Netflix's new YA horror series The Midnight Club (opens in new tab) balances heartfelt stories and heart-racing thrills, but its final scene of season 1 is an epic, head-spinning cliffhanger. Created by Midnight Mass director Mike Flanagan and based on Christopher Pike's novels, the show depicts the mysteries of Brightcliffe, a hospice where kids with terminal diseases spend their final days. While the show's overall themes including reckoning with the inevitability of death and the importance of storytelling, there's also a classic horror plot involving a cult (which, like the show's setting, is very '90s).
The show's many reveals and lore-building details all come together in a brief final scene, that sets up several unanswered questions and a possible season 2. While we wait for Netflix to give more episodes the green light, here's our recap of the finale and all those theories about the supernatural side of Brightcliffe.
Julia Jayne went to Regina Ballard to revive the Paragon cult.
The episode begins with a flashback that explains where Julia Jayne was when she went missing from Brightcliffe, and hints at how she eventually became Shasta, the naturopathic healer who befriended and betrayed Ilonka. In episode 5, we learned that the Brightcliffe house was originally home to Regina Ballard, a woman who started a cult named Paragon in the 1930s. She started off studying natural healing, but Regina became obsessed with Greek mythology's five goddesses or sisters of healing. Regina assumed the name Aceso (the goddess of the healing process), and the cult assumed the hourglass as a symbol of immortality or unending time, as long as you keep turning it over
Eventually, Regina led a ritual in the basement of the house, sacrificing four women to prolong her life, turning over her own hourglass. Regina's daughter, who took the name Athena, escaped and alerted the police, who discovered the ritual. Regina claimed it was an accident and left the house abandoned until Stanton founded Brightcliffe in the '60s.
At the start of episode 10, we learn that Julia didn't perform the ritual in the woods during that week she went missing from Brightcliffe in the '60s. Instead, she tracked down Regina after finding the Paragon diary, which was Athena's journal, and learning about the cult. Regina agrees to teach her the ritual and helps her come up with the story about her time in the woods. The cult leader also talks about her daughter Athena, telling her that she hoped Athena would carry on Paragon, but that Julia can instead, calling her "bright girl." Hence, Julia Jayne becomes Shasta, moving near Brightcliffe and slowly manipulating Ilonka until she can get back into the house and perform the five-sister sacrifice.
Shasta, a.k.a. Julia Jayne, escapes from the failed ritual.
Back in the present-day timeline, Dr. Stanton has Shasta incapacitated and Ilonka hasn't drunk the poison, effectively stopping the ritual. Instead of staying on Shasta and giving the cult leader to the cops, Stanton lets her escape via the elevator so she and Ilonka can save the other women's lives. Everyone leaves the basement and makes it up to emergency services, thanks to a secret staircase that Stanton used.
The next day, Stanton chastises Ilonka and finally explains what she knows of the mysterious woman formerly known as Julia Jayne, saying that she had a similar fate as Sandra: she was misdiagnosed along the way and healed naturally, not because of some blood sacrifice. Shasta has also tried to break into Brightcliffe multiple times over the years, and she never wanted to heal Ilonka; she's become sick again herself, and wants to recreate whatever Paragon cure she thought she received in 1968.
The doctor also explains that she denied knowing about Paragon because the ideas of magical cures can be insidious, and can drive desperate people to either brutal acts or putting themselves in danger. Her story tracks with her ethos throughout the series, as she's wanted to protect the kids with medical knowledge and wisdom. It's only later that her motives come into question (more on that later).
Ilonka decides not to leave Brightcliffe.
In the immediate aftermath of the sacrifice, Ilonka tells Stanton that she plans to leave Brightcliffe with her foster father Tim, who's coming for family day. She appears to be juggling a lot of emotions: embarrassment about her actions putting everyone at the hospice in danger (if not from Shasta then from attempting Paragon rituals), lingering jealousy about Sandra's new diagnosis (though she pulls it together enough to give a genuine heartfelt goodbye), and frustration that she came to the hospice in the first place over nothing more than a pipe dream.
As Ilonka's packing her room, Anya's old friend Rhett comes by to get her things. They have a sweet and emotional conversation, which ends with her giving him Anya's old things, including her old ballerina statue. In a flashback, we say Anya throw the statue during a fight with Rhett, and the leg broke off (the same leg she would later lose to cancer). However, when Rhett takes the statue out of the box, the leg is mysteriously repaired, as it if was never broken. The repaired statue has a profound effect on Ilonka, who seems to see it as a sign that Anya has moved forward and is finally at peace with herself in death.
After the conversation with Rhett, Ilonka finds Tim in the dining room. Instead of telling him she wants to leave Brightcliffe, she brings out the preneed that she never filled out, saying that it's time for them to plan her funeral. She even shows him a poem that she wants him to read when the time comes ("Epitath," from My Song for Him Who Never Sang to Me by Merrit Malloy.
As Ilonka's packing her room, Anya's old friend Rhett comes by to get her things. They have a sweet and emotional conversation, which ends with her giving him Anya's old things, including her old ballerina statue. In a flashback, we say Anya throw the statue during a fight with Rhett, and the leg broke off (the same leg she would later lose to cancer). However, when Rhett takes the statue out of the box, the leg is mysteriously repaired, as it if was never broken. The repaired statue has a profound effect on Ilonka, who sees it as a sign that Anya has moved forward and is finally at peace with herself in death.
