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Strange Bedfellows

Mrs. Davis is a television show for our cultural moment with its odd alliances.

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(Grenar/Shutterstock)

In the midst of increased concerns about ChatGPT and A.I.’s potentially transformative influence, enter Mrs. Davis, a new science fiction comedy series streaming on Peacock. The show’s best moments are so brilliant, but its worst moments are dire—blasphemous even. But upon reading Bishop Robert Barron’s review, in which he called Mrs. Davis his new “favorite show,” some of my concerns were assuaged. 

Mrs. Davis is both the title of this new series and the name of its primary antagonist, an A.I. program that has taken over the world. A siren of sorts, Mrs. Davis has brought the world under her sway by seduction rather than force. But, in an important lesson for our times, that doesn’t make her any less totalitarian. Quite the opposite, in exchange for the A.I.’s promise of material well being, emotional fulfillment, and social satisfaction, everyone in this dystopian world has given up his freedom. 

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Well, almost everyone. There are two central characters in the show who have not succumbed to what Bishop Barron rightly calls the rest of the world’s “idolatry” of Mrs. Davis: Sister Simone (Betty Gilpin), a nun and the show’s heroine, and Wylie (Jake McDorman), Simone’s wealthy childhood friend and ex-boyfriend who is part of an underground anti-A.I. resistance. These characters drive the show forward, and each represents a distinct response to our modern, digitized, and disembodied world. 

Simone represents a Christian community’s response to the digital world. While we initially find Simone at a remote off-the-grid convent outside of Reno, Nevada, Mrs. Davis, working through her human subjects, soon infiltrates the facility. Shortly thereafter, Simone realizes that the A.I. will not let her rest and resolves to destroy it. Though she knows that doing so is almost impossible and will require dangerously engaging with Mrs. Davis, she doesn’t have any other options. 

Her story resonates with the experience of American Christians, many of whom sought refuge in their churches only for the country’s cultural radicalism to follow them there. In the negative world, with their backs against the wall, many Christians, like Simone, are now taking a more direct and hostile approach to engaging in the culture. 

Next comes Wylie. Formerly a subject of Mrs. Davis, Wylie even went so far as to trade his life for “wings”—a sort of social symbol that the A.I. can confer upon her most devoted subjects—and is soon set to “expire,” i.e., to be sacrificed to the A.I. Now he and his fellow travelers have formed a militia to take down Mrs. Davis. Hyper-masculine, decked out in black leather, and as chiseled as statues from classical antiquity, Wylie and his friends represent the return of the ancient man—or at least the modern person’s idea of the ancient man. 

This underground resistance, which is composed almost entirely of young men, reflects a more Nietzschean response to a world that technology has sucked the life out of. It can be associated more broadly with the group Matthew Walther has called “barstool conservatives.” As Nate Hochman argued in a New York Times article last year, this group forms part of an ascendant force in an increasingly post-Christian Right. 

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Simone and Wylie’s common enemy draws them together, and their relationship is one of the most interesting aspects of the show. While at first reluctant to cooperate, the pair begrudgingly learns to rely on each other, and eventually even recovers the old flame they once shared. Almost as soon as it begins, though, Wylie and the nun must end the love affair; Simone's vows constantly draw her back to God, giving the show a refreshing spiritual side. 

Indeed, some of the show’s best and worst moments occur in depictions of Simone’s prayer life, where she interacts with Jesus (Andy McQueen). In the latter category are several entirely unnecessary scenes in which Simone and Jesus are portrayed being physically intimate. Objectionable as these scenes may be, they are few and far between; Jesus serves as the primary foil to the malevolent Mrs. Davis.

Upon her departure, Wylie’s oscillation between his inescapable fear of death and his desire to prove himself only intensifies. He soon learns that Mrs. Davis has actually been using his underground headquarters—chock full of computer servers and advanced technology—as her home base. This devastates Wylie and eventually leads him face to face with death by A.I. in the season finale. 

It is a lot to take in, and at times the show’s wild swings from episode to episode can be somewhat disorienting. But it makes for gripping viewing, and it contains within it important lessons for our current moment. 

More specifically, Mrs. Davis confronts people like Wylie, who find themselves in today’s vitalist “resistance,” to consider difficult questions: What is the difference between freedom and power? Where does power come from? And what’s really worth living for? At the same time, it reminds Christians that though current circumstances might require us to make unsavory political alliances, ultimate victory will always come through Jesus. 

Most of all, Mrs. Davis is a powerful testimony to the dangers of idolatry, and a reminder that totalitarianism is just as likely to come from our moral licentiousness as it is to come from moral absolutism. As Benjamin Rush once put it, “the temple of tyranny has two doors.” 

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