Religion is an addiction. Faith is a symptom.
That is what Mike Flanagan is nailing home in Episode Five of Midnight Mass. The chapter, which is entitled The Gospel, focuses on Riley and Monsignor Pruitt following the events of the prior episode. Riley is now one of many missing people on Crockett Island and Sheriff Shabazz is slowly becoming aware of the situation. While Joe Collie and his drug dealer are dead, Riley is not deceased in the logical sense. His heart is still ticking, but his soul is in a battle for itself at the Rec Center.
The Gospel begins a day after the attack on Riley in the Rec Center. Erin is on the hunt for Riley but is having no luck. Meanwhile, the god-loving (and serving) people of Crockett Island are celebrating Good Friday and for the first time this season, there is a midnight mass at the church with Monsignor Pruitt on the hill.
During the homily of the Good Friday Service, Monsignor Pruitt’s ravings to his flock reach new heights. His entire monologue centers around the idea that suffering is fruitful, and the suffering that Jesus endured was good. Pruitt continues his increased fervor by stating how he, and everyone who follows God, is part of his army. They are there to serve him and they must have faith that the suffering they are enduring at any moment in time is for the betterment of their army.
This homily is Monsignor Pruitt talking to himself. The suffering that Pruitt is talking about is in regard to himself and anyone who has been afflicted (or blessed depending on your point of view) with the rebirth brought forward by the Angel. It is a transformative process, and Pruitt would say that this revolution is a revelation.
Monsignor Pruitt, Bev Kean and others, are all part of a crusade. Pruitt in his homily was giving a recruiting pitch to his followers, even though they don’t have a choice in the matter. With visual storytelling, director Mike Flanagan let everyone know that the blood of the Angel has been mixed in with the wine at communion since he arrived. The people have been ingesting the blood of the crusade’s ultimate leader since Pruitt returned. They may have no choice to be welcome the darkness, both literally and metaphorically.
There are levels to any army. The army’s leader is the Angel. The pawns are the parishioners who are being conscripted. The in-between, that is where Monsignor Pruitt, Bev and Riley are. They are the apostles of the Angel. They were touched by the Angel and blessed, at least that is how Bev Keane sees it. She expresses frustration to Pruitt how Riley is not accepting the “gift” that was bestowed up him. She expresses this frustration, but again puts her faith in Pruitt and the mission.
Monsignor Pruitt’s mission is getting distorted and warped with a little thing we like to call the God complex. Pruitt knows that he was the bringer of this change and crusade to the island and he is growing increasingly comfortable in his role as an ambassador. One of the seven deadly sins is hubris, and Pruitt’s blind faith in his ability to talk to Riley and convince him that what has happened to him is good may prove to be his downfall.
Alright, let’s get to the Riley and Monsignor Pruitt conversation.
I mentioned how religion is an addiction and it is no coincidence that their meeting is set in the same exact setting as the Alcoholics Anonymous sessions. The best part of about their conversation and spat is that Riley is understanding where Pruitt is coming from because Riley knows what it is like to be an addict. He has been inside the hurricane of propulsion that Pruitt is currently swaying in.
It should be recognized that Riley is not the only on one to spot a difference in Pruitt. Mille, the once Alzheimer’s afflicted elderly women, also sees a massive difference in the man. It was hinted in episodes past that Millie and Pruitt have a past, so she would know him best. As her memories are coming back to form, so does her awareness that her once friend is no longer whom he says he is.
Back to the mono-et-mono talk. Pruitt is preaching how the guilt Riley feels about life and the choices he has made are not warranted because they all let to him being a solider of God. The guilt is the price to pay. The suffering (guilt) is good price for eternal life, so drop your guilt and embrace what you have been blessed with.
Riley admits to Pruitt that he is jealous of the Father’s ability to drop the guilt. Guilt is what has shaped Riley and his persona since he killed a woman with his drunk driving. This part of the speech highlights the acting of Zach Gilford. Gilford is able to show with his eyes that he understands the emotions he is feeling but he can’t accept them for good. He does not share the same mission as Pruitt and he realizes what his high purpose is.
The end of the episode brings us back to the present time. Erin eventually finds Riley and her door step and he brings up a tale from their childhood to build her trust and ask her to trust him. Riley rows Erin and he out to the middle of the ocean and begins to tell the tale of his evening, which makes up the majority of the episode.
Now back in the present time, Erin asks Riley what he wants her to do. Riley is reflecting, knowing that he has to make a statement in order to proof his story true and earn Erin’s trust. It is here that me makes the sacrifice and becomes a martyr for truth. Emulating how people have seen the miracles in the town and have had their faith reinforced by the tangible, Riley takes the step and physically tells Erin to trust his story.
The sun is rising, and Riley is burnt to a crisp on the boat in the middle of the great wide open. Riley is the sacrificial lamb to begin the uprising against the Crusade Pruitt is leading on the island. A rally call to see being the veil and accept the scary truth. Chapter five ends with Erin screaming her heart out as a new dawn approaches. It is not coincidence that the day Riley sacrifices himself on Good Friday, a day in which Christians celebrate Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. That is a pretty straight parallel drawn by Flanagan and his writers.
Overall, The Gospel was a earth-turning episode in terms of the story point of view and the exposition behind the main arcing story. Chapter Five is the best written episode of Midnight Mass and for that it ranks as one of the best in the series. Is it number one? No, not for me. There was not as much non-verbal storytelling in this episode, as such is the nature of such a talkie episode. Regardless of how we get there, The Gospel lays the groundwork for a new “hero” to break through the addiction to religion that almost everyone on the island is suffering from.
Now to wrap up, I have a prediction for how Bev is going to die.
During episode five, Bev serves as bait for Riley’s new hunger. She is stepping in front of him and consistently moving forward towards the confused and reborn Riley at the beckoning of Monsignor Pruitt. Bev never breaks eyes with Pruitt, showing the utmost faith that the man of God would hold back and control Riley from tasting her blood. In this instance, her faith is reinforced when Pruitt does keep Riley from lurching forward.
This faith in Monsignor Pruitt and in religion as a whole is going to be her down fall.
Over the course of the final two episodes, Bev will meet her maker and faith will be her killer. I think this exact scenario of needing to trust Pruitt to hold someone back, maybe even the Angel itself, is going to replay itself. Her eyes will be locked in on the Father, but they will grow in terror when the Angel ragdolls her body. Her blind faith in Monsignor Pruitt, their journey, and religion as a whole will result in her body being suckled dry.
That is how she is going to die, and I will very much enjoy her getting mauled.
My ire towards Bev Keane is a testament to how well she is written as an obedient and desperately loyal antagonist. From the performance of Samantha Sloyan, the audience understands that Bev truly believes she is doing nothing wrong. Bev thinks she is walking a path of righteousness when in reality she is paving a trail of pretentiousness.
Other things noticed in Episode Five – Gospel:
- I mentioned how Sheriff Hassan was looking for some missing persons: Riley, Joe Collie and the Bowl. We can not forget that we also lost another person…the child that was inside of Erin’s womb. It is the fourth person to go missing from the island with no reasonable explanation.
- Does saying “God Damnit” on Crockett Island during this time of religious fervor make it more of a swear worse than others? This is just a random thought of mine.
- We now know the yellow hue in the eyes; the hunger for blood from those afflicted by the Angel.
- Loved the overhead shots of Pruitt and Riley are sitting in the AA chairs and going back and forth.
- Yes, it is customary to cover Jesus on the cross on Good Friday. I had to look that up.
- The song “Nearer My God To Thee” was played multiple times during episode and has been used numerous time throughout the first five episodes of Midnight Mass.
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