In the Netflix original MESSIAH, a Middle Eastern street preacher becomes recognized as a Messianic figure, leading to massive disruption. The show has taken a lot of criticism, but I loved it for its interesting ideas and excellent execution.
The show begins with a street preacher being credited with saving a Syrian city from ISIS by conjuring a sandstorm, and ends up with numerous followers calling him al-Masih, the Messiah. After leading them to the Israeli border, he disappears and shows up in Jerusalem, where he is filmed resurrecting a child presumably slain by an errant border from an Israeli soldier. When a tornado strikes a small town in America, suddenly he’s there, having saved the preacher’s daughter, and after the tornado is over, the only building left standing in the town is the church. Suddenly, al-Masih is drawing huge crowds who follow him to Washington, DC, while also attracting the attention of the U.S. government–and also a vicious but conflicted Mossad operative and a very dedicated CIA agent, who think al-Masih is a dangerous con man.
Despite criticism the show has received, I think it handles a very difficult subject–is there a God, and if so, what does it want from us–with an incredible, very sensitive balancing act of ideas and themes, and with no grating, saccharine easy answers. The show has been criticized for numerous side characters, but they add wonderful layers to the story, exploring themes of people wanting a purpose to come from outside themselves, how religion can fuel violence and political goals, and how the existing state of the world wasn’t what God intended. As for al-Masih, he gets away with dodging the big questions–how can God love us if it wants to end the world? Why is there evil? Where do we go when we die?–and preaches a message that is extremely well written as dialogue but sometimes skirts with the platitude: love each other, borders and all the rest are human constructs, and act on this love in your every action. Still, while platitudes, they make sense, and every problem portrayed in the show would be improved if only these simple ideas were acted upon. Al-Masih ends up getting a similar treatment as Jesus in the New Testament, only there are now many ways to crucify somebody.
Is al-Masih crazy? A con man whose goal is social disruption? The true Messiah? Some may find the ambiguity maddening, but I thought it was the only way to handle the subject matter, and, like al-Masih himself, leave the rest up to the viewer’s interpretation.