There are two subjects people say to avoid at the dinner table: politics and religion. When it comes to religion, it seems like most sides of the debate center on “proof.” Nonbelievers argue that religion is a waste of time and money, as it’s impossible to prove the existence of a higher power. Believers argue that a leap of faith is necessary for religion, or that they’ve seen the proof in one way or another. It’s a timeless debate, and people can switch sides at a moment’s notice. Yet, what happens when religious traditions expose the unpleasant side of its foundation? “Midnight Mass” reveals the abuse of religion through the corruption of the church.
Created by Mike Flanagan (“The Haunting of Hill House”), the series takes place on the small and lonely Crockett Island, a place with not much to do besides crab fishing and attending daily mass at the eerie and decrepit St. Patrick’s Church.
When the island’s elderly priest, Monsignor John Pruitt, falls ill after a missionary trip to Jerusalem, new priest Father Paul (Hamish Linklater, “Tell Me Your Secrets”) is sent to replace him. After his arrival, mysterious miracles begin occurring with no explanation, like when island resident Leeza (Annarah Cymone, “Caged”), who was once paralyzed from the waist down, is astonishingly able to walk again. But then Father Paul confesses to the islanders that he is, in fact, Monsignor John Pruitt, having stumbled upon an angel (more like a vampire), during the trip that made him young, eternal and whole again using the angel’s blood. Since Father Paul believed the angel to be sent from God himself, the angel uses Father Paul as a mouthpiece to force the islanders into a life of vampirism promising miracles and immortality.
While the series explores horror and death, what stands out the most is the show’s clever ability to address how organized religion can function as a system of abuse. At first, Father Paul seems like an average priest spreading the word of God during the daily masses, yet in the series finale, it becomes clear that Father Paul abuses the word of Christ to heavily influence the islanders because “it is what God would want his disciples to do.” It doesn’t help that self-righteous churchgoer Bev Keane (Samantha Sloyan, “Everyone Together”) speaks from the position of a Christian who believes that committing deeds instructed by God, evil or not, will get you closer to heaven.
For the islanders, being a member of the church started off as a friendly environment that quickly became very cult-like. Between the two, Bev and Father Paul utilize the Christian word to instill fear into those who chose not to be involved in religion and forcefully include the Bible into the school’s lesson’s plans. They also pit family members against each other like father and son Ali Hassan (Rahul Abburi, “Good Game”) and Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli, “The Haunting of Bly Manor”), two Muslims who weren’t involved with Christianity until Ali was forced to read the Bible in school. By the end of the series, the moral of the story becomes clear: join the church, or else.
Ultimately, “Midnight Mass” explores the battle within the principles of religion and its complicated nature. Regardless, the show’s strange events will keep audiences on their toes.
Daily Arts Writer Jessica Curney can be reached at email@example.com.