Welcome to our weekly column Can’t Miss Episode of the Week! Every Saturday we’ll be spotlighting a different episode of television from that week that we thought was exceptional and a must-see. Check back to see if your favorite show got the nod — or to learn about a new one!
Who wants to take an elevator ride down to hell? Well, a lot of people do in this week’s episode of Paramount Plus’s acclaimed hit series Evil (which moved over from sister network CBS for its second season). The Sunday, July 11 episode, titled “E is for Elevator,” goes back to the show’s horror roots with a chilling mystery that leaves one lead character afraid for his life.
There’s nothing quite like Evil on television. A trio, composed of trained psychologist Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers), sceptic techie Ben Shakir (Aasif Mandvi), and priest-in-training David Acosta (Luke Cage’s Mike Colter), is contracted by the Catholic church to investigate demonic possessions, possible miracles, and other supernatural phenomena. The series is a mix of allegory and actual magic: it’s often unclear which cases will turn out to have a logical answer, and which ones will be left as unexplainable. In this episode, however, the practical explanation winds up being scarier than any demonic activity could.
At first it’s all fun and games. Kristen, Ben, and Kristen’s daughters, who are full of giggles, go to the elevator in which a teen boy was last seen entering, but never came out, and they play “the elevator game” – a sequence of stops on different floors that if completed correctly will take you straight to hell. Unable to figure out how to complete the game, they leave. That might’ve been that, but Kristen and Ben find that they just can’t let it go, and each of them make solo trips back to the elevator. While Kristen has a frightening experience courtesy of her ongoing hallucinations (are they hallucinations or is it demonic possession? Hmmmmm), it’s Ben who makes the real discovery, and it’s one he may just pay for with his life.
While it’s not unusual for the show to delve into some scary situations, it’s only once in a while that a character is actually in danger. In that way, this episode feels similar to the season 1 episode “Room 320,” in which David found himself at the mercy of a nurse determined to kill her black patients. This one has that same high stakes as Ben, having figured out the elevator game, finds himself in a sub-basement with the bug-eaten corpses of the two teenagers the police dismissed as runaways. And that’s when Ben has the same terrible realization that we do: he’s now trapped there, too.
Not having told anyone where he was going or what he was going to do, Ben faces the fate of a slow death. The show doesn’t give any quick and easy resolution either, even going so far as having Ben use the last of his phone battery to type up heartfelt goodbyes to his friends and family, as the demon that has been plaguing Ben’s nightmares mocks him. Salvation does come in the end, though, and like the aforementioned “Room 320,” it’s based on the strength of the bond between the three leads. Like how Kristen only needed the barest of hints that something was off to save David from that nurse, when Ben has been missing since the night before, Kristen and David don’t just brush it off, they investigate what happened to their friend.
To truly drive home the point of how scared Ben is, he starts to pray, which may not seem like a big deal, but considering he’s an atheist who has consciously distanced himself from his Muslim upbringing, it is. It’s as Ben prays that the elevator doors open, and Kristen and David appear and Ben runs into their arms.
“Does prayer help?” One of Kristen’s daughters asks earlier in the episode about what to do if your plane is crashing. As usual, the show plays it coy. Maybe his friends would have found him anyway, but maybe it’s no coincidence that it was only once Ben started to pray that he was saved.
Other observations that we thought made this episode stand out:
- David is largely uninvolved in this week’s case since he’s dealing with more of his training to be a priest, which, in a thoughtful plotline, he starts to realize may be more complicated as a black man than he thought.
- “Room 320” is one of the show’s very best episodes. With this one feeling so reminiscent of it, the show has once again achieved lightning in a bottle.
- When Ben makes it back to the elevator sobbing, Kristen comfortingly tells him that he’s “okay now,” but as Ben looks up at the demon stalking him, we realize he may be alive, but he’s not okay. And are any of them really?
Evil, Sundays, Paramount+