Based on the 1994 book of the same name by Christopher Pike, creators Mike Flanagan and Leah Fong’s “The Midnight Club” primarily focuses on Ilonka (Iman Benson), who has been diagnosed with a form of terminal cancer. When medical treatment fails her, she starts searching for other forms of therapy. That brings her to Brightcliffe, a hospice where terminally ill teens retire in order to live out their last days with dignity and peace. But that’s only part of the reason why Ilonka wishes to go there. Her main objective is to find the method one of Brightcliffe’s former patients, Julia Jayne (Larsen Thompson), used to walk out of there fully cured. However, when Ilonka meets the members of the titular club – Kevin (Igby Rigney), Anya (Ruth Codd), Spence (Chris Sumpter), Natsuki (Aya Furukawa), Sandra (Annarah Cymone), Amesh (Sauriyan Sapkota), and Cheri (Adia) – and gets to know them better, she starts to look for ways to save not just herself, but everyone in there.
The fictional stories that the Midnight Club tells have been inspired by the real lives of the people telling them. They are a means for the characters to insert themselves into those stories and live a life that they can’t anymore while exorcizing their innermost demons. On a metatextual level, it is about what motivates a writer to write a story, the elements they work with, and how the depth of the narrative can oscillate between campy and existential, depending on what they are feeling while telling the said story. And it’s also a tradition that has been passed down from one generation of terminally ill teens to another to maintain their bond and to remember themselves. After their death, they are duty-bound to reach out from the afterlife (if there’s one) and assure those who are still alive that there’s something after death. With that in mind, let’s talk about the first story we hear, which is narrated by Natsuki.
Major Spoilers Ahead
Natsuki And Ilonka’s First Stories, Explained
It’s about a guy called Ren (Spence) getting lost on his way home and is jump scared by a girl with milky eyes over and over again. To be precise, 21 times. It has been made official by Guinness World Records that “The Midnight Club” has been given the award for “most number of jumpscares” in a single episode. In fact, Flanagan has gone on record to say that it’s his way of satirizing the worst horror genre tropes. The director is famous for never resorting to jumpscares, and Natsuki’s story is his way of addressing why he hates it as clearly as possible. That’s followed by the one Ilonka narrates.
However, Ilonka’s story isn’t fictional but based on whatever truth one can get on the internet. And it’s about a former patient of Brightcliffe’s, i.e., Julia Jayne. She says that Julia used to obsess over the date she was going to die. One night, she went to the basement of the hospice and disappeared for a whole month. The police searched for her everywhere and even assumed that she had jumped off and into the ocean. When Julia returned, she not only started recovering but also predicted the deaths of everyone around her, down to the day of their deaths. And the scary part is that those predictions turned out to be true, and the people whose deaths she foretold died on the dates she mentioned. After a while, though, she stopped mentioning her own death day as she was cursed to know everyone else’s. It’s kind of a parable for “survivor’s guilt.” To be specific, a cancer survivor’s guilt. Because after apparently beating cancer, she has no idea when it’s going to come back. But she knows that the rest of the people who are fighting the fight don’t have a lot of time on their hands.
‘The Two Danas,’ Explained
The next story that we hear is the one from Anya, and it’s about a girl called Dana. She is perfect in every way possible, and she has a future in ballet. For that, she and her whole family moved to Wasteville (yes, that’s right). There she makes a friend called Bill (Rhett), who is the only person who apparently understands that perfection comes at a cost. But Dana herself doesn’t want to be perfect. She actually wants to be like the other kids who are living their lives carelessly. Hence, she makes a pact with the devil (Stanton) and gives birth to the mirror version of herself. That way, one of them can keep living the perfect life while the other can enjoy partying. And both of them aren’t going to miss out on anything because they can always feel what the other half is doing. You won’t be wrong to think of “Judwaa,” “Hello Brother” (the Telugu film), or “Twin Dragons” after hearing that story. Since the devil is involved, there is a catch in Anya’s story. Once the other Dana is created, it can’t be undone. So, even if they get annoyed at each other’s existence, they have to either tolerate it or kill each other. And, well, something like that does happen. The two Danas’ bond starts on a good note. But when the mirror version of Dana starts to overdose on drugs, the original Dana tries to kill her. Since they can read each other’s thoughts, the mirror version of Dana also tries to kill the original Dana. Their altercation ends with one of the Danas getting their leg amputated, and the one who survives wonders every waking day if she’s the original or the mirror version. Given the leg amputation and the details about losing her best friend and not getting to become a ballerina, the story seems to be very close to what has happened to Anya in real life. Sandra actually insinuates that there is a connection between Dana and Anya when she tries to get sincere with her, but Anya throws that assumption in the garbage almost immediately. All that said, we do learn later on that Anya did want to become a ballerina. She was of two minds about it. She did drugs after the accidental death of her parents, and she broke up with her best friend, Rhett (Daniel Diemer). Hence, Sandra is right. Dana is Anya, and vice versa.
