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Midnight Mass (2021): A Spiritual Awakening




Promo Image for Midnight Mass show with a group of people walking in the dark with lanterns.
Midnight Mass Promo

Midnight Mass is a slow-burn horror series exploring the impact of spirituality, our place in the universe, and the horrors that we face when religion is contorted and weaponized. Gabe talks about how this is a personal story for Flanagan and shares their own personal history with religion. Kat talks about the inevitability and inequity of death. Both Ghouls discuss the moments of the show that have forever changed them.


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Midnight Mass (2021)

An isolated island community experiences miraculous events - and frightening omens - after the arrival of a charismatic, mysterious young priest.

 




Midnight Mass: The Road to Hell is Paved With Good Intentions

by gabe castro


RED: Quotes, someone else's words.


Summary

Midnight Mass is a slow-burn horror series exploring the impact of spirituality, our place in the universe, and the horrors that we face when religion is contorted and weaponized. Set on a remote island community called Crocket Island, the story follows the townspeople’s small lives as they’re greatly impacted by the arrival of a young, enigmatic priest named Father Paul.


We join the island in a time of returns and arrivals. We’re first introduced to Riley Flynn who is returning to the island after being released from prison. After a tragic accident that left a young woman dead and Riley forced to sober up. Also returned to the island is Riley’s childhood best friend and first love, Erin who, now pregnant, lives in her deceased, abusive mother’s home and works her mother’s job as a teacher in the tiny school. New sheriff Hassan is finding his place in a community reluctant to acknowledge their prejudices. And finally, with the arrival of Father Paul which means the delayed return of the town’s monsignor Pruitt. 


As Father Paul settles into the community, miraculous events start occurring, including healings and strange occurrences that suggest a divine presence. The islanders, desperate for hope and meaning, embrace the miracles, leading to a revival of faith among them. However, as the miracles escalate and people's deepest desires and secrets come to light, the true nature of Father Paul's presence and the source of the miracles become increasingly ominous.


As tensions rise and suspicions mount, the islanders find themselves facing a terrifying truth about the origins of Father Paul's powers and the sinister force that has infiltrated their community. The series explores themes of faith, guilt, redemption, and the consequences of unchecked ambition, all set against the backdrop of a haunting and atmospheric island landscape.


Ultimately, Midnight Mass builds to a gripping and emotionally resonant conclusion that challenges viewers to confront their own beliefs and the nature of good and evil. It is a thought-provoking and chilling exploration of the human condition and the mysteries of faith and spirituality.


A Personal Story

Midnight Mass had been a long time coming. The idea was a founding idea of Flanagan’s, ever present in his other works that paved the way for him to create this incredibly personal show. The beginning scene of the show is referenced in Flanagan’s film, Hush, when the protagonist’s computer screen shows the first lines of her novel. As he began creating his other amazing series, he held strong to the script for Midnight Mass and while filming Bly Manor, Flanagan was out location scouting for his other show. Flanagan grew up as an altar boy, his life very much tied to the church until he went to college where he was first introduced to other concepts of religion. He dove into these other ideologies, trying to find one that fit. All the while, he struggled with alcoholism and recovery. The show is an expression of this journey and it took on a new form as the time went on and his relationship with sobriety changed to something firm. 


“It’s a very different show with three years of sobriety behind me than it would have been before that. I feel like it would have been an incomplete conversation,” shared Flanagan in an interview.  “Those conversations were so inseparable in my head, that this show was always where they were just kind of dumped. It’s where they lived as a record of my perspective of sobriety through various points of my life — in the full grips of it, in the denial of it, and the acceptance of it.” 


The Road to Hell is Paved With Good Intentions:

As someone who grew up in the church (Christian not Catholic), I resonated heavy with this show. I expected a horror show where a religious town is monstrified by its devotion to faith to, in the end, vilify religion. To criticize and scrutinize religious practice and warn others against organized religion. But I didn’t find that in the conclusion of Midnight Mass. What I found instead was understanding. A true understanding of the impact of religion, belief, guilt, shame, and the innate need for acceptance and forgiveness. 


There’s a conversation in the film (of which there are many that stick with me), where the real villain of the story, Bev, a religious, hateful, monster of a woman is confronted by Sheriff Hassan who found fault with his young, Muslim son being given a Bible in school. During this exchange, she makes horrid remarks about Hassan’s culture and the Quran which he respectfully addresses and redirects to her. This whole scene is brilliant, showing the ignorance Americans have about the Quran. An ignorance I, myself, had at a young age when I was also religious. I have a strong memory of being introduced to and taught about the Quran by a close family friend who told me how it was very much like the Bible I had been raised to believe in. No more violent or less forgiving. In this scene, Bev makes a dig at Hassan and the Quran, mentioning its profound violence. She follows this up by saying she would never preach about Lot in the school (missing the entire point that no part of the Bible should be taught in public schools) because of its violence. 


