The first steps in recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous include turning your life over to a power greater than yourself: a power AA members define as “God as we understand him.” Midnight Mass’s Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford), a former altar boy and recovering alcoholic who has embraced atheism while serving time for the accidental death of a young woman, rejects all this. Though he’s obliged to attend meetings as a condition of his parole, Riley believes he can and must manage his addiction himself, through reason and psychology.
“It’s not that I want to drink,” Riley tells Father Paul Hill (Hamish Linklater), a new arrival on Crockett Island, an isolated community so small that their recovery meetings are mostly one-on-ones. “It’s that the addictive voice wants to.” The recognition of the “addictive voice” is a key component of Rational Recovery, which removes God, however he is understood, from the process entirely. “Being your own higher power” is Father Paul’s somewhat scoffing take on Riley’s secular approach to recovery. But when Riley unexpectedly finds himself in the throes of a horrific and overwhelming new compulsion to drink human blood, Father Paul — who knows this compulsion all too well — effectively becomes a prophetic advocate for the addictive voice. Or, in his vocabulary, “the voice of God’s angel.”
It may seem counterintuitive that the priest sees a literal messenger of the divine in the bloodsucking, bat-winged, Nosferatu-esque predator that he has smuggled onto Crockett Island, but then its own blood, when drunk by humans, has the power to rejuvenate and give life without end — at a price, of course. (Handsome Father Paul, we learn halfway through the series, is actually elderly Monsignor Pruitt, returned to Crockett Island from pilgrimage in Israel, where a chance encounter with the “angel” transformed him into an unrecognizably younger man: a “miracle” he now wants to share with others.) More dubious, in a paranormal horror series drenched in Catholicism, is the glaring absence of religious language like “demon,” “devil,” or even “evil.” Father Paul highlights the resonances between Catholicism and vampirism (death and rebirth, eternal life, drinking blood) to the point of identifying the one with the other, but when it comes to resisting or opposing the paranormal, ostensibly iconic evil of the vampire, neither creator Mike Flanagan nor his believing characters ever seem to think in religious terms — an odd truncation of vampire lore as well as of religion.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.