Mike Flanagan has always dealt with the notion of how human beings turn to what they consider supernatural when the natural world fails to satisfy their needs. But, with “Midnight Mass,” he stated that when a group of people share this delusion that something otherworldly can help them in ways that man-made things or other humans can’t, that group turns into what’s called a cult. Cults are inherently fascist in nature, and although they appear serene and calm, their actions are nefarious and violent. In “The Midnight Club,” the Paragon Society and Julia Jayne (Larsen Thompson/Samantha Sloyan) represent this fact. And although they inspire Ilonka (Iman Benson) to do the same, her growing bond with the members of the titular club motivates her to be more democratic while dealing with the supernatural, thereby making her the antithesis of a cult leader.
The reason behind Ilonka’s growing closeness with the Midnight Club is that every midnight (hence the name), the teens get together to tell stories while also reciting their pact to contact the living after they die if they have any proof of an afterlife. The stories are mostly fictional in nature. But they give us an important insight into the devolving psyche of the aforementioned characters. And even though those fables don’t have any bearing on the central plot about the allegedly supernatural aspects of Brightcliffe, they do fuel it. Because it’s those stories that motivate Ilonka to go deeper down the rabbit hole of the cult called the Paragon (that used to reside in Brightcliffe) and use their methods to cure her friends.
Major Spoilers Ahead
Is There Anything Supernatural In Brightcliffe?
Apart from the real and reel backstories, there is the backstory of Brightcliffe. We get bits and pieces of that through Ilonka’s research. But all of it seems hokey at best and an exaggeration at worst. That said, when Ilonka confronts Dr. Georgina Stanton (Heather Langenkamp – the founder of Brightcliffe) about Julia Jayne, and she gives a very vague answer about a misdiagnosis, it indicates that Ilonka is onto something. Moreover, Ilonka also talks about a cult of sorts that used to live in Brightcliffe before Stanton took over, called the Paragon. And Stanton again avoids giving a direct answer, thereby proving that she definitely knows about the Paragon and its link to Julia. On that same day, Ilonka coincidentally comes across a woman named Shasta, who is into Greek names, lives on the edge of Brightcliffe’s territory, and runs a naturopathy factory. Also, she comes across the sign of the Paragon carved into the woods around the forest. It is very suspicious, if you ask me.
In order to get some concrete proof, Ilonka (with the help of Kevin) breaks into Stanton’s office and steals Julia’s file. On her way to her room, she turns a corner, and everything around her changes very physically. The walls and the paintings on them look different, and all of it, except Ilonka, has a sepia, hand-cranked movie look to it. That haunting ends when the Cataract Woman (Patricia Drake) rushes at Ilonka. Kevin tries to convince her that it’s possibly an after-effect of the medicines they are taking, but Ilonka doesn’t believe it. She goes back to her room to look through Julia’s file, and she comes across a sketch of a tree with the hourglass mark of the Paragon on it and the number 292.13 written on it, as well as all the other sketches in the file. This causes Ilonka to have a nightmare about a group of hooded figures heading to the elevator. It seems like a vision (something that she isn’t unfamiliar with because she did have a vision of Kevin before coming to Brightcliffe) since it’s too specific to be a nightmare.
On family day, Ilonka reveals all this information to her father, Anya, and Kevin. But all of them essentially advise Ilonka to not look too deeply into it and instead focus on the reality she’s living in. However, her supernatural theories are temporarily boosted when Natsuki says that, for a split second, she thinks she saw a deceased patient, Tristan, sitting on the bed she died on. Natsuki theorizes that it’s her way of upholding the pact and reaching back from the dead to let them know that there’s an afterlife. Sadly, she doesn’t get too many people to back her up, and hence, even that’s categorized as an occurrence caused by meds or a play of the shadows. Later that night, Ilonka remembers where she saw the Paragon’s symbol in the hospice and takes Kevin to the elevator. And, lo and behold, there’s a button shaped like an hourglass right under the button for the basement (which is the morgue). When Ilonka presses the hourglass and the basement button together, they descend to a room underneath the basement. Kevin refuses to go in there and stays in the elevator while Ilonka ventures forward. The malfunctioning elevator takes Kevin up, thereby stranding Ilonka there with the Cataract Woman.
Kevin does return to Ilonka, but this time with the entire group. They find a roster for the Midnight Club, which is filled with the names of its previous members. And in it, they find the most damning information yet: the Midnight Club was founded by Julia Jayne. But why? Well, given all the ritualistic tools strewn around the room, the overly religious Sandra assumes that it’s some kind of witchcraft and forces everyone to get out of there (for the time being). This eventually causes a rift in the group because they aren’t sure if they should meddle with something that’s potentially supernatural in nature. This rift is largely fueled by Sandra because of her religious roots and since she believes that it’s the devil’s way of getting the group to do something wrong (like selling their soul). However, the point still remains that since everyone’s bodies are dying, how will the disposal of one’s soul be going to make a difference?
