The Midnight Club (Season 1) Review, Recap & Ending Explained: When it comes to Horror, Mike Flanagan does not play safe. He has pushed the boundaries before with “The Haunting of Hill House”, “The Haunting of Bly Manor” and “Midnight Mass”, where underneath the jump scares and terrors there is always a potent existential story that would permeate the emotional planes of any viewer. In his latest Netflix offering based on the works of Christopher Pike, “The Midnight Club”, he does the same with multiple such stories.
The Midnight Club (Season 1) Recap:
When Ilonka (Iman Benson) is diagnosed with Thyroid Cancer and considered terminal, she asks her foster dad, Tim (Matt Biedel) to take her to Brightcliffe. A hospice that specializes in caregiving for terminally ill teenagers. For Ilonka, however, care during her last handful of days is secondary. Her primary reason on insisting to be at Brightcliffe is ‘cure’. Ilonka has read a story about one Julia Jayne (Larsen Thompson), who claimed that she was cured in the Brightcliffe facilities. This is the fuelling hope that Ilonka harbors when she steps into the hallway of Brightcliffe.
She meets the doctor in charge, Georgia Stanton (Heather Langenkamp), and later is introduced to the all other inhabitants: Anya (Ruth Codd), the initially scornful roommate; Kevin (Igby Rigney), the always-trying-to-do-the-right-thing boy, even with Leukaemia; Spencer (William Chris Sumpter), suffering from AIDS and abandoned by his mother; Sandra (Annarah Cymone), the god-fearing Christian; Natsuki (Aya Furukawa) fighting depression as well as cancer; Amesh (Sauriyan Sapkota), the video game geek; and Cheri (Adia), the rich girl whose parents send expensive gifts instead of physically visiting her.
It does not take Ilonka much time to find the eponymous secret ‘Midnight Club’. The teenage patients gather in the old library to tell each other a story. A scary story. When Ilonka joins it, they tell her that they are bound by a pact. The pact dictates whoever in the Midnight Club dies first, has to provide a concrete sign from the afterlife and let the still-existing members know about what to expect when they cross that threshold.
As the storytelling sessions continued every midnight, Ilonka and other residents continues to live their life inside Brightcliffe premises. Mark (Zach Gilford), the practicing nurse often helps them in various situations. Ilonka also continues to dig into Julia Jayne. She steals Julia’s file from Dr. Stanton’s office. She even gets Kevin to help her. From Julia’s file, she learns about a symbol. An hourglass symbol. While exploring the woods nearby, Ilonka meets an older woman, who goes by the name Shasta (Samantha Sloyan).
Shasta owns the adjacent property of Brightcliffe’s. And she is the owner of a herbalist company called ‘Good Humor’. With Shasta’s insights, and some luck, Ilonka and the rest of the Midnight club members learn about a secret basement. From that basement, they find various notes and learn that ‘Midnight Club’ has been running for a longer time than they have thought before. The club was founded by none other than Julia Jayne. Ilonka also finds a book that Julia mentioned in her case files.
The Paragon Cult
The book is a diary by someone called Athena. Athena outlines the working of a cult that goes by the name ‘Paragon’. The Paragon cult was initiated by Athena’s mother, who went by the name Regina Ballard, in 1931. The hourglass symbol is the symbol of that cult. Ballard, or ‘Aceso’, as she preferred to be called that, wanted to practice a ritual to appease the ancient Greek five sister goddesses. The ritual involved blood sacrifices. Animals at first, and then humans. The purpose of the ritual was to extend Aceso’s life. To beat death.
Athena recognized the problematic nature of Paragon and she tried to break free. With her help, the local administrator shut down Aceso’s Paragon cult when there were multiple murders in the final ritual.
Stories Narrated By the Club Members:
These are the stories narrated by the midnight club members. Most of these stories are semi-adaptation of various other works by Christopher Pike. These stories not only provide the feel of an overarching anthology work, but they also act as vessels for the emotions that are going through their narrators.
The Two Danas
Anya tells the story which is reflective of her own life. Dana, the perfect girl, is a great ballet student, loved by her parents, and has a great sensitive friend. However, she is still jealous of the other kids simply because they have the opportunity to make mistakes. One day, the devil appears and offers Dana a solution. The devil would provide another body for Dana. The two Danas would be able to feel the same things the other one is feeling, thus allowing Dana to feel every imperfection she craved without changing her perfect life.
