Netflix’s Midnight Mass: Nothing Good Ever Happens On an Island

Spoiler Alert

If you have any interest in watching this show, get the fuck out of here right now and watch it first. I want to discuss the show’s themes, characters, and ending, and to do that I have to, you know, talk about the show, and this is absolutely the sort of show you want to go into with as little foreknowledge as possible. I’ll be getting into some stuff immediately after the Spoiler Chocobo, so absolutely none of this article is safe. Proceed only if you’ve already watched it or want to read a bunch of speculation and theory on a show you have no plans on actually seeing. I mean, I think I’m funny, but not that funny.

Final warning: If you want to watch Midnight Mass and haven’t yet, make like a tree and fuck off.

Kweh.

We all good? Everyone here watched the show? You better not be lying to me. Okay, let’s go.

Jesus Fucking Christ

…is what my husband and I said at the end of every episode. This Mike Flanagan person sure knows how to ramp up the unease until it’s dread, and then blow right past dread into existential crisis territory. Your typical Flanagan production looks like this:

First Episode: Establishing the baseline terror level of the universe, which is usually already cranked a few notches higher than our universe.

Early Episodes: The show is a poorly pressurized submarine dragging you down into depths so dark you can only peek at what’s lurking around you.

Middle Episodes: Shit is popping off and you can no longer sleep without the bathroom light on.

Later Episodes: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

Final Episode: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa (muffled sobbing)

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

The only other work of his I have seen is The Haunting of Hill House, and the hidden ghosts in that one were enough to send me off the terror-ledge very early on. With Midnight Mass, though, it was less outright fear and more…Jesus fucking Christ.

Don’t Say the ‘Zed’ Word

Yeah, that leathery motherfucker was a vampire.

I will not be listening to any disagreement on this one. You want to talk about how that thing is actually some fucked up angel you go make your own blog and write about it there. Make a YouTube video about it. I don’t care. This is my page, and I’m calling it like I see it.

This asshole:

  1. Looks like that
  2. Gets burned in the sun
  3. Feeds off human blood
  4. Can turn others into vampires like himself by feeding them his blood and then killing them

Ack-twua-lly, he can go into people’s houses without an invitation! And he could share a space with holy relics! And he was more a man-bat, not so much a man who could turn into a bat, so CLEARLY he wasn’t ACK-TWUA-LLY a vampire.

Do y’all hear yourselves when you talk like that? This is why you’re single, Brian.

There’s a handful of traits that pop culture has glommed onto lately, but vampire myths include a wide variety of fucked-up-ed-ness for creators to choose from. Did you know The Count from Sesame Street is a vampire because in eastern European folklore vampires were obsessive to the point of having to count literally everything in front of them? I’ve only ever seen that in one other version of vampires and it was that one off episode of The X-Files.

Vampires aren’t real, so you can do whatever you want. Stephanie Meyers’ vampires are vampires because they kill people and drink their blood and, most importantly, because Meyers says they are. Hell, there are myths about vampires that don’t drink blood, instead feeding off energy or emotions whatever.

So, yeah, he’s missing some of the bigger traits that Hollywood likes to use, but when this batwinged fuckface is so intensely obsessed with fresh blood he doesn’t notice he’s getting mutilated, I think we’re still hanging out in Vampire Country.

The show goes to great lengths to not say the V Word. By halfway through the show we were speculating if this took place in some sort of alternate dimension where somehow vampires were real by vampire myths weren’t, much like it seems everyone who lives through a slasher movie has never even heard of Friday the 13th. But a scene in the sixth episode cuts to the doctor saying something about ‘these myths’ and hitting that second word pretty hard, so ultimately I think the show was just being coy.

Which Means All of the These People Had to Know What Was Going On

At least, on some level. They had to realize that everything that was happening to them checked off a lot more ‘vampire’ boxes than ‘angels and miracles’ boxes. But they all had their own reasons for ignoring it.

Pruitt/Paul has almost completely lost his mental faculties when he trips into the buried chamber and finds the vampire, and it’s honestly a darkly hilarious situation. Man with serious dementia thinks a vampire is an angel. You could plug that idea into What We Do in the Shadows. In the final episode, he reveals that after he had been restored the only thing he could think of the entire way back to the island was saving the love his life, Millie, in the same way, and as much admits that blinded him to the true nature of his ‘angel.’

