Midnight Mass spins the sort of story that seasoned Stephen King fans will be all too familiar with; the divided people of a seriously remote fishing community are drawn to a mysterious newcomer, Father Paul (Hamish Linklater), when he takes over their decrepit church, St. Patrick’s.
As a series of mysterious and so-called miraculous events begin occurring, however, the island finds itself in the vice-like grip of a religious fervour.
Is all as it seems, though? No spoilers here, but you’d best assume the answer is a resounding, “hell no”.
Now, we all had dizzyingly high expectations for Mike Flanagan’s new Netflix project, and for good reason; his previous works, The Haunting Of Hill House and The Haunting Of Bly Manor, are considered to be some of the best horror series ever made.
Why? Well, because, rather than relying on cheap jump scares, Flanagan expertly blends tragedy with terror to create… well, to create very human stories that still keep viewers up all night long.
Midnight Mass, thankfully, is no exception to this rule. Indeed, the characters who reside on Crockett Island all carry their own distinct burdens and traumas, be it the abuses they have endured during childhood, or the drunken acts they have committed and can never take back.
It is the trials and tribulations of Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli), though, that has truly captured the attention of avid viewers – and this is largely due to the weighty and heartbreaking monologue he delivers in the show’s sixth episode.
In a discussion with Sarah Gunning (Annabeth Gish), the sheriff reveals the tragic backstory that has led him and his son to Crockett Island in the first place, recalling how the events of 9/11 led him to become a police officer in the first place.
“I was 21 when the Twin Towers went down,” he tells her. “I watched it on TV in my dorm room, just weeping.
“Now I was a kid, I wasn’t religious at all really, but I went to the mosque that day because they had a blood drive. And the line went for blocks. I wanted to help, I wanted to protect this country, so I moved to New York and enrolled in NYPD training.”
Sheriff Hassan continues: “Some of my friends weren’t happy. ‘NYPD is against us,’ they’d say. I’d tell them, ‘You’re wrong. I’ll show them they don’t have to be afraid of us. I’ll show them who we are.’ And I worked my way up. You know, traffic, and translating and transcribing wiretaps, and then vice.
“I get married, Ali is born, and I’m promoted again – I’m a detective now. I have top secret security clearance for the joint terrorism taskforce; I’m helping the FBI fight terrorists.”
As it turns out, though, the NYPD had an ulterior motive; they actually wanted Hassan to unethically target Arab-American communities.
“I thought we were supposed to be fighting terrorists,” he says. “Instead, we’re flipping some pothead student in Queens to spy on Americans. So I complain. Gently. One time.
As Sarah watches him silently from across the desk, the sheriff goes on to say: “I was surveilled by other cops. They even had an official file on me… and not just me. After the Towers, Muslim officers were promoted fast, especially if we knew the language; the linguistic knowledge, the cultural knowledge… we were very desirable for that.
“But then it started to occur to them that, with so many of us on the force, elevated to positions of real authority, what if that had been our plan all along? What if we were interlopers? What if we were infiltrators? What if we were double agents?
“They fucking panicked. Internal Affairs was suddenly all over us; we were being followed, we were being recorded – civilians, too – at mosques and cafes. And suddenly I’m out of plain clothes and I’m back in uniform. Night shifts, the street beat. And more and more I realise I’ve lost their trust.”
“I roll with it,” continues Sheriff Hassan. “I keep my head high. Dignity. Dignity is a word my wife uses. ‘Show them dignity.’ And then she’s diagnosed, and she’s robbed of her dignity so fast, and then she’s gone. And I couldn’t.”
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Explaining that he’d hoped Crockett Island offered a remote enough location to try and get a new lease on life, the sheriff says: “Ali and I get as far away as we can, and I find this gig. This little island. So sleepy, it could be dead. No elections, no staff. Just a tiny room at the back of a grocery store, and a bunch of fishermen without a notable incident of intentional violence in almost a century, and I beg for the post. Dignity.
“Ali is bored to tears, but he’s safe. And I still think I could maybe move the world that one millimetre. You know, maybe here’s where we make the difference. Not in the big city, but in this tiny village. Win over the fucking PTA and call it a victory for Islam.”
Little did Sheriff Hassan know, though, that the island would be just as bigoted, just as hateful, and even more fatal than NYC.
“I don’t intimidate,” he tells Sarah. “I don’t overshare or overstep or intrude in any way. I don’t even carry a gun. And still, still, Beverly Keane – and a few others, too – look at me like I’m Osama Fucking Bin Laden.
“And you’d like me to investigate St Patrick’s?”
It’s a raw moment, and utterly unexpected in its brilliance. Indeed, many have held it up for offering such a resonant social commentary on what it is like to be Muslim in a post–9/11 world.
And, speaking about the prejudices that he himself experienced after the attack on the Twin Towers, Kohli tells E! News: “You could feel it, you felt a shift… [there was a] spotlight on you. And I remember me and my bestest friends in the world, who still are to this day, Mohamed and Mohammed, both Moroccan… the things that were said to them and me, like, we became brothers.
“I remember walking at one point at school, and a group of white boys drove past us and spat on us.”
It was because of this, and the countless other injustices he has been subjected to, that Kohli knew how important his character’s Midnight Mass speech was.
“We very much feel the effects of it,” the actor says. “So yeah, when I was delivering the monologue, I was not only speaking for myself, I was speaking for my friends’ experience. It’s a heartbreaking speech, [and] it’s probably my favourite one I’ve been given.”
He has certainly done it justice. Indeed, if you only have time to watch one scene from Midnight Mass, this writer urges you to make it that one; you honestly won’t regret it.
Midnight Mass is available to stream on Netflix.
Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.