Episode 1: Genesis
Reviewed by Alyssa Johnson
Midnight Mass was released as a limited series on Netflix on September 24, 2021. It stars Kate Siegel (Ouiji: Origin of Evil), Zach Gifford (Friday Night Lights), Hamish Linklater, Alex Essoe, and Rahul Kohli (IZombie). Mike Flanagan (The House October Built) both co-wrote and directed. He was raised Roman Catholic and “wanted very much to try to tell a story wherein I would authentically try to inhabit both perspectives that exist within me, about faith and about religion, to see where I came out,” Flanagan said. As Matthew Jackson notes, “Midnight Mass presented an opportunity to dig deep into the big questions of faith that he’s wrestled with” while trying to view the world from a different perspective.
Before we get any farther, we should start with the trailer. Paul Tassi from Forbes suggests you not go into this show with any prior knowledge (spoilers) or expectations. He writes “the trailer sets up the idea that something is wrong in this sleepy island town and something weird is going on with this priest, but that’s really about it. And knowing that is enough.” The unknown adds to the haunted, creepy sense of unease effect Flanagan is going for.
READ AT YOUR OWN RISK
Like all good horror movies, it starts with a group of teenagers smoking pot and drinking in the woods. A man, Riley Flynn (played by Gifford), is in jail for killing a girl in a drunk driving accident. In the first few minutes, he is sentenced to jail and completes his required four years before being released back to the free world. He heads home to Crockett Island, a small town of only 127 people. Fresh off the boat from the mainland, his mother Ann is waiting to walk him home. He is upset his father Ed isn’t there (but I don’t know what kind of reception he is expecting, maybe a party and a cake saying “congrats on completing your jail sentence).” He killed a young girl (who he also keeps seeing). Over dinner Riley, his younger brother, and his parents talk about church, his brother is an altar boy and his Mother goes every day. Riley lost his faith while in jail and doesn’t want to go to church (he is a self-proclaimed atheist) but his father makes him. The Island Priest is an eighty-year-old man who has seen better days. Father Paul is the new (much younger) priest his entrance shakes up the town because they were not expecting a new priest.
There is a big storm coming for the island that everyone is preparing for.
(Spoiler Alert) (Trigger Warning)
The episode ends with hundreds of dead cats on the beach being eaten by seagulls after the storm passes.
Side Note: Bev is played by a woman named Samantha Sloyan who is great at playing people you don’t want to (and don’t) like. Here she gives the new priest a hard time because he is wearing the wrong color robes. In her appearance on Grey’s Anatomy, she is the doctor that killed Derek Shepherd. “Bev Keane is nothing if not dedicated to formal Catholic tradition” (Serraro).
What Is Really Going On Here?
Many questions were raised that I believe you would have to watch the entire series to answer. What happened to the old priest? Riley saw the old priest on the beach during the storm when he was supposed to be sick on the mainland. Where is he actually? Why are there so many cats on the island? Is there something sinister on the island (possibly a predatory bird)? Different people saw this thing at different times but no one has investigated or mentioned it again. What killed all the cats on the beach? Why is the Sheriff’s office in the general store?
“The ethos of the show is to ask questions, not give answers,” Trevor Macy, the producer, said. “Those questions should really stay with you if we’ve done our jobs right.”
Religion In Midnight Mass
The main religion discussed is Roman Catholicism, though Islam is also discussed. The Sheriff and his son both practice Islam. The church is the heart of the town with the priest being a beacon in the community. The first episode is entitled “Genesis,” which, like in the bible, is the beginning. The backstory and history of the town are established and the story branches off from there.
Religion is in this from the first scene, the scene of the car accident where the first responders are praying over the carnage and asking why God lets things like this happen. Now in jail, Riley receives a letter from his mother quoting Genesis “But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.” — Genesis 39:21. I believe this is his mother assuring him that, like God, she still loves him, even when he makes mistakes. This biblical passage also makes a reference to Jacob “and the sudden change in his circumstances as he goes from being a high ranking servant to being imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. While Riley was responsible for the accident that kills a young girl, he also has a high-paying job that he loses as a result (Serraro).” Life isn’t fair, as this passage notes, but God will still be with you because it is all part of “God’s Plan.”
The old priest is called Monsignor Pruitt, the word “monsignor” means “my lord” in Italian and is usually reserved for senior priests. The name is an honor given by the Pope himself.
“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” — Genesis 1:3. In the Bible, this quote signifies a new day, a new beginning, which is what the town wakes up to after the storm. Things in the small town of Crockett Island will never be the same.
Jackson, Matthew. “Mike Flanagan Explores Faith, Religious Themes of Netflix’s ‘Midnight Mass’ .” SYFY WIRE, SYFY WIRE, 29 Sept. 2021, http://www.syfy.com/syfywire/mike-flanagan-trevor-macy-explore-midnight-mass-featurette-netflix.
“Midnight Mass.” Season 1, episode Genesis, Netflix, 24 Sept. 2021.
Serrao, Nivea. “All the Verses and How They Connect: Biblical References in Netflix’s ‘Midnight Mass’ Explained.” SYFY WIRE, SYFY WIRE, 3 Oct. 2021, http://www.syfy.com/syfywire/netflix-midnight-mass-bible-references-explained.
Tassi, Paul. “Do Not Read This ‘Midnight Mass’ Article.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 25 Sept. 2021, http://www.forbes.com/sites/paultassi/2021/09/25/do-not-read-this-midnight-mass-article/?sh=e88a58640f04.
*** Side Note: while watching this first episode, one of the picture frames hanging on the wall flew off the wall straight onto the floor in front of my Dad and I. I don’t know how, and nothing else on the wall was effected. ***