The same sort of logic is what keeps the mayor and his wife on the crazy train. Before they knew anything about what was going on, they knew that Father Paul had performed a miracle and given their daughter use of her legs back. Even as evidence mounts for them that what happened was not an act of God, they have to ignore it all. Because if what is happening is evil, what happened to their daughter is evil, and they can’t mentally handle that.

I fully cannot explain what was going on in Sturge’s mind at any given moment in this show.

And then there’s Bev God Damned Keane, who I discuss in detail here.

The Scene That Fucked Me Up the Most

You might think it’s the church scene at the end of the sixth episode, and yes, I was sore for a few days after watching that one because I had every muscle clenched so tight. But even worse than that were the scenes in episode five after Riley wakes up.

Every single part of the second half of the fifth episode was suffocating. They never say the V word, but I’m willing to bet Riley knew the real score by the time Bev shoved her gross neck in his face if not before. So, he’s stuck sitting there, trying to wrap his head around the fact that vampires exist and now he’s apparently one of them, while Father Dude sits in front of him and tries to use this situation to sell him on God. Again. Some more.

Riley probably chose to end it before he ever left that room. He could see the truth: it wasn’t a miracle. It was trading one addiction for another, and this new addiction would definitely leave a string of bodies behind him and he hasn’t even gotten over the first one.

There was just…so much about this that made me existentially uncomfortable. The helplessness of this new situation, where all you need is honest help, but instead you get locked in a room with a crazy person who won’t let you leave until you tell him everything he wants to hear.

Man, it’s super awesome that’s not a representation for what highly vulnerable people are often subjected to by religious groups just to get any sort of help or something.

What The Fuck Killed Father Paul?

One of the things I really liked about this show is how much they don’t spell out for you. There’s a lot of little details the show trusts you’re going to work out for yourself.

Part of the tHeY’rE nOt VaMpIrEs confusion comes from the fact that for the first few weeks (too many fffffffs, help) Father Paul is walking around unaffected by the daylight. But, for the first few weeks, he wasn’t a vampire, just a human being sustained on vampire blood. Then, at the end of episode three, he keels over in front of Bev Keane and a few others and dies in a manner suspiciously similar to the way the dog died. Next time we see him, he’s burning up in the sun and killing innocents coming to him for help with no guilt.

The thing is, the show never fully explains how he died. A popular theory was that Bev figured out ‘Paul’ was actually Pruitt and was forcing some kind of miracle, but he was shown having stomach cramps and passing out before Bev saw the old news article with the picture of a young Pruitt (which he really should have taken down once he got home, but obviously there are some gaps in the good priest’s mentation). The two best theories I have are:

  1. A human can only drink so much vampire blood before eventually it starts poisoning him, and Father Paul/Pruitt was practically doing keg stands with the stuff.
  2. Bev Keane did poison him, just not directly. She stated she was leaving the stuff out to kill whatever had killed all the stray cats, and we know the batwinged fuckface was killing critters on the island until it was time to graduate to the humans. The poison wouldn’t hurt him, obviously, but it probably stewed in his blood and that’s how it got into Father Paul.

The second explanation is my favorite, because it would explain why he died frothing at the mouth like the dog did. Ultimately, though, the show doesn’t give a straight answer and leaves you to figure it out for yourself, because it doesn’t really matter how he died. Just that he did, and now he’s a full vampire and ready to carpe the fuck out of the noctem.

A Teenage Muslim Walks Into a Catholic Church…

Another example of the ‘figure it out, fuckos’ attitude the show has is poor Ali and the whole church thing. His dad was barely letting him go in the first place, solely to keep the peace, and before he went for the first time had an exchange about the sacrament. Ali says he won’t take it, and the sheriff tells him he’s not allowed to, anyway.

Which, by all normal Catholic rules, he isn’t. Because he’s not Catholic. I think, at the very least, you need to have First Communion? I don’t know, I only ever got as far as First Communion and I have vague memories of CCD and they’re not of anything I learned, just sense memories of sitting in a classroom after dark with a workbook in front of me, and all these websites I’m looking at use a lot of big words, but anyway, the basic rule is No Catholic = No Communion. So, yeah, in a regular situation Ali would have had to hang back when everyone went up for their bland crackers and day drinking.

