Friday — May 27th, 2022: Well well well, another fantastic week in the books! [READ MORE]


Midnight Mass


๐ŸŽ™️ EPISODE 369: 10.20.21

Midnight Mass is a TV show. It's what people from my generation might call a mini-series without thinking twice about showing their ass (their age) with that reference. But this is my website and I'll do what I want. I don't know if they'll make a second season; it seems like that's not really Mike Flanagan's bag. You don't have to think of this as a 7-hour movie; you don't have to a damn thing (you're visiting MY site, free of charge, need I remind you). I don't really think of it that way either. But there's an odd debate around what's a TV show and what's a movie; prompted in no small part due to the meme that is "Twin Peaks Season 3 is a movie." I care about such things insomuch as I acknowledge their existence, and render them immediately insignificant. To quote the great Miley Cyrus, "It's our party, we can do what we want."
While I ultimately enjoyed it quite a bit, I still feel really conflicted about this. For starters, this is my entry point into the Flanagverse. I have an aversion to "straight-up haunted house" type shit, so I didn't check out either of his "The Hauntings of Whatever the Hell House" shows also on Netflix, even though they were both well-received I think 1. But some "Vampire Priest" type shit: now that is my bag.

Perhaps the main criticism this show has been getting is its heavy, heavy monologuing. There is a scene in, I believe, Episode 5 where two of the main characters discuss what happens to you when you die — one from a spiritual perspective, the other from a scientific one — and it is the longest fucking thing ever. It is longer than an entire network sitcom. It's just a back and forth with the slowest zoom on each of these characters as they throw down some fairly boilerplate theory about death. It's boring! It's impossible not to think or say that. But is it bad? That's the real question. I am still leaning on the side that it is not; that it knows it's boring 2. And it's OK to be boring! I actually really love a lot of boring shit. There can be something meditative and rewarding in capturing long drawn-out moments, be them filled with words (like this) or silent.

Where most of my confusion stems — re, my not fully knowing if this is good or not —surrounds how much of this being not nearly as smart as it thinks it is matters. This show tackles big ideas, but the thing about big ideas (life/death, good/evil) is that it's pretty hard to tackle them in an artistic medium like this without coming off like a newly woke college freshman. Despite the insanity of a show that is literally about a freakin' vampire priest, it does seem to boil down to the extremely tired if not also correct take that "religion is bad, huh?" But, that being said, I thought it found some intriguing touchstones in that journey, specifically in how it relates to Catholicism, which — as a former altar boy myself — is a whole other can of worms to unpack.

Because goddam if there isn't something there what with the completely ludicrous concept of "drinking red wine only — hold up now — this wine is actually the blood of Christ." I once got into a long debate as a — you guessed it, college freshman — about transubstantiation. An old friend of mine said he couldn't get behind Catholicism specifically (as opposed to other Christian sects) because of this concept. I argued that despite the deep faith and practice surrounding it and everything you might read or know about the concept, that it was still just a metaphor, no worse and no better than any other religious teaching. But he said that wasn't what was happening. That the priests and the practitioners were, in fact, fully under the impression that they were eating the body of Christ, drinking His blood. I told him I didn't see it that way and I had been an altar boy! I should know! It was an unwinnable debate for both parties and, looking back, that we couldn't see it as such says so much about the concept of religion and faith on the whole.

So enter Mike Flanagan and his weird Irish-Catholic upbringing (mine was Roman-Catholic and you could probably fill another mini-series with the differences, but for the sake of this review, let's ignore that). On some level, given all the weirdness inherent with a concept like transubstantiation, making a TV show about a vampire priest is a genius idea. To quote my old friend, "he LITERALLY is one" if you think about it. All priests are. It's quite telling that the word "vampire" is actually never uttered once, by any character. Even as almost the entirety of the cast becomes one, unwittingly or otherwise, they are silent when it comes to what they are, almost as if the concept of "vampires" doesn't exist in this world.

And I quite liked that, honestly. You can use vampires as a metaphor without getting into all of the lore that is typically associated with that genre. However, the one point where this fully lost me was in the sixth episode. A doctor character starts to come up with a rational explanation for what is happening (a virus causing massive iron deficiency LoL!) and that just gave off the worst Midi-chlorian-ass vibes ever. It was completely unnecessary and, predictably, went absolutely nowhere. But I digress.

There is also a thread about alcoholism running through this that I found to be very nuanced and done quite nicely (and to do that within a show about religion and not come off preachy is quite the feat). I found their dissection of the serenity prayer to be specifically interesting. And as a multifaceted metaphor it jived excellently with the whole "priests and wine" thing. I think you could easily ramble on about how religion is itself a form of addiction. You see this most evidently in the character of the nun, whom I felt perhaps most conflicted with. She's almost comically bad in her sick devotion to the Lord and eventually this priest who becomes a murderous vampire.

In the end, there's much more here to like than dislike. I thought it had a unique visual presence, both unreal and dreamy, and stark at times. There is a weird trend where copious CGI is being employed onto what are seemingly fairly simple settings, but I think I'm a fan of it when the project is right. The performances are, for the most part, pretty strong across the board. The old age makeup is a camp but it serves a purpose (even if you can see that coming a mile a away). And , sure, no effort was made to deploy any kind of regional or consistent accent (at one point a character with a son named "Bowl" starts talking in a deep Southern drawl) but that's fine; in a sense it added to the unreal vibe. And career "that guy" actor Hamish Linklater is terrific in the lead role of vampire priest.

Ultimately though, where this lives or dies inside its message: that all priests ARE vampires if you think about it. And, yeah, that is blunt and kinda dumb, yet it still manages to carry a lot of weight, and — more importantly — entertain.


1. Also, I was and still am intrigued by his The Shining 'sequel' but have yet to check it out; that's all I knew of Mike Flanagan going in. [BACK]

2. I saw something online about how Netflix wants long run-times and that he was required or persuaded or pushed to lengthen episodes with these sequences. But it was a Twitter reply and I can't find a single meaningful article about this practice so let's just leave it at that. I have t assume their inclusion is purposeful on the Flanagan's part, and honestly my gut also says that it is. [BACK]



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