s all a ruse: the woman is safely in the boot and that corpse, the cops and all that blood is fake. It’s a scam. “You, sir, have been hoodwinked,” she tells the man, nodding and winking before trotting away.

Hold up. Hang on a second. What in the actual hell is happening? There may not be a better question to ask about a TV show this year. All of that madness – there is no better word for it – unfolds in the opening 15 minutes of Mrs. Davis, a dizzying blitz that might be the most madcap introduction to a TV show since Jackass first hit the airwaves. You’ll have so many questions you’ll need a notebook. None of it will make a lick of sense. You won’t understand a thing. But holy wow will you be entertained.

We shouldn’t expect anything less from Damon Lindelof. The co-creator of Lost, and the mastermind behind The Leftovers and The Watchmen, has returned with a bewildering rollercoaster of a show, a globe-trotting, eight-part odyssey about a nun trying to take on AI. It’s taken its sweet time getting here: Mrs. Davis first debuted in America to rave reviews back in April. It’s sitting at 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, where one critic calls the show “a testament to human originality”. This week, it finally landed on Neon.

Should you watch it? That depends on your ability to cope with chaos. Co-created with newcomer Tara Hernandez, Mrs. Davis is even more of a bonkers blitzkrieg than that opening 15 minutes suggests. Soon, Betty Gilpin’s Sister Simone has teamed up with underground renegades masquerading as pest exterminators to take down that AI everyone’s become addicted to. By the end of the first episode, Gilpin’s butt-kicking nun is on a mission. All she needs to do is destroy the holy grail and she’ll get her wish: Mrs. Davis will implode. AI will be gone forever.

At this point, no one would blame you if you’re thinking all of this sounds like a TV show made by someone on very heavy medication. The vibe is Monty Python and Sister Act plonking themselves down on a couch with a bowl of popcorn to watch Blade Runner 2049. It’s as if the new Mission: Impossible movie dropped acid. It’s weird. It’s ridiculous. It’s all over the place. There are Western vibes in the mix. God appears to be operating out of a felafel shop. When a team of German gangsters shows up and threatens to use dynamite on Sister Simone’s horse, I felt like I might be watching a reboot of The Big Lebowski. Like, duuude.

Mrs. Davis: nuns vs AI (Photo: Supplied)

It is completely and utterly cooked, and I couldn’t be more into it. There’s never been a more fitting show for the times we live in. Life is strange. ChatGPT was introduced to the world a little more than six months ago and has quickly become a part of our everyday lives. Twitter, one of the world’s most recognisable brands, is owned by a megalomaniac billionaire determined to take it apart like a kid holding their first screwdriver. Don’t get me started on cryptocurrency, NFTs, and Donald Trump making another run for presidency while facing criminal indictments. Shit is weird out there. It deserves to be made fun of.

Look behind the kook and there are bigger themes at play in Mrs. Davis: the role of religion in a tech-obsessed world, our devotion to the algorithm, and the meaning of life. As far-fetched as it may sound, many of the leaps of faith the show takes work. We’re all chatting to AI through an earpiece? OK. We’re taking advice on how to solve the world’s problems from a bot? That seems feasible. Sure, the chaos cloak covering Mrs. Davis may put you off it. I hope it doesn’t. But before you decide if you’re going to tune in or not, I implore you to read this Google review. It sums up the show better than I possibly could…

“First 3 episodes, meh. It was like a train wreck I couldn’t look away from. 4th episode: Ok, I’m intrigued. Now on the 7th episode and holy balls this is flipping incredible.”

Keep going!