For as controversial as I thought this show would be, I have heard surprisingly little about it. Much of what I have heard is a general condemnation based purely on its religious nature. Personally, I loved it. I’m not one to usually binge watch, but I found myself unable to look away. Each episode seemed to end too soon and I needed to know what happens next.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Messiah is one of Netflix’s originals, all 10 episodes dropping on January 1st, 2020. It essentially asks the question, what would happen if the second coming of Christ occurred in our current political climate. Central to the story is Al-Masih (Mehdi Dehbi of Tyrant and London Has Fallen), an enigmatic figure that begins to amass a following in the Middle East and then, somewhat mysteriously, winds up deep in the heart of Texas. Swept up in his path are a wildly disparate group of individuals. First, we meet Jibril (Sayyid El Alami of Zombi Child), a Syrian orphan convinced that Al-Masih is the Messiah. Two government agents, Eva Geller (Michelle Monaghan of True Detective and Boston Public) working for the CIA and Aviram Dahan (Tomer Sisley of We’re the Millers and Eyewitness), who is possibly a Mossad operative, are both convinced that he is a terrorist. Felix Iguero (John Ortiz of Little America and Kong:Skull Island) is a Christian pastor who has lost his faith and has it restored when Al-Masih saves his daughter, Rebecca (Stephania Lavie Owen of The Carrie Diaries and Krampus) from a tornado. He becomes a dedicated follower, as does his daughter, which drags his reluctant wife, Anna (Melinda Page Hamilton of Rectify and How to Get Away with Murder), into the mix.
And the best part about this show is that we just don’t know who is right about Al-Masih. The way his character is written, and fantastically portrayed by Dehbi, is delightfully ambiguous. The best description I’ve heard of this show is political thriller. They sidestep the entire religious aspect and focus on the effect this charismatic figure has on those around him and how he shifts the balance of geopolitics. Dehbi performs with the imperturbable confidence of a man who has the full support of God himself, unnerving those who attempt to question his mission and his faith. He acts and talks as one who has an unshakable belief in carrying out God’s will and the acceptance for whatever that may be. His seeming lack of Earthly agenda throws the lives of both Eva and Aviram into disarray, used to being in control, but now letting self-doubt creep into their minds. The pastor, Felix, is initially swept up Al-Masih’s faith, but must wrestle with his own doubt as he finds that God does indeed work in mysterious ways.
The pace of the show is a bit slower than I normally like, but there was a sustained tension around the mystery surrounding Al-Masih. Is he the second coming of Christ, or is he the Antichrist, or merely some con-man terrorist with his own plan? Tantalizing clues are sprinkled throughout, each one supporting a different conclusion. There is a constant feeling of, “What’s going to happen next?”, to the extent that, if there isn’t a season 2, I’m going to be a little annoyed. That being said, while IMDB is rating Messiah at a 7.6, other critics haven’t been so kind. With the religious baggage such a story line is going to carry with it, I’m not sure Netflix will want the risk of a second season.
But the premise is such a fantasy fulfillment theme that it seems like it would have a guaranteed following. Given the predominance of the Christian faith, the second coming of Christ is a wish fulfillment that cannot be ignored. I know few people who would say that the current state of society is great. I’m not going to make the obvious MAGA reference, but I know few who are happy. And the returning of Christ is the equivalent of daddy making it all right again. Whether one hates gay people or their persecution, whether one champions the separation of races or complete integration, or so many other societal controversies, the return of God satisfies the culmination of all of these conflicts. To have a higher power descend and give a clear indication of what should and shouldn’t be? Holy fuck, how satisfying would that be? Not to everyone obviously, but most of us feel that we are living right with God and that those who oppose us would be wrong, so having an actual emissary of God come down and give us a definitive answer would be a fantasy of almost anyone who believes in a JudeoChristian structure of the universe. The premise of this show is an extension of the revenge genre, except the viewer doesn’t have to accept the role of revenant. I am not the aggrieved one, but I find satisfaction in justice being done.
Given that attractor, the show itself never commits to what is wrong and what is right. Rightly so, as how could anyone who is not an omnipotent God could ever say that. Instead, it examines what that question would do to the cast, in particular, and to society in the broader sense. This is the central mystery. As much as I love shows like Lost that make me question what the island actually was or the Expanse that makes me wonder what the alien molecule is, what bigger mystery is there than, am I actually living my life right? When judgment comes “like a thief in the night”, will I be found lacking? Shit, you don’t get much more suspenseful than that. I mean, I love watching TV, but my existence is going to end sometime and what then? This show is actually ballsy enough to present that question to its viewers, and that ultimate, end-of-the-world shit is what makes this show fascinating for me. As Al-Masih says at the start, “This is the end of history”, and what the fuck is more final than that. This isn’t just for the people in the show, but it speaks to the audience itself. One can’t help but think, while watching this show, with the way I’m living my life right now, if it were all to end right now, how would I be judged? And it’s been a long time since a show has confronted me that directly. And I love it.