Does Ilonka Perform The Ritual of the Five Sisters?
After getting his meds from Mark, Spence hears a voice call out to him from the intercom attached to the room Tristan died in. He automatically assumes that it’s Tristan again who is calling out to them from the dead. But when he gets in there with Mark to check if there is any solid proof, he finds nothing. Ilonka does run into Shasta, who briefly mentions the Decimal System. That helps her to connect the dots between 292.13 and a diary in the library that has the Paragon’s symbol on it. When she and Kevin rush to Anya to reveal this discovery, they find her passed out on the floor (apparently attacked by a dark shadow).
As Anya spends her time in the infirmary, Ilonka reads out the details of the Paragon diary, which apparently belonged to a girl named Athena (she had the Paragon symbol tattooed on the back of her neck). She was the daughter of Regina Ballard/Aceso (Katie Parker), i.e., the founder of the Paragon. She started it to search for a naturopathic form of healthcare. But it turned into a cult due to her obsession with the five sisters of Greek mythology: Panacea (the goddess of universal health), Hygeia (goddess of cleanliness), Iaso (goddess of recuperation), Aglaea (goddess of beauty), and, of course, Aceso (goddess of the healing process). She chose the symbol of the hourglass to symbolize that they could turn back time (and, therefore, death itself) if they tried to. And she came up with the ritualistic blood sacrifice to devise a cure. Athena couldn’t digest all this and escaped from Brightcliffe with all the kids who were sheltered there. She even called the cops on her own mother. When they arrived, they saw that all the members, except Aceso, were dead. That meant the ritual had worked, and she was going to live for a long, long time.
After tripping on brownies, Ilonka comes across the Cataract Woman. But she doesn’t flinch and instead follows her into the hallway, which looks like a retro movie again. She ends up in the library, where the old lady turns out to be just Kevin. So far, no ghosts. Only drugs and meds. That said, when Anya gets really sick, Ilonka ventures into the woods to search for ways to heal her. She comes across Shasta again, who essentially tells her to recreate the aforementioned ritual of the five sisters, with Ilonka, Shasta, Cheri, Sandra, and Natsuki acting as the core members of the group. While explaining the ritual, Shasta exposes the symbol of the Paragon on her right hand. When Ilonka looks concerned about it, Shasta corrects her by saying that she’s not a part of the Paragon because it’s something that “went off the rails.” She represents something older and more sound. That somehow motivates Ilonka to go ahead with the ritual, and she urges the rest of the clubbers to join in. Why? Well, at the cost of sounding repetitive, because all of them are dying anyway. How is a blood ritual going to hurt them?
The ritual doesn’t work, though. Anya dies. So, Ilonka starts to doubt Shasta’s words, which spins yet another great yarn around her mind by saying that there’s “something” about Brightcliffe that is supernatural. And that notion is amplified when Ilonka overhears Stanton saying that someone has, in fact, healed and is going home. Ilonka tries to sleep it off, but she is visited by not just the Cataract Woman but also The Mirror Man (William B. Davis), and that causes her to have a seizure and drop to the bathroom floor. The following day, when she confronts Stanton about this mysterious cured individual, she refuses to give away the name. She shares the information with Kevin, who basically shrugs it off. Finally, she shares the information with Shasta, who assures Ilonka that she’s correct in feeling that she is the one who has been cured and is going home. She even goes as far as to say that Brightcliffe is some kind of a nexus point that has worked its magic on Ilonka. Now, since Stanton isn’t willing to share that place’s secrets, Shasta wants Ilonka to do the needful and get Athena’s journal for her.
In the meantime, Ilonka learns that she’s not the only one who is witnessing all those supernatural sightings. Kevin is seeing them too. He’s even finding himself waking up in the underground room beneath the morgue. Ilonka decides to let the group know about that, because two people seeing the same thing means that there is something supernatural in Brightcliffe. Sadly, though, all that enthusiasm is punctured as Sandra reveals that she is the one who is going home. But not because of a supernatural miracle, but because of a misdiagnosis. She also reveals that she is the one who messed with the intercom to make Spence think that Tristan was calling out to him. Why? Well, she apparently wanted to restore his “faith.” Since this shakes up Ilonka pretty well, she rushes back to Shasta, who reveals that she is actually Julia Jayne. Yes, I know. There are a lot of revelations in the penultimate episode of “The Midnight Club.” Anyway, Shasta/Julia gets more aggressive about her intention to get into Brightcliffe and tells Ilonka that they should just go ahead and complete the ritual of the five sisters.
