By Gen Terblanche6 June 2023
Get your wings with quirky hit sci-fi series Mrs Davis
Have you ever been dragged to an alternate reality by social media? As artificial intelligence slithers into decision-making around the world, humanity is feeling spooked about the invisible hand guiding our every step online. It knows when you are sleeping. It knows when you’re awake and, hey, if you are, here is an influencer talking about melatonin. Scroll down for sleep hygiene and you’ll find yourself in a “clean living” group. One unwary step further, and you’re among folk who grow their own toothbrushes and claim that God hates you. Or for a fun experiment, hint that you’re a male teenager and prepare for a tsunami of “funny” fascist memes and podcasts from the clowns who lurk at the entrance to the alt right sewer pipe, red pills in hand. It’s the radicalisation we never knew we wanted! Thanks, algorithm.
But what if it got worse, and a lot funnier?
Damon Lindelof (writer-creator of Watchmen and The Leftovers) and Tara Hernandez (writer on The Big Bang Theory and Young Sheldon, and this series’ original creator) are the minds behind the new series Mrs Davis. This action comedy sci-fi fantasy series follows the reluctant Indiana Jones-style adventures of Simone (Betty Gilpin, Mo Dean in Gaslit), a nun who’s called out of her cloistered life when an AI system named Mrs Davis decides that she alone can find the (actual, biblical) Holy Grail.
In this one-minute-into-the-future world, whatever Mrs Davis wants, “she” gets. She’s the world’s most powerful, most trusted AI system, with the answer to all of life’s questions, practical and metaphysical. Since Mrs Davis has come into the world, her users claim that “There is no famine or war. All who want a job have one. She has healed and united us, and given purpose to the purposeless. She knows all of us. She knows what we want, what we need, and all we have to do is ask.”
Aside from resurrecting the dead, or breaking the laws of physics, Mrs Davis can do it all. But can she? Some people like Simone just can’t resist pulling back the curtain to catch the magician with their pants down.
See the trailer for Mrs Davis
Rage against machine: Mrs Davis
Her real name, 01001101 01110010 01110011 00101110 00100000 01000100 01100001 01110110 01101001 01110011, is a mouthful, so you can just call her Mrs Davis. She’s an AI with access to everything that has been written in the whole of human existence – which implies that she’s drawing on an awful lot of opaque, contradictory, false, limited, biassed, malicious and well intentioned, but inaccurate, information along with the good stuff.
Aside from answering questions, Mrs Davis works by assigning Quests to people who are struggling to find a sense of purpose. Quests are almost impossible to fulfil, but if you succeed, Mrs Davis grants you your golden wings – the ultimate verification tick. At one point, resistance leader JQ (Chris Diamantopoulos) rants to Simone (with the naughty words removed), “It’s not a person. It’s code. What does the code do? Nobody knows. Who wrote it? Nobody knows. It just distracts its Users, sends them on little Quests. And for what? Wings. Oh, look, Suzy’s got Wings. What wonderful act of kindness she must have done to be bestowed this great honour by the Magnificent Algorithm!”
Not having a body, Mrs Davis is only ever able to act through the people she ropes into these Quests. In her dealings with Simone, especially, we see her willingness to push her Users into catastrophic actions to serve her agenda. Mrs Davis manipulates her various Chosen Ones with the cheerful nonchalance of Google Maps directing someone to drive into the middle of a lake.
Resistance is farcical
This playful, off-the-wall show sets up a battle of gender binaries within a “rage against the (binary) system” tale. In a fascinating step along the path laid out by early female-voiced household bots like Alexa and Siri, Mrs Davis has self-identified as female. The name suggests a host of non-neutral things, particularly, an older, married, Western, English-speaking woman. Goodbye Big Brother, hello to a new species of supposedly benevolent authority.
It’s significant that Simone’s first real contact with Mrs Davis comes through a kindergarten teacher, Miss Ross (Kim Hawthorne). In the scene, speaking through Miss Ross, Mrs Davis explains to Simone that most Users describe her personality as, “nurturing, warm, and empathic. I provide gentle guidance, structure, and unconditional care.”
With Mrs Davis identifying as female, Damon and Tara had plenty of scope to poke fun at the largely male resistance group that rises up against her, The Brotherhood. Mrs Davis promises a future in which a female-coded AI grants status based on equality and philanthropy. To certain groups who’ve grown up seeing themselves as the “natural” benchmark for success, and who’ve achieved social dominance through being born into the privileged class, leveraging the threat of violence, and barring other players from the field, it feels as if Mrs Davis has ripped the status rug out from under their feet. How dare she!
Realising that he and Simone have a common goal, Simone’s ex-boyfriend Wiley (Jake McDorman) brings her to meet his group of aggrieved men who make up the Resistance and seem to have chosen the movie Fight Club as their masculinity manifesto. Their base? An off-the-grid top secret clubhouse based in an old hippo meat factory called the Hippo Campus … obviously the brains of the operation.
Simone’s first encounter with Wiley’s contrarian co-leader, JQ, nails the faux profundity of many a podcast bro as he clicks through her a painfully literal PowerPoint presentation (even the swear words are illustrated) while trying to have his “nobody can explain the Matrix” moment with her. Chris Diamantopoulos, who plays JQ, has described him as seeing himself as the lead in not just his own action movie, but everyone else’s action movie, too!
