The second episode of 'Midnight Mass,' Netflix's Episode 2: Book II: PsalmsIn the script, suffering animals is mirrored alongside meditations about suffering all around.
In the second episode of Mike Flanagan’s MidnightMass, there is a seven-minute long uninterrupted shot that shows its characters being surrounded by dead cats. They talk, walk, investigate, speculate, drift off, while the seagulls gather on the beach where they live, taking the hundreds of dead cats. As long takes go, it's not especially noteworthy—it's not as eventful as, say, that endless shootout from season one of True Detective, and it's not as still as the out-of-nowhere egg-cooking scene from last week's episode of Billions. Flanagan's willingness to place us in the middle of a pile of dead cats and allow us to stay there long after other shows have stopped watching is something you must be proud.
It's just one example of animal cruelty this episode (Book II: Psalms) has to offer. It's certainly not the most difficult image to see. The poisoning of Pike the loyal dog, Joe Collie, would be that. The victims were gathered at the island's Ash Wednesday party. It is a strange day considering Mardi Gras was the previous day, but it happens). They watch as their distraught owner screams, and the townfolk look on in horror. Bev Keene of the Church is most likely the culprit. She freely admitted to the Sheriff that she had poisoned the cats after they were washed ashore in case any predator animals were involved. We, the spectators, saw the dog eat a hotdog before his terrible death.
In the script, meditations about suffering are included alongside animal suffering. Father Paul, a strangely philosophical priest, organizes an AA meeting in his church's large rec center as a favor for Riley Flynn's son prodigal. After Bev Keane persuaded the townfolk to agree to a settlement with the oil company, Riley recounts the construction of the center. This was a good deal for all except the oil company. It's amazing how this works out.
Riley talks about alcoholism and then moves onto theodicy. This is the discussion of how an omniscient, beneficent, and benevolent God can allow for things such as Riley drinking to death a teenage boy, which he still sees each night when he goes to bed at night. Is it possible that God could have just waved His hand to prevent this from ever happening? The Church's insistence that suffering is a gift of God is a monstrous idea. He asks if it persuades people accept the horrors of the world. Father Paul is alert as ever and unflappable. He believes God can transform mankind's "awful acts" into something better.
We should keep this in mind as we process how the episode ended. At church the following Sunday, Father Paul begins offering the sacrament of the Eucharist—but he insists, bizarrely, that the wheelchair-bound Leeza rise from her chair and approach him to accept the Body of Christ. This is strange, and it's cruel. It seems that he has lost his Goddamn mind, or succumbed to religious zealotry. But then, she gets up and walks. It is a miracle.
It happens the next morning, when Erin Greene (Riley's former flame) sees a humanoid figure with glowing eyes out of her window. Shortly after, she visits Dr. Gunning to report that she has noticed blood under her clothes. However, the doctor tells her that it is just spotting and that the baby is okay. Before the doctor can go back to bed, the mother of a dementia sufferer screams and claims that her father had come up to her window during the night. She repeats, "That face!" "That face, that facial."
A monstrous creature mimicking the voice of the drug dealer drags him into a house. It is then that a miracle happens the next day.
Was that what you meant by God making suffering good? Do you think you might know more than you are letting on about it? It could have to do with that large empty box that you took to the island. The entity that flew through the sky above the island at night with the thing which consumed the dealer, and then killed the cats, might be a clue. If that's the case, did their suffering result in Leeza receiving a gift from God?
Sean T. Collins (@theseantcollins) writes about TV for Rolling Stone, Vulture, The New York Times, and anyplace that will have him, really. His family resides on Long Island.
Watch Midnight Mass Episode 2.