There is a reason why Mike Flanagan’s Netflix series have been so popular; he brings the scary in a few different forms, but he also takes the time to develop his characters. There’s an actual story to go with the scares, something that’s often a secondary thought to writers of this genre. His newest series, Midnight Mass, is no exception. Read on for more.
Opening Shot: A “Jesus fish” is on the back of a car with Illinois plates. We see police lights reflected on its surface, as we pan back, the insignia is on a convertible that’s crashed into a Beetle. A hole in the Beetle’s windshield indicates that its driver was ejected. Neil Diamond’s “And The Grass Won’t Pay No Mind” plays as we pull back more and see the Chicago skyline.
The Gist: Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford) is the driver of the convertible, and he’s drunk. As he sees paramedics unsuccessfully work on the teenage driver of the car he hit, he wonders if she’s ok. When they call it, her head tilts towards Riley, eyes open, glass shards all over one side of her head. He pleads guilty in court and gets four years for the accident, and every time he lays down to go to sleep, the image of the girl he killed flashes in his vision.
Four years later, he’s coming to his childhood home on tiny Crockett Island, population 127, after his release. His religious mom Annie (Kristin Lehman) is happy to have him back home; his father Ed (Henry Thomas) and younger brother Warren (Igby Rigney) are less so. Ed is busy working on his fishing boat, and Warren is too busy scoring weed with his buddies Ooker (Louis Oliver) and Ali (Rahul Abburi) and smoking it in the woods.
Riley comes back to an island that’s having all sorts of economic problems, and is littered with boarded up houses abandoned by people who moved away. Also, all of a sudden the woods are full of feral cats. In addition, the pastor at St. Patrick’s church has been on a sabbatical, and he’s due back. Bev Keane (Samantha Sloyan), a church employee, is anticipating the monsignor’s return, but he isn’t on the ferry she expected him to be on. What we do see is someone dragging a trunk into a small house near the church, banging being heard inside.
In the meantime, a storm is brewing, and the Ali’s dad, Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli) is trying to plan for contingencies like shelter. Since he’s new to the job, he still has to deal with casual racism — the town drunk calls him “Sharif” instead of “Sheriff” — and people like Bev questioning his Muslim faith.
Ed forces Riley to go to church that Sunday, despite Riley’s prison conversion to atheism. There, he encounters Erin Greene (Kate Siegel), who came back to the island right around the time her mother died; she’s also pregnant, being treated by Dr. Sarah Gunning (Annabeth Gish). At mass, the parishioners are shocked to see a young priest, Father Paul (Hamish Linklater), presiding over the service; he claims that he’s there while the monsignor recovers from a health incident he suffered on the mainland.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Midnight Mass certainly has the creepy vibe of Mike Flanagan’s other Netflix series, The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor. The seaside setting feels less claustrophobic than the other two shows, though.
Our Take: Flanagan certainly intends to scare audiences watching Midnight Mass, though that’s not his main goal with this series. But there are scenes both surprising and creepy, with enough touches of gore to make squeamish viewers a little uncomfortable. But we appreciate that he’s concentrating heavily on characters and story in this series, because there’s plenty of story to mine from the people on this little island.
Of course, it’s all going to be wrapped up in the strange things that happen after Father Paul’s arrival, and Linklater is the perfect person to play the weird new pastor. The island and its residents are certainly down on their luck, and it seems that the strangeness that comes with Father Paul, whether it’s odd stuff like dead cats washing up on shore after the storm or more miraculous events, are going to stir the residents’ devotion to the church.
How that plays with someone like Riley, who told Erin that he read every religious text he could get his hands on in prison but ended up becoming an atheist, will likely be what drives this limited series. Father Paul thinks he can bring Riley back into the fold, so their interaction will be interesting to watch. This may also give Riley purpose, something he feels he doesn’t have; Guilford plays that desperation well in a monologue he gives to Erin about just feeling like he’s existing on the outside, wondering why he’s still alive and that girl he killed isn’t.
It does feel like, the way some of the characters are written, there will be miracles in the making. The mayor’s daughter Leeza (Annarah Cymone) is wheelchair-bound, for instance, but she goes to mass daily. And when we see Thomas and Lehman, both around 50 in real life, playing Ed and Annie in what looks like old people makeup, it’s not a stretch to think that they might suddenly get younger somehow. Despite those potential plot projections, though, we’re interested in seeing how things play out on the island that its residents call the “Crock Pot,” because of its melting-pot diversity.
Sex and Skin: None.
Parting Shot: After the big storm, the Flynns and others exit their homes to survey the damage. Seagull swarms catch their attention, which is when they see the dozens of dead cats that have washed up on the beach.
Sleeper Star: Annabeth Gish is not on this show to just play the kindly town doctor. What her ultimate fate and purpose will be is still up in the air, but we’re betting it’s something super creepy.
Pilot-y Line Bridge: Ooker is a bit of an idiot; he’s not just racist — he calls Ali “Aladdin” — but he’s ableist — he calls Leeza “Roller Girl”. Lets just say he may not be on the positive end of the strangeness Father Paul brings to the island.
Our Call: STREAM IT. In Midnight Mass, Mike Flanagan has created a world with a lot of characters to service. Yet he gives a pretty clear idea of where all of their stories are in the first episode without telegraphing where they’re all going to go as things go sideways.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.
Stream Midnight Mass On Netflix