The following contains spoilers for Messiah.
Before even a minute of Netflix’s Messiah (writing it that way always makes it seem like an inept composer’s sequel to “Handel’s Messiah”) aired, it already seemed destined to become another prominent victim of “when keeping it real goes wrong.”
For those who didn’t keep track of the scuttlebutt prior to the show’s release, many Twitter users appeared to have guessed the series’ twist based on the trailer alone. Throughout the trailer and eventually the show, our titular messiah is known as “Al Masih,” which means “Messiah” in Arabic. But Al-Masih is also a shortened version of an Antichrist-like figure in Islam known as “Al-Masih ad-Dajjal.” Several Twitter users even reported being blocked by Netflix for pointing out the character name, suggesting that the streamer was panicking at having let the evil cat out of the bag so soon.
Now that all 10 episodes of Messiah’s first season have aired, was Arabic-speaking Twitter proven right? Is Payam Golshiri a.k.a. Al-Masih really the Antichrist? The answer to that is…we still don’t know. If Netflix was indeed blocking users for sussing out the real nature of Al-Masih, we won’t be able to confirm that until a future season. All in all, the Messiah finale, titled “The Wages of Sin,” is slightly less revelatory than one would expect from a show that posits such a major question at its premise.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t answers of any kind in the Messiah finale because there still are quite a few. For starters, even if we don’t know whether Payam is the Second Coming of Christ or the Antichrist, it is now quite clear that he is indeed a divine being or at least possesses some sort of magic.
After the plane carrying disgraced Mossad agent Aviram Dahan and Al-Masih is shot down by the U.S. government, Aviram awakes in a lush field of flowers surrounded by desert. It seems as though there was no way he could have survived a crash like that and moments later a precocious young shepherd named Malik confirms that he didn’t.
“You were dead,” Malik tells Aviram before pointing over to a similarly unharmed Al-Masih. “He raised you.”
Al-Masih proceeds to raise another one of the plane crash victims from the dead. Malik certainly has a big imagination. In an earlier scene his classmates chide him for always having an outlandish excuse for why he is late. But this feels different. We ourselves see Aviram’s pale skin and the flies buzzing around his body. If this is just another magician’s trick, it is certainly the grandest trick of all time.
Of course, while the Messiah finale confirms that Al-Masih is at least something resembling a god, it also confirms that he was born on Earth as a boring old human being. As CIA agent Eva Gellar uncovers and CNN’s Miriam Keneally later reports, Payam Golshiri was a real individual who was raised by his grandfather to be an adept conman. Payam and his brother would conduct magic tricks and run scams in their Iranian village to survive. When presented with this story, Al-Masih confirms it.
Still, the true miracle of raising Aviram from the dead supersedes the details of Payam’s previous life. Something is seriously afoot here. Everything, from the storms summoned in Syria, Texas, and Florida, to the walking on water appears to have been real. It’s just now a question of whether Al-Masih is a savior or a destroyer.
Perhaps the biggest evidence for the latter comes from Payam’s association with the cyber-terrorist Williams College professor Oscar Wallace. When Eva visits Wallace, she presents her theory that Payam is operating an enormous scam on Wallace’s orders to destabilize the world’s confidence in its institutions. But Wallace reveals that if anything, he is a follower of Payam and not vice-versa.
“Between him and me, I’m not the dangerous one,” he says. “I’ve been happy to serve his cause.”
We never find out exactly what that cause is but Oscar Wallace’s M.O. has always been to upset the status quo and usher in a new world order. What entity could do that more effectively than the antichrist?
Another important clue (but certainly a far more subtle one) in favor of Al-Masih’s nature as the Antichrist comes from the Iguero family’s epileptic daughter Rebecca. Payam seems to view Rebecca as an important piece of his end game and trusts her to deliver his message to the world via her grandfather’s show. Part of the message that Rebecca delivers is that “Al-Masih is the eye…the eye of the storm”
Those same Twitter uses who caught on to the connotations of the word “Al-Masih” also probably shot up in their chairs at the reference to an eye. That same deceiver entity in Muslim doctrine, Al-Masih ad-Dajjal, is known to only have one eye. Perhaps it’s a vision of Prayam’s one eye that Rebecca sees during her epileptic seizure.
But if Payam is indeed the Antichrist (which again: we do not definitively know that he is), then who is our messiah? Well, it turns out he may have been operating under our nose the entire time. Jibril Medina (Sayyid El Alami) is the first character we see on Messiah. He goes through quite the journey in this first season, from losing his mom, to gaining an “Imam” in Payam, to eventually becoming an important figure himself in the Muslim world. Wracked by dehydration and exhaustion, Jibril causes a stir by walking, naked and unarmed, directly into an Israeli soldier’s rifle. That moment is inspiring enough for a religious group to take him in and ask him to give a speech at their mosque.
During the speech, the suicide bomb attached to Jibril’s old friend Samir is remotely detonated and dozens of people die. But Jibrill is not one of them, despite being just feet away from the source of the explosion. As a barely conscious Jibril is carted out of the wreckage he reaches over to grasp the hand of a corpse next to him. We do not get to see what happens next, but would you honestly be surprised to hear in season 2 that Jibril raised that person from the dead?
In the end, it’s a little cruel for the end of Messiah to leave us without all the answers. But that’s just how God would want it. Among the very first lines of dialogue in Messiah are Jibril’s mother telling him that the only thing that matters is God’s plan.
“Whats God’s plan for me?” he asks.
“He will reveal it when you’re ready,” she says.
Al-Masih himself will go on to repeat that point many times throughout the series. Nothing that Al-Masih does is via his own choice but rather the will of God. We are all but puppets.
Interestingly another contradictory quote and concept recurs throughout the series delivered by a different kind of God: Oprah Winfrey. Once at the season’s beginning and again at the season’s end, Eva Gellar comes across graffiti in a diner that reads “You become what you believe.” That concept is also echoed through the proceedings by Al-Masih who tells the assembled crowd at the National Mall: “I’m here to break the mirror so you can see on which side you stand. What you see will be your choosing.”
So what is it? Are we seeing what we want to see with Jibril, Payam, and their respective divinities? Or is there an objective truth out there that God has willed? Looks like it will take another season for Messiah to unravel all the mysteries of the universe.