Wednesday, January 1, 2020

REVIEW: 'Messiah' - Crowds of Refugees Follow a Potential Prophet Whose Message Remains Unclear in 'He That Hath an Ear'

Netflix's Messiah - Episode 1.01 "He That Hath an Ear"

Believing he miraculously delivered Damascus from ruin, a throng follows a man they call al-Masih into the desert, raising suspicions in the CIA.

In 2018, there were 495 scripted shows airing amongst the linear channels and streaming services. The way people are consuming content now is so different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, there is less necessity to provide ample coverage of each specific episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site is making the move to shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the series premiere of Netflix's Messiah.

"He That Hath an Ear" was written by Michael Petroni and directed by James McTeigue

What would happen if a prophet from God appeared in the present day? That's the question being asked at the center of this drama. Of course, the main thrust of the narrative seems to be the world at large having conflicting feelings about al-Masih. People are entitled to their opinions. But it also comes across as a formulaic conspiracy thriller. One that could be teasing something much more damning is on the horizon. That seems a little out of a place in a series that wants to examine faith and religion around the world. Can those concepts be weaponized and manipulated? Refugees in Damascus feel a sudden reverence for al-Masih because of the legend of an apparent miracle he performed. The news covers the massive sandstorm that covers the city for a month. That can be seen as the reason why ISIS is pushed back from its push to claim more territory. However, the refugees view al-Masih as a symbol of God who was preaching His word throughout the storm. He never lost his podium or his faith. That is an incredible story. People didn't have to see it in order to believe. That is the fundamental pillar of faith. With the personification of a religious figure though, it becomes much more necessary to show the miraculous upfront. Right now, al-Masih only has the legend and fame around him. People follow him into the desert because they place all their hopes and fears onto him. He wants them to forget everything they believe they know about religion. He hopes to show them a better path. Of course, all of this immediately sets off red flags for Eva, a CIA officer. She has seen this routine play out before. She knows that this can often be viewed as a tactic a new terrorist uses in order to recruit to his personal cause. They use the words of sacred scripture in order to create an argument that rouses crowds of people. At the moment, al-Masih only has 2,000 followers. That is more than enough to create a sense of fear and uncertainty in the region. The agents at the Israeli border are terrified by the sight of thousands crossing over. They have the reinforcements to remain in control. All of this has the potential of coming across as a humanitarian crisis. That should be at the forefront of everyone's minds when it comes to the Middle East. The region has been at war for decades. That has been the environment people have grown accustomed to. It has been normalized where the violence is perceived to be the only viable option to take. It's just as important to reflect on the humanity lost and the suffering still taking place. Political leaders don't see the threat from al-Masih because he is leading refugees who have been persecuted in their homes. They aren't fighters. Of course, their first reaction upon seeing where their leader has taken them is to pick up their weapons. As such, he orders them to bury them. They aren't here looking to start a conflict all over again. Instead, it's a way to provide salvation. That's the way that religion asks people to serve. It's about kindness and forgiveness for your neighbor. The restoration of that belief can be tantalizing. It can offer redemption to the world at large. But again, the show asks the audience to remain skeptical. It hits all the thriller beats by confirming that something much more is going on with al-Masih. Eva can't figure out where he came from. Meanwhile, he disappears from the Israeli holding cell where he has been detained. Some may perceive all of this as miraculous. Others view it as too good to be true. Eva needs the truth to be abundantly clear. That messaging isn't likely to occur though. The world is much more complex than that. She needs it to be simple because that allows her to conduct her job effectively. Similarly, Aviram needs to know how his prisoner knows so much about him - including his deepest held secrets that no one could possibly know. An answer to all of this will likely be forthcoming. It will reveal what actually is going on. Perhaps then, the drama will feel more exciting and engaged by what it's trying to do than it currently is. The mystery isn't the strongest component in the early going. The geopolitical uncertainty is what's driving the narrative forward even though it's fairly familiar and overall lackluster in its execution.