The Irreverent Mysticism in ‘Mrs. Davis’ Is Exactly What We Need Right Now
The series finale of Mrs. Davis dropped last Thursday, capping off a weird and twisty tale about artificial intelligence, free will, and faith. Created by Tara Hernandez and Damon Lindelof, the series is a wild ride, and even if you didn’t love every second, you can’t deny that it explores some deeply meaningful themes in a wildly fun way.
Mrs. Davis focuses on Simone, a nun who’s determined to destroy the all-powerful AI known as Mrs. Davis. When Mrs. Davis dissolves Simone’s convent, Simone reluctantly accepts Mrs. Davis’ quest to find and destroy the Holy Grail. Wandering from an Excalibur-themed competition in Scotland to the belly of a literal whale, Simone’s story is filled with modern day Abrahamic mysticism—and as someone who grew up surrounded by intolerant Christian fundamentalists, I loved it.
Here’s why Mrs. Davis is such a good antidote to the toxicity of much of American Christian culture.
This article contains major spoilers for episodes 1-8 of Mrs. Davis.
The Christians in Mrs. Davis don’t take themselves too seriously, and that makes them good Christians
Mrs. Davis revolves around Simone’s relationship with Jay, a restaurant owner who serves her falafel whenever she comes to visit. Eventually, we find out that Jay is Jesus Christ, and by becoming a nun, Simone has married him. They spend hours talking, they sleep together, and Jay whips up some great dinner plates. What makes him so likable is that he’s just a regular dude with an endlessly kind disposition.
The nuns at Simone’s convent have the same kind of breezy, yet deeply loving approach to their faith. They play badminton and make jam. They sneak quick drinks in the stables. They have fun. They’re too busy living out their faith to judge people. They’re the kind of Christians you’d love to hang out with.
I suppose one criticism I have of Mrs. Davis‘s Christians is that you don’t really see much of them doing good works like taking care of the poor. That criticism aside, though, Simone and her sisters show how joyful and freeing spirituality can be.
Mrs. Davis makes myth relevant by reinterpreting it
One of my favorite episodes in Mrs. Davis is “Great Gatsby 2001: A Space Odyssey,” in which Simone ventures into a whale’s intestinal tract in order to retrieve the Grail. Like Jonah, Simone experiences a revelation thanks to her sojourn in the whale’s belly. After she’s swallowed, she has a vision of the Virgin Mary, who tells her the truth about Jay: he’s trapped between life and death, serving his followers while never being nourished himself. Mary has chosen Simone to destroy the Grail—which is actually a portion of Jesus’s skull—in order to set Jay free.
Simone’s task reminds me of a saying by the ninth century Buddhist monk Linji Yixuan: “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” It means that in order to get at the truth of something, you have to destroy all your preconceived ideas of it. In order to be a good partner to Jay, Simone has to rethink her entire relationship with him—and kill him all over again. The act doesn’t just mean freedom for him; it means freedom for her, too. It’s what eventually lets her live fully in the world, reconciling with her own mother and rekindling her relationship with Wiley.
There’s so much more in Mrs. Davis—the Excalibur episode, Wiley’s own death and resurrection, all the layers of the Grail quest itself—but “Great Gatsby 2001” is one of the most important parts of Simone’s journey. Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg wrote in her memoir Surprised by God that “Myths are prisms that we can turn and turn and turn again,” and Mrs. Davis shows it. The story of Jonah is a damn good myth, and Mrs. Davis has reinterpreted it for a modern age.
Mrs. Davis explores the resolution of opposites
This last aspect of Mrs. Davis might be my favorite. At first, everyone calls the AI Mrs. Davis, since that’s what she’s named herself. By the end of the series, though, all the characters have taken to calling her “the Big D” for short.
As in “Devil,” perhaps?
At first, the opposition between Mrs. Davis and Simone seems clear. Simone serves Jesus, while Mrs. Davis is the evil force putting the Mark of the Beast on people in the form of expiration dates. There’s nothing holy about Mrs. Davis; she’s a malfunctioning app developed for Buffalo Wild Wings.
In the whale, though, we find out that Mary used Mrs. Davis to guide Simone to the Grail. In the series finale, it’s Mrs. Davis who’s responsible for Wiley’s life-changing epiphany in the deadly roller coaster. By the end of the series, Simone has made her peace with Mrs. Davis, realizing that her hatred of the AI was misplaced.
What’s so smart about Mrs. Davis is that it knows there’s no such thing as clear-cut good and evil. Often, the lessons the Devil teaches you are just as important as those you get from God. In the end, it turns out that the forces of Heaven and Hell were allies all along—and opposites dissolving into a unified whole is a very ancient theme in religion and myth.
If that sounds blasphemous to you, it’s because mainstream Christianity in the U.S. has a tendency to run screaming from the slightest hint of real spiritual truth. But there’s no point to spirituality if it’s joyless. There’s no point to religion if it can’t laugh at itself now and then, acknowledging that faith can be beautiful because it’s fundamentally irrational.
Mrs. Davis can be a balm for those of us who have been burned by Christians
Growing up as a Jewish witch in Orange County, CA, I was surrounded by people who lived in perpetual fear of Sky Daddy banishing them to a lake of fire, and they tried their hardest to infect the rest of us with their paranoia. I hope at least a few of them have gained a little perspective, and maybe discovered the same joyful communion with divinity that we see in Mrs. Davis.
Even better, I hope that some of them are able to sit down, give the series a go, and enjoy it. Maybe the next time Jay fixes them a plate, they’ll see it for the gift that it is.
(featured image: Peacock)
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