But that point was what struck me. That both these texts are quite violent. I grew up hearing Bible stories (including the horrifying Lot) as bedtime stories, now I understand them as stories you shouldn’t be telling children. They were more like scary stories than bedtime stories. Flanagan understands the brutality of the Bible and how it can blend so fluidly into the horror genre. 


“When I was a kid and in Bible study, the horror elements embedded in the Bible are impossible to ignore,” Flanagan shared. “You’ve got angels patrolling through Egypt and slaughtering the firstborn. You’ve got the river turning to blood. You’ve got plagues of locusts, and a pillar of fire. And you’ve got a God who’s thrilled to just murder people at will and full of wrath. You’ve got demons, you’ve got talking serpents, you’ve got people being torn apart, torture, and it’s all there.”


The Bible can be a horrific thing already, but these already cultish practices are further twisted into maliciousness with the introduction of the Angel (vampire). 


Concurrent to these horrors is forgiveness and the comfort that comes from the eternal, unconditional love that Christ is supposed to offer. Ultimately, Midnight Mass is a very human story blended heavily with supernatural elements. Each of the people on this island felt real. In discussing our plan for this episode, Kat, who does not know the Christian/Catholic religion, reasonably asked how this group of people could be ignorant of the fact that they were bringing about the Apocalypse. This question is why I appreciated the show so greatly. 


Father Paul, later revealed to be a rejuvenated (see: reborn) Monsignor  Pruitt truly believed he was doing the right thing. He was never a villain in my eyes. He becomes corrupt and unhinged but I felt he always had the best intentions. 


An interview with the actor, Hamish Linklater, who played Father Paul spoke on this role and the desire to portray a good-natured, well-meaning person confronting some dark truths. We, as viewers, had to trust him as much as the townspeople did. Linklater asked,  “How do you take somebody who you think is a rational person, or a person of faith, or a person that you think is a little like you and walk them into this place where they would willingly kill themselves for an idea?” 


He continued in that interview saying, “One of my first conversations with Mike was, ‘I’m playing a priest in this genre. I just want to make sure you don’t want me to be skewed, or sinister, or scary, or anything like that.' The guy is trying to do the right thing all the way through it, as far as his understanding of what the right thing is.”


I felt that Monsignor truly cared for his people, and after experiencing what he did and in a moment of true vulnerability with the baggage of a lifetime of religion and regret, he thought something profound and biblical had happened to him. That he'd been shown the light and a way to help his people. He also was just a man. He was swayed by his interests and desires. And if the Bible is to be believed, then I think that's precisely how it would happen. We wouldn't know we were bringing on the Apocalypse. We wouldn't know to stop it, because we were the ones bringing it. 


The apocalypse won’t look like a big bad evil, because then we'd stop it. It's supposed to happen. It has to happen. Just like Jesus had to die in the horrific way he did. So what better way to ensure it happens than to make it look like a good thing? (preaching as a former religious child). 


A Spiritual Awakening

Where the Conjuring series’ approach to Catholicism is uncultured, unnecessary, and manipulative, Midnight Mass is a story told from a true fan, someone who understands religion in its beauty and horror.  I’ve said before that I find Flanagan to be a huge fanboy. He so greatly loves, appreciates, and understands the founding media he is influenced by in his shows and it comes through beautifully. In the Haunting of Hill House, something so much his own resonates with a love and appreciation for Shirley Jackson, haunted houses, and the horror genre. Bly Manor too is a love letter to grief in horror and in life. And in this show, I can see his dedication, appreciation, and honest critique of religion. Midnight Mass is a story about spirituality. It’s about hope and perseverance. Flanagan shares the impact of his upbringing in the church and shares how it can be healing and helpful. As a fan he comes from a place of care, cautioning against the misuse of religion. How easily it can be turned into a weapon in the wrong hands when fanaticized, when it is no longer about a higher being, a question about our place in the world and what it means to be a good person and instead, revolves around people and placing them in positions of power. His passion for blending horror with reality elevates his work every time. As the New York Times noted in a recent profile, “Flanagan has earned a reputation for what might be called humanistic horror ... while never skimping on the nightmare fuel, [he] believes that horror can offer something deeper.”


In one of the other incredibly impactful conversations (again, of which there are many), Bev is confronted in the end by Riley’s mother, Annie. Finally, Bev is told what we’ve all been thinking, “You are not a good person.” It’s just desserts and it feels good to see her sinister smile falter. But the line that stayed with me most is when Annie Flynn accepts her son, in all his sin. She acknowledges that yes, he was an addict and he took someone’s life but that makes him no less her son and even more importantly, it does not make God love him any less. She says, “God loves him, just as much as He loves you, Bev. Why does that upset you so much?” 


