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Series / Messiah

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Messiah is a 2020 Netflix thriller series created by Michael Petroni and released on January 1, 2020.

The series follows a man (Mehdi Dehbi) who appears in Damascus in its Darkest Hour, preaching in the street that God will deliver the city from Daesh. When a sandstorm seemingly vindicates the man, he attracts a following of Syrian-Palestinians who proceed to follow him and give him the nickname Al-Masih. Al Masih's further travels see him draw an increased following as he performs various apparent miracles, such as saving Felix Iguero's (John Ortiz) church from a tornado in Texas.

However, not everyone is convinced that Al-Masih is in fact the messiah. CIA Agent Eva Gellar (Michelle Monaghan) is firmly convinced that Al-Masih is in fact a dangerous radical seeking to foment global unrest under the guise of being the savior. After all, where he goes, social unrest does seem to follow...

In March 2020, Netflix decided to end the show.

Messiah Tropes:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: The series is set slightly in the future from the time it was released. Everything is the same technology-wise, but ISIS had a resurgence that put them on the brink of capturing the Syrian capital of Damascus as the series begins.
  • The Alcoholic: Anna Iguero drinks quite frequently, largely as a result of the Igureos' precarious financial situation, her daughter's tendency to act out and later the stress of being the family at the center of Al-Masih's arrival in America.
  • Ambiguously Evil: Even if Al-Masih does really have good intentions, he undeniably gives off some creepy vibes.
  • Ambiguous Situation: Whether Al-Masih is in fact the messiah or not is the center of the series. There is sufficient evidence to believe, but also plenty of room for skepticism. Even the series finale, while it strongly hints that Al-Masih is the messiah, does not confirm it definitively.
  • Anti-Hero: Aviram is Type-III or Type-IV. He is clearly ready to do the dirty work (including the torture and murder) to get done what he thinks is right.
  • Arc Words: "History has ended" is said by Al-Masih on multiple occasions as he preaches.
  • Artistic License – Geography: Al-Masih is shown leading a large group of people from Damascus, through the desert and into the Israeli border. In real life, that region is marked by lush, green mountains that get snowy in winter, quite unlike the desert it's portrayed as.
  • As Himself: Magician and professional skeptic James Randi appears playing himself and casts doubt on the apparent miracle performed by Al-Masih at the beginning of episode six.
  • Back from the Dead: Maybe the case with Aviram and the other Israeli agent, who were apparently resurrected by Al-Masih.
  • Crisis of Faith: Felix suffers it during the first season’s beginning and finale. Also Aviram had the one in the past after which he stopped believing in God.
  • Cryptically Unhelpful Answer: Al-Masih's answers to most direct questions (like whether he's the messiah) really could be interpreted multiple ways, aside from when they're just evaded.
  • Cult: The CIA is worried that Al-Masih is starting one of these to disrupt the West.
  • Dark and Troubled Past:
    • Aviram is an Israeli soldier who has one of these. His mother was killed in a terrorist attack when he was a kid and he at one point murdered a 14-year-old boy in Megiddo for aiding terrorism, something he is still haunted by and is freaked out by Al-Masih knowing he did this.
    • Al-Masih seems to have one of these. His real name is Payam Golshiri and he was the child of an Iraqi Christian mother and Jewish father who were killed in the Gulf War. He was raised by an uncle who was a sideshow huckster and sometimes criminal who taught him these things. Additionally, he was hospitalized for having a messiah complex and spent a semester learning from a self-described 'cultural terrorist' Oscar Wallace.
  • Death of a Child: Raeah dies of cancer with her mother Staci by her side. She feels even worse than usual, as she'd stopped Raeah's treatments bringing her to Al-Masih in hopes he would heal her.
  • Enhance Button: The "Zoom and enhance" is used by Eva to get the registration number of the car taking Al-Masih to the airport.
  • Friendly Enemy: Aviram is really antagonistic to Al-Masih being confident he’s a liar, but they actually have some really friendly conversations.
  • A God Am I: Al-Masih's statement to the President that he's "speaking with God now" possibly means he's claiming divinity but (like a lot of what he says) could also be interpreted as him merely saying he's God's prophet (as would fit more with Jewish/Muslim belief than Mormon/Christian).
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: Avenir and his old partner used to do this routine with prisoners they interrogated (the former as bad cop).
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Felix firmly opposes abortion, and thus he's very upset when Rebecca tells him about having one in the past without his knowledge. After this, he seems to feel it's a personal failure on his part and asks how he can stand beside Al-Masih upon learning this. He's also upset that she and Anna kept this from him.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Aviram stopped believing in God due to traumas in his past. He claims he'll "prove" this to a Palestinian teenager with his fists.
  • Hollywood Tactics: In reality, ISIS was known for its victories during sandstorms and other bad weather, as it grounded its enemies airpower.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Aviram beats up a Palestinian teenager for information on Al-Masih, who earlier indicated he had tortured many other people in the past.
