Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for the Netflix series, The Midnight Club.
Death is certain at Brightcliffe Hospice Center on Netflix’s The Midnight Club, from the creator of Haunting of Hill House Mike Flanagan and based on the books by Christopher Pike. Led by Dr. Georgina Stanton (Heather Langenkamp), Brightcliffe has played host to dozens (if not hundreds) of terminally ill teens as their chance to be on their own and reclaim some agency over their lives before the end. And, in secret, the members of the exclusive Midnight Club — currently consisting of Kevin (Igby Rigney), Spencer (William Chris Sumpter), Sandra (Annarah Cymone), Natsuki (Aya Furukawa), Anya (Ruth Codd), Cheri (Adia), and Amesh (Sauriyan Sapkota) — meet at the witching hour in the fire-lit library to share stories, usually roughly based on their lives in some way, providing some comfort during their short stay.
When Ilonka (Iman Benson) arrives at Brightcliffe, she is intent on digging into the mystery surrounding former patient Julia Jayne (Larsen Thompson), who miraculously survived the same terminal diagnosis for thyroid cancer that Ilonka has received after being missing for a week on the grounds. Her investigation gets off to a rocky start, however, as she finds Dr. Stanton is unwilling to speak about Julia, and there is not much information to find about the former patient. Through her persistence, and some advice from the mysterious Shasta (Samantha Sloyan) that Ilonka keeps coming across doing her trips to the forest surrounding Brightcliffe, Ilonka does pick up on the same thread that Julia had found decades prior.
What Is the Ritual?
This thread leads her to the discovery of a diary written by Athena, the daughter of Regina (Katie Parker), leader of the infamous Paragon Cult that had inhabited Brightcliffe before the hospice center came to be. In her diary, Athena details the misgivings and wrongdoings of her mother in the name of worshiping the five daughters of Asclepius: Panacea, Hygieia, Aglaea, Iaso, and Aseco, the name that Regina later claimed. This worship of the goddesses included a ritual that was said not only to heal sickness, but also gain immortality, something that the members of the Paragon Cult felt owed after science and medicine had failed them. Before the Paragon Cult was officially shut down, and Regina was locked away in a psychiatric hospital for several years, everything ended when Regina moved the ritual into blood sacrifice. This is ultimately what caused Athena to gather the other children involved in the cult and run. Regina sacrificed all the other members of the Paragon to attain her extended life.
In the sixth episode, given what she has learned thus far, Ilonka puts the ritual to the test to try to save a dying Anya — without the blood sacrifice and other cult-like elements. They call on the Five Sisters in the hidden basement of Brightcliffe, and follow the steps to heal their friend. While the seventh episode gives us a bit of a fake-out as we watch Anya years after being healed at Brightcliffe, Anya doesn’t survive, meaning the ritual doesn’t work. However, Ilonka later confides in her new friend Shasta about this failure and her desperation to survive, and the two later come up with a plan to conduct the ritual the proper way with some of the women from Shasta’s life to make up their own Five Sisters.
A New, Modern-Day Ritual
Shasta and Ilonka begin the ritual to heal Ilonka, but things don’t go quite as planned. First, Shasta reveals the truth that she is actually Julia Jayne, all grown up. Through flashbacks, we learn that Julia had the same desperation to survive as Ilonka does, discovering the diary and tracking down Regina to learn about the secrets of the Paragon Cult. The story of Julia’s disappearance on the grounds had actually been created by Julia and Regina, who had spent that week together discussing the Five Sisters. Julia then returned to Brightcliffe and conducted her version of the ritual, which she wholeheartedly believes to have worked. That is why, in the present, she is attempting to trick Ilonka into helping her conduct the ritual to save herself again.
Thankfully, Dr. Stanton intervenes and prevents Julia’s plan, stopping Ilonka from drinking the poison that Shasta’s friends had consumed. So, whether the ritual actually works is still pretty up in the air by season’s end. It is seemingly confirmed that it does not work when Dr. Stanton also confides in Ilonka that Julia’s miraculous recovery was simply the result of a rare misdiagnosis, but Julia could not process this in any way other than that she had been saved by the ritual. However, the final moments of the final episode calls all of what we have previously learned into question, making this writer believe that the ritual does work… just maybe not in the way that everyone believes.
But What About Dr. Stanton?
In the end, we are with Dr. Stanton as she prepares for bed, while the teenagers are all at their usual meeting in the library. Stanton removes her wig, revealing the infamous hourglass figure, notably tied to the Paragon cult, tattooed on the back of her neck. This leaves viewers with a ton of questions, including what Stanton may or may not have lied about throughout the season. As Julia revealed, Stanton did everything possible to keep her away from Brightcliffe after she was healed. Is it because Stanton was saving all of that mystical power for herself, to extend her own life? With the number of people that die at Brightcliffe every year, it seems like a morally ambiguous way to meet the blood sacrifice requirements that Regina and Julia both believed to be necessary to achieve the healing of the Five Sisters. Obviously, the ritual didn’t work for Anya, but is that just because Ilonka and the others didn’t perform it correctly? They didn’t dare cross the line into sacrifice as their predecessors had, and they kept every aspect of the ritual relatively PG, so it didn’t get too cult-y down in the basement.
Personally, it seems that the ritual does work by season’s end. Julia’s insistence that the ritual saved her seems more credible than Stanton’s misdiagnosis spiel, plus Regina seemed to be doing quite well when Julia tracked her down decades after the Paragon cult fiasco. Pair all of that with Stanton’s own mysterious ties to everything going on, and it seems incredibly likely that there is something much deeper occurring at Brightcliffe.
The Midnight Club is now streaming on Netflix.