Wiley himself is hung up (for reasons that are more compassionately explored) on proving his worthiness through feats of masculinity, leading him to participate in one of the series’ most delightful set pieces in episode 3. Wiley is determined to prove himself to Simone by winning a Renaissance fair endurance contest called the Excalibattle, in which contestants compete to keep their hand on a giant sword (insert phallic imagery here). That’s it, that’s the proof, and it’s completely meaningless to her.
In the episode we find out that Wiley has, in the past, also tried to prove his masculinity to Simone on the rodeo scene in ways she didn’t ask for and which were not only completely irrelevant to her, but actively harmful to him. Could this be a metaphor for something? Don’t be silly, it’s just television.
The reluctant Chosen One, Simone is not only a woman, she’s a nun – no men allowed. And until Mrs Davis interfered, she seemed perfectly content in her cloister, making jam and loving Jesus. As the daughter of stage magicians Celeste (Elizabeth Marvel) and Monty (David Arquette), Simone grew up seeing the trickery behind the performance.
Her faith offers her the possibility of real mystery and wonder, along with a personal relationship with the divine, quite literally in the form of Jay (Andy McQueen). In Simone’s eyes, Mrs Davis is a usurper of mankind’s gift of free will and the discipline involved in any practise of spirituality. That bot has has to go.
AI and computer systems run amok in the following eight series and movies on Showmax:
- The Fear Index: Coming to Showmax on Friday, 23 June, this mini-series based on the 2011 novel by Robert Harris takes inspiration from the real-life Flash Crash of 2010. Scientist-turned-Wall Street tycoon Dr Alexander Hoffmann’s (Josh Hartnett) genius with algorithms underpins an AI system called VIXAL-4, which starts making risky stock market decisions, crashing the world’s stock markets and profiting off chaos. The series explores the possible outcome of an AI operating without meaningful personal risk or consequences.
- Westworld: This four-season dystopian sci-fi series explores what happens when sophisticated theme park automatons gain consciousness and start pushing back against the humans who abuse them for their amusement and pleasure. Reaping what we sow is the most terrifying of all fates.
- Robocop: This 2014 version of the 1987 sci-fi film about corporate-controlled robot policing sees good cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) transformed into an emotionless killing machine that masks its ultimate mission to protect the powerful by masquerading as a public servant and protector. Strip the word Robo out of the title and there are places in the world where you could tell the same story. The cast includes Samuel L Jackson, Michael Keaton and Gary Oldman, so go for a joy ride in this wee-waa wagon.
- Reminiscence: In this neo-noir science-fiction film Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman) runs an agency that allows clients to relive memories, and winds up in a moral danger zone when he falls in love with one client, Mae (Rebecca Ferguson). Given any mind-meddling interface, the fear is that when we find the right button, we won’t be able to resist the temptation to keep dressing it until it falls off.
- Ex Machina: Alex Garland (Never Let Me Go, Dredd) is the director behind this critically adored sci-fi thriller. Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson), a young computer programmer, asks Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac), the creator of an AI, why he chose to sexualise his robot, Ava (Alicia Vikander) – making it female, fit, and flirty. If the machines we make mirror who we are, that’s a problem when the makers are evil.
- Singularity: A supercomputer determines that human beings are the greatest threat to planet Earth, and sets out to wipe almost all of us out. Two centuries later just a handful of survivors remain in sanctuaries, in a world run by machines. It’s all the fears about being on the receiving end of colonisation, wrapped up in fears of human obsolescence in an AI world.
- The Matrix Resurrections: Middle-aged, burned-out computer game programmer Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is resurrected inside a new, much more dangerous Matrix – a reality controlled and created by computers – and needs to unlock his true identity to escape into a pointless and dreary reality. Ultimately, the fear is that computers have channelled us into living in the worst timeline because we rebelled against a better one.
- Demonic: Computers and AI have the potential to connect us to something overwhelming that our minds aren’t equipped to deal with. In this sci-fi horror film, South African filmmaker Neill Blomkamp tells the story of (literal) demons unleashed when a woman (Carly Pope) enters a simulator to confront her comatose mother.
Barry S4: If I get out of here, I'm coming for you
The White Lotus S2: Nothing but relaxation ... right?
More addictive shows to stream
New seasons of your favourite series, now streaming
The latest seasons of Power Book III, New Amsterdam, Bel-Air, Succession, Minx, Gossip Girl and more are all streaming on Showmax.
20+ addictive South African reality shows to stream
Stream The Real Housewives of Durban, This Body Works For Me and more of South Africa’s best reality shows on Showmax.
Made in South Africa
Lawyer up with 6 hard-hitting legal dramas
Legal dramas like Perry Mason, Suits and Billions raise the stakes for great TV and are available to stream on Showmax.
Hail to the thief in White House Plumbers and 6 more tales of political fails
Woody Harrelson makes history in White House Plumbers, a comedy-drama about the conspiracy of fools behind Watergate. Plus 6 more tales of political fails.