Netflix’s Midnight Mass is a fascinating miniseries, but not for the reasons you might think. The tale perfectly captures what I call the scheissgeist of our time. The story is set on Crockett Island, a fictional town resting off the coast of the Pacific Northwest—a place that, despite its location, somehow managed to miss the whole craft beer movement thing. Poignant. Otherwise, this island-nation becomes the perfect metaphor for the States. It’s even nicknamed ‘the crockpot’ for its melting-pot levels of diversity. You can take it, try to leave it, or burn it to the ground, aka the same problem we all face today. The acting and the special effects are a strength, and I particularly appreciated the attention to atmospheric detail. The series is steeped in Christian symbolism and Mary Magdalen makes an appearance as well, but never mind all that, let’s get Pruitt! Our story starts with the return of not one, but two prodigal sons, who represent not one but two separate levels of consciousness. The island is ‘graced’ with the return of their old priest, Father Pruitt, played by Hamish Linklater, who the congregation believes is a temp sent by the diocese, yet in reality (spoiler alert) he’s a younger vampiric version of himself. Pruitt, now traveling under the name Paul Hill, was restored during his own spiritual journey through the holy land by a more ancient evil. The priest represents the mythic-fundamentalist mindset, and he is content to propagate his new species, thus interpreting the eternal aspect of the undead dealio as a gift from God. In this way Christianity itself becomes the contagion, a new twist on the MAGA-variant joke. He’s trying to make lemonade out of the lemons that the dark angel gave him, or, in this case, bloody marys. The second prodigal son, equally damaged, is Riley Flynn played by Zach Gilford. After a felony DUI that resulted in the death of a young woman, Riley returns home after his jail stint, still haunted by the ordeal. He represents the rational-modern level of consciousness, struggling for meaning and purpose. His girlfriend, Erin Greene played by Kate Siegel, represents the liberal level of consciousness (Green level, or, in this case, Greene). See how this works? In the end, she does grasp the perennial philosophy as she lies bleeding out in the final sequence amidst a pantheistic soliloquy reminiscent of Sagan and Dawkins jerking off to Spinoza. Oh, sorry, that’s the other spoiler alert. Spinoza was a pantheist.
As an avid creature feature fan, the bumblings of the ‘resistance’ annoyed me until I made all the ‘aha’ connections. You see, the various actors represented different aspects of Jean Gebser’s life stages, or Ken Wilber’s spectrum of consciousness. Let me splain further. We even find the archaic (tribal) level of consciousness present on Crockett Island, in the form of the town drunk, Joe Collie, as played by Robert Longstreet. After accidentally paralyzing a young girl, he displays his own angst and discontent through periodic primal bursts of rage and public drunkenness. When the girl he injured is healed by the dark elixir, the man finds sobriety through a church AA meeting, wherein egocentric (Collie) sits down with the ethnocentric (Pruitt) and the rational but aspiring worldcentric (Riley) to hash out some meaning here in the wasteland.
As the majority of the town accepts the sacrament, literally drinks the Koolaid and turn into vampires, the ‘resistance’, aka the plucky band of pluralists, escape this fate and flee into the night. But they are disorganized, pathetic, and can’t seem to agree on much. Sound familiar? They did manage to burn some shit down, reminiscent of certain areas of Portland last year, but in this case the act was actually helpful. They burned all the boats on the island so the vampires could not reach the mainland to spread their gospel. White Vlad’s burden? Many integralists believe liberal pluralism is burning all the vehicles to enlightenment by imposing their own moral relativistic shortcomings to the whole consciousness conveyer-belt. And I, for one, concur.
When the fleeing liberals confront Bev Keane, Pruitt’s top zealot, as they try to escape the church, she says, “We are past all of this. You can’t kill me; I’ll be back in five minutes.” Erin Greene then shoots her and says, “We have five minutes.” That’s about right, humanity has about five minutes. And another neat trick is how the midnight mass (the midnight hour) matches the time left on the doomsday clock. What does green do with this time? Well, let’s look at the green-liberal players: there’s a Muslim sheriff (it worked in Blazing Saddles), Erin Greene (our green girl), a female doctor (the rational professor), Riley’s mother (anything but a white dude, am I right?), and the archetypal survivors (a white boy & a black girl, aka Adam and Eve).