Dr. Stanton is hiding a Paragon cult tattoo.
While the heartfelt endings to Ilonka and the club's season 1 storylines take up the bulk of the finale, the final cliffhanger scene sets up some huge questions for the show going forward. The scene shows Dr. Stanton locking up the Brightcliffe house at the end of the night, before she heads to her own room. As she walks through her suite, the camera zooms in on a framed 1898 newspaper story about industrialist Stanley Oscar Freelan and his wife Vera Freelan, the original owners of the house. It includes a picture, and the original owners look a lot like the ghosts that have been haunting Ilonka, and later Kevin, throughout the season.
We then see Stanton sit down at a vanity and take off her wig, revealing that she is bald and covers it, like some of her cancer patients. The wig also sides something else, as the camera pans to the back of her neck and shows... a hourglass tattoo, similar to Regina Ballard's. The only other person we've seen with that tattoo on the back of their neck, rather than on their wrists like Shasta and the other Paragon members, is Ballard's daughter, Athena.
Though the finale only hints at Athena being Dr. Stanton's true identity, the theory has some strong arguments. We saw in episode 5's flashback scene that Athena was bald and wore a wig, and Stanton was the only person who knows that the hospice's basement has its own secret staircase. Also, when she's reprimanding Ilonka, Stanton says "Julia and other people I've known throughout the years." In the moment it sounds like she was mentioning other patients, but it could also mean other cult members. Finally, there was a significant musical Easter Egg in the scene where Stanton burns Athena's diary. The song, Terry Jack’s "Seasons in the Sun," includes the lyric heard in the scene, "Goodbye to you my trusted friend, we've known each other since we were nine to 10."
The question here is how Stanton being Athena would work out age-wise. She seems too young in the show's '90s setting to be the woman who was alive in the '30s, so she could possibly be Athena's daughter, who's continuing her mother's legacy of going against Paragon. It seems like a stretch that Athena would give her daughter the tattoo of a cult she didn't believe in, unless it would serve as a reminder of their goal to trust in medicine over a mystic faith. Of course, this is all assuming that Stanton's has purely selfless motives.
How do the ghosts factor in to the Paragon reveals?
The reveal of the ghosts' identity a significant part of Season 1's final cliffhanger, so fans (myself included) are already theorizing how they factor in to the Paragon cult and the theory that Stanton is Athena. The Freelans could have just been trapped in their home for a century due to unknown circumstances, and Ilonka has the ability to see them (and later Kevin gets the same ability...somehow). It seems more like the ghosts have chosen her for something: through out the season, she initially says that her medicine is making her see stuff, but she later tells Kevin, "Those whispering voices [are] practically screaming at me."
There's also Natsuki's theorizing that Stanton has some nefarious purpose for Brightcliffe. In episode 5, during Amesh's party, she speculates that Stanton started the hospice to siphon off the patients' life force into other vessels. Spence even points out that the group doesn't know where the bodies of ex-Brightcliffe patients go. Then, in episode 9, Ilonka told the kids that the female ghost (credited as Cataract Woman) keeps mentioning how she's hungry. Natsuki responded with a story she heard from her mother, about a monster who looked like an old woman and would live in places where people were going to die, eating the years they would have lived. She even says of Brightcliffe, "This place would be a feast."
So, we can theorize that Cataract Woman and the male ghost (credited as The Mirror Man) are eating the years of the Brightcliffe kids. When thinking about a connection to Stanton (since their reveals are in the same scene), the doctor could be aware that the ghosts are haunting the patients. She could even have a deal with the ghosts, letting them feed off the kids in exchange for something she wants. This could either be a longer life for her, if she is Athena, or something to do with her son who she says passed away from cancer.
Basically, there are tons of directions the story could go, whether Stanton's motives are pure or evil, and whether Shasta will return for more Paragon ritual shenanigans. Only time will tell whether we'll get to see where the story goes in ten more episodes, but either way, creator Mike Flanagan wants to continue telling this story.
There are more answers coming in Season 2 (or on Twitter).
Though the show has yet to be renewed by Netflix, Flanagan did address his own plans for The Midnight Club's future. Per Variety (opens in new tab), during a Q&A attended by reporters, the creator said that there's plenty of source material to pull from in author Christopher Pike's novels, and that the series is "designed to be ongoing."
"We’ll see how it goes and we probably won’t know for another month or so what Netflix wants to do," he said. "But it was very much designed to continue. Pike has 80 books, so we have a lot of unused material to pull from… We also didn’t answer some of the bigger questions of the season. Those answers exist, but were meant to be for the next season."
The director also promised not to leave fans hanging if the show doesn't get a Season 2. "If there isn’t one, I’ll put them up on Twitter. Then we’ll at least all be able to talk about it."
Quinci LeGardye is a Contributing Culture Editor who covers TV, movies, Korean entertainment, books, and pop culture. When she isn’t writing or checking Twitter, she’s probably watching the latest K-drama or giving a concert performance in her car.
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