Although this starts well, however, it quickly becomes a problem as Dana becomes too selfish and goes on her own way, fatally interfering with the other Dana’s life. Things get so out of hand that both Danas decide to kill each other. One of them becomes successful, the other one not so much. This leaves the one remaining Dana amputated without knowing which Dana survived.
This story provides significant insight into Anya’s life as she also feels torn between two parts of herself.
The Wicked Heart
Kevin’s story is about a teenage serial killer called Dusty. Dusty gets instructions to kill young women from a demonic entity. This Son-of-Sam-like situation gets further complicated when one of his victim’s friends, Sheila, befriends him. Sheila, in fact, believes that there is a serial killer at the loose and wants Dusty to help her. Dusty is followed by the souls of all his victims, silently screaming and only visible to him.
It is revealed that Dusty gets the demonic instructions from his mother, as his mother is now possessed by that demon. When his mother names Sheila to be the next victim, Dusty finally finds the strength to ignore the order. He instead invites Sheila to his house and tells her everything. There, Dusty’s mother, in her demonic form, attacks them but Sheila kills her. The demon then passes to Dusty’s body, just like it passed to his mother’s body from his grandfather’s body.
Dusty manages to stop the demon from using his own body to hurt Sheila. He achieves this by trying to kill himself. In the end, Sheila saves him. Dusty now lives in a solitary cell, the demon still inside of him.
This story reflected what Kevin felt all along. He is afraid to hurt anyone. Especially his girlfriend, Catherine, whom he no longer loves. But he is afraid to break up with her. Kevin exaggerates and projects this fear onto Dusty where Dusty is compelled to hurt every girl he meets.
Gimme a Kiss
This story, told by Sandra, is an apologetic olive branch to Spence from Sandra. This detective noir story starts with Alice Palmer narrating a crime story to a local police officer. In the wake of two deaths and a missing case, Alice provides some light. Jake, Alice’s best friend, is missing and Kirk, Alice’s ex-boyfriend, drowned. While Sharon, Alice’s childhood friend, and Kirk’s girlfriend were also shot dead.
Alice tells the police that Jake and Kirk were seen kissing the previous day. Jake had his notebook filled with heart signs and ‘Gimme a Kiss’ written for Kirk. Jake’s notebook was photocopied and put on the noticeboard for the whole school to see. And so they do. Making Jake a social pariah due to the homophobic nature of everyone. Kirk also refused to associate with Jake in any way. Jake planned to take revenge on all by faking his death. He fell from the boat where all the students were having a party and did not come up. While using his scuba suit to swim ashore.
Little did he know that Kirk also followed him into the lake, to save him. Sharon, who had known about Jake’s plan, came to their hideout of Jake and told him that. Devastated to lose Kirk, she confronted Jake and in the scuffle, Jake killed her and set the house on fire, and fled. This was what Alice told to the Police. However, when Jake appears and kidnaps her, we get to know the whole story.
It was Alice who leaked Jake’s notebook. It was Alice who killed Kirk, because she also jumped into the lake, feigning to save the two boys, but actually ensuring Kirk breathed his last. She then followed Sharon and killed her with a gun and set fire to the house where Jake hid. Jake survived by hiding in a filled bathtub in his scuba suit.
Alice did all this because Kirk was a bad boyfriend to her (gave her herpes) and she could not believe her best friend Jake got involved with him. In the confrontation with Jake, she tries to attack Jake and gets accidentally shot with Jake’s gun. This story highlighted Sandra’s feelings toward Spence. Although she is a devout Christian, she does not believe her God would punish Spence for being gay. She ended her story with the implication that God cannot hate love.
See You Later
Amesh’s story is about a small-time video game developer Luke. Luke hangs around the video game parlor while trying to muster the courage to ask the receptionist, Becky, out. When he finally does, he finds that Becky has a Boyfriend, Ray. The same day, he is approached by Vincent. A tech genius who has developed multiple video games. Vincent asks Luke for his help in the one-world nuclear domination game.
The game seems to be impossible to beat without ending the world. While working with Vincent, Luke meets Kara, Vincent’s wife. Unbeknownst to Luke, Kara tries to seduce Ray so that Becky and Ray’s relationship fails and Becky comes to Luke. This sort of works. But Ray tells Luke and Kara that someone named Frederick has told him about Kara’s plan.