‘The Wicked Heart,’ Explained
Kevin’s story is broken up into three parts, and he tells the story of a mysterious but perfect kid named Dusty. Perfect because he gets good grades. Mysterious because, at night, he goes around killing girls in their houses with a hammer and buries them in a cave. His calling card is the symbol of the Paragon, and he commits the murders because he hears voices in his head (two elements that he steals from Ilonka’s research about the Paragon). The people killed by Dusty haunt him by silently screaming at him. And, yes, they are only visible to Dusty. Dusty lives with his mother, who doesn’t speak at all. One day, Dusty comes across a girl named Sheila (Ilonka), who is a good friend of Nancy’s (Katherine), i.e., the last girl Dusty killed. He accompanies Sheila to Nancy’s house to look for her. When she sees that Nancy is missing, she calls the police and, going by the detective’s (Stanton) questioning, starts to suspect that Nancy has been killed by a serial killer. Later on, it’s revealed that Dusty’s mother is the one who gives him the names of the girls he kills.
Sheila finds out that the serial killer who leaves the Paragon calling card has been active for 40 years. So, the theory that it’s a fellow student that’s doing the killings has to be ruled out. But while Sheila gets all cozy with Dusty, the detective continues to pick his brains apart by trying to learn about his escapades on the internet and whatnot. And although Dusty starts to develop feelings for Sheila, his mother tells him to go and kill her. Dusty calls Sheila up and tells her to come to his house. When she arrives, he reveals that his whole family has been killing people, and she is going to be his next victim. However, when he goes to strike Sheila with the hammer, he manages to stop himself. That’s when Dusty’s mother enters the picture to coax him into killing Sheila. Dusty strikes his mother down and frees the souls of his victims. That’s also when the poison from Dusty’s mother exits her body and enters Dusty. He tries to kill Sheila again and (purposefully) fails. Sheila uses that opportunity to strike Dusty down and send him to jail, where he will spend the rest of his life trying to drown out the voices in his head.
As explained by Kevin himself, the story of Dusty is his way of saying that he should live a lonely life because he’s eventually going to end up hurting those he loves. Ilonka says that it’s almost impossible to not hurt, intentionally or unintentionally, the people that you love. It’s like a package deal, and you have to deal with it. But definitely not by yourself. Isolation isn’t a good idea, especially if you think that you are too bad for this world. Because that’s a sign of your self-awareness, and you can work on that with the help of others.
‘Gimme A Kiss,’ Explained
Sandra’s story takes place in the ’40s and is shot, edited, and performed like a movie from the ’40s. This section doesn’t just use that aesthetic for window dressing (like a certain Marvel property called “Werewolf by Night” did earlier this week) but sincerely and accurately brings that era to life to tell the story of a murder investigation being headed by Detective Fisher (Stanton). One Alice Palmer (Sandra) talks about the apparent murder of two of her friends and the disappearance of a third. She says that her best friend, Jake (Spence), was having an affair with her ex-boyfriend, Kirk (Kevin). Sharon (Ilonka), who was Alice’s childhood buddy and Kirk’s girlfriend, came to know about this when the “queen of the upper crust,” Patty (Natsuki), allegedly leaked this information. So, to take revenge on both Kirk and Patty, Jake faked his death to guilt-trip the two of them. However, that plan backfired when Kirk died while trying to save Jake, and Sharon tried to kill Jake because she blamed him for Kirk’s death. Here’s the thing, though. That’s just Alice’s version of the events.
