Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for The Midnight Club.The Midnight Club is about death. By following a group of terminal patients living the last months of their lives in a hospice, creates series Mike Flanagan and Leah Fong explore the existential fear of contemplating the oblivion that awaits us at the grave. It is no wonder that the characters of The Midnight Club cling to any kind of hope, sometimes with dire consequences for all. Through magical rituals and alternative healing routines, the young adults of Brightcliffe fight as best they can against the terrible end that awaits them. At the same time, they promise to reach out from the other side when their time comes to tell their friends that death is not the end and there is no need to be afraid. The Midnight Club is a beautiful exploration of how faith and hope make the weight of death bearable, and what could be a depressing watch ultimately becomes a celebration of life, of enjoying the present moment with all our energy.
While The Midnight Club is a brilliant study of human mortality, this isn’t the first time Flanagan has explored death on Netflix. Death is also central to all three of Flanagan’s previous series: The Haunting of Hill House, The Ghost of Bly Manorand Midnight mass. While each show Flanagan works on has its own goal and setting, they all echo the same concerns, and they all end with an optimistic message to embrace mortality.
In 2018, Flanagan became one of Netflix’s biggest stars by asking what a ghost is. The Haunting of Hill House is a poignant story in which family trauma and addiction haunt the characters and form of otherworldly apparitions. As the series builds and emphasizes how the ghosts we carry through our lives can be manifestations of wounds that refuse to heal, the payoff reveals how a ghost, most of the time, is what we want to see. In Flanagan’s latest work, a ghost is an incomprehensible force that frightens us at night – but once we gather the courage to face it, we realize that ghosts have a surprisingly positive side to them. After all, if ghosts exist, our loved ones are never truly lost, and there is more to life than a cold and lonely hole in the ground.
Flanagan took this cheerful perspective on ghosts one step further The Ghost of Bly Manor, where a ghost story equals a love story. The sequel to Hill House toned down the horror but delivered a masterfully crafted romance infused with the supernatural. And as the credits rolled, we couldn’t stop crying, thinking about how a ghost is a memory, a secret, and the desire to never let go of the people who make life worth living. The Haunting series is full of bone-chilling moments, but if they stand the test of time, it’s because they speak to our universal anguish when the subject is death. The Midnight Club rescues this motif by leading his group of terminal patients into a perpetual ghost hunt, and when death is so close, every sign is interpreted as proof that there is still hope and love after the body turns to dust.
Though Midnight mass has no ghosts, the series is also based on discussions of mortality. Midnight mass imagines a priest (Hamish Linklater) who becomes a vampire and contemplates eternal life. It also follows a convicted atheist (Zach Gilford) tries to make peace with the shortcomings of life without the support of faith. The series could have become a cynical defense of rational thinking. Instead, it tries to look for what unites us all, believers or not, and emphasizes how both faith and earthly addictions are usually crutches we pick up along the way to deal with the terrifyingness of death. Scary, actually. And without a safety net to hold us, we would crumble in despair. Once again, Midnight mass ends on a high note as it asks people to embrace life and accept that death is just a natural threshold we will all cross one day. And this fact does not make life any less meaningful.
The Midnight Club is another excellent addition to Flanagan’s immaculate body of work. But if the show can be so successful in dealing with complex subjects like suicide and substance abuse, it’s because Flanagan has sharpened her exploration of death over the years. So while the new show stands on its own and can be thoroughly enjoyed by people who didn’t watch Flanagan’s previous series, it’s notable to note how The Midnight Club echoes the filmmaker’s optimistic and complex perspective on death.
The Midnight Club is available right now on Netflix.