Netflix’s Midnight Mass
“Book I: Genesis”
Directed & Written by
* For a recap & review of “Book II: Psalms,” click here.
Great image to open the series: a car bumper with an Illinois plate featuring Abraham Lincoln’s face and a Jesus fish nearby. The car’s crashed into another car; a nasty accident. A version of “And the Grass Won’t Pay No Mind” by Neil Diamond plays over the scene. Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford) is sitting dazed nearby. He prays because he’s drunk and he’s killed a young lady. We later see him in court, getting 4-10 years and has to pay nearly $150K in damages to the victim’s family. We see him sitting in jail with pictures and letters, as well as a Bible with a note from his mother. But none of that really helps when you’re locked up in jail, alone with all the other prisoners, alone with only your guilty thoughts to plague you.
Four years later we see Crockett Island; a small place with only 127 citizens. Seems like a quaint place. This is where Riley’s parents Ed (Henry Thomas) and Annie (Kristin Lehman) live with their other younger son Warren (Igby Rigney). They’re awaiting their oldest son’s release. Should be interesting to see how everybody, family and people in town alike, reacts to Riley post-conviction and prison. Warren’s off with his buddies, including the local sheriff’s son Ali (Rahul Abburi), at the docks. They’re meeting a guy named Bowl from one of the boats to buy drugs. Also arriving at the dock is Father Paul Hill (Hamish Linklater), the new priest at St. Patrick’s church. He has an eerie box with him, and it sounds like there’s somebody inside.
Warren and his pals grab a canoe that night, paddling out to some special, secret place. They get to another shore, the Uppards, where they head in further through the forest. Along the way they hear a bunch of cats in the woods. Apparently people lived out there once, until the 1920s. Those who lived there would bury their dead there, too, which occasionally causes bodies to come up out of the ground when storms flood the place. Creepy! Perfect place for the lads to smoke weed and drink beer. It’s been a drinking spot for young folk on Crockett Island going back generations. At one point Warren sees creepy eyes nearby in the dark, though convinces himself it was nothing, and they all joke about the legend of “Harpoon Harry.”
The next day Riley’s headed back home, released from prison. His mom’s waiting at the docks and clearly happy to have him there. Bev Keane (Samantha Sloyan) is at the dock, too. She asks around about the Monsignor Pruitt, who was supposed to be onboard, returning from a pilgrimage, and, according to a man called Sturge (Matt Biedel), is not. Might that have something to do with the arrival of Father Paul?
Elsewhere we see Erin Greene (Kate Siegel) getting a 21 weeks pregnancy checkup with Dr. Sarah Gunning (Annabeth Gish). They witness Riley walking home with his mother; clearly the Flynn family are the talk of the town, not in a good way, unsurprising for a tiny town. There’s also Mildred Gunning (Alex Essoe), Sarah’s ailing mother. Amazing to see Essoe in that makeup playing an older character! Ought to be fun watching where that goes, there has to be some reason they’re using Essoe in this way.
At the local cop shop, Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli) has a local drunk, Joe Collie (Robert Longstreet), sitting in a cell, probably to dry out. A regular thing, it seems. Meanwhile Riley gets all the news about the island on his walk home with mom. It takes him a moment to cross the threshold into the house, as if having to step back in time. Clearly Riley has a drinking problem, most drunk drivers do, especially those who kill people, so did something in his past cause it? At the same time Annie laments the island as “a ghost” now, no longer a community, a town in decline.
A big storm’s a-coming! Sheriff Hassan’s new, so he’s trying to ingratiate himself to the community and take care of things. Ms. Keane sets him straight about how things are done, as far as the church is concerned. She gets slightly xenophobic, borderline racist, and it’s obvious not everybody in town thinks the same way she does. Back home, Riley sits with his family for dinner, finding out more about Crockett Island and how it’s changed/how it’s stayed the same over the years. We hear a little of Erin, that she “ran away” from the island but came back to teach. Annie isn’t thrilled that Riley doesn’t want to go to church anymore. They also talk of Monsignor Pruitt. Apparently he’s been losing his mind a little, wandering the streets. Old age? Or, something more sinister? Family dinner’s finished when Ed gets pissed off at his eldest boy, insisting his ex-con son will go to church as long as he’s there with them.
Bev’s concerned about Monsignor Pruitt. She goes to his house, letting herself in. She’s sure he’s arrived home, picking up things left around his living room. She rambles, getting racist against about Sheriff “Omar Sharif.” That box is there, too. And then Bev runs into Father Paul, waiting in the shadows. We then catch a glimpse of that other smaller island, where the cats live, and one cat meets a grisly end. Oh, my.
Later that evening, Ed talks to Riley alone, insisting his son won’t “take the sacrament” during Communion at church. Across town, we see see Sheriff Hassan and his son Ali praying together on their mats, saying goodnight. The sheriff lost his wife at some point, as we see him make Ali give a picture of mom a kiss before bed. Should be compelling to see the small town dynamics with a bunch of Christians and a new Muslim sheriff.
At night, Riley has a strange, horrifying dream.
He’s sitting in a boat on the calm ocean. Then there’s a bloody church.
Next day, everyone’s headed for church. Warren and his fellow pal/altarboy Ooker (Louis Oliver) meet Father Paul before the service. They’re surprised, just like everyone else when the congregation sees Father Paul walk past the pews. The new priest tells everyone that Monsignor Pruitt fell ill on his trip so he’s at a hospital on the mainland. He says Pruitt will be back eventually, nothing to worry about, of course!
After mass is over, Father Paul meets all the local folks. He meets Riley, hearing about his non-“state of grace” at the moment. Riley also runs into Erin for the first time in a long while and they walk together, catching up a little. She tells him about going away to Upstate New York. He tells her about being in prison and tossing his Bible, searching for faith in every other place he could imagine only to find nothing. He also feels guilty even for being alive, after what he did. There’s still a feeling, and suggestion, that there’s much more in Riley’s past contributing to his current state. We’ll see.
Everyone on the island’s making last minute preparations for the storm bearing down on them. The winds and the rain are already picking up. Some folks are boarding windows. Others are getting all their candles ready. Sheriff Hassan has Sturge locking up all the fuel at the docks. And soon the power’s going out everywhere.
Riley’s at home watching the shore when he sees somebody. He’s sure it’s Monsignor Pruitt; he knows the man well, judging by the pictures in their home. He alerts the family, though nobody believes him. So Riley goes out, running after Pruitt on the beach as the Monsignor runs away into the storm further up the sand, disappearing.
The following morning the storm’s over.
There isn’t too much damage, just minor stuff and no phone service.
The Flynns decide to go outside and check on things, including any news of Monsignor Pruitt. Then they notice seagulls swarming over the nearby shore, where tons of cats have washed up dead.