At Midnight Mass‘Crockett Island, every islander feels in the throes of misfortune. The recent oil spill nearly wiped out the fish supply, causing the island’s local fishing economy to plummet. Their homes are shattering and flaking, neglecting the elements of the ocean. The majority of residents have fled the island for lack of opportunities, leaving some paltry behind them. Only two ferries can take them to the mainland. Hope is lacking and a major storm is looming on the horizon.
There is no shortage of reasons to be a God-fearing Christian on this island.
It is therefore not surprising that Midnight Mass sends the public directly to St Patrick’s Church, a small Catholic parish that functions as the heart of Crockett’s social life. Run by old Monsignor Pruitt and micromanaged by Bev Keane (Samantha Sloyan), a young right-thinking fanatic, the church seems mundane. But when Bishop Pruitt does not return from his trip to the Holy Land, an enigmatic new Father Paul (Hamish Linklater) takes the pulpit in his place and the meaning of faith for parishioners changes in real time.
Anything beyond that for this seven-episode series is a real spoiler, but what we can say is that even with its dabbles in the supernatural, Midnight Mass (created by The haunting‘s Mike Flanagan, in his most recent collaboration with Netflix), is a show that digs inward rather than outward. With both the physical claustrophobia of Crockett’s set and the internal suffering of the characters placed in the center of the scene, Midnight Mass is concerned with inner horrors: addictive tendencies, secret stories, and questions of forgiveness and belief. At a glance, it’s a series that exploited Catholic guilt for gold. In another, it’s a measured, yet frightening, approach to group psychology, the need for faith in grief, and the ethics of leadership with such vulnerable followers, weighing whether those impulses represent the human goodness, evil or just nothing at all.
Not everyone on the island accepts the Catholic faith or Father Paul’s charisma in stride. There is a counterweight provided: the fallen son of Crockett (Zach Gilford), an avowed atheist; the recently relocated Muslim and New Yorker sheriff (Rahul Kohli); and drunk local nihilist (Robert Longstreet). Everyone sees the rhythms of the island differently, but in a convincing way. There is a price to pay for foreigners in small towns, let alone small islands. But their individual perspectives enrich viewers to think beyond church politics in a way that represents intra-group versus outside dynamics on a universal scale.
The tension rises as you go Midnight Mass tighten the screws of its plot under the viewer in each episode. The characters collapse and the audience collapses with them. Jumping almost directly into the Lent season, the Watchers simultaneously leave ordinary time and enter a frightening season. “Happy are those who have not seen and who have believed.” Midnight Mass offers a chance for anyone to doubt Thomas or a true believer. How different is a miracle from a supernatural event, anyway?
Midnight Mass premieres Friday, September 24 on Netflix.
Katherine Smith is a Virginia-based freelance writer and contributor to Paste the magazine. For her thoughts on popular culture, politics and beyond, find her on Twitter @k_marie_smith
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