28 September 2021

Midnight Mass review

I binged Midnight Mass on Netflix this last weekend. I have a lot of thoughts but first I have a spoiler-free review, and I ask for no spoilers in comments.

Is it good? It has some serious flaws, but at its best it is not merely good but great.

Do you want to see it? That depends …

I think it is best to go into Mass knowing as little as possible about it, so I’m going to avoid talking about the plot or the particular themes and do my best to equip you to decide if you want to see it, saving criticism for another day.

It has seven hour-long chapters and takes a while to spin up, so if you’re going to check it out, you must commit. The first couple of chapters deliver what may land for you as a slow burn … or as just slow. For me, the first couple of chapters had serious weaknesses that almost threw me out of the show. I am very glad they did not. It picked up like whoa.

The series is an ensemble story about a small town, its church, and its people, which uses a turn toward genre horror to deliver a complex meditation on religion, redemption, and Christianity. It has gore and hokey supernatural horror tropes. It delivers thoughtful, engaged ambivalence about religion in general and Christianity in particular. There are talky character monologues.

So that may put you on this train or off it, right there.

To gauge my response to the religious themes, it may help you to know that I am not a Christian and do not come from Christian culture, though I have done some study because I am a religion nerd. I love The Last Temptation of Christ as a passionate, sincere, spiritual reflection on Christianity, and I love Midnight Mass for similar reasons, though it addresses different things, in a different voice, but referencing it is a useful gauge because if you feel cold with indifference or hot with disgust at Last Temptation, then Mass is probably not for you.

If I told you how Mass interweaves its horror tropes with Christian scripture & doctrine in the last two chapters, it would spoil the show and make it sound dumb. It is not. It is very smart and very clever and very thoughtful, better than I could have imagined. I must also mention that the show prominently features a nuanced portrayal of priesthood in action — when do you get to see that? — which for me was enough in itself to make it worth the time.

(And please forgive that punnish use of “passionate” above, but its layered meanings really are le mot juste for both Last Temptation and Mass, though again in very different ways, so I could not resist.)

The show delivers the goods on its Spooky Town With A Secret and its Horror Movie genre requirements in a big way. If you love that stuff, that is reason enough to watch it. You don’t have to love horror to like the show, nor do you need a super strong stomach for it, but if you are a viewer who just cannot process horror then the show is not for you. (And content warning for harm to animals and a pet, if that squicks you.)

A lot of folks think the show features great performances from the actors all around, and I … don’t. But some of the performances are breathtaking. There are starmaking turns from Samantha Sloyan and Hamish Linklater in key roles. Similarly, Mass is one of these ensemble things where every character gets their turn with a juicy monologue. I love that sort of thing yet found several of the particular monologues lacking … but many were good, and a few were breathtaking.

In sum, Midnight Mass is wildly ambitious and while in my opinion it does not achieve all of those ambitions — I have some serious frustrations — it achieves a lot and has admirable ambition. I loved it. If this review has not put you off it, I do strongly recommend taking the plunge. People will be talking about it for years.

06 September 2021

Sartre on far right speaking in bad faith

I keep needing this observation from Anti-Semite and Jew. It describes not just antisemitism but the sensibilities of the far right in general, in their attack on the capacity for good faith discussion as part of their method of tearing down the conditions which enable liberal democracy.

Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play.

They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past.