Midnight Mass is a Netflix original miniseries about the going ons of the small island town of Crockett Island that slowly changes under supernatural effects. The show itself is a horror piece, using religious imagery of the catholic variety and eventually vampiric lore to arouse unease within the audience. While I find it to be expertly crafted, I want to pay heed as well to the development of the theme of selfishness within the text of the show. I analyzed the use of religion for selfish or personal means and the consequence of doing so as a major theme within the miniseries. In this blog, I intend to describe just how these themes are expressed, focusing on characters used as vehicles for them.
CW: child abuse, religious abuse, islamophobia, murder, self harm, and suicide
Bev Keane(played by Samantha Sloyan) is a parishioner of St. Patrick’s church who is held in high esteem by some characters in the shows large cast, while reviled by many others. Keane is presented as an astutely religious woman from the very beginning, quoting bible verses and correcting the new priest, father Paul Hill(Hamish Linklater), on wearing the incorrect color robes. Sloyan’s character is written to feel overbearing, judgmental, and deeply unlikeable. She complements Erin Greene’s(Kate Siegal) abusive mother in a way to put Erin down, and makes comments on the Muslim faith of the town sheriff(Rahul Kholi), contributing the audience’s dislike of the character. But while she may have expressed her religion despicably, this does not alone show a selfish viewpoint, more simply an elitist one. The perception of the Bev Keane as a simple elitist slips, however, as we learn of her role in the recent events of the town. See, when Crockett island fell victim to an oil spill a year before the start of the series, Keane encouraged the residents to simply take a small settlement from the company responsible. Calling the settlement money a ‘gift from god’, she leveraged many to donate some of it back to the church, which some characters suspect to essentially have gone into her pockets, as the priest at the time had gone senile. Using the money from the donations, the church would erect a rec center, but it is implied the donation money would have covered much more than just the costs of the center. Keane seems to utilize religion as a mask to deflect criticism, and as a means to maintain influence and acquire wealth, making her an insidiously selfish character. When the supernatural events rise within the town, however, her true nature is fully revealed.
Reverend Paul Hill, the new Priest of St. Patrick’s, is similarly influenced by a form of selfishness, causing him to ultimately share the blame of the fate of Crockett island. Hill comes to the church intended as a temporary replacement to their aging original Priest, Monsignor Pruitt, who he tells them to be recovering from a sickness on the mainland. In truth, the young Hill is the same person as the elderly Pruitt, revitalized and given youth from drinking blood given to him by a winged vampiric creature(Quinton Boisclair) he encountered on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Hill has brought the creature with him to the island, and has been mixing it’s blood with the eucharist of the church, resulting in the healing of many of the town’s ailments. When a girl previously confined to a wheelchair miraculously stands during mass, a religious revitalization spreads across town. While in his sermons, he speaks of the resurrection of the church, we find in the final episode what he is truly motivated by. After it is revealed that drinking enough of the blood and dying will result in immortality, a thirst for blood, and an intolerance to sunlight, Hill and Keane reveal to the entire church what they have been doing, offering the church members to die and become creatures of the night. It takes a moment for most of the members to accept, all(except for several main characters) do, and they go out and feed on the town. Linklater’s character, who is recovering from a wound suffered earlier, sits with the newly regenerated Mildred Gunning(played by Alex Essoe). Mildred had formerly suffered with severe dementia in her old age, being taken care of by her daughter(Annabeth Gish), but is now young and fully cognizant as a result of having drank the blood of the creature. They lament the happenings, revealing that they were former lovers, and the Hill was the father of Gunning’s daughter. He reveals to her that all of this, despite his feverous sermons, was so he’d never have to see her or their daughter grow old, so he could save them from that. In the end, he was acting selfishly.
The disastrous actions of Hill and Keane fed on, or turned, with the exception of a few main characters. Bev decides to take the role of a leader of them all, seizing her opportunity for power, and leads her flock to burn all the trees and buildings of the island, leaving only the church and rec center to provide cover at sunrise for those she decides to let in. Erin, the sheriff, -people who throughout the show were wronged by Keane- and Hill’s very own daughter, work together to destroy the church and it’s rec center, leaving no cover for those turned by the blood. When the sun finally upon the island, none survive. Hill’s selfish actions exploiting faith lead to the even more selfish Keane to exploit it, resulting in the death of hundreds.