Midnight Mass: Bev Keane and the Horrors of Zealotry

Every character in Midnight Mass is a believer in something and most of them are cool about it. Riley Flynn believes he’s damned, his mother Annie believes he’s worthy of God’s love, Erin Greene believes everything happens for a reason, and Dr. Sarah Gunning believes in science. (My girl ✊) They won’t dump any of this on you unless you’re having a one-on-one conversation with them.

Everybody on Crockett Island is level-headed about their faith. Except Bev Keane.

Midnight Mass is full of superb performances, but the one I can’t stop thinking about is Samantha Sloyan. As the love-to-hate Bev, she’s ferocious without ever throwing a punch. The conviction in her eyes is low-key terrifying, and she’s not the literal monster in the story. She’s reckless and uncompromising in her beliefs. Her character might grate on us as viewers, but Sloyan’s performance is also spellbinding to witness. (Spoilers beware.)

St. Patrick’s church attendance has dwindled down to a loyal few over the years, much to Bev’s dismay. Riley’s mom, the wheelchair-ridden Leeza Scarborough and her parents are the ones who attend daily mass. A handful more go on Sundays. The rest turn up on Easter or Christmas. Bev knows this; she’s like a messed-up Santa Claus that way and will one day hold it against you. She judges EVERYONE based on their church participation as if faith is something that can be measured or given a rank.

Each character experiences a crisis of faith of some kind. Erin Greene will lose a child. Riley’s negligence behind the wheel claims the life of a woman – an event that upends his faith in God. Riley’s dad, in turn, loses confidence in his eldest son. Monsignor Pruitt, too, aging and ailing, finds his faith withering. Pruitt embarked on a retreat to the Holy land as a last-ditch attempt to rediscover his passion, and hasn’t been back since.

Bev never lost her faith, and that makes her belief in God all the more obnoxious.

When Erin Greene asks for another bottle of Windex in the school’s supply closet, Bev chastises her because Erin’s mother before her knew how scarce resources are on the island, and always stretched the cleaning supplies as far as she could. Bev speaks backhandedly, gets preachy over a damn recyclable of all things! (Ma’am, this is a Wendy’s.) It’s 1-v-1 conversations with Bev; her voice is her weapon, and the receipts of Crockett’s past are her ammunition. And if you think you can get a word in, she’ll drop holy bars on you straight from the Bible.

Erin and Bev are both steadfast in their faith yet exist on opposite ends of Crockett Island. Erin practices in solitude, whereas Bev ought to learn how to shut the fuck up. (Since we’re here, Bev would absolutely decry that as “censorship.”) Their verbal sparring in Episode 2 is a microcosm of Bev’s character throughout the series. In that same scene, she’s holding a can of poison which she’ll use to kill Joe Collie’s dog simply because it barked at her. Joe Collie, too, was responsible for Leeza Scarborough’s condition, so Bev feels justified in the act. She chides Erin over throwing away a plastic bottle, meanwhile she’s plotting to poison someone’s pet.

Riley does us a solid in explaining Bev’s zealous origins. He tells the newly arrived Father Paul about the oil spill that decimated the island’s fish stocks. When the company offered a payout to each resident, Bev not only goaded everybody in taking the money, but to consider giving to the church. Bev then used the donations to build the very rec center where Riley and Father Paul hold their AA meetings, and likely kept the rest for herself. Bev always has an agenda and it’s often between her and God.

Bev’s over-zealousness is amplified when the town witnesses a miracle at the end of Episode 2: Leeza Scarborough stands up for the first time since the accident that crippled her. In the middle of Sunday mass. While collecting communion. Bev, as you can imagine, becomes insufferable about the phenomenon, stating it outright. It’s NOT a triumph of science or medicine; it’s a miracle from God.

This emboldens Bev to hand out copies of the Bible at school. It’s not a religious school, mind you. When the debate between church and state arises, it becomes a standoff between Bev and Sheriff Hassan. Bev handed a copy to his son Ali, both practicing Muslims.

Hassan being the Sheriff, he quotes the law and states why it’s necessary to separate religion from education. But to Bev, the two are inseparable now. There is no going back after what she saw happen to Leeza. What good is any separation now that miracles are sprouting all over Crockett, where potentially newer books and histories will be written? The other parents start to agree.

Bev convinced herself long ago that everything she says and does is justified. Because it’s all in His name. God is her shield, her free pass, her personal crusade. The difference now is that Bev can cite the wonders of Crockett’s religious revival as “proof” that faith – that Catholic faith – can be rewarded.

Because it’s not just Leeza. Riley’s parents start to feel younger again. Dr. Sarah Gunning’s own ailing mother Mildred starts to look younger by the day, moving around the house more and recalling memories better. Father Paul might be at the root of these supposed miracles, but Bev makes sure everybody hears about it.

