So, I was recommended this show via fellow MegaTennist fans. I like some parts and I don’t like others. I don’t know whether this will sound whiny or not, but I hope some of you understand why I feel this way. My main objection is that I cannot stand how pretentious the main character, Riley Flynn, was. I would have been fine with his part in the story if not for one throwaway line that honestly annoyed me, because it shows the writer of this story was being self-indulgent and ostentatious without really doing the research. Early on, when Riley talks with Eren Green, he casually mentions that he had read the religious books of Jainism, Buddhism, the Tao Tie Ching, Sun Tzu’s Art of War, and the Quran. I got heavily invested early on because I thought he’d share a perspective based upon those books along with his views on Christianity. He only ever displays a Catholic perspective. In fact, the only time Islam and its viewpoint is ever mentioned is with the Sheriff Hasan speaking about it. That’s fine, but why the fuck did it have Riley Flynn speak about all these different philosophical or religious books and then display no knowledge of them or any sort of perspective shift during his monologues about death or suffering in the world? For a series that wants to tackle these issues, having the main character speak on different religious and philosophical books that he’s read (and for some reason a war book, Sun Tzu’s Art of War as well), and then display no knowledge of them was a major downgrade for my views on this series because it gave me expectations that it could never live up to. I ended-up glad that Hinduism wasn’t even mentioned, because honestly, it’s quite clear to me why the author had his main character speak so casually about reading them before only focusing on the Catholic viewpoint; the writer, Mike Flanagan, implicitly believes those other religious teachings and philosophies don’t have anything of value to share. Why else have the main character casually mention reading them in jail and then never display any knowledge of them whatsoever? That’s the only message I’m seeing. He has a Muslim character talk about the teachings in the Quran; why didn’t Riley share his perspective, since he claimed to have also read the Quran while in jail? To be clear, Riley works better if he had said that he’d read a bunch of Catholic religious books over the years. However, Mike Flanagan had him say that he read all these other books, he shows a naïve and idiotic perspective displaying that he’s read none of them, and it just comes off as pretentious and stupid. Some of you might think that it is missing the “big picture” of the story – but the story is about views on death and sharing different religious perspectives on them. So, this is actually a massive failure that Flanagan is responsible for.
Let’s discuss his depiction of Islam. Although Islam is given some respectability, it’s clearly only under the perspective of the upbringing of someone of the Catholic faith and how they wish to feel comfortable with Islam. Even if we ignore the whole problem of Quran verse 4:89 after his son leaves Islam, Sheriff Hasan only goes into Jesus as a Prophet, and not the fact that Islam considers Jesus Christ to be the Messiah. Christians seem to have an allergic reaction to that and seem to do everything in their power to ignore that part in Islam. Even assuming Hasan was a nominal Muslim who didn’t know his faith well, it is pretty stupid that this show can have constant sermons about Jesus Christ with the Catholic viewpoint, but can’t fully appreciate Islam’s full perspective on Jesus Christ so viewers can gauge them in equal footing. Islam itself is awkwardly placed throughout the story; when the ending has vampiric Christians singing and dancing to re-experience their Christian faith, then having two Muslims pray as the sun comes up just comes off as mixed and confusing messaging at best. There is definitely a tonal dissonance at the end.
The worst depiction is definitely atheism though. Mike Flanagan doesn’t understand religious terminology and has never read deeply into different religious perspectives. Riley Flynn is boring because he claims to have knowledge that he never shows and all he does is whine about people’s suffering. This is the most cookie-cutter Christian view on why people think atheists exist. Nobody in this show ever says “I don’t believe in the supernatural” and that’s it. That’s all you need for a clear atheist perspective. Atheists don’t exist because of suffering in the world; atheists exist because we don’t believe in the supernatural. Mike Flanagan tries to have some deep message with Riley Flynn starting off as atheist and dying Catholic while Eren Green starts off Catholic, then presumably Flanagan thought that she was dying an atheist. It’s too bad the perspective she spoke of and referred to as “God” with the reference to the universe is called pantheism and has existed prior to Christianity’s existence. I don’t believe Flanagan knows this, because the difference is never expressed in his show . . . ever.
However, if we simply take a look at his story’s sequence of events – assuming we can keep our attention with the constant fucking monologues – then is it “good” at least? I would say it has its good moments, but not really. The events and foreshadowing make enough sense. It’s not the worst, but one thing that bothered me and killed whatever enjoyment I was getting from it, was the fact that Riley Flynn’s family never confront Father Pruitt. In fact, they have this entire story where Riley tragically sacrifices himself and Flanagan boldly has the main character killed half-way, but it leads to nothing. Riley’s father talks to Father Pruitt (going by the name Paul Hill to hide who he is) about Riley’s crazy message, because Riley had written to them all about being killed and then turned into a vampire by the monster that Father Pruitt had brought. Then, the next night, when Pruitt reveals to the entire congregation that every word Riley said to his family was true . . . the plot just drops this huge, massive conflict and acts as if it never existed. You build-up this tragedy for a main character, have him heroically sacrifice himself to save people’s lives, and have the build-up with his family becoming alarmed and slowly growing aware of the events (in the Church, Riley’s Father’s face goes through various forms of confusion and horror when he realizes what Riley had written the entire family was 100% true), and then there is no conflict? No resolution to this building arc to reach its story climax? It’s not even an issue of “forgiveness” towards Father Pruitt, mind you. The story completely drops the conflict and acts like it never happened. The mother confronts the town sociopath, Eren Green is just off-screen until she randomly dies at the end, the second son just runs off with his girlfriend, and the father of Riley leaves the Church that Pruitt is still in and never confronts him. Nothing happens. It just turns into bland survival horror. I would have given this story a much higher score if we at least had a resolution to this conflict, but it never occurred.
A very generous 5/10 since I don’t want to be anti-independent shows. Some just don’t work out. I think this show is worth watching once, but that’s about it. Here’s a review I agree with that goes into more depth: