The Many Horrors of Netflix’s Midnight Mass

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
Mike Flanagan terrified us with The Haunting of Hill House and Bly Manor, but now he's back with a new goal: to make us believers. Instead of having us believe in ghosts this time, his new Netflix series Midnight Mass is making us believe in heaven and hell. The show takes place on a depressing island where a charismatic priest (played by Hamish Linklater) arrives, offering miracles that could renew the faith of the islanders — at a price. 
On Crockett Island, there is no bent-neck lady or lady in the lake to scare us, but there are unexplainable things happening, from dead feral cats to demon eyes glowing in the shadows. There's also enough eerie music and haunting spiritual quotes to never let you forget that something is coming for the quiet island and its devout inhabitants. But mostly you’ll find yourself thinking about what it means to be a believer; a believer in religion, in angels, in devils, and in second chances. (Don't worry — you'll get some relief in the form of a handsome Owen, for all those HanOwen fans out there.)
To help keep track of who is on God’s side, we’re including power rankings for each Midnight Mass episode recap to highlight who is closest to God and the one who has gotten a little too chummy with the devil.
Let the power of Christ compel you — if you dare.

Episode 1: “Book 1: Genesis” 

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Thanks to the flashing cop car lights, you can make out a Jesus fish bumper sticker on a totalled convertible, which appears to have suffered a head-on collision with a Volkswagen Beetle. Next to the scene, a cop finds a half-empty bottle of liquor as two EMT workers perform CPR on a young woman. Riley (Zach Gilford) looks over at the deadly damage he's done. His head is bloodied. He is despondent on the ground as they continue to perform CPR on the woman. “Is she okay?” he slurs. She’s not. He begins to repeat the Lord’s Prayer and the medic working on his wounds says, “While you’re at it, ask him why he always takes the kids, while the drunk fucks walk away with scratches.” 
In court, Riley is forced to face his actions when he is sentenced to four to 10 years in jail for the death of Tara-Beth. The victim's family watches as he accepts the sentence. In jail, he reads over a Bible that features an inscription, courtesy of his mum Annie (Kristin Lehman), from Genesis 39:21. The passage is about Joseph going from a servant of a powerful master to a prisoner for a crime he didn’t commit. His mum includes the passage as a means of comfort because it shows that while life isn’t always fair, God doesn't abandon people. Everything happens for a reason and his mom believes the reason behind Riley's journey will be revealed in time. But Riley can’t shut his eyes without seeing Tara-Beth: she looks like a deranged kaleidoscope with the blue lights flickering off her glass shard-filled face.
Four years later, Riley's out of jail and we’re on our way to his hometown of Crockett Island, population 127. The sleepy seaside town is a little worse for wear. St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, est. 1824, needs a good power washing before it welcomes back Monsignor Pruitt, their local clergy leader. They might also need a few more letters since Pruitt is spelled with a “1” and mass, which resumes on Sunday, has a “4” for the “a.” 
As Riley’s little brother Warren and his two friends make their way to the Uppards, the part of the island that has been taken over by feral cats, we see a man dragging a trunk into his home. When he bangs on the case, it bangs back. Before we can solve that mystery, we’re back with the boys who chat about cats that occasionally wash up on shore and Harpoon Harry, a killer who is believed to haunt the island. The boys get their own scare when a twig breaks in the distance, a sign that there might be something out there bigger than a cat. 
Riley’s arrival allows us to meet a few other islanders including Miss Bev Keane (Samantha Sloyan), a stern woman who is looking for Monsignor Pruitt. The 80-year-old Monsignor is losing it, according to Riley's little brother, and has been known to wander the island in a fedora and long coat. He’s hard to miss, yet no one saw him on the ferry returning from his pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
One of Warren's friends is the son of a familiar face, The Haunting of Bly Manor's Rahul Kohli. Here, he's the island's local law enforcement officer, Sheriff Hassan, and inexplicably has an office in the town's general store. When we meet him, we hear about the “giant albatross” that a drunken Joe (Robert Longstreet) claimed was following him before Hassan let him sleep off the booze in an unlocked jail cell. An albatross is bad luck, something the fishermen of the town know, but Hassan, who isn’t one of them, doesn’t. It’s a real Sheriff Brody situation as Hassan tries to prepare for an upcoming storm that has him getting pushback from the locals who are stuck in their ways. Worse, is the causal Islamophobia Miss Keane throws at him.
This is a town that appears to be full of castoffs. Riley’s mum mentions their longtime neighbours left without even listing their home, convinced no one would want to buy it anyway. Others can’t afford to pick up and leave. After “the spill'' three years ago, fishing has become nearly impossible and highly regulated. While the population sign says hundreds, it’s actually just dozens who remain in town, meaning we’ve met most of them in the first 20 minutes of this episode. Why would Riley or anyone else want to make a new start here? 
Yet he isn’t the only one who has returned. Erin (Kate Siegel) is also back, working at the school where her late mum used to teach. (A framed photo of Erin and Riley in his room teases these two have a past.) We also learn that the man with the trunk, Father Paul Hill (Hamish Linklater), is new to town and will be Monsignor’s replacement. It’s a temp situation, he assures them, but he already knows a lot about each and every person in town. He’s got his eyes on Riley, but Riley only has eyes for Erin. Both were once prodigal children but life hasn’t been kind. Erin returned after running away to upstate New York. She’s not ready to tell the story of her now-defunct marriage, but she says being pregnant with her unborn child she's named “Little Foot” saved her life. We also get some of Riley’s backstory: He made a lot of money in stocks and then a startup in Chicago before the accident. He's also an atheist.
Miss Keane is trying to figure out why the new Father is wearing gold, a colour for holy days, when he should be wearing green. He didn’t expect anyone to notice, but we already know Bev is aware of anything that seems off in her town. It’s safe to say something is off with Father Hill. Riley also doesn’t feel whole. “I have nothing,” he tells Erin. “I just exist now.”
Erin thinks he just needs to take things one day at a time. It’s really all anyone can do. But as he waits out the storm later that night (both literally and figuratively), Riley sees a man outside his window wearing a fedora and a long coat. When he goes out to find the man, who he assumes is the missing Pruitt, he runs off, disappearing before Riley can catch up with him. The next morning, Riley sees birds feasting on the bodies of dead cats that came in with the storm tide. Was it a monster or a man Riley saw last night? Let’s guess it was both. 
Closest To God: Anne
Riley’s mom prayed every day that her son was away. That is halo-worthy stuff. 
Devil’s Candy: Father Paul
Sure, he’s a man of the cloth, but there is definitely nothing holy about that trunk.

Episode 2: “Book II: Psalms”

Photo Courtesy of Netflix.
The seagulls are still picking at the waterlogged cat carcasses as Hassan tries to figure out if this is the result of a disease. Mayor Wade informs him that back in 2002 a flock of starlings fell out of the sky, so a disaster of Biblical proportions is not out of the ordinary for good ‘ol Crockett Island. But Hassan believes a predator got to these cats before they washed up onshore. Could the predator responsible be the thing we saw eating a cat in episode 1, or was it possibly the man Riley saw out in the storm? Was that really the real Monsignor? 
Leeza (Annarah Cymone) is clear about her dislike and disdain for Joe, the man we learn is responsible for her becoming wheelchair-bound. But theirs is not even the weirdest encounter: while looking for Windex at school, Erin finds Bev holding a can of poison which she claims to be using to kill off the rats around the town. We then get a bird’s eye view of something flying high above the island, landing with a thud on an abandoned home. Is this the albatross that Joe alluded to in episode 1?
It’s appropriate that the mass we walk in on marks the start of Lent, “the beginning of repentance, making amends for our sins,” as the Father says. Lent marks the 40 day countdown to Easter, which in Christianity is all about rebirth and resurrection. Paul gets emotional while preaching that like Jesus,  the island will rise again, and like Jesus’ apostles, the fisherman will find hope following the oil spill that ruined their businesses. It’s clear he thinks he can help, offering his parishioners a reading of Psalm 60: “God, you have rejected us. You have broken us down, you have been angry. Restore us again.” 
Psalms, which is the title of this episode, are songs of faith, Paul says, that can lead people out of the darkness. His powerful speech leaves some in tears and encourages Riley to get blessed, even if it is only for his mom’s sake. Dr. Sarah (Annabeth Gish) sees something else in Father Paul, though — a familiarity. She says that the Monsignor used to stare at her. Now she catches the new Father staring her down as if he knows something about her. It’s a clue that the new preacher has some connection to the old one. If he is some younger version of the Monsignor, it would explain why he’s so drawn to those from his church who stopped believing, like Riley, who he speaks to about resurrection and hosting AA meetings in town. Is it possible he’s back in some younger form looking for a second chance to convince them of God’s grace? 
He seems to have convinced Erin, who is back in the same house, sleeping in the same bed, working the same job as her late mother, who struggled with alcohol addiction. She’s trying to change, but she’s still an outsider. It’s a club that includes Sarah, Riley, and Joe, whose dog Pike is poisoned by someone — likely the poison-carrying dog-hating Miss Keane. She’s the most religious person in town, but she’s also the most diabolical as Riley explains to Father Paul in their meeting. Bev urged the island to take the settlement after the oil spill and then encouraged everyone to give that money back to the church, which really meant it went into her hands for the rec centre where he now sits. 
Riley has found power in forms of recovery that don’t focus on God. He’s more interested in learning to identify his addiction and controlling it on his own. Riley sees his addiction as a monster that he fed in hopes of keeping it at bay. But that didn’t work, and instead made the monster stronger until it eventually took over. He makes clear that he, not the monster, is to blame for what happened. It’s also clear he hasn’t forgiven himself for that night. He hasn’t forgiven God either. “He kind of let it happen, didn’t he?” Riley says of his drinking. The saying “God works in mysterious ways”  is a cop-out to him because nothing good came out of his drinking. So no, he doesn’t think suffering is a gift from God. Still, Father Paul asks him to consider that there is something good to be found in the bad, we must choose to see it. 
Even as Paul tries to have Riley see the light, a darkness is slowly spreading across the island. Erin sees a dark figure with glowing eyes outside her window and then sees spotting while going to the bathroom, something the doctor warned her of. The figure then pops up at Dr. Sarah’s mother’s window. “That face,” she says in horror, claiming she saw her late husband’s face. Finally, the entity ends up back at the abandoned house where it feasts on a local drug dealer.
The episode ends with Father Paul looking to perform a miracle as if to show Riley how powerful God is. It seems cruel at first, forcing the wheelchair-bound Leeza (Annarah Cymone) to walk to him for Communion. But somehow she stands and starts to walk, shocking herself in the process. For his next trick, Father Paul might just make Riley a believer.
Closest To God: Sarah
She’s not a true follower, but the doctor’s kindness, compassion, and care for everyone in town, even Pike, is sure to make the Man upstairs a fan of hers.
Devil’s Candy: Bev 
She may act like a holy roller, but poisoning a dog could earn you a one-way ticket to H-E-double-hockey-sticks.

Episode 3: “Book III: Proverbs” 

