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Spoilers! Netflix’s ‘Midnight Mass’ cast, creators spill on that monster reveal and gut-wrenching finale

  • September 25, 2021

“Midnight Mass” just reinvented the vampire.

Creator Mike Flanagan’s newest Netflix series (streaming now) about religion, addiction and redemption centers on a remote Crockett Island where miracles, supernatural occurrences and a new priest create a fervor of faith that’s not entirely positive. Essential to that is another introduction, the arrival of The Angel, a vampiric winged figure whose blood Father Paul (Hamish Linklater) feeds to townspeople during the Catholic mass and creates a horde of Christian bloodsuckers that a nonfundamentalist faction has to stop before they can leave and begin a larger crusade on the mainland.

The show is “like a seven-episode ‘A-ha!’ moment,” Linklater says.

‘You guys believe all this?!’:Netflix’s thoughtfully spooky ‘Midnight Mass’ tackles religion, addiction

The vampiric connection was one Flanagan made in grade school growing up in the church, “always blinking out at me, to the point that I would get in trouble for bringing it up frequently,” he says. “It’s the backbone of communion: ‘Drink from me and live forever.’

“When you’re an eighth-grader, you don’t have an adult understanding of the faith. We would try frequently to relate it to things we did understand and what I understood growing up was movies and books and comics,” Flanagan explains. “So when you say, ‘Yes, you drink the blood and you get eternal life,’ that reminds me of something else that I can relate because I just saw ‘The Monster Squad’ and I’m pretty sure the guy in that did the same thing.”

‘Midnight Mass’ gets emotional in one fiery moment

The major reveal midway through “Midnight Mass” gives way to a pivotal, gut-wrenching fifth episode that walks the audience through the show’s mythology, marks the ending of one main character’s story and begins the rise of the show’s primary heroine.

Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford) is a “Crock Pot” native back home after serving a four-year sentence for killing a young woman while driving drunk. Once an altar boy and now an atheist, he reluctantly forms a bond with Father Paul but is killed by the Angel and turned into a vampire.

The fifth episode focuses on the conversation between the pastor explaining too him all that’s happened – and revealing to Riley that he is in fact the 80-year-old Monsignor Phillip he’s known his whole life, just reverted back to his younger, vampiric “best state.” “It feels like a Shaw play,” Linklater says, “because it is an hour-long argument to an end place that goes in such exciting byways and sideways and off-ramps.”

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And Riley shares all that new info to his childhood love, Erin (Kate Siegel). He takes her out at night into the middle of the water in a boat to watch the sunrise, sacrificing himself to tell her what she needs to know to save the island. In a final scene both bittersweet and heartbreaking, Riley sees the girl he killed and takes her hand to move on to the afterlife, and it quickly flashes to Riley’s body bursting into flames and Erin screaming and sobbing in horror for more than a minute.

For that moment, Siegel researched “how long it takes the human body to burn,” she says. “I tried to really tap into physically what that experience would be like for Erin, the smell, what she was seeing, the sun rising, the overwhelming sense of ‘Oh, God, make it stop.’ And then Mike makes this brilliant choice and lets the scream continue over the credits so the audience gets a sense of how long this will take.”

Kate Siegel, Zach Gilford embrace their ‘Midnight’ finales

In the aftermath, Erin – who by this point has not only lost a baby due to all the supernatural goings-on but now also her true love – “turns what was just like the (worst) thing to ever happen on a boat into a heroic moment,” Siegel says. 

“Erin, along the way, really became the voice of someone who is quietly spiritual, quietly intellectual, quietly empathetic, but in her actions, she’s special,” adds producer Trevor Macy. “There should be more Erins in the world.”

In her dying moment in the final episode – after the heinous plans of villainous zealot Bev Keane (Samantha Sloyan) have been defeated – Erin visits with Riley and delivers an elegiac monologue about God and human existence. “Her seeing Riley there, whole and beautiful to escort her into whatever comes next, she is also realizing that that happened for him. And that it didn’t hurt.”

Gilford filmed his death scene on his second day of work and recalls watching it for the first time with his wife, actress Kiele Sanchez. “I was really happy that she cried,” he says. “I was definitely insecure about it. It’s not hard to watch yourself burn up, but it’s nice that your wife doesn’t like watching it. And then I even tried to make out with her and she was like, ‘Whoa, I just watched you go up in flames.’ ”

But Gilford wasn’t bummed to miss out on doing any cool vampire stuff. “The next two episodes, they’re shooting all night in the cold (and) the rain and I’m at home with my family,” he says. “I don’t have to put wet, sticky, gross fake blood on me. I had the best part in the show for that reason alone.”

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