SPOILER WARNING! IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN ALL OF MIDNIGHT MASS ON NETFLIX, YOU’RE ABOUT TO SPOIL ALL OF MIDNIGHT MASS FOR YOURSELF.
The seven-episode Midnight Mass has been released, and audiences have now had the chance to see Mike Flanagan’s latest horror limited series for Netflix, following the hugely positive response to The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor.
Midnight Mass has received even stronger reviews, with its thoughtful, heartfelt, and stirring story about a small island town and what happens when literal miracles seemingly begin to occur, with a very dark price ultimately asked from those involved.
Flanagan spoke to Fandom about the big revelations in Midnight Mass, including what was really causing those miracles, how the story ended, how the fate of several key characters was decided, and more.
And here’s one more spoiler warning!
Full spoilers follow for Midnight Mass.
THE V WORD
So if you’ve seen Midnight Mass then you know… there are vampires in it!
As the show progresses, we find out that the true source of Father Paul’s rediscovered youth and the “miracles” he brings, like Leeza Scarborough (Annarah Cymone) suddenly being able to walk, were all caused by the blood of the creature Father Paul’s churchgoers were unknowingly drinking, which was mixed into the communion wine they were given. If you die with that blood inside you, you are reborn, but now unable to walk in sunlight and with an insatiable hunger for human blood.
Explaining the origins of Midnight Mass to Fandom, Flanagan told Fandom, “It goes back to early days in my childhood as an altar boy and kind of trying to process this idea of the blood of Christ. Just kneeling at the altar during the consecration, and it’s, you know, ‘He who eats my body and drinks my blood will find eternal life’ and looking around the room and saying, ‘This is very vampiric, right?’ And having my parents and my Sunday school teachers telling me to please stop saying that.”
“The tagline of Interview With a Vampire in 1994 was ‘Drink from me and live forever,'” Flanagan recalled, observing the connection between vampire stories and religion. “There’s always been this handshake, I think. When [Bram] Stoker really brought in the crucifix and things like that as a weapon against vampires and firmly kind of set God and vampires on this battle path… It’s always been there.”
“The seed of this story was always, ‘What if there was vampire blood in the communion wine?'”
Flanagan said with Midnight Mass, “The seed of this story was always, ‘What if there was vampire blood in the communion wine?” And if the vampire blood was doing to people what it does — restoring them and healing them and preparing them for this transformation — how many people, based on being in church when they received it, would think it was a miracle? That was always the core idea behind the whole thing.”
Even as the audience realizes what is occurring and the characters begin to discover just what it means to receive this supposed miracle, one word is never actually said out loud on the series… vampire. As Flanagan explained, “It’s a word of an enormous power. The minute you say vampire, it hijacks everything else, and it brings with it a century of horror fiction tropes and questions and expectations. ‘Which rules are they going to keep and which rules are they going to jettison and which rules are they going to reinvent?’”
Developing Midnight Mass, Flanagan said for both he and producer Trevor Macy, “It was important that we kept that word as far away from the surface of the show as we could, so that when it did come out, it could be at least a little bit of a surprise. We figured the genre fans would pick it up on the signposts along the way, but that it could be a wonderful chance to lull people into a vampire story that wasn’t really a vampire story; where the vampire really just represented fanaticism and fundamentalism. It’s a word we’ve flirted with. I think there was one draft where it was actually said by a character and it looked wrong on the page.”
Added Macy, “Yeah, we got rid of it. We love the [vampire] mythology as much as everybody else and that is indeed the core of it. But it’s a Rorschach test. It’s a little bit like the word horror, where everybody has their own exact idea of what that means. But it doesn’t allow people to discover the show for what it is. And we always love the idea of using genre as a lens to look at something else. And this is an amazing lens. But we don’t want the lens to be the subject.”
THE BIG GOODBYE
The ending of Midnight Mass is a hugely emotional one, as just about every character, whether human or vampire, dies, with the exception of the young duo of Leeza and Warren Flynn (Igby Rigney), who escape Crockett Island’s fall.
“This is really the story of the death of a town.”
Asked if this was always the intended ending, Flanagan replied, “It was one of the rare times in my career where the ending seemed completely clear and unavoidable, even though it hurt to go there while writing it. There were characters we were saying goodbye to that I actually really wanted to stay with. But because we were talking about a parable and talking about what a hijacked belief system can do a community, there was a real sense that it’s so destructive that this is really the story of the death of a town. And the only people left are the next generation, to hopefully learn from this one. It just never felt like there was a way out. And every time I tried to come up with a logical way out, it felt forced. It felt like I had to intervene too much. And it would have strained credibility, I think. there was just no way out of it.”
That being said, he noted, “It also was important to me that there be hope, that there be at least some sense of peace and of forgiveness and acceptance at the end. And I think that’s where I spent a lot of time working on this thinking about life, death, and what happens when we die. I don’t know the answers to any of those questions. But the one thing I do know is that we’re all going to die. There’s kind of no way out of that. “
As Macy put it, “The other thing you know is that everybody has those same questions, which is what the show is about.”
