Netflix's Midnight Mass: That ending explained and all your questions answered
Is Father Paul the devil? Will there be a second season? Let's dive into the supernatural mystery's biggest questions and Easter eggs.
Jennifer BissetFormer Senior Editor / Culture
Jennifer Bisset was a senior editor for CNET. She covered film and TV news and reviews. The movie that inspired her to want a career in film is Lost in Translation. She won Best New Journalist in 2019 at the Australian IT Journalism Awards.
ExpertiseFilm and TVCredentials
Best New Journalist 2019 Australian IT Journalism Awards
After The Haunting of Hill House and Bly Manor, horror auteur Mike Flanagan is back with another meticulously layered horror series to savor. All seven episodes of Midnight Mass are streaming now on
. If you're reading this post, you probably know the show has a high chance of being the best horror series of the year.
Midnight Mass sees Riley Flynn, a man haunted by a drunk driving accident, return to his hometown on Crockett Island, where he struggles to find a purpose in life. Enter the mysterious Father Paul. What are Father Paul's intentions? Why did he have red eyes in the series trailer? Is he the... devil?
Let's dive into all the answers below, in full-on spoiler territory.
Any Easter eggs?
A ton. Flanagan fans know that a prop novel titled Midnight Mass has been peppered throughout the director's other works, from 2016's Hush to 2017's Gerald's Game.
Midnight Mass was referenced in 2016's Hush
Kate Siegel, who plays Erin Greene, starred in the 2016 horror Hush as an author who writes a book titled Midnight Mass.
"Because [Hush] was a low-budget movie, we needed a story that Maddie, the main character could write -- she's an author in the story. We needed a book that wouldn't cost us any money," Siegel told Pop Culturalist. "Mike was like, 'Oh, I have this now-defunct idea for a novel called Midnight Mass. I have three chapters written. We can use that so we can use those pages and we can use that story."
She continued, "If you look, there's a screengrab in Hush where you're looking at Maddie's computer screen and it says, 'The red and blue lights of the cop car twinkle off the Jesus fish.' That's the first shot of Midnight Mass."
Flanagan and Carla Gugino cameos
Another Easter egg: Flanagan himself appears in a cameo in episode 3. A member of the tour group on pilgrimage in the Holy Land, his character helps to direct the elderly, dementia-suffering Monsignor Pruitt. Oh -- and Carla Gugino, who starred in Hill House and Bly Manor, has a brief voice cameo as the judge in the first episode.
The antique mirror from Oculus appears in the recreation center
For anyone who's seen Oculus -- Flanagan revealed he embedded a huge nod to the 2013 horror starring Karen Gillan into scenes set in the recreation center. The movie's titular possessed, antique mirror can be seen in the background, sitting on the stage during Riley's AA meetings.
"It's behind them in the profile [shots] on stage," Flanagan told Entertainment Weekly. "It's all becoming incredibly convoluted, really connected. That's our goal. I want all of [these projects] to just be a big ball of rubber bands by the time we're done, just impossible to extricate from each other."
What's next for Mike Flanagan?
If you were hoping for more of The Haunting, sadly, the wait continues. While Flanagan has said he's open to another chapter of the anthology, he has to find the perfect piece of literature to reimagine first, just as he did with the previous two ghost stories.
The Midnight Club
He's also extremely busy busting out more content for Netflix. Filming has reportedly wrapped up on The Midnight Club -- a limited horror mystery thriller series unrelated to Midnight Mass. An adaptation of Christopher Pike's 1994 young adult novel, it follows a group of terminally ill young patients who gather together at midnight to tell scary stories.
The series will incorporate several other of Pike's novels and feature Zach Gilford, Samantha Sloyan and Matt Biedel, who played Riley Flynn, Bev Keane and Sturge respectively in Midnight Mass, along with several more of Flanagan's growing acting troupe. Unlike with Midnight Mass, Flanagan will direct only a couple of episodes (it's not yet been announced how many there'll be).
