When you cast an actor like Brendan Coyle, a familiar, welcoming face to people who’ve seen popular British television before, there’s an expectation that he’s going to be an important figure in the story. After the fact that he doesn’t show up until the second episode of “Requiem,” the new Netflix/BBC supernatural co-production, it’s almost instantly clear that his biggest moments will come late in this story. And come they do, in the form of a betrayal that’s not exactly surprising, but is still the last shocking piece of a puzzle six episodes in the making.
[Editor’s Note: The following article contains spoilers for “Requiem” Season 1, including the ending.]
The aftermath of Stephen Kendrick luring Matilda (Lydia Wilson) to an underground lair as an offering for an ancient ritual helped to cap off a fascinating season. As “Requiem” ends with a visibly altered Matilda smiling, the credits roll without explaining whether or not it’s the same woman who made the journey to Penllynith or a vessel for a being that’s traveled a great deal farther.
That drive for answers about the “Requiem” ending might just fuel a conversation we had only a couple months ago with “The End of the F**king World.” As IndieWire TV Critic Ben Travers pointed out at the time, we’ve hit a mark in the Age of Netflix where these self-contained miniseries are an endangered species. No matter how cataclysmic the ending, no matter how final or ambiguous things may end up, there will always be a clamor for more; an army of people searching for a Season 2.
The last 10 minutes of “Requiem” feel like a preemptive strike against that push. All the people responsible for unleashing this neon blue-eyed version of Matilda into this world are now in a shallow grave. Hal (Joel Fry) has tasted