Flanagan noted, “I wanted to see everyone wrestle with that acceptance in their own ways. And really, there’s only one character who doesn’t accept that, who really falls apart under that revelation. And it’s the character of course, who has claimed to have the most conviction and faith throughout the show,” referring to the manipulative, self-centered Bev Keane (Samantha Sloyan).
With the sunrise approaching, and nowhere left to hide thanks to the fires set under Bev’s orders, Ed Flynn (Henry Thomas) and Annie Flynn (Kristin Lehman) begin to sing a hymn and are soon joined by many others in the final moments. Said Flanagan, “The hymn, ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee,’ is written into the script. I was listening to a recording of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee’ while I was working on on the scripts, and it it just felt like, of all all of the Catholic hymns about death, that was the one that struck the right balance between the melancholy and the sadness of it, but also, the beauty of it.”
ABOUT THAT ‘ANGEL’
Father Paul is convinced that the creature that restored his youth is a literal angel, lying to himself about its darker purposes, and Flanagan explained, of this winged presence, “In the script, it’s called ‘The Figure’ and then ‘The Angel,’ but angel is in quotation marks. He always just represented toxic fanaticism and fundamentalism and this idea that could infiltrate any belief system… A political one, a religious one. It didn’t really matter in the end, because I don’t think we as humans will ever be free of that. I don’t think we can ever cut that out of our constructs of our human society.”
The ‘Angel’ is badly wounded in the finale, struggling to fly to safety before the sun destroys it, but we don’t definitively find out what happened to it. As Flanagan explained, “We felt like we couldn’t show it die. As a concept, that would always come back. And so we liked the idea that we could see it hurt, that we could see it stripped down and send it into the darkness thinking maybe we vanquished it this time. But if history is any indicator, time and time again, all of our belief systems get corrupted. And that would imply that he’s back. I do remember in the script, there was a lot of trepidation about how to describe him. And so, frequently, it’s just ‘there’s a figure and a hat,’ or ‘there’s a shape in the doorway.’ And then by the end, it was always ‘angel’ in quotes, because we also didn’t want to imply that he really was an angel.”
But as bad as the ‘Angel’ is, he’s outdone by another. Because when Bev Keane is brought up, Flanagan declares, “I think she’s the monster of the story. The creature itself is very simple and doesn’t seem to have a particularly well-thought-out plan. It’s just about base needs. It infiltrates, it eats. It’s so distractible that once it’s latched on to something, it’s clumsy and it’s kind of stupid. It’s what fundamentalism is.”
“You can skip rocks off of Bev Keanes in our world right now and they’re reaching higher and higher levels of power.”
“Bev, on the other hand, is incredibly complicated, very intelligent, and has a clear agenda,” Flanagan notes. “I think that’s someone who frightens me more than a big creature. That’s someone, unfortunately, that we see. You can skip rocks off of Bev Keanes in our world right now and they’re reaching higher and higher levels of power. Those people scare me. Something like a vampire or like our ‘Angel’ creature, it’s too basic to be too scary. It’s too simple. I think people are scarier.”
“I love that in good horror, no one is safe.”
A massive shift occurs for Midnight Mass in the fifth episode, which first finds Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford) reborn as a vampire and then culminates in him proving to an understandably skeptical Erin Greene (Kate Siegel) what has happened in their town by allowing himself to be killed in the sunrise right in front of her, after he takes the two of them out into the water on a rowboat. Up until this point, Riley had been positioned as Midnight Mass’ protagonist and POV character, but in the final two episodes, Erin takes over that role.
Flanagan revealed though, “That was not the plan from the start. When the story first started, it was always Riley vs. Father Paul. And that was going to be the battle that carried us to the finale. And it wasn’t until pretty late in the game that it became clear that Erin really was the hero of the story. And a lot of that was that yes, it’s about Riley vs. Father Paul, but it’s really ultimately about Erin vs. Bev.”
When it came to making the decision to kill off what had been the main character earlier in the story in this manner, Flanagan remarked, “Horror can do that. I love that in good horror, no one is safe. You can pull the rug out from any other from any character at any time. And that part of it is a feature of genre, it’s not a bug. I don’t think you can get away with it in a lot of other genres. I think the audience doesn’t know how to make that transition.”
Flanagan elaborated, “In this particular case, Riley and Father Paul initially represented two very polar opinions. And I shared Riley’s [opinion] especially passionately when I was younger. As I’ve gotten older, and began to appreciate moderatism more, it felt like this couldn’t be about atheism versus belief. That couldn’t really be where we were planting our two flags. The hero of the story was going to be someone in between. And initially, the early drafts had Erin being turned into a vampire and proving it to Riley in the boat and burning up in episode five and him rowing back to do battle.”
Midnight Mass had been a dream project of Flanagan’s for almost a decade, and he explained, “It was when we were kicking the story around in the writers room, finally — so nine years after the initial incarnation of it — that it finally kind of bubbled up that ‘What if we just switched seats, and she rows back?’ It really opened the story up, I think, in a beautiful way and turned out to be one of my favorite changes that we made toward the end of the process.”