The true story in Sandra’s fictional story comes out when Jake shows up, kidnaps Alice, and sets the narrative straight. Sharon didn’t come to kill Jake. She came to him to come clean about what they had done. But before they could do that, Alice killed Sharon and tried to burn Jake with her by torching the house he was in. Why? Because she was jealous of Jake and Kirk’s relationship, Sharon confided in her about the plan. Kirk didn’t die of drowning. Alice went after him and killed him. Patty wasn’t the one who leaked Jake’s journal. It was Alice. And the second reason why Alice killed Kirk is that he gave her oral herpes. After revealing all this information, Alice tries to knock the gun out of Jake’s hands, and he ends up shooting and killing her. Sandra explains that her story is a form of apology to Spence because she doesn’t want him to think that she believes that God gave him AIDS because he hates those who are gay. She says that if one loves God, one can’t hate love. So, it’s her way of redefining God and Christianity and their relationship with the LGBTQ+ community.
‘See You Later,’ ‘Witch,’ And ‘Anya,’ Explained
Amesh’s story involves Luke, a guy who loves video games and is a programmer. He is in love with Becky (Natsuki). But Becky is in a relationship and hence can’t get together with Luke. This understandably breaks Luke’s heart. However, his mood is lifted when he bumps into Vincent (Rahul Kohli), and he tells Luke to do a demo run of his new game and succeed in it. During his time there, Luke meets Vincent’s wife, Kara (Emily Piggford). While gazing at the International Space Station passing across the Moon, Vincent promises to split the earnings of the game with Luke, if he manages to beat it. This overwhelms him so much that he faints. The real reason behind it is that Luke has a weak heart, and it can quit on him at any time. Meanwhile, for some reason, Kara tries to break up Becky’s relationship with Ray (Jordan Strandlund). Later, it becomes clear that she does it to push Becky to get together with the only other guy who likes her: Luke. By the way, Luke doesn’t know about this conspiracy as he is busy finishing Vincent’s game and expressing his displeasure over its ending (which involves aliens coming to Earth after its extinction).
When Luke does get together with Becky, Ray arrives to tell him and Kara that someone named Frederick (Michael Trucco) has informed him about Kara and Vincent’s plans and that it’s not going to work. Kara infers that Vincent has been kidnapped by Frederick. Luke is completely in the dark about what’s going on. So, Kara starts to tell him a story (yes, we are getting a story within a story). She talks about another life where Becky married Ray, and Ray became the youngest senator in the USA. Ray gave Luke the job of writing code for the Department of Defense, and together they created a global defense system in space. But on Luke’s 33rd birthday, he died because of his bad heart. Ray became the President of the United States. The world went to hell. That’s when the aliens or angels came and gave the three of them a chance to rewrite this story so that humankind doesn’t go extinct. Luke realizes that the only way to stop total annihilation is by never writing the code in his future. Kara thinks she has to kill Ray so that Frederick can’t kill Vincent. But in the process, she ends up killing Becky, i.e., herself. Luke never writes the code and takes care of his heart, and Ray becomes the President.
As evident from Natsuki and Amesh’s conversation, his story is basically an extension of how he feels about her. He thinks he is never going to “get the girl” and that he is going to die soon. But Natsuki says that she didn’t like that ending either, and hence the whole ending rang hollow for her. She says that she wanted them to be together. And because of that, while the fictional ending remains unchanged, its real-life iteration changes as Natsuki makes it clear that she is in love with Amesh, and she wants them to be a couple. This practice of crafting a story around what one wants to do for a fellow Midnight Clubber is visible in Ilonka’s story about Imani (Ilonka) and her witch mother, who have healing powers and the ability to see the future. When Imani’s mother dies while trying to save a girl, she goes searching for answers in the dark of the night (something that witches like her aren’t supposed to do). This does lead Imani to the love of her life (Kevin), but it also shows her that she’s going to lose him during a robbery. In an attempt to prevent that from happening, she ends up sending her best friend (Anya) into a coma because she’s the one who gets shot in the robbery.
