There's one aspect of art which for me stands above all others: clarity of vision. The ability of a person or a team to fully understand what matters and what does not when attempting to build a masterpiece because that is what makes me think and explore and reveal new aspects of myself. I don't think beauty, or emotional impact, or even technical prowess matter nearly as much for those are rarely transformative. And so, if the core vision is the heartbeat of art, we have to talk about The Midnight Gospel.
For those of you worried about spoilers for the show, it is your call whether you wish to stay. Unlike my previous "review" of Outer Wilds, here I cannot ruin your experience with hidden plot points or discoveries. It is a show which is more akin to practicing a sport, and welcomes you to revisit its ideas. That being said, I will try to not be too explicit about various plot points.
Before watching, I had never heard of Duncan Trussel, the mind behind this show. I'd never ventured into his corner of the universe, but the show is so intertwined with the worldview of its creator that any discussion which disregards this man feels fraudulent. This man has been hosting a pretty weird podcast since 2012 bridging unscrupulous comedy and attempts at philosophy of varying success. In fact, certain conversations of that show are distilled into the 20-30 minute episodes of The Midnight Gospel.
What we see here is crazy colorful vision of a man on acid exploring the universe, and I say this with the utmost respect for his position.
First, Duncan is a comedian, he is not a guru or a prophet or a man who claims to know the truth. Instead, he appears to be very open minded towards pretty much any kind of philosophical direction humanity can go towards, any religion is worth diving into, any hidden cult has value, any magical creature could be real. He's apparently willing to listen to anyone and joke alongside those ideas, always without shame never offensively.
I do not wish to judge him, it is not my place and it feels counter intuitive, instead I wish to highlight this aspect of his personality of this work. Always expansive and inclusive of any idea. Take acceptance of anything and everything to the extreme, take the purest expression of "no limits", animate it and you get The Midnight Gospel: a psychedelic series of nested narratives to frame some of the wackiest ideas recorded within the author's podcast: Duncan Trussel Family Hour.
I think this attitude is most obvious through Clancy (main character, voiced by Duncan), and his naive tendencies towards everything he experiences. He'll buy up any story about drugs, magic or meditation, and that's somehow refreshing. It's not supposed to be true, or some form of actuality, it's just supposed to show us how to listen to those ideas. How to bridge that gap through comedy, a crazy premise, out of tune music, and no judgement whatsoever.
Chaotic visual storytelling
It really takes a while to get used to it, to get to a point where the experience of watching chaotic noise feels great, of hearing heavily edited conversations superimposed on pure psychedelia madness art.
The animation itself is the embodiment of Duncan's comedic style. If a "unicorn's silver balls" is a concept one can think of, it will be a joke spawning in the middle of one of his podcasts, or as a visual gag in the background of a scene. This is not accidental, as I've listened to some of the podcast episodes featured in the animation and the veil-less random body horror and humor shows unexpectedly between questions. The interviews in Midnight Gospel are faithful to the originals, in so much so as editing is used to split up comedy from audio, and move it to the visuals.
The contrast between the contents of an interview and the events depicted on screen is so jarring that you can turn off your subtitles and audio and enjoy a completely different show. Just watch an episode on mute (or maybe with some of your favorite music... and I recommend Shpongle here) and you're watching an entirely different show and plot.
Insofar as it feels random, it is by design, but it becomes more cohesive towards the end. The animation itself makes me feel as if I'm in an ocean of possibilities, where I have no control, where I can just see horrible and beautiful things take place within my world, and where only in time I'll may learn to navigate and find some meaning to make sense of it all.
My experience watching
For a Netflix show that can be binged in 3-4 hours, it took me weeks to go through the whole series. For any show I would watch, I'd need free time to unwind, but after the first episode of the gospel I knew I'd need more than time. I'd need attention.
These are the kind of experiences I look forward to the most, the ones which make me think. The ones I have to let wash over me, instead of just the ones I find for entertainment, and this makes it really hard for me to label this show. Hard enough that I'm at the 6th draft of this article within the past 3 days.
Throughout my experience of watching, last 3 episodes shined above all other like the sun at daybreak. Up until then the journey feels random, it feels like the interviews themselves are "the reason" to watch while the main character is a proxy for a human who cannot fit within his world and seeks an escape. It is then when fragments of the season are payed off, and the spotlight turns back onto Clancy to explore his relationship with what he learns.
The way it all wraps up is just beautiful, and I didn't think I'd ever say these words, but the same show which featured a robot fish talking about ceremonial magic while trading cats with a pirate... made me cry more than I had cried in a loooong time. The conclusion is breathtaking, expertly animated, and one of the most heartwarming conversations I have heard in my life. Doubly so, when you learn it is not fiction, and the conversation you hear there was of two people of this Earth, Duncan and that person to whom I believe this show is dedicated.
Just go watch the damn thing!