It’s in this moment that we can confront the real villain (not taking any of the onus off of Monsignor who People’s Temple’s his town), and that is the bastardization of religion. The corruption of it and the making it into a weapon. For me, Bev was the biggest villain of all because, unlike Monsignor who believed he was helping others, Bev was always trying to control them and to be above them. She represented the flimsy American Christian ideals that infect and corrupt our government. In an article on The University of Chicago Divinity School titled, Midnight Mass and the Spectre of Terror, writer Sahar Ghumkhor shares, “It is likely that many people will view this series as one that warns of the fanaticism inherent to religion, against which secular prophets have long sounded the alarm. But Midnight Mass presents something far more interesting. The social rot in the island community had sunk in even before the revitalization of the church made it a prey for fundamentalists. One cannot watch the show without reflecting on our current times, the contagion of Trumpism, the resurgence of ethnonationalism, and proliferating conspiracies. We are being warned of the threats of human depravity, the breakdown of community, a looming insularity, and how these dangers can stir the monster within us, a monster that can don the mask of piety.”


In a review on Vox by Aja Romano titled, Why I felt betrayed by Netflix’s Midnight Mass, they share the eerie reality that a character like Bev mirrors. Saying, “Bev’s complete readiness to usher in the book of Revelations might sound over the top, but it really isn’t. As I watched Midnight Madness, I was frequently reminded of Mississippi governor Tate Reeves, who recently defended his leadership of the state with the worst pandemic death toll in the US by claiming that people who believe in the afterlife “don’t have to be so scared of things.” 


Midnight Mass is a story of redemption, rebirth, and acceptance of our place in the world. What happens when we release ourselves from the heavy burden of mattering, of having a “place in the world,”? Instead, we become the cosmos dreaming of itself. Released from obligation to ourselves. “Myself. My self. That’s the whole problem with the whole thing. That word, “self.” That’s not the word. That’s not right,” shares Erin in her final moments. “The electrons of my body mingle and dance with the electrons of the ground below me and the air I’m no longer breathing. And I remember there is no point where any of that ends and I begin. I remember I am energy. Not memory. Not self. My name, my personality, my choices, all came after me.”


In a personal essay on Bloody Disgusting, Flanagan shares his belief in the supernatural saying, “I don’t believe in miracles in the way they’re described in the Bible. But I do believe in miracles in a different way. The miracles in our lives, some we make, some simply happen to us. The miracles of parenthood, of creation, of growth, and of forgiveness. This show is a miracle, I do believe that. It’s a tiny, fragile bubble, and it clung on for years and years, finally coming into existence quietly, delicately in between moments of seismic, continental shifts in our world.


Religion, I believe, is one of the ways we attempt to answer the two Great Questions that ache within us all: “how shall we live,” and “what happens when we die.” I don’t know the answer to the second question (although my thoughts, wishes, and even my best guess are articulated in this show), but Midnight Mass has, over the years, helped me at least begin to answer that first question.”

As Erin lies dying, she spends moments reuniting with the universe. Monsignor Pruitt reconciles with a life he was denied. Sheriff Hasson and his son, Ali pray in the face of a rising sun. And Bev contends with the meaninglessness of her existence, a life wasted on wanting and needing superiority. And the town of Crocket sang to the Heavens, forgiving each other and themselves for the horrors they wrought, accepting their human faults, and releasing those sins to a higher being. Returned to the cosmos to dream another day.

 



Midnight Mass: the Inevitability and Inequity of Death

by Kat Kushin


RED: Quotes, someone else's words.


The Inevitability of Death

Death is something that has loomed over humanity and much of philosophical and religious thought for much of human existence. Our mortality and its inevitability and inescapability can either be interpreted as life's greatest horror, or the most beautiful thing we can do. Midnight Mass, and much of Flanagan’s work centers around this. Death, Belief, Legacy, and what it all means to us as people. Flanagan likes to play with these concepts and how they intersect with things like Addiction, mental health, grief, familial trauma, capitalism and religion in his shows. In Midnight Mass these themes are just as present, with special focus on how all those themes intersect with religious fanaticism, and belief in its purest form. The big question we see grappled with over and over is, if humans believe in heaven and an afterlife, why do humans cling so heavily to consciousness? If death is inevitable and inescapable, the same question applies? Why spend time fearing and fighting something that we cannot prevent and is a natural part of the life cycle? You see many religious ideas explored in the show in a deeply emotional way surrounding death. Flannagan proposes something interesting though, in the outro speech of Erin. 