Ilonka obliges, and Julia enters Brightcliffe with three other women to form “the five sisters.” Before Ilonka can do or say anything or raise the alarm, Julia shoves her into the ritual and almost makes her ingest a cup of poisonous tea. Thankfully, Stanton shows up and holds Julia down long enough to highlight her ill intentions to Ilonka as the three women who came with Julia start to choke and die. So, yes, while there are some supernatural sightings here and there, there’s nothing conclusive to suggest that there’s anything supernatural going on in Brightcliffe.
‘The Midnight Club’ Season 1: Ending Explained – Does Ilonka Decide To Go Home? Is Stanton Connected To The Paragon?
The finale of “The Midnight Club” opens with a young Julia escaping Brightcliffe, hitching a ride, and arriving on Aceso’s doorstep, who promises Julia that they are going to do great things. Then the narrative cuts to the present, where Stanton allows Julia to escape because she needs to save the dying “sisters.” The following day, Stanton tells Ilonka that Julia’s disciples are going to live because of her ability to perform CPR. But she begins to reprimand her for bringing Julia into the hospice by considering her to be a friend and Stanton to be the enemy. Stanton says that Julia has been arrested for trespassing and harassment many times, and that should’ve been reason enough for Ilonka to doubt her intentions. Ilonka counters Stanton by saying that she’s one of the only patients who cured herself of her cancer and is doing so well. Stanton corrects her by saying that Julia’s and Sandra’s cases are the same. They are both victims of misdiagnoses. And now that Julia’s cancer is probably coming back, she is saying that the “magic” of the ritual from 1968 is wearing off, and she is playing by the Paragon playbook.
Ashamed by her actions, Ilonka decides to go back home with her stepfather. Amesh realizes that he is not only losing his motor skills but also the visibility in his left eye. Sandra leaves, assuming that she’s going to see all of them again. Amesh learns that his parents are going to come to the USA to meet him before he’s completely gone. Spence’s mother comes to visit him on family day, along with Spence’s father. Rhett pays Ilonka a visit to reminisce about Anya. Ilonka gives him a box of her stuff that she thinks she would’ve wanted Rhett to have. Rhett points out that the broken foot of the ballerina doll is fixed. He assumes that Anya mended it before dying, but Ilonka clearly sees it as something supernatural. She acts on it by not deciding to go back home. Kevin breaks up with his girlfriend, thereby freeing her and himself of the burden of pretending to be a couple. Later that night, Ilonka not only owns up to redoing the ritual – thereby putting three people in harm’s way – but also reveals the mysterious fixing of Anya’s ballerina doll.
“The Midnight Club” Season 1 concludes on a partially optimistic and very foreboding note. The partially optimistic note is Ilonka and Kevin finally coming to terms with the fact that they are in love with each other, and they want to spend the remaining days of their lives loving each other. The foreboding note is Stanton taking off her wig to reveal the Paragon tattoo on the back of her neck. Who else do we know who had a similar tattoo on the back of her neck? That’s right. Athena did, and she is probably the daughter of Aceso. This means that Stanton is suffering from cancer, and she is combining the ways of the Paragon with whatever’s inside Brightcliffe to increase her lifespan. Or, and this is based on the image of the Cataract Woman and the Mirror Man in Stanton’s room, Stanton is using/wielding/controlling a version of the “Toshi no Taberu Hito” (“eater of years” or “the years eater”) to siphon the lives of the terminally ill teens in Brightcliffe and thrive off of them. Either way, if Julia Jayne/Shasta is bad news, then Stanton is probably something worse.
It’s obvious that we are going to learn more about the connection between Julia, Aceso, and Stanton in the second season of “The Midnight Club.” If Netflix continues its trend of canceling shows after the first season, then we will get to know nothing. And we’ve got to make peace with the notion that this first season tells an interesting tale about how the will to save oneself, along with one’s friends (represented by Ilonka), and self-centeredness (represented by Julia), yields two wildly different results. Despite going through the same rituals, Ilonka doesn’t have to part ways with her friends. Instead, she’s now closer to them than she was ever before, and she is more accepting of her mortality than she used to be. However, Julia has gone off the deep end. Even though she says that the members of her company are like her family, she evidently sees them as objects that can be sacrificed to extend her own lifespan. She really thinks that she can become immortal, and she’s ready to go to any extent to make that happen. Hence, the moral of the story is that you’ve just got one life, and you can either play the cards you’ve been dealt, or you can waste your time destroying everyone else’s cards, along with the ones you have.
“The Midnight Club” is a 2022 Drama Thriller series streaming on Netflix.