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The miracle man is giving his own confession. The following morning, Father Paul is going to sin. He’s going to lie about Pruitt’s whereabouts. The Monsignor is not recovering on the mainland, but he will say he is for the town’s own benefit. This confession, we soon see, came the day before he helped Leeza walk again. Of course, Bev, even while awestruck by this miracle, notices something is wrong with Father Paul. When he walks back to the rectory to compose himself after Leeza’s first steps, she follows, hearing him wretch up blood. She also sees a photo on the wall that stops her in her tracks. 
Leeza is now with Dr. Sarah trying to explain how she walked. Her parents believe it’s a miracle, but the doctor isn’t willing to make that proclamation. She wants to do more tests and see if this advancement could be used to help others. Leeza’s parents are apprehensive to send her to the mainland, explaining they’ve been bankrupted by looking for answers via the healthcare system. They don’t want to second guess a gift from God, but they also can’t afford to. 
Riley has time to question it though. He can rationalize that it was a misdiagnosis, but that doesn’t explain how Paul knew she could walk. But Paul knows his spiritual answer won’t suffice: He could just feel it. Others are feeling the effects of Paul too: Sarah’s mother’s hip is better, Riley’s mom doesn’t need her glasses, Ed’s back is healed, and suddenly Leeza is running. The island is coming back to life one cured ailment at a time. Yet Riley still can’t shake the visions of Tara-Beth. Is Father Paul infusing the Eucharist with some miracle compound? Well, whatever it is, it’s gotten butts in the pews. 
Paul tells the packed church that God gives mysteries that can’t always be explained, not miracles. He can’t even explain them himself, including his own medical problems like fainting during a sermon, which may frustrate people (maybe even the show’s audience). 
Flashback to his confession, and he’s telling the story of Saul becoming the Apostle Paul after speaking with Jesus. On the road to the miracle’s location in Damascus, Monsignor wanders off for the last time and finds an ancient ruin. It’s a light that draws him in — or maybe it’s just the light the doctor is shining in Father Paul’s face? Timelines are getting blurred now, and we’re back on the island. Sarah tells him he’s dehydrated, and he tells her he’s proud of her. A compliment that seems like it’s a long time coming, despite them just meeting recently. 
Joe is also met with a familiar face in Leeza who shows up at his trailer to tell him about that day he shot her. She didn’t feel it, but the not feeling was what scared her most, even more than her dad’s howls. “I hate you,” she tells him. And yet, she is willing to forgive him. She has been healed and she’s decided to pay it forward, allowing Joe a chance to heal too. “The only thing standing in my way was hate,” she tells him. “The only thing standing in your way is you.” 
The only thing standing in Miss Keane’s way is Hassan, who makes a fair argument against reading religious scripture in a public school. He’s not upset that his son is reading passages from the Bible, but he knows that if he gave out the Quran in school, Miss Keane would be in a tizzy. In response, she manages to give the most self-righteous sermon one has ever heard. Like Erin, I had a hard time hearing her negate every good point Hassan made, using her faith as a weapon to tear the community apart instead of bringing them together. 
The mysteries abound on this show, but the biggest might be why anyone sticks around this island. Joe’s reason? “It just felt too easy to leave,” he says, as if he thinks he didn’t deserve to get out, but now that he’s attending AA and working towards forgiving himself, he might actually be able to start over. Both he and Riley are looking for change but can’t seem to find it, which is why Riley says life probably doesn’t get any easier for them. But maybe if they keep trying, they can become different people. That hope is something Joe can work with. 
Hassan, on the other hand, is not as willing to let his son go to St. Patrick’s. Hassan’s Muslim faith ties back to his late wife. When he hears of miracles it’s insulting. Why would God cure Leeza, but not his wife, who, while suffering with pancreatic cancer, continued to honour Him? Faith is “not magic,” he says. But what do we call those glowing eyes that he sees outside his son’s window? Like Erin, he’s not a believer. Are they being punished for questioning the island’s blind faith? 
Father Paul is also being punished in a way. He seizures, throws up metallic blood, and then dies in front of Bev and Wade. “Darkness,” we hear Paul say, continuing his confessional story about Pruitt in the ruins. Monsignor manages to see a familiar pair of glowing eyes in the darkness until he strikes one match too many and is met with a winged creature that sucks the fear and pain out of him. While this monstrosity seems evil in nature, Monsignor believes it was an angel who restored his youth. The man we see exit the ruin is Father Paul, who is really the young Monsignor. 
His trunk stores the angel who he thinks can help others become anew. But this angel might have a dark side—or a cruel sense of humour. Just when you thought Father might be dead, he awakens. The miracle causes Bev to slip and call him Monsignor. That photo that had her in awe earlier this episode? Well, it was an old newspaper clipping that featured a photo of a young Pruit, or should we say, Father Paul. 
Closest To God: Leeza
Forgiving the man who shot you and left you paralysed might be the godliest thing anyone’s done on this show so far.
Devil’s Candy: Father Paul
I don’t think that’s an “angel” who turned him into his younger self. He might have been bamboozled by Beelzebub.
More to come.

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