When Ilonka resumes the story, she makes Imani give her own lifeline, very literally, to the fictional representation of Anya so that she can live on. Because Imani knows that wherever she’s going next, after her death, her mother is going to be there for her. So, that makes Ilonka’s second story a note of goodbye to Anya and a reminder of how Ilonka is coming to terms with her own mortality. The rest of the Midnight Club also gets to bid goodbye to a dying Anya by crafting a story of how she marries Rhett and lives in a place in the suburbs where her neighbors are all members of the club. Yes, it takes a very convoluted and head-spinning route as the story being narrated by the club mixes with Anya’s dying mind as she sees the stories, she has heard so far mixing with the future she wanted to live in. But due to the excellent work by the writers, the directors, and the editors, the message comes across really clearly. Death is inevitable, and hence it’s better to spend the little time you have with your loved ones instead of wasting it on prospects that are scientifically untrue.
‘Road To Nowhere,’ Explained
Natsuki tells her second story to Amesh only (because it’s that personal), and it involves a girl named Teresa (Natsuki). And the plot starts with her getting in her car and going as far as she can from her home. On the highway, she comes across two hitchhikers: Freedom Jack (Henry Thomas) and Poppy Corn (Alex Essoe). They say that they are part of a band, and they are headed north to reunite with them. But a bunch of weird things begin to happen. Firstly, Teresa keeps running into a hooded figure who is constantly rotting. Secondly, they keep crossing the same gas station, and every time Teresa says she’s going to look inside, Jack tells her to keep the car running while Poppy tells her to be in control of her own car. Thirdly, something bright and green keeps bouncing off the windshield while driving. Four: The highway seems to be endless. And five, a pungent smell begins to suffocate Teresa and cloud her vision. When Teresa can’t take it any longer, Poppy and Jack reveal that she never left the garage and is killing herself via carbon monoxide poisoning. Poppy represents Teresa’s will to live, and Jack represents Teresa’s eagerness to die. Teresa chooses life. She opens the garage door and breathes fresh air again.
However, Natsuki says that the real-life version of that story is different. Natsuki says that she made it out of the car, and her mother found her in that horrifying state (which reminded her of how Natsuki’s father died by suicide). She rushed Natsuki to the hospital and saved her from carbon monoxide poisoning. But she also learned that Natsuki is dying of cancer. Which means she brought her back from the dead only to see her die slowly. And that paints a very different picture of what Natsuki, and her mother are going through, in addition to dealing with cancer. Or maybe they have already dealt with it. However, the thought that suicidal tendencies can be genetic in nature doesn’t simply leave you if you put your mind to it. It takes time. It requires help. It requires patience. While time is something you can’t ask for, you can reach out to others for the last two.
‘The Eternal Enemy,’ Explained
Spence’s story follows Rel (Spence), who studies at Kline University and has a crush on Christopher (John C. MacDonald). In an attempt to woo him, Rel gets a VCR recorder to tape a showing of “The Terminator” and invites Christopher over to watch it with him. When they do sit down to watch, they realize that Rel has just taped a football game. After taking a trip to the pub, they realize that Rel hasn’t taped any ordinary game but a game that takes place in the future. Rel uses the VCR’s abilities to win a lot of bets on future football games. But things get serious when Rel changes the outcome of a freak accident by saving a girl who was destined to die from a falling air cooler. Christopher notices that a hooded figure is keeping an eye on Rel, and he needs to stop using the VCR. When Christopher goes away to his mother’s place, Rel uses the VCR and learns that Christopher and his mother are about to be murdered. Upon arriving at Christopher’s, Rel finds out that the hooded figure is actually Christopher from the future. He is a cyborg, and so is Rel. In fact, Rel has been created by Christopher in the future, and he has arrived in the past for a purpose that he doesn’t remember.
Christopher begins to explain that when he got sick, he started to replace his physical parts with machine parts. He became a new species. Rel is an early generation model that “suffered” from a defect called fear. So, Christopher (the version from the future, of course) needs to kill Rel and ensure that his vision of fearless humanity stays intact. Rel argues that being afraid is not a defect, and even if Christopher thinks so, it’s not going to stop Rel from loving him. Future Christopher does kill Rel, but not before he records a message for present Christopher in the VCR. Through that, he learns that the only way to stop humanity from devolving into a race of emotionless robots is if Christopher never goes into robotics and stops seeing humans as machines that can be fixed. Spence says that this Christopher is the same Christopher who got him sick. But he doesn’t feel hatred for him and hopes that he’s loved in the same way that the Midnight Club loves Spence. He concludes his story by saying that those with AIDS aren’t defective. They are perfect.