The Fall of the House of Usher
Then came the big news that Flanagan would be adapting Edgar Allan Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher for Netflix. Also incorporating other works from Poe, the standalone limited series will run for eight episodes, four of which will be directed by Flanagan. Flanagan recently explained why Usher isn't part of The Haunting anthology -- simply, it has no ghosts. Still waiting for a premiere date announcement.
Is Midnight Mass based on a true story?
Yes and no.
Midnight Mass comes from a very real place for creator Mike Flanagan and has been cooking for a while. Flanagan was raised Roman Catholic and served as an altar boy at his parishes on Governors Island in New York and in Bowie, Maryland. In this small-town setting, "midnight mass, that was a pretty big deal," Flanagan said in the Making of Midnight Mass Netflix featurette.
"Midnight Mass has been in my head since before I had a career," he continued. "The idea of a Catholic parish in an isolated community that appears to be going through some kind of miraculous religious revival -- that's what came first."
Flanagan also said that Riley Flynn is based on himself in a way, that he's Flanagan's kind of "avatar" in the story. "Back in the days when I drank, there were times where I felt like the consequences weren't going to apply to me."
The figure Riley Flynn chases on the beach during the big storm at the end of episode 1 is, of course, the Angel in Monsignor's signature fedora and long coat. When Riley stumbles, it gives the Angel enough time to disappear, presumably flying up into the air. Some residents comment on seeing a huge albatross sweeping across the sky above the island, a bad omen.
How did the Angel get to Crockett Island?
In episode 1, we see a scene in which a mysterious figure enters the pastor's house. He slides a massive chest across the floor and unlocks it. Strange events ensue. In episode 7, Monsignor Pruitt says that he bribed and lied to smuggle the Angel to Crockett Island, inside the trunk.
What happened to the cats?
A wild-cat infestation is flourishing on the island, rumored to have been caused by people bringing pets from the mainland. The kitties' diet has been slightly unconventional. Up until the '20s, residents used to bury their deceased family members in their yards. During a particularly major storm, the Uppards area of the island would overflow and corpses would wash up on the beach... and the cats would feed. Somewhat helpfully, this infestation is handled in the days following the Angel's secret arrival.
Following a storm, it isn't human remains but the dead bodies of dozens of cats that are found strewn across the beach. Their necks are broken and there isn't a drop of blood to be seen. When Warren -- Riley's younger brother -- and his friends sneak out to the Uppards, they're freaked out by the sound of a broken twig. If you look closely at the moment, you can see the outline of the Angel in the wild shrubbery, as well as the unmistakable two bright dots of its piercing eyes. Clearly, the Angel was hungry.
Who is Father Paul?
Put simply, Father Paul Hill is really Reverend Monsignor John Michael Pruitt, the longtime island pastor at St. Patrick's Catholic Church. The residents don't recognize him because he's about 40 years younger. The clue to his true identity was dropped early on. In episode 2, Dr. Sarah Gunning's elderly mom, Mildred, who once had a romantic relationship with Monsignor Pruitt (and a child in Sarah), addresses Father Paul by his real name, John, when he visits their house.
Is Father Paul the devil?
You'd think so after that series trailer. But no, in typical Flanagan fashion, the director brings a spin on a famous folklore creature. Father Paul is a vampire, albeit a reluctant one, who becomes sick and dies when he refuses to feed on anyone's blood (he eventually spurts back to life). He was created by the Angel, the original "vampire," who fed Father Paul its own blood when Father Paul was still the 80-year-old Monsignor Pruitt, going on pilgrimage for two weeks in the Holy Land. When Pruitt returned, his youth restored, he pretended to be a different priest. Lying about who he really was until his true identity was exposed by an old newspaper clipping hanging on a wall inside the pastor's house, featuring a picture of his younger self.
Father Paul heavily hints that he borrowed his alias from Saul, an enemy of the Church, who later becomes the Apostle Paul. He tells the story of Saul, who while on the road to Damascus to round up believers and take them prisoner was met by Jesus. Days later, Saul became a follower of Christ and then became the Apostle Paul.
Where did the Angel come from?
