The Midnight Mass cast breaks down the Netflix horror's final moments

This post discusses major spoilers and plot points from all seven episodes of Midnight Mass.

For a spooky slow-burn, Midnight Mass sure wrapped things up in a blaze of glory. After Father Paul (Hamish Linklater)—a de-aged Monsignor Pruitt, as he confesses—introduces his parish to the supposed “Angel Of God” and asks them to literally give up their mortal lives in communion, things get bloody fast, and the priest acknowledges he’s made a huge mistake. The finale sees the pious Bev Keane (Samantha Sloyan) leading the vampiric converted as they plan to spread “the good word” off-island and leave the unfaithful for dead. Meanwhile, Erin Greene (Kate Siegel) and the rest of the survivors attempt to stop the contagion from reaching the mainland, burning the boats except for the canoe on which teens Warren (Igby Rigney) and Leeza (Annarrah Cymone) can paddle out to safety. In her last moments, Erin slashes the Angel’s wings, and the residents of Crockett Island realize they must accept their fate as the sun begins to rise.

It’s a climax fraught with emotion, but one that brings Midnight Mass to a closing grace note of quiet sanguinity. To help unpack it all, The A.V. Club spoke with series stars Siegel, Linklater, Sloyan, and Zach Gilford, who first takes us back to episode five, when “prodigal son” Riley Flynn makes a shocking sacrifice.

Riley and Erin’s final sacrifices

“When I got the job and signed on, I knew I was only in six of seven episodes,” Gilford shares, “so I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m assuming I die.’” While his assumption was correct, Gilford admits he was still completely blown away by Riley’s final act of redemption, in which he takes Erin out to sea and shares what happened to him at the community center—and then forces her to witness his own fiery death, knowing it was the only way to convince her of the danger threatening the rest of Crockett Island.

“[Riley] walks through much of his life, much of the show, thinking he’s a piece of shit. And then [Erin] gives him a little light in his life where it’s like, ‘Oh, maybe I deserve some morsel of happiness,’ Gilford says. ” When Riley realizes what he’s become after the Angel’s attack, he decides to sacrifice himself to save “the one person he truly cares about.”

“It is one of my favorite moments of the whole show,” Gilford says. “Within this supernatural show—with all this crazy weirdness—it’s the most real moment. If you saw someone burning alive in front of you, that’s what it would be: You, screaming... with no music, no nothing. And it’s so terrifying.”

Siegel agrees, and reveals that the rowboat conversations were shot on her first day working with Gilford. Despite being newly acquainted, the actors committed to the emotional intensity of the scene: “There was safety in the sense that we knew that we were going to go there with each other.” Siegel was so wowed by Gilford’s delivery of Riley’s goodbye that it was easy for her to access that combination of grief and terror. “All of the the bullshit fell away,” she says, “and there was an instinct to me like, ‘I don’t want this guy to die!’”

Riley’s death might make for a devastating cliffhanger, but it also sets the stage for the final act of Midnight Mass—one where the story’s true heroes and villains come into focus. “What I always felt about that moment, is that it’s a brilliant bait-and-switch,” Siegel says. As soon as she returns to the island, Erin is our de facto protagonist, and she gradually finds a small group of allies in Dr. Sarah Gunning (Annabeth Gish), the doctor’s miraculously younger mother (Alex Essoe), and Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli).

“[Flanagan] makes you think that the show is about two white male leads, and then it ends up being Bev and Erin versus each other—in the end, you’re left with [these] women, your Muslim sheriff, your lesbian doctor, and the old woman,” Siegel says.

While Erin, too, falls victim to a gruesome attack from the Angel, a sense of peace washes over her in her final moments as she reflects on one of her last conversations with Riley. “What I loved about [that flashback] is that it sort of marries her two earlier monologues about clipping the wings of the dove with her mom, and what happened to her baby,” reflects Siegel. “And it was a sense that Erin—because she is, and continues to be throughout, a moderate Catholic—doesn’t turn on her religion. She doesn’t give up on God. Religion saved her life, and supported her through the darkest times, so she comes out it with clear eyes and a full heart.” Joking reference to Gilford’s Friday Night Lights tenure aside, Siegel was floored by the way Erin’s story came full circle, all while underscoring Midnight Mass’s ultimately optimistic take on the affirming power of spirituality.

Bev and Father Paul’s diverging paths

Former allies in their utter devotion to God, the finale drives a wedge between Paul/Pruitt and Bev when the former sees the error of his ways and seeks forgiveness while the latter decides to dig her heels in. It’s in their diverging paths that Midnight Mass makes its point clear: There’s a fine line between having strong convictions and unchecked fanaticism. Differences aside, both Linklater and Sloyan find their characters at their most relatably human in the final seconds before the sun rises on Crockett Island.

“I think Father Paul realizes he made a mistake,” Linklater says. Despite asking his community to poison themselves as the ultimate test of their faith, “he truly believed that he was doing what he was supposed to be doing, what he had been put on this island to do.” However, seeing Bev play gatekeeper—literally turning people away from the church at a time when they needed it most—became his moment of reckoning.

“It turns out he was terribly mistaken. And, you know, I feel like that in my daily life all the time. ‘Oh dear, I’ve really made a horrible error. Do you know what I need? Forgiveness.’ And that’s where he gets to, too. No acting required,” Linklater jokes. As he points out, Paul doesn’t ask God, or even his parish for forgiveness; instead, he turns to the woman he loves.

On the other hand, Bev’s final moments are spent alone, filled with pain: “What brought those moments to life for Beverly was the fact that, unlike Paul, she never fully comes to the understanding that she was mistaken,” Sloyan says. What Bev sees at the end—finally witnessing the destruction she laid to a community she’s been a part of her whole life—sinks in just a little too late.

“There’s the spark that she may have been wrong, and I think that nothing terrifies her more than the fact that she may have been wrong,” Sloyan says. That horror is apparent on Bev’s face as she digs into the sand, intent to avoid the sun and avoid the consequences of her actions, clinging to the bitter end. “It really did make sense to me. I’d dig [too]! I’d be looking for an overturned boat or something.”

And though Midnight Mass ends conclusively, Sloyan and Linklater joke that Mike Flanagan could’ve found a way to save Bev for a part two—if she only dug deep enough: “I really tried to get in deep,” Sloyan says. “My goal was: Maybe she can! Maybe there’s a sequel, and it’s all about that!”

“Yeah, if you tapped into your inner ostrich and stuck your head in there!,” Linklater adds. “You could have just saved the head!”

For more from our conversations with Zach Gilford, Kate Siegel, Hamish Linklater, and Samantha Sloyan, check out the full video interviews embedded above. All of Midnight Mass is available to stream now, exclusively on Netflix.