Hearing the name, Kara immediately goes to her house and finds Vincent kidnapped. She tells Luke that Vincent must be kidnapped by Frederick. She then reveals that she is Becky from the future. Vincent is Luke’s future version and Frederick is Ray’s. In the future, Ray becomes the President and Luke works for him and designs nuclear weapons. Vincent’s game actually happens in real life. Luke dies at the age of 33 and Ray’s decision brings the end of the world. In the end, the aliens/angels come and they offer them another chance. To rewrite this story and change the fate of the world.
That is why Kara wants Ray and Becky to not get together. Now, as Frederick has kidnapped Vincent and killed him, Kara sees no option but to kill the young Ray. Luke finds that the only way to beat the game is simply not to play it. Luke tries to reason with Kara, but Kara drives the car toward Ray, but Becky jumps in between. And Kara kills her, which in turn, kills Kara as well. This death changes young Luke and Ray. Ray becomes the President, but a much better one. Luke also does not set a nuclear arsenal. And he survives past his 33rd birthday.
Road to Nowhere
Just like Anya, Natsuki’s story is also reflective of her own experience. Teresa takes her car and drives away. She picks two hitchhikers, Freedom Jack and Poppy Corn, on the road. Jack and Poppy always provide her with contradictory opinions. Her car needs gas, Jack asks her not to stop, and Poppy asks her to. Jack does not allow her to get out and get the gas, Poppy tells her to take control of her own car and not listen to Jack. Meanwhile, they keep on passing the same person in a hoodie on the roads and somehow each gas station looks the same.
Teresa starts to doubt that they are driving in a loop. She keeps on getting a bad smell. Jack tells it is nothing. Poppy tells her to investigate. Suddenly Teresa sees a young child, stranded on the road. Jack, obviously tells her not to help her. Poppy accompanies Teresa to help the young child. While following the young child, Teresa comes across a garage. A familiar one. Jack asks her not to open it while Poppy urges her. Teresa sees herself, inside the car she has been driving the whole night.
Teresa realizes she has not left her own garage. She has tried to commit suicide by gassing herself inside the locked car. Poppy is the part of her heart wanting her to not commit suicide, Jack is the part that wants oblivion. In the end, Teresa listens to Poppy.
This story is the experience of Natsuki herself. Except she was saved by her mother.
This story is Ilonka’s. Imani is a witch just like her mother. Her mother taught her ‘scrying’. The magic to see the future in the lake water. Her mother also taught her healing. Apart from magical healing, her mother also scientifically heals people. That is she is a doctor. One day, while not being able to save a young girl, she transfers her life energy to the young girl magically. This saves the young girl but she dies.
A distraught Imani performs ‘scrying’ in the lake while trying to scatter her mother’s ashes. She sees a young boy, shot in a store. Moments later her friends arrive and take her to hang out. They introduce a new guy to Imani and Imani is surprised to see it is the same boy she saw in her scrying. And they stopped outside a store to get beers. Imani realizes what is going to happen. She stops the boy, which in turn makes her friend Scottie enter the store. And Scottie takes the bullet and becomes comatose.
Later, when Imani does go on a date with the boy, she goes to another store and comes across the same gunman. A fight unfolds and the gunman shoots the boy. Imani realizes she could not change anyone’s future. She tries to fix what she did with Scottie and gives her life back. She gets a bit of help from her mother from the other side of death. In the end, Imani saves Scottie while she succumbs to death.
The Eternal Enemy
Spence’s story has a boy named Rel liking another boy named Christopher. Their shared interest in science fiction helps Rel establish a connection with Christopher. Rel records ‘The Terminator’ for both of them to watch at a later point. Only to realize, his VCR did not record the movie, instead, it recorded a news telecast. A news telecast that is yet to happen.
Using this new-found feature of their VCRs, Rel and Christopher have some fun betting in sports. However, things quickly turn serious as they see a future telecast showing one of their college mates getting killed by a freak accident. Rel rushes to save her, thus changing the future.
Christopher notices a hooded figure following Rel after this incident. While Christopher visits his mother, he asks Rel not to use that VCR. But Rel does anyway and is shocked to find the futuristic news of Christopher getting killed at his mother’s house. He storms towards his lover’s house, to save him. Just when he reaches and meets Christopher and his mother, a gas grenade pops inside and knocks Christopher and his mother out. Rel gets into a fight with the hooded figure, who enters the house.