In some ways, Bev’s belief is stronger than Father Paul, who as it turns out, is Monsignor Pruitt resurrected. On his retreat to Jerusalem, the elderly Monsignor takes shelter in a cave where he encounters an ancient vampire. He’s attacked, near death, and is then revived by the vampire out of mercy. The creature’s lifeblood grants wonders not unlike Jesus, which is what leads Pruitt to blindly hailing the creature as an “angel.” (Let ‘em have this, he’s been through a lot.)

Monsignor Pruitt had become cynical at his old age, his body failing him, his hope fading. Only when he experienced a Christ-like resurrection that his faith was restored. Thus, he returns to Crockett to do the same for everyone else, and his heady and powerful sermons start to do just that.

Bev, in a way, doesn’t need to see an “angel” because she already believes in them without question—and soon there’s no questioning her or her belief in Pruitt. This is why I find Bev both so unsettling and infuriating, more so than Pruitt who smuggles the damn creature onto the island. There’s no alternative to Bev, no other interpretation or way of seeing things except hers.

As Pruitt’s proud mouthpiece, Bev becomes the gatekeeper of right and wrong. She judges Riley for what he’s done, but is morally okay with committing far more monstrous crimes. She says it’s okay to believe in whatever religion people hold dear, but never misses a chance to condemn other faiths. She says everyone is welcome, but constantly singles out the Sheriff and his son. To disagree or criticize her and the Monsignor is to criticize God. And how dare you criticize God?

She could be preaching a political ideology, or cause, or on behalf of a candidate, and the tenor of Samantha Sloyan’s performance would hit the same notes. Whoever she props up, she believes they’re above criticism no matter what, that they can truly “do no wrong” because they’re following the right cause. (Bev is totally on Twitter routinely posting, “Monsignor Pruitt is right about everything 😤”)

Bev Keane is what happens when belief goes unchecked and tips over into fanaticism. It overrides her ability to be objective. When Pruitt murders Joe Collie, Bev doesn’t call the cops nor holds him accountable for his crime. She reframes it as a moment of God’s doing. Collie is the town drunk who paralyzed Leeza, so in Bev’s mind he had it coming. She then orders the trusted few in their enclave to dispose the body. There is no line, no limits anymore. She’s Team Pruitt all the way, his most stalwart soldier and chief enabler.

They truly believe they’re spearheading a new religious era for Crockett Island. In reality, they’ve twisted St. Patrick’s into a cult. Halfway through the series, Pruitt’s speeches on the pulpit lose their passion. It’s no longer inspiring, but alarming. He talks of a spiritual war with casualties that it starts to sound frighteningly literal. Many are startled in their seats listening to this. But they sit and listen anyway.

Mildred Gunning, now able to attend the new Sunday mass, knows the difference between truth and propaganda, between sermons and indoctrination. She knew the Monsignor in her day; she doesn’t recognize the man standing before her. She tells her daughter to never go there again. Bev, however, has already persuaded everybody to come for daily mass.

That’s the scary part about belief. It’s open arms, open doors, and Jesus loves you. On comes the demagoguery, the scapegoating, the “us vs. them” rhetoric. The zealots barricade the doors but by then there’s no escape. You don’t notice they’ve spiked the Kool-Aid until you realize you drank it all.

In the end, Bev is exposed as a hypocrite. When she realizes that resurrection comes at a cost, she hesitates. She runs and hides. Cowers. She thinks she’s the righteous hand of God until she sees, finally, that her actions have consequences. (Fucks around and finds out, basically.) This makes her doubling down in the finale all the more inevitable, and fatal. There’s no back-peddling or admitting she was wrong because that would ruin her. She sees this through to the end.

Monsignor Pruitt, at least, will see with horror how his ego perverted the word of God. By then it’s too late and he resigns to his fate. Bev steps up, keeps spinning more religious nonsense all through the final moments. She tries to dictate who will survive the coming rapture. It’s not God saying so; it’s just Bev saying so. Her overzealous pride literally sets everything aflame and asunder, dooming everybody in the end.

Midnight Mass might have an ancient bloodsucking vampire at its heart of darkness, but that monster can only come out at night. It’s Bev Keane’s batshit zealotry that wreaks havoc on Crockett Island in broad daylight.

‘Midnight Mass’ and the Monologue that Shattered Me

No matter the medium or genre, you will always run into scenes with two people talking. Sometimes the talking serves a purpose, other times it’s a slog you have to get through to get to the more exciting bits. In writer-director Mike Flanagan’s stories, sometimes characters do nothing but talk—to the point that it’s become its own subset of memes.

Across The Haunting of Hill House and Bly Manor, characters often give deeper ruminations to a simple “how are you?”; they give you their whole life story in an anecdote, or drop some philosophical kernels to chew on for the rest of the season. This might make Flanagan’s latest, Midnight Mass, sound pompous and long-winded. But, to jump on Flanagan’s wavelength for a minute, don’t we all have a purpose? Aren’t we all searching for meaning in the vastness of the cosmos?

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