Netflix’s Messiah seemed like the sum of everything junkies of dystopian political fiction could ever dream of. It had unlimited potential to tackle some incredibly controversial topics; centred around faith and the question of identity bound by religion, the show could have demonstrated religion’s power to shape individual lives and shake world power structures. However, this series epically failed to fulfil such expectations.
The plot follows multiple storylines that meet and diverge, all of them glued together by the figure of al-Masih, the Messiah, a charismatic figure appearing in Palestine who is seemingly a miracle worker. Thanks to television and social media, he becomes a global persona that indices pandemic-like hysteria, the public split between devotees and cynics, while also under investigation as a high-profile criminal by international intelligence agencies. The variety of characters include intelligence officers, preachers, refugees, journalists and masses of people in need of a miracle or salvation.
The main failure of the show is that it jumps between sensitive subjects, only to then abandon them without ever going deeper than the surface. The show is set in the tangled political context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and leaves it unexplained, assuming most of its viewers are familiar with the complexity of these international relations. The characters are all dealing with personal struggles that ultimately define their relation to al-Masih, but none are developed to become complex and life-like; most often, clichés of suffering protagonists in mainstream Hollywood movies are adopted.
The reason for this is not poor acting, most actors delivering impressive performances, especially Michelle Monaghan, Mehdi Dehbi, Stefania LaVie Owen, Fares Landoulsi and Will Traval. However, the dialogues are mostly vague and so remain the characters. The show is slow and quiet, therefore it lacks the dynamism required to draw in the viewer before they reach the climactic last episodes. Somehow the monumentality that the show tries to portray is only sometimes realised on screen. In the end, it feels like the magnitude of the movement was not done justice by the show’s directors.
Despite these drawbacks, there are some identifiably impressive elements of the show. Firstly, it applies suspense greatly. Often enough it drops crumbs of information to tease the viewer at precisely the right moment to then leave them hanging just long enough. A large part of the show is either spoken in Arabic or Hebrew which adds a dimension of authenticity to it. The cinematography is mostly nude, raw and intentionally unappealing, something that fits the storyline’s tone quite well.
In conclusion, Messiah seemingly failed to develop its extremely ambitious intention to deliver a complex, deep and revolutionarily new political fiction. But still, it has its merits and it is worth recommending. It manages to set the viewer’s mind into motion and triggers a great brain-game of how it should have been done better. With the season finale suggesting a follow up season, it will hopefully learn from its mistakes and fulfil its true potential.
Image: anthony_goto via flickr