  • Littlest Cancer Patient: One of them is taken to see the Messiah, as opposed to the very aggressive chemotherapy she was undergoing. It's averted, she dies in the series finale. Also a case of Surprisingly Realistic Outcome, as the father files for divorce from his wife for essentially kidnapping their child away from critical care and signing the death warrant herself. Suffice it to say this whole arc was played for drama, not laughs.
  • Looks Like Jesus: Al-Masih absolutely does, which certainly helps the argument of his followers he is the messiah returned (in fact he probably looks more like the real Jesus would have, with his dark looks)...
  • The Lost Lenore: Rare Male Example. Eva lost her husband and it deeply haunts her.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Al-Masih's miracles could be genuine proof of supernatural powers or they could simply be hoaxes.
    • His saving Damascus from Daesh and Dilley's church & Rebecca from the tornado could be him getting lucky.
    • Eva points out that his saving the boy who got shot by the IDF could have been staged as it is unclear if the IDF actually fired and he could easily seemingly remove the bullet via slight of hand as he does with a coin trick he has performed several times before.
    • He does not use supernatural powers to heal Rae, a girl who has cancer, or Samson, a dog who has been crushed by a building, casting further doubt on whether he has any such powers.
    • His apparent walking on the water of the National Mall could simply be an illusion, as many magicians have actually done the same trick as an illusion.
    • The fact he knows secrets of various people he speaks to could be evidence of supernatural clairvoyance or having access to Russian intelligence about them thanks to his friendship with Oscar Wallace.
    • In the series one finale, his surviving a plane crash and the fact the Algerian shepherd boy claims he raised Aviram and the other Israeli operative from the dead seems to indicate he genuinely does have powers. However, the boy in question is a previously established Unreliable Narrator, which means he could be exaggerating or outright lying.
  • Meaningful Name: Maybe. Al-Masih is Arabic for 'Messiah' and that is how he is perceived (though this is not his real name). Besides this, the Al-Masih ad-Dajjal serves as an Islamic counterpart to The Antichrist and Al-Masih's true background lines up with many of the prophecies surrounding the Dajjal, implying an alternative explanation for his nature to being the messiah or a fraud.
    • Samson the dog who received a fatal injury when a house collapsed on him is named after a biblical character who also died when a building fell on him.
  • Messianic Archetype: Al-Masih is seen as this to his followers-Christians and Muslims who follow him believing he is Jesus/Isa returned, but he also has some Jewish followers who presumably see him differently. There's even one Buddhist monk who evidently travels to the encampment in Texas those eager to see Al-Masih set up by Dilley's church.
  • No Ending: The series ends with mass media claiming Al-Masih is a liar and Aviram being seemingly resurrected by “messiah” after the plane crash. Generally speaking, the main secret, whether al-Masih is truly a messiah or not, remained unresolved.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • Oscar Wallace's background is very similar to Julian Assange and Edward Snowden and the ideology he adheres to bears some resemblance to that of Nick Land, while his manifesto's cover evokes Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals. His name and a plot-relevant quote from his book are a reference to author David Foster Wallace, though he doesn't share the character's ideology.
      "Everyone worships. The only choice we get is what to worship."
      - David Foster Wallace
    • President Young comes off as a Mormon version of Mike Pence, albeit more sympathetic than many takes on Pence usually are.
  • Our Presidents Are Different: President Young is President Minority as he is a Latter-Day Saint. Beyond that he has aspects of President Iron (he stands by his controversial immigration policy and argues with Al-Masih when the latter initially proposes withdrawing all troops from overseas) and President Personable (coming off in person as a Reasonable Authority Figure). He also has aspects of a President Puppet, being under the thumb of his Chief of Staff at first and later possibly falling under the sway of Payam Golshiri's plan to destabilize the world under the guise of bringing world peace.
  • Pet the Dog: While Aviram is an unpleasant borderline Sociopathic Soldier most of the time, he does genuinely love his daughter and dotes on her whenever he gets the chance.
  • Second Coming: A lot of Muslims and Christians believe Al-Masih is Jesus come again (the former as a prophet, with the latter believing that he's God himself). It's left unclear if they're right, and he never explicitly confirms or denies this view either way.
  • Sins of Our Fathers: Avenir killed the son of the man who had killed his mother in a bombing, saying people inherit the sins of their parents.
  • Star-Making Role: An in universe example. As Rebecca starts documenting Al-Masih's movements from Dilley onwards she very quickly garners a huge number of followers, making this true for her.
  • Straight Gay: Will Mathers is very tough and manly federal agent and the audience gets to know that he’s gay only after his phone call to his lover.
  • Suicide Attack: Samir is tasked to commit one by Islamic extremists so Jibril's message will be stopped. He backs out at the last second, though unfortunately the bomb is detonated by his handler remotely.
  • Torture Technician: Avenir was once a professional interrogator/torturer, from what we've seen.
  • Troll: Rebecca finds she very quickly becomes a target for them as Al-Masih's social media officer. Comparisons to Mary Magdelene are almost instantly forthcoming.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Aviram murdered a 14-year-old boy in the past during a counter-terrorist operation.