At the end, when Ali drinks the Flavor-Aid…Wait

Bev Keane Is So Fucked Up She Doesn’t Even Bother with the Flavor-Aid

It’s just straight poison. Look at those cups, that liquid is completely see-through. Like, are you shitting me? You can’t even drop some powdered ice tea in those things? What the fuck, you lemon faced bitch.

Okay, anyway…

Teenagers Are Stupid

All teenagers, everywhere, are fucking idiots. Like, yeah, fine, if I was a teenager and the local church had actual miracles instead of weekend lock-ins where a youth pastor tried to be hip and all the kids pretended they weren’t horny, I might have been more interested. And, yeah, if I were fifteen and my mom died and the first thing my dad did was move me from a major city to some cracker-filled island in the middle of nowhere where I’m the odd man out, I’d be pissed too. But, just…

“I choose God,” he says.

What a stupid, teenagery thing to say. “I choose God,” are you kidding me? You have very much already chosen God your entire life. It’s the same dude with a different name, you have to know this. It’s why I love this line, because it is exactly what a teenager pissed at his dad and not thinking straight would say in that moment, making his life into a movie.

Anyway, I thought Ali was fucking dead, because strictly speaking he shouldn’t have had the sacrament. But I wasn’t surprised when he popped back up a few minutes later. They never explicitly showed Pruitt breaking the rules and giving Ali the sacrament, but of course he was. He wanted as many people on the island to take it as possible, and he’d already shown that as far as he was concerned, the traditional Catholic rules were out the window. I’m amazed he wasn’t out there with a Super Soaker, shooting everyone one in the face with it.

“I’m Afraid It Was the Buddhists. Yes, the Buddhists Were the Correct Answer.”

I mean, I don’t know about real life. Also, I don’t even really know for the show. But that sure seems to be the conclusion Erin Greene comes to.

In his guest essay on Bloody Disgusting, Mike Flanagan goes into detail on the creation of Midnight Mass, including his own history with religion. The short and relevant part: raised Catholic to the point of being an altar boy, went to college and started questioning religion, and “connected pretty intensely with Buddhism for a few years.” A fact which greatly explains Erin Greene’s monologue as she’s dying:

“Myself. My self. That’s the problem. That’s the whole problem with the whole thing. That word, ‘self.’ That’s not the word. That’s not right, that isn’t…that isn’t…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 remember I am energy. Not memory. Not self. My name, my personality, my choices, all came after me. I was before them and I will be after and everything else is pictures, picked up along the way…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 its infinite dreams. We are the cosmos dreaming of itself…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 on into eternity. And I am all of it. I am all. I am that I am.”

This is a pretty perfect explanation of Buddhism’s rejection of the self. I don’t consider myself a Buddhist, but in the stressful parts of my life I turn to Buddhism, and I recognized what she was describing instantly. I don’t even need to explain the not-self tenant of Buddhism because it’s all there, in the monologue. Here’s a video summing it up in a minute and a half.

It’s practically word for word what Erin says: the human ‘self’ is really a collection of experiences, but beyond that there is no distinction between a human and the rest of the universe. Her use of “I am that I am,” a common English translation for what the burning bush tells Moses in the Hebrew bible, sums up her interpretation: the entire universe put together is God, and I am the entire universe, so I am God.”

It is a little curious for Erin Greene, raised Catholic and still Catholic up to her death, to come to such a conclusion as she’s dying. Most of Buddhism doesn’t exactly jive with Christianity, especially this part: the idea that there is no self or soul is very much not what Christianity teaches. That the very Catholic Erin Greene would have such a revelation upon her death feels like Mike Flanagan is making a statement about the true nature of death. At least, in this fictional universe.

Anyway, I’m Pissed Because the Show Beat Me to the Punch

With all these hymns getting sung throughout the show, I wanted to make a joke that the only hymn anyone should be singing is “Nearer My God to Thee,” because this fucking ship is going down.

And then that ending.

Yeah, I was crying. But I was also pissed. How dare you make the same reference I was going to use.

(It’s the last song purportedly played by the band as the Titanic went down, by the way. Just in case you weren’t also a tween when Titanic came out and became mildly obsessed for a few months.)

I Know Way More About Vampires Than I Do About Religion

So, you know, if I messed anything up dissecting this wide-awake nightmare, let me know. About religion. Like I said, they were fucking vampires and I don’t want to hear any different from anyone.

I’ve got a whole article for next week about why Bev Keane is a pasty-faced bitch who should have been set on fire long before the end, so click here!


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