On the same road Saul was traveling to Damascus, Monsignor Pruitt wandered from his tour group. Confused and lost in the desert, he was swept up into a sandstorm. The sandstorm uncovered the entrance to an ancient ruin of what Monsignor later believes to be a church. Monsignor stumbles inside -- and meets the Angel. With sharp-edged wings and a thirst for blood, the Angel bares a striking resemblance to a vampire.
Yes. For those expecting another ghost story similar to Flanagan's The Haunting of Hill House or Bly Manor, a tale of vampires might come as a surprise. Where did the inspiration come from? Flanagan, who once served as an altar boy, has discussed in interviews how he found ideas of the supernatural in the Bible itself.
"It's impossible to separate the Bible as a book from horror literature. It has everything in there," Flanagan told Vanity Fair. "It's overtly and unapologetically espousing supernatural, horrific events left and right. Even the hero of the story -- God, the embodiment of love -- drowns the world when he gets angry enough in the Old Testament."
What are the connections to the Bible?
"This is my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven."
Father Paul intones this "old translation" from a new missal "closer to the original Latin" during his first session taking Sunday mass. It pretty much sets up the rest of the series. The drunk driving accident that saw his girlfriend Beth killed four years ago continues to haunt Riley. The idea suggested is that, by literally drinking their blood, Riley will join Father Paul and the Angel's "covenant" and be relieved of his sins.
Will there be backlash to the religious aspects of the story?
We'll have to wait and see, but it feels like there will be.
How did the miracles happen? (Scientifically, speaking)
Father Paul was secretly mixing the sacramental wine in the cruets with the blood of the Angel. This blood -- containing a virus, enzyme, a new type of cell or even a parasite, Dr. Gunning theorizes -- has been altering the cells of people who drink it. Dr. Gunning, who's been analyzing Erin Greene and her mother's blood, which sizzles and catches fire in the sun, explains: "So there's this blood disorder called erythropoietic protoporphyria. EPP. A lot of those myths probably came from EPP. People with it are extremely sensitive to light, to the point of burning and blistering in the sun. And very anemic."
She theorizes that their blood -- and likely the once wheelchair-bound Leeza's -- contains "something that repairs damaged cells, is violently photosensitive and causes an insane anemia. A desperate hunger for iron. Iron in blood." As the ratio of this infection in the blood increases, the physical alterations become more pronounced.
Why does Erin lose her baby?
Though Mildred Gunning's youth is restored and her dementia remedied, Erin loses her baby. This is how Dr. Gunning explains it: "Hypothetically, a pregnancy is an alien presence in a human body. A lot of processes occur to stop a mother's body from attacking a fetus in the womb ... but hypothetically, given how aggressively this thing alters the body, its response to a fetus could be equally aggressive."
What happened to Erin and Mildred Gunning's blood?
Dr. Gunning's tests on Erin's and her mother's blood provide a glimmer of hope that everyone can return back to normal. When Dr. Gunning places samples of their blood in the sun, the infected part burns away, leaving their normal blood behind. Because the ratio of the Angel's parasite is still only at trace amounts in their systems, Dr. Gunning reasons, they might be able to pass it through, similar to what happens when you ingest alcohol. "Before a certain point, if we stop taking it in, maybe our body can push it back out. Filter it out, the way it does any other harmful substance, if it's not too much."
What happened between Mildred and John Pruitt?
In episode 7, as the vampiric townspeople run riot, Mildred Gunning and John Pruitt sit inside the church, ruminating over their days in love and the miracle of having a second chance to be together, as a family. It's implied that Mildred and John had an affair during the war, but Mildred chose not to disrupt her family with her then husband, letting her daughter Sarah believe he was her father. But Sarah's real father, as she finds out just before Sturge shoots her, was John.
What other incidents have happened on the island?
