This post contains spoilers.
Netflix’s new original series Messiah is a psychological thriller that asks the audience to wonder what it would be like if the second coming of Christ wasn’t just real but happening today and being followed incessantly by CNN. The show centers around an unnamed man who followers dub al-Masih, the Messiah (played by Mehdi Dehbi). He’s a charismatic preacher who appears one day on the streets of Syria and rallies a group of refugees to travel to the Israeli border after maybe or maybe not performing a large-scale miracle. Although Messiah touches on the perpetual Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the show does not seek to make it palatable for viewers or even to suggest a solution in a fictitious version of 2020. Instead, Messiah brings a somewhat digestible version of religious unrest and geopolitics to the small screen by incorporating attractive super-spies (Michelle Monaghan and Tomer Sisley) and “God loves everyone” messaging. In this latest installation of the Christ mythos, God does seem to love everyone, but he’s also in the mood to rain down a plague or two.
Messiah is an entertaining 10-episode journey that puts the onus of deciding the truth—whether al-Masih is the returned Messiah or an expert-level con man—directly on the viewer. But the dialogue between characters often gets so weighed down by the trope of all religious people as radicals waiting to be activated that some episodes turn into a slog. The series can’t help but drown itself in imagery from the Ibrahimic texts. Names from the Torah, Bible, and Quran are sprinkled throughout the season like breadcrumbs in a holy scavenger hunt. In one particular instance, the show leans so heavily on the source material that it’s laughable: A dog named Samson is crushed under the weight of a destroyed building and eventually dies. (In the bible, the dog’s human namesake was killed after a building was brought down on his head.) Messiah also calls back to stories like the temptation of Christ, Mary Magdalene, the wandering of the Israelites in the desert, and a particularly scenic walk on water.
But rising above the scenes of spycraft and very tired depictions of Muslims as terrorists is a new, more honest look at the Jesus archetype. What would a 2020 Jesus look like? In Messiah, he wears Levi’s and an assortment of hoodies. He’s fluent in every tongue spoken to him. Unlike most other iterations of Jesus, he uses inclusive language. In one scene where al-Masih is explaining a plan involving soldiers, he refers to them as, “Every man. Every woman. Every person,” leaving room for gender non-conforming people in the service. The new interpretation of the Messiah holds space for women in a manner that is insufficient by miles, but still better than in other pop culture imaginings of Jesus. He isn’t the guy screaming at every given moment about who is and is not going to hell. Instead, he’s framed as the messenger of an apathetic god, burdened with the human desire of caring about people. He’s a person in a way that Jesus the religious figure is never allowed to be. This Jesus-adjacent character is just a boy. Standing in front of a multitude. Asking them to stop being assholes to each other.
Messiah is now streaming on Netflix.