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”
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 mom 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 mom 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 mom 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 mom 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.
More to come.