Strange things have happened before on Crockett Island. In episode 7, Sturge says that in 1984, the whole island "burned to nothing." Everything -- except the church. When the cats wash up on the beach, Mayor Scarborough informs Sheriff Hassan that in 2002 a flock of starlings fell out of the sky. "Never did get a satisfying answer. Lots of theories. Lightning, noises, disease. Whole pile of dolphins once too... More than a dozen and they had bites missing." It gets worse. Three years ago, an oil spill saw all the fishermen's catches spoiled. Then came a rat problem, pantries invaded after the rodents' regular fish food source was polluted (at least, according to nosy priest's assistant Bev Keane).
Across these events, since the island community was established in the 1800s (according to the old newspaper clipping in the pastor's house), the island's population has diminished. "We used to be hundreds, now we're just dozens. This isn't a community anymore, honey. It's a ghost," Riley's mom Annie says.
These events play into Father Paul's idea that "we tend to dislike mysteries. We feel uncomfortable not knowing." They also paint a picture of a forsaken town that, according to Father Paul, needed the Angel to save it with its promises of rebirth, second chances and eternal life.
Who killed Pike the dog?
In episode 1, when Bev Keane passes by Pike at the local store, she jumps at the sound of the dog's bark. She scolds Joe Collie for letting his dog snap at her. Joe tries to explain that that's just Pike's way of saying hello, but Bev declares Pike a "menace," implying the same of his owner. Joe is the outcast town drunk after accidentally shooting the mayor's daughter Leeza and paralyzing her legs.
At the Crock Pot Luck festivities in episode 2, Pike is found dead, having apparently ingested a poisoned hot dog. Erin remembers that Bev, who's also a teacher, was acting nervously with a canister of rat poison she had easy access to from the school store cupboard. If you go back to a few moments before Pike is found dead, a hand and the hem of a floral dress flash past the pet, revealing a hot dog now discarded on the ground. That same dress is seen worn by Bev Greene a few scenes earlier as she peruses the food selection.
Who's Harpoon Harry?
A spot on the island called the Uppards is rumored to be haunted by Harpoon Harry, a dead fisherman who "harpooned kids for their meat." Really, the story was told by older kids to prevent their younger siblings from following them to their favorite drinking spot. This story both builds atmosphere and provides misdirection for the real threat preying on the people of Crockett Island.
What happens to Crockett Island and the Angel in the end?
In the end, Bev and Sturge's plan to burn down all the buildings -- to create a "new flood" with the church as the arc for the "good citizens" -- backfires. After Monsignor Pruitt sees the destruction he's caused and after Sturge shoots his daughter Sarah dead, he angrily sets the church alight. Then Sherif Hassan, with the help of his son Ali, burns down the recreation center. With Erin, Sarah and Mildred having already burned the remainder of the large boats, this leaves no shelters whatsoever on the small island for the vampiric townsfolk to hide beneath and escape the sun. Nor can they spread their contagion to the rest of the world.
Leeza and Warren are the only two to escape to safety, their blood not infected enough to see them turn to cinders. They row out into the sea in Erin's canoe, where they see the Angel attempt to flee, but its wings -- shredded in Erin's last living act -- are already failing it. Warren points out that the Angel is running from the sunrise, but it'll have to make it 30 miles to the west to reach safety, when it can barely fly. "No, I... I don't think it can [make it]," Warren says, making it pretty clear the Angel is toast.
The pair remain in the canoe, as the island burns in the distance, watching the sunrise flecked with falling ash. Leeza, with a small laugh of relief, says she can no longer feel her legs, the infected blood fading from her system. The two teenagers will presumably wait for the next ferry to arrive on the island to save them.
Will Midnight Mass get a season 2?
Short answer: No.
At least, it's extremely unlikely. Following the success of 2018's The Haunting of Hill House, it was announced at the beginning of 2019 that Flanagan and longtime producing partner Trevor Macy (they've been working together since 2013's Oculus) have a multi-year deal with Netflix to develop new series exclusively for the streamer.
The prolific creators went on to serve up the second installment of The Haunting anthology and Midnight Mass was announced as their next project. In July, 2019, Deadline reported that it would be a seven-episode series and, after that ending, it seems pretty definitive it was only intended as a miniseries.
Plus, Flanagan is incredibly busy.
New Movies Coming in 2023 From Marvel, Netflix, DC and More