The Final Chapter
Episode 1 of The Midnight Club begins in Sacramento, 1994 with a trademark Flanagan monologue. Ilonka narrates about stories and their symbolic meaning in society. This actually happens to be Ilonka’s graduation speech, which she practices in front of her mirror.
Ilonka heads off to a college party where she tellingly doesn’t drink alcohol. While her friend Lauren tears it up on the dancefloor (or, living room floor?) she meets Brian, who’s majoring in literacy.
Ilonka is pretty passionate about stories, and she rambles on to Brian about how how amazing Mary Shelley is. However, when she begins coughing up blood, she heads to the bathroom and notices a strange figure in the mirror stalking her.
So what’s going on? Well, Ilonka has thyroid cancer, meaning she needs to have surgery… and she may not make it to the new semester. Given she skipped a year and managed to make it into this class, Ilonka is confident that she can fight this.
Skip forward 9 months later and Ilonka is going through chemo. She’s lost her hair and remotely learns about college through Lauren. It’s her birthday too and unfortunately she overhears the absolute worst news from the doctor. Ilonka’s illness is terminal and she could make it a year but beyond that is a big unknown.
Ilonka heads online and brings up a place that could help, Brightcliffe Hospice. Now, according to old news clippings, a woman called Julia Jayne was actually cured of cancer by heading there. With conventional treatment at hospital not working, Ilonka convinces her father to let her go and stay at Brightcliffe. “Cancer Sleep-Away Camp” as Ilonka puts it.
Heading inside, we learn that Brightcliffe Hospice has quite the history to it. It was a halfway house in the Depression and also a religious commune called the Paragon in the 40’s. There’s a lot of history to this house and for Ilonka, she seems to have some sort of connection to this place. And… Jesus Christ it’s an old lady with horrible eyes standing right there!
Ilonka passes out but when she regains consciousness, she’s brought in to meet Dr Georgina Stanton. She has a monologue all planned about how we as humans view cancer, discussing how the terminology used depicts a battle but for Brightcliffe, they see every day they stay alive as a victory.
While Tim and Georgina talk, one of the kids, Spence, shows Ilonka around. In doing so, Ilonka meets Natsuki, Sandra, Anya, Cheri and Anesh. Through Spence, she learns the old-timey elevator seems to have a mind of its own, hopping up and down at night. Down to where? Well, only the morgue, which happens to be in the basement.
Ilonka decides to stay, noticing a pentagram under the bed, and learning about Rachel, a girl who was into witchcraft and responsible for said pentagram. Unfortunately, she’s also dead. Apparently she told Anya she was being followed by a shadow that she could feel touching hr shirt. She couldn’t escape it “again”, and the next day she died. Whether this is a reason or not is anyone’s guess, but there’s a strict curfew for the kids too.
In the middle of the night, Anya sneaks off and uses the elevator to head downstairs, complete with a mug in her hand. Ilonka follows. In doing so, she notices all the kids convening in the same room. She sneaks in and watches from afar as the kids end up drinking alcohol and preparing for the latest story.
It turns out the kids tell stories to each other and do a little ritual before too. There’s no throwing magic dust into the fire (Shout out to fellow Are You Afraid Of The Dark fans!) but instead, we get Natsuki telling a spooky story. It ends with a jump scare, with Spence jumping in and claiming is a form of lazy storytelling.
It’s a lovely meta moment in the show, something that helps frame the horror in a very self-referential light. There are a number of non-stop jump scares that follow, before one that eventually paves way for Ilonka to be found out and joins their group. Well, kinda. The only way she can properly be part of their group is to tell a story…and not a Natsuki jump scare special! She’s also told to drink too, which she eventually does by taking a swig of wine.
The story Ilonka chooses is one of Julia Jayne, the woman she read about in the newspaper. Now, it’s unclear whether she’s reciting the real story or embellishing on details to make it scarier. Either way, she tells how Julia went missing for weeks and then strangely showed up out the blue. When asked where she’d been, she nonchalantly claims that she never left the house and her tumours disappeared. Before leaving, she recites several dates to different patients, which appear to be in the format of dates. Their death dates.
After this story, Ilonka goes on to mention how she’s done her research on the house and she has a number of different stories about people who have apparently been cured. This gives her the “in” to this group. But Ilonka’s real purpose here is to try and find the secret cure. She wants to be healed and go on living, and why not?
The Episode Review
Mike Flanagan is back with his brand new series, and an episode that gets off to a rather subdued but undoubtedly intriguing start. The whole idea of deconstructing the horror genre in the way this does through those stories at the end is easily the best part.
There are the usual monologue riffs here, but it’s nowhere near as long-winded as Midnight Mass was. There’s definitely a lot to like with this one so far, although the whole midnight meeting feels very similar to the Midnight Society scenes in Are You Afraid Of The Dark, right down to the long-form story of inviting a newbie into the group and taking it in turns to tell stories.
It’ll be interesting to see if this show will take on a more episodic format after this with different tales each chapter or whether there’s a longer story that’s going to tie everything together is still up for debate. Either way though, if this is a sign of things to come then it should be quite the intriguing watch.
You can check out our full season review for Midnight Club here!