The hooded figure reveals to be Christopher from the future. And Rel is his creation. They are both cyborgs.
Christopher becomes a scientist and replaces his own ‘imperfect’ body parts. He discards Rel as well for being imperfect. It is Rel who came to this past to kill young Christopher, and inadvertently his mother, but instead, he fell in love with him. To save the world from the future Christopher, Rel sacrifices his life while sending a message to young Christopher about everything. Young Christopher decides to be more embracing of imperfection.
Given Spence’s history with his mom and his community where he is, no doubt, branded imperfect, this story does reflect the hopeful nature of Spence.
The Midnight Club (Season 1) Review:
Mike Flanagan always has the panache to blend great drama with excellent horror pieces. Who can forget the emotionally draining story of the otherwise terrifying ‘The Lady in Lake’ from “The Haunting of the Bly Manor.” Here in “The Midnight Club”, Flanagan, along with co-creator Leah Fong, explores mortality and the afterlife through the emotionally challenging setup of terminally ill teenagers.
“The Midnight Club” also uses the extremely intriguing horror setup of anthology films or portmanteau films. Just like the classic Amicus Productions works, like “Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors”, Flanagan (no doubt a horror enthusiast himself) uses various stories to propel the common overarching story forward. Here, the anthology stories also serve the purpose of delving deeper into the mind of each of these young characters who have been dealt the worst hands at the table.
Perhaps, due to the nature of this experimentation, “The Midnight Club” is not as perfect as some of Flanagan’s previous works are (Especially the aforementioned three works). The blend of horror and drama in “The Midnight Club” is not smooth, especially with the anthology stories ranging from Science Fiction to Noir. However, buoyed by an excellent ensemble acting performance and the usual horror motifs, it still is a stellar addition in Flanagan’s filmography.
And like one of the stories suggested, it is okay to accept imperfections, especially when the story is not yet complete, where Mike Flanagan pulled a Kevin on us.
The Midnight Club (Season 1) Ending, Explained: Who is Dr. Stanton?
Ilonka, egged on by Shasta, decides to perform the Paragon ritual herself as Anya’s health deteriorates. But the ritual goes awry and Anya dies. Not before her friends provides a perfect send-off with a poignant story for her though. Dr. Stanton, however, does not take kindly to the ritual. She reveals that she has always known about the existence of the Midnight club. But their paranormal adventure in the abandoned basement has made her think of closing the club.
Meanwhile, Dr. Stanton also receives news about one of her patients not being terminal anymore. Ilonka overhears this and thinks that the ritual worked, but just not for Anya. She builds her hopes up and thinks it is her. However, it is Sandra. Dr. Stanton explains this is a misdiagnosis.
Shasta is Julia Jayne
The distraught Ilonka goes to Shasta’s commune. Ilonka realises Shasta is none other than Julia Jayne. Julia reveals she tracked Aceso down and got her to perform the ritual. That is what cured her. Julia tells Ilonka to get her inside the Brightcliffe house and she will be able to perform the same ritual to save her.
Ilonka does that, but she quickly realizes her mistake as Julia does not proceed to perform the same ritual Ilonka did for Anya. Julia is performing the same human sacrifice ritual Aceso did, to extend her own life.
Who is Dr. Stanton?
Dr. Stanton reaches there just in time to save Ilonka and other members of Julia’s commune. However, Julia escapes. Dr. Stanton tells Ilonka that Julia got cured due to spontaneous regression and she simply cannot accept that she got lucky. She is here to perform another ritual, probably because her cancer might have come back.
It is later revealed that Dr. Stanton also wears a wig. Probably she is also surviving cancer. She also has the Paragon hourglass tattoo on her neck. Dr. Stanton is probably Athena. Daughter of Aceso who helped the police crack the Paragon down.
Will there be a Season 2 of The Midnight Club?
In all probability, yes. At least that is what Mike Flanagan and Leah Fong have in plans. There are a couple of questions that remain not satisfactorily answered. In this season, the story has not explicitly committed itself to anything supernatural. All suspicious things have been provided a reasonable explanation, except Anya’s broken statue being fixed, which the group members accept as a sign from Anya from the afterlife.
The ghostly faces of an old man and woman (who could be the original owners of the Brightcliffe house), the shadow now following Amesh, Dr. Stanton’s connection to Paragon. All these need to be explored in forthcoming installments.