So what does this bunch do with their time? They (Green) decide to go back to Greene’s house to hide. Most of them grew up on this island, yet they reason the best place to hide from the ravenous horde of vampires they just escaped from is to retreat to their liberal safe space. Great chess playing, my Democratic braintrusts. And, you guessed it, they’re discovered in about five minutes. Suprise emoji face. You can’t go home. They do manage to escape and burn down the last structures on the island (the only safe space for the vampires at dawn), but they also do this badly. Three sides of the vampire sanctuary are left unguarded, so the Sheriff chooses to douse the side where all the vampires are milling about, and he is quickly apprehended. Greene is equally oblivious as she backs out of the same structure, gasoline can in hand, right into the same pack of vampires waiting outside, where she is quickly swooped up by the head vampire (chaos). The gasoline is finally lit, sealing the vampire’s fate, by none other than the Sheriff’s son, a Muslim boy converted to the United Strogoi Church, who quickly soured to his new coven’s antics.
The only seemingly irredeemable character, or at least the one with no intention of ascending the great chain of being today, is Bev Keane as played by Samantha Sloyan. She is the epitome of the fundamental level of thought and could easily be cast in the role of Salem’s Judge Corwin, or even Torquemada. Think, if Dexter and Ned Flanders had a lovechild. The only thing lower on the aperspective totem pole is the head vampire, representing raw chaos itself.
You see, everyone else is grasping for the next rung of the chain. In the end, Collie (a dog) finds sobriety and is reaching for guidance from the mythic-level of belonging. Pruitt finally realizes his mistake and in his final act aids the efforts of the resistance, marking a shift from fundamental to rational thought. Riley sacrifices himself for the greater good and tries to warn his family and friends of the coming storm, aka reaching from rational to a more liberal, worldcentric position. In the last scene, we find Erin Greene-green grasping for something even higher or more cosmocentric. Although her final speech gives it away (utterly paraphrased):
The problem is the ego, myself. The problem is self. That’s not right. I thought I’d be afraid, but I’m too busy in this moment, remembering. Every atom in my body was forged in a star, we’re mostly just empty space, energy vibrating very slowly. There never was any body. There is no point where any of that ends and I begin. Energy, not memory, not self. Everything else is pictures picked up along the way, but I am the lightening that jumps between. I am returning home. But I always forget this part (presumably each lifetime). I always do.
She reaches unity consciousness and realizes we are all part of a greater whole. Cosmos and its infinite dream, the cosmos dreaming of itself. The perennial philosophy. Upon dying, our green-Greene friend reaches for nirvikalpa samadhi, jnana samadhi, or as I like to call it: Bombay Saphire Saturdays. Basically, Weird Al got it right; it smells like Nirvana.
Meanwhile, the last survivors will all surely burn with the rising sun, so they huddle on the beach and in the last act of community they stand and start singing: Nearer My God To Thee. That’s funny on a number of levels, which is what we’re talking about (a number of different levels). For one, that’s the last song played on the Titanic. Very subtle. Crockett Island, the States, united or otherwise, are all sinking.
And Chaos, the now injured creature, tries to flap itself to the mainland for shelter from the morning sun and, why not, it’s an eternal force. Boy, I wish someone had yelled, “Live, Vlad! Live!!” But right before we all burst into flames, I’m not sure anyone would have gotten that joke. Hint: the joke is on us.
When the sun finally rises over the beachhead, humanity’s voices are finally silenced. The great conflagration at the end of time was all the rave back in the day, from the Vedic texts to the Gnostic gospels, to the Hopi, Mayan, the Aztecs and even for the Greeks, who called it ekpyrosis. A fiery end awaits, even if, as Billy Joel insists, we didn’t start the damn thing. Since the last upheaval was a flood, most are in agreement that the Heat Miser will get the nod at the end of this round. Oh, goodie. This is why I moved to Phoenix, to get on with it already. But from every review that I read of this miniseries, people did what you would expect: they interpreted it from their own level of consciousness, their own perspective …and completely mucked it up.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go to the beach with this sheet music. It should keep me busy, at least for another five minutes or so.