The opening shot of Midnight Mass limited series on Netflix India is of a car crash with a policeman lifting a liquor bottle from the smashed vehicle. Shift to the court and prison scene we presume this to be a horror series in an urban setting. When an apparition appears to the accused, Riley, we have our first jump scare moment. These moments of modernity and scare are far and few. This is neither a haunting nor a prison narrative. This is an altogether different drama peppered with deep philosophy and enigma.
The plot soon shifts to Crockett island, a sleepy fishing village. It has a dwindling population reeling under the aftermath of an oil spill and disenchantment of youngsters, who are fast heading to the cities. The despondent and resigned-to-fate villagers are suddenly woken from slumber by the arrival of a young priest, Father Paul, who has replaced their old and ailing village priest. He bestows energy with enigmatic sermons and compassion, getting in touch with people, offering an ear and advice, and the Holy Communion.
Revelations in the middle of the series are preceded by a miracle, accompanied by confession, setting into motion a bizarre set of occurrences. A lot of time and attention goes into building up the primary characters. From anger to apathy, forgiveness, and sympathy, through trials and tribulations, and homecomings, we see an entire gamut of emotions build up a profound narrative. There is suspense, horror but mostly sadness and questions as people navigate their lives. Father Paul’s sermons can be heavy on those not acquainted with the Holy Bible.
Conversations between people are the most impactful. My favorite is in Episode 4, between Riley and Erin, where they take turns to describe “What happens when you die?” It is a discourse to be revisited and applauded, as one tackles the physical connotations of death, and the other expresses it at a metaphysical level. Both are achingly beautiful. Even if you do not watch the series, watch this discourse starting at 27:50 minutes. The discussions in the AA meetings between Riley and Father Paul are also insightful.
Another conversation that stands out is between the village doctor and the sheriff, a practicing Muslim. He tells the doctor how 9/11 transformed the lives of men like him and brought them down from positions of importance to men clinging to their endangered dignity. It is poignant – nothing that we do not know of – but necessary to remind us of the injustice and discrimination. The wheat and chaff are not always separated and end up with the same crushing fate.
Midnight Mass is heavy-duty and not binge-watch material. The shadow of life and beyond life falls heavy on Crockett island. Demons are lurking in the dark with ghosts from the past, but the most dangerous are the secrets and desires that hide within us. This limited series will engage viewers in a meaningful discussion on community, sacrifice, suffering, and of course the good and diabolic. It is a serious watch with the mysterious and mystic thrown into the human cauldron. It touches upon science and religion, atheism and faith, and even nonconforming relationships.
Dramatized by extremely talented artists, this series brings out the beauty of the Church and its rituals and the truly devout, who try not to yield to temptation till the end. It also invokes the ugly and ruthless. Not all who pray are free of malice, not all who profess the Holy Word interpret it in the best interest of the masses. This is a story of lust, faith, fanaticism, spirituality, metaphysics, and of some flawed, forsaken men and women.
Not all angels are divine and not all faithful are without evil. There is, however, goodness and divinity in most people, irrespective of religious leanings or life philosophies. The most devout can treat someone as a pariah and harbor hatred for others. While the simple-minded can cradle compassion. For me, this is the deeper meaning that the bold series attempts to explore.
It is one of the best series I have watched in a long time, worth the effort and patience, especially as it all makes sense in the last episode. I understand the series will have a limited audience. Not all can appreciate and comprehend the Biblical reference and the Catholic church rituals. It could have culminated in one episode less had it not been for the long passage recitations and monologues calling upon the faithful. I do see how these scenes help to build the passion and justify the flawed and seemingly faithful, as they drive the islanders to penultimate misery. Midnight Mass is not for mass entertainment but for a chosen few looking for an intelligent series that stays with them long after.
Trigger warning: Blood and gory scenes.
For Riley’s description of death read this Elephant Journal article.