Three episodes into Midnight Mass, a horror / township show currently sitting atop Netflix, a comforting, familiar pattern has started to form. The first 50 minutes follows an ensemble of down-on-their luck townspeople in a slowly-ghosting island fishing town as they interact with each other: the town drunk yells at the outsider sheriff; the disgraced son grapples with his recovery while gently flirting with his old girlfriend; the mayor glad-hands with the mysterious new priest; the pushy zealot rubs everyone the wrong way. In these moments, the show is not too far afield from something like Deadwood or Glow or even The Simpsons, shows that are as much about what it means to be a community and to be an individual operating within a community as they are about character arcs or instance-driven plot lines (Reservation Dogs, a recently-completed FX show that whips ass and will, I’m sure, be fodder for this blog before too long, also does this). The show, in these moments, is mostly about a sense of place and what kind of people would live within it, and that makes for quiet, slow, meaningful, deep storytelling.
So that’s the first 50 minutes. The last 10 minutes of every episode are haunted house, Halloween, spooky shit. It’s more monster-based than it is ghost horror or body horror or the horrors that people do to each other (though I sense we’re going to get to that last one pretty damn soon), and usually monster stories are the ones that I find the least frightening of all the options I’ve laid out here, but these little moments become instruments of percussion when pitched against the relative calm and quiet of the show’s bulk. It only takes a dash of scary stuff for it to seem very scary indeed (for a Netflix show, and for me, a known pussy, at least). This also has the effect of me pausing the show every so often to see how much more time I have to enjoy this small island community before I must steel myself for some spooks.
It’s worth mentioning that this show has a lot in common with Salem’s Lot, one of Stephen King’s best and most enduring horror stories, and it is a show about both faith (as portrayed through Catholicism) and recovery from alcohol addiction (and the sins committed by those suffering from it), which are two ideas that I, a lapsed Catholic who used to drink way too much, have a great deal of time for.
You’ve heard it here: The popular show is also good.