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The Ending Of Midnight Mass Explained

Warning: Spoilers for "Midnight Mass" below.

"Midnight Mass" is the new series from "The Haunting of Hill House" creator Mike Flanagan that combines Christian mythology and vampirism into one bloody package. The story starts off by following Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford), a man who's just been released from prison and returns to his hometown of Crockett Island to find peace. This coincides with the arrival of the mysterious Father Paul (Hamish Linklater), the replacement for the town's elderly Catholic priest, Monsignor Pruitt.

But nothing is what it seems. Soon, Father Paul reveals himself to be the very same Monsignor Pruitt. On a trip to Damascus, Pruitt was bitten by what he thought was an angel but was, in fact, a vampire. When his vampirism reversed his aging and reverted him to a younger version of himself, Father Paul returned to Crockett to pass on this "gift" to his parishioners. But by doing so, he unleashed forces that he and nearly everyone else were powerless to stop. 

"Midnight Mass" explores themes like faith, atonement, greed, and religious extremism to deliver an unsettling and ultimately bleak story in which humans, not vampires, are the true monsters. The ending leaves a lot to unpack, so let's get to it. 

Father Paul: Not the show's villain, but pretty close to it

One of the major themes of "Midnight Mass" is just how dangerous religious faith can be. If it's not treated carefully, faith can easily turn into extremism, with deadly results. And nobody exemplifies that better than Father Paul.

When Father Paul returns to Crockett Island, he begins feeding his parishioners the vampire's blood in secret via their communion wine, and the vampire blood begins rejuvenating all of them. Father Paul claims this is all a gift from God, and most of the townspeople believe him, led by Bev (Samantha Sloyan). Soon, Bev comes to believe that Father Paul is the second coming of Jesus, and convinces herself that her mission is to spread the "miracle" to the rest of the world. Father Paul then watches in horror as Bev leads her faithful followers to massacre the townspeople who resist.

But Father Paul's real motivation was a selfish one. In the final episode, he reveals that he had an affair with a local named Mildred (Alex Essoe), and fathered the town doctor, Sarah (Annabeth Gish). He fed his parishioners vampire blood so that Mildred would drink it and become younger, which would allow them to live the life they never had. When Father Paul finally comes clean and tries to stop Bev, it's already too late. Bev declares him a false prophet, and he becomes another of her victims. 

Father Paul's real sin wasn't the affair; it was thinking he could manipulate his followers' faith without consequences. He might be somewhat sympathetic, but he's still capable of heinous deeds, intentional or not. 

Riley gets redemption, even if it's futile

"Midnight Mass" has another character who's trying to atone for his past sin: Riley, who killed a woman in a drunk driving accident. This gave Riley a crisis of faith. Unlike his fellow Crockett Islanders, he's stopped believing that God is inherently good. Riley is also one of the first townspeople to notice his symptoms of vampirism. When this happens, he could go full Bev and believe his vampirism to be a miracle. Instead, he views it for what it is: a curse that must be stopped. And the only way to do that is to sacrifice himself. 

In one of the show's biggest twists, Riley takes his childhood friend and love interest Erin (Kate Siegel) on a boat and tells her that he loves her. Just then, the sun rises and he's burned to ash. This convinces Erin that the town's vampirism outbreak is genuine, which galvanizes her and the other handful of holdouts to resist Bev and her followers. 

Father Paul's and Riley's character arcs show the different ways people live with their past failures. Father Paul is always looking backward and thinks he can "fix" his mistakes, regardless of how they might affect others. Riley, on the other hand, focuses on how to live the best life he can in the present. By sacrificing himself, he gives Erin and other non-zealots their only chance to survive.

But in the end, it doesn't make much of a difference. 

The real villain is Bev

"Midnight Mass" does have a literal monster, an "angel" (actually a vampire) that Father Paul brings back from Syria. But the true villain of the show, Bev, is entirely human. If Father Paul represents the misuse of faith, Bev represents the consequences. 

When the show begins, she's the local church busybody. She's always been the town's most devout Catholic. When the vampirism starts to appear, she interprets this to be "proof" that God exists. (Encouraged by Father Paul, of course.) Soon, she becomes a fanatic. In the season finale, Bev's end goal becomes clear. Convinced that vampirism is a gift from God, she wants to turn everyone into a vampire, whether they want to or not. Next, she wants to spread vampirism to the mainland, and then the world. In the end, Erin and the other holdouts defeat Bev by burning down the island's two remaining structures: the church and the rec center, giving them nowhere to take refuge from the sun. But the damage is already done. 

The history of religion is full of people like Bev, who wanted to convert others either voluntarily or otherwise. Individuals like Bev have killed countless people, and the victims of Crockett Island just happen to be the latest vampire-flavored example. 

The last scene is hopeful ...or is it?

Only two characters survive Crockett Island: Zach's younger brother Warren (Igby Rigney), and Leeza (Annarah Cymone), the daughter of the mayor who was partially paralyzed in an accident. Earlier in the season, the vampire blood gave Leeza the ability to walk again. But while Warren and Leeza row away from the island in a canoe, Leeza's paralysis returns. It's an ironically hopeful moment; sure, she might not be able to walk, but it also means that vampirism won't be spreading to the mainland. Warren and Leeza also represent the possibility of a better future. As the youngest and most innocent of the Crockett Island victims, they're spared and get a chance to start new lives for themselves.

Except it's not entirely hopeful. Earlier, Erin cut up the vampire/angel's wings. As the sun rises, the kids watch the angel/vampire attempt to fly away from Crockett Island. It seems likely that the vampire won't make it to safety. But it's never explicitly shown that the vampire does indeed die. 

According to Flanagan, that was a deliberate choice. "The angel doesn't represent vampirism or horror but corruption in any belief system," he told Den of Geek. "It represents fundamentalism and fanaticism. That's never gonna go away. You might chase it away from your community for a minute. You might send it off to the sunrise and hope that that corrupting ideology will disappear. But it won't. And the show could never show the angel die for that reason."