Mike Flanagan, you clever fucking son of a bitch.
I am jumping right to the most intriguing and expertly made sequence in episode two, The Psalms.
Father Paul is hosting a private Alcoholics Anonymous for Riley Flynn in the Monsignour Pruitt Rec Center. He offered this olive branch to Riley at the Crock Pot Luck so the newly freed man wouldn’t have to waste a day going into the main land. A nice gesture, but obvious invisible strings are attached.
During the course of the meeting, Father Paul and Riley get into a debate about the concept of AA and the church itself. Riley begins going off on how the institution of religion preys on people for their money; he gives the example of how Bev Keave convinced the island dwellers to take a settlement following an oil spill and then donate a large sum of money to the church.
Over the course of this discussion, director Mike Flanagan begins to tell a story with the framing of the two conversing characters. Look at the way Father Paul and Riley are positioned.
There is a purpose to these shots, and I have theories
1.) The empty shoulders on Riley and Father Paul are for the the devil and angel that typically sit on one’s preverbal shoulders. In this hypothesis, the devil is sitting on Father Paul’s and an angel is sitting on Riley’s shoulder. It is reinforced by the profile shots of both characters. This is the POV of the devil or angel speaking/looking at their conduit.
2.) Theory number two is an even better one, and it comes from the mind of my girlfriend. After I pointed out the framing and the shoulders, Emma came to the rescue.
And he shall set the sheep on his right hand. The right hand is the place of honour and dignity, and the place for favourites: then Christ shall exalt his saints to great honour and dignity, and show them his favour.
But the goats on the left; wicked men shall rise to shame and contempt. The right hand men of the world shall be at the left hand of Christ. It shall be then seen, that because they are people of no understanding, he that formed them will show them no favour.
“And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.”
Midnight Mass is a show based in religion. This second theory taking from the passages of the Bible just makes so much sense in the world. We have good versus evil here in the bible.
- Sheep is a common religious creature associated with the followers of Christ. It is a faithful animal and being on the right hand of God means that you are in his mind’s eye.
- Goats are a common animal associated with evil and sacrifice. Ever seen a movie that involves cross roads or making a deal with the devil? There is often a goat sacrifice. Also, the left side is the devil side; freaking people who were left-handed where burned in the back alleys at times.
What director Mike Flanagan allows for the audience to interpret for itself is impressive and refreshing. If you want to put in the effort to see what this visual language is telling you, then it pays off. What’s even more cool from a screenplay standpoint is that Flanagan teased the audience to pay attention to these angles with a conversation earlier in the episode. When Sheriff Hassan confronts Bev Keane about the rat poison which may have killed Joe’s dog, we see these same angles placed up Father Paul’s biggest helper.
Now that I am dawn fawning over Flanagan, let’s touch on some other key parts of Midnight Mass‘ second episode, The Psalms.
Flanagan is paying direct homage to the 10 plagues of Egypt, of that I have no doubt.
It begins with the Plague of Blood…where the inhabitants around the river Nile had their community wrecked when their water was turned to blood. In Midnight Mass, there were numerous references to an oil spill that nearly turned Crockett Island into a ghost town.
There is the blood that is poured upon the inhabitants door in Egypt, which can be drawn to Erin seeing blood during her pregnancy and having a small blood clot as diagnosed by the doctor.
While on the topic of blood, I have a crazy theory. Is the winged creature that was hinted at in the first episode and made prominent here in the second…is that winged creature a vampire? The shallow eyes, only visible at night? Its strong Stephen King Salem Lot vibes, maybe because it is a lot like the original book cover.
Again, sticking with the blood theme. We know that the cats that were found dead on the beach had been drained on blood. Are we sure that the blood Father Paul is offering up in church is not the blood of the cats? Or, maybe even the blood of dead humans? Monsignor Pruitt or the sassy drug dealer? These are thoughts that I have had.
Skipping to the end of the episode, we saw the local drug dealer go into an abandoned house where the winged malevolent force crashed. It did not go well for the swindler. He was swooped up by a creature with yellow eyes, and thus he was no more. In the most shocking turn of the show thus far, the next morning at mass shows us the power of either Christ of Father Paul’s evil.
Father Paul is extending his hand for communion to the mass and he beckons the paralyzed Leeza to rise up and accept the sacrament. The crowd thinks Father Paul is doing a cruel joke, but all are shaken when Leeza does begin walking. It is a miracle. Queue the eerie dedication to religion come episode three. Again, strong writing from Flanagan gave the fans a clue that these miracles would be happening. Earlier in the episode we see Annie Flynn sewing the Crock Pot Luck sign and after she pricks her finger she notices her glasses are impeding rather than helping her.
The other major event that happened in episode two was the death of Pike, drunk Joe’s dog. At the Crock Pot Luck gathering Pike eats a hot dog but immediately dies from presumably poison. Earlier in the episode we had Bev being a jerk to Erin at school while talking about killing vermin, and later in the episode we have this pup suffering the same consequences. Add in the fact that in episode one she scolded Joe and the Sheriff after Pike “nipped” at her, all clues point to this terribly annoying character.
The biggest take away from The Psalms episode is that Mike Flanagan is a master at laying bread crumbs. It obvious that the trail he is leading the audience on ends in some horrific terror. Flanagan showed his master class in directing and constructing a sequence; we have the sharp cutting during the AA meeting of Father Paul and Riley and you can compare it to the one-take introduction on the beach where Sheriff is battering away the over talkative vultures invading the cat crime scene.
Before closing out, here are a couple of other notes I picked up during the show
- When Erin and Riley are catching up while she is on her porch, the camera seems to make a point to include the numbers 317 on Erin’s house. Looking up the bible…I think it was definitely on purpose: “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” John 3:17″
- I am curious as to the significance Riley’s mental breaks on a row boat. He is alone, wandering in the tide, staring off into the distance. If we want to stick with the Moses motif, he as the savior for a desolate land trapped under the rule of an oppressor was send down a body of water until his destiny was unveiled.
- We learns that Joe shot Leeza when drunk and he was the reason that she was paralyzed. She does not have that affliction at the end of the episode, but that piece of history is sure to come back.
- Again, me over reading and over thinking, but Pike is the name of the dog that died. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the character of Pike was an ally to the hero and helped slay monsters. Almost definitely no connection…but you never know?
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