She says: The body stops a cell at a time, but the brain keeps firing those neurons. Little lightning bolts, like fireworks inside, and I thought I’d despair or feel afraid, but I don’t feel any of that. None of it. Because I’m too busy, I’m too busy in this moment. Remembering. Of course. I remember that every atom in my body was forged in a star. This matter, this body is mostly just empty space after all, and solid matter? It’s just energy vibrating very slowly and there is no me. There never was…I was before them, and I’ll be after, and everything else is pictures, picked up along the way. Fleeting little dreamlets printed on the tissue of my dying brain. And I am the lightning that jumps between. I am the energy firing the neurons and I’m returning. Just by remembering, I’m returning home. And it’s like a drop of water falling back into the Ocean of which it’s always been a part. All things… a part. All of us… a part. You, me and my little girl, and my mother and my father, everyone who’s ever been, every plant, every animal, every atom, every star, every galaxy, all of it. More galaxies in the universe than grains of sand on the beach. And that’s what we’re talking about when we say “God”. The one. The cosmos and it’s infinite dreams. We are the cosmos dreaming of itself. It’s simply a dream that I think is my life, every time. But I’ll forget this. I always do. I always forget my dreams.

But now, in this split second, in the moment I remember, the instant I remember, I comprehend everything at once. There is no time. There is no death. Life is a dream. It’s a wish. Made again and again and again and again and again and again and on into eternity. And I am all of it. I am everything. I am all. I am that I am.


In unpacking that speech we see that Flanagan is not trying to give us the answer, but an answer for what comes next. If heaven is being with those you love, being home, than returning to everything, and returning to the earth seems similar and comforting. At first when watching I felt conflicted that so few escaped the disaster, that all of my favorite characters had to return their energy to the earth, but it also felt intentional. To have almost everyone, in all their differing viewpoints, in all their differing feelings and emotions, all returning together. Realizing all the desperation and clinging to life they spent the whole show doing, that death, and ending was inevitable. 


If death is our great equalizer it is important to recognize the intersectionality of that. That our mortality is sped up by socio-economic factors perpetuated by society and various oppressive forces. So while I do agree that everything and everyone dies, it would be false to call the exodus from consciousness a truly equal or equitable process. Sometimes we aren’t given or afforded the things we need to be here,  or are taken from consciousness quicker than other people who have more resources, and that’s not fair. My theory for why we cling to this version of consciousness is two fold. First, we get attached to this version of consciousness because it’s tangible, certain, and all encompassing, we feel it in an easy to grasp way. Second, is because in a capitalistic world filled with an abundance of suffering, we get attached to existence through love and connection to those around us. The more we crave connection, and attachment, an inherent human behavior, the more we will fear death, because even if we are us when we leave, we won’t be the exact same again. There are people we leave behind for a period of time, and how we exit deeply impacts them. 


What we Leave Behind

We also aren’t taught enough about death, or what we leave behind when it intersects with capitalism. So as someone who recently had to help close an estate I say, if you have the time, research it. Make a will, leave letters and words for your loved ones. We should all want better for those we leave behind, even if only temporarily, so that they can enjoy the time they have on this earth and find closure in our exodus. To use the ending of the show as an example it’d be a kinder ending if the only two survivors of the atrocities seen in this show had more than an old row boat to show for everything they experienced. So if you are leaving people behind, it’d be kinder to leave them behind with more than a ton of trauma, no economic resources, and without the things they need to survive. 


The main thing I would fear of death is the pain of it, the uncertainty of it. I think my worst nightmare is dying and not knowing what was happening, so I couldn’t say what I needed to because I had the lie of more time. Ultimately the show seemed to leave us with an understanding that peace comes from being kind to each other, just like how in the final moments before the run rose, people joined together to take in a moment of kindness, with the exception of Bev. And that in trying to cling to life in a desperate or destructive way we are not being kind to those who live on after us. In clinging to life we as humans are willing to do awful things, and hurt each other. All of which is pointless when we think about how inevitable it all is. 


What we face after Death

There is something interesting about the mental state of each person at the close of the show, but the most interesting to me was Bev. In accepting the afterlife, and the inevitability of it, Bev seemed to fear accountability above all things. She knew that Riley’s mother was right about her, that the Sheriff was right about her, that she was not a good or kind person while she was on the earth. And in looking at the theories surrounding the afterlife, if there is a heaven, but also a hell, Bev’s fear of leaving this world makes more sense to me. While the bulk of the town faced death and the consequences of their actions head on because they had otherwise lived kind and caring lives, Bev still ran from that reality, because she knew if there was a heaven in the way she understood it, she would not go there. Death is scarier when you know you lived a life of harm and cruelty without consequence. So with that character analysis in mind, our fear of death could align with our guilt or shame surrounding the actions we took in life. That if consequences did not come to us in this life, that they will find us eventually. 


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