[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Midnight Mass Season 1, Episodes 1-7.]
Midnight Mass presented viewers with several twists and turns throughout its seven-episode season, but Episode 5, “Book V: Gospel,” is a particular standout.
However, this revelation shouldn’t come as any surprise to viewers who are familiar with Mike Flanagan‘s previous Netflix series, The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor. The horror auteur brings to life a tale of religious fervor sparked by darker origins than its Crockett Island deliverer, Father Paul (Hamish Linklater), could have imagined.
While Episode 3, “Book III: Proverbs,” unveiled the truth behind the remote island’s religious miracles and “The Angel” aiding in Father Paul’s mission, the fifth installment marks a turning point in the story. Similar to Flanagan’s past shows which also make significant waves in their fifth episodes, Midnight Mass viewers hit a crucial point in the season with this entry which focuses on Zach Gilford‘s Riley Flynn.
After being attacked by “The Angel” in the final moments of the fifth episode, Riley is reborn and ushered into his new life by Father Paul who sits down to level with the recently-returned Crockett Island native. Having been transformed by the blood of The Angel, Riley begins to experience a certain hunger for blood and sensitivity to light among other things.
The events between himself and Father Paul are relayed in a framing sequence of scenes featuring Riley and pal Erin Greene (Kate Siegel). Piece by piece, while sitting with Erin in a rowboat, Zach explains what happened after The Angel had attacked him.
Knowing Erin wouldn’t believe him, the location of their conversation also serves as the catalyst for his death which occurs as the sun rises, proving his seemingly outrageous claims to be true. Riley’s death is the motivating factor behind Erin’s return to Crockett Island and efforts to eradicate the insidious beings from its soil. Her own personal experience with Father Paul and his tainted communion also drives Erin’s actions following the random disappearance of a fetus from her womb.
Had this conversation and connection in Episode 5 not occurred, Father Paul’s plan to “save” Crocket’s islanders may have carried on, but Erin’s knowledge helped pull a few like-minded individuals like Erin, Dr. Sarah Gunning (Annabeth Gish), Mildred Gunning (Alex Esssos), and Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli) together to defeat evil.
This reflects the fifth installments of Hill House and Bly Manor which include some seriously twisted reveals for certain characters. In The Haunting of Hill House, the youngest Crain sibling and twin, Nell (Victoria Pedretti) is haunted by the “‘Bent-Neck Lady” throughout the first few installments, before a devastating visit to her old abode unveils the truth behind her biggest demon… herself.
It turned out that the phantom from her childhood turned out to be older Nell as a dead person. Lured by the house’s haunting embrace, Nell finds herself in a moment of sweet delusion as she dances around the abandoned mansion’s dusty rooms, believing her family has gathered for her wedding.
While she twirls, she’s led to the library where she’s pushed from a big drop by her mother Olivia’s (Carla Gugino) with a noose around her neck. Dead Nell’s horror upon learning this truth as she travels through space and time to the moments when her younger self was tormented is so heartbreaking and memorable, it is reminiscent of Midnight Mass‘s soul-crushing death of Riley.
As for Bly Manor, the fifth episode, “The Altar of the Dead,” follows the gothic home’s housekeeper, Hannah Grose (T’Nia Miller) as she endures confusing shifts in time and space herself. Over time, red flags about her state of being come into focus. Similar to Nell, Hannah is dead, but she doesn’t know it as her ghost goes about daily activities. Coming to terms with this reality is nearly as hard for viewers as it is for Hannah.
Not unlike Nell and Hannah, Riley too comes to the conclusion that he’s dead, choosing to eliminate himself rather than feeding into his new traits as a vampire-like being. “I brought you out here so I’d have nowhere to go,” Riley tells Erin on the boat. As he hopes aloud that she’ll head for the mainland and run from Crockett Island, he adds, “I knew you wouldn’t believe any of this unless you saw. I want you to run. But I believe you’re gonna row back there and do everything you can to save them. I’m just so sorry you have to see this.”
Resigned to his fate, Riley parts life with the final words, “I did my best,” before burning up in the sunrise. The horror of watching Riley’s corpse disintegrate and hearing Erin’s screams is just as jarring as the Bent-Neck Lady reveal in Hill House or Hannah’s self-realization in Bly Manor. Juxtaposing the terror Erin’s feeling, in death Riley comes face-to-face with Tara-Beth (Ebony Booth), the girl he killed in a drunk driving accident years prior.
A previous ghost haunting his waking hours, Tara-Beth’s previously mangled face is full when Riley sees her on the boat with the woman taking his hand in a comforting gesture. Heartbreaking and horrifying, Midnight Mass‘s fifth episode further supports the idea that it’s an essential installment just like Flanagan’s preceding shows and their fifth episodes.
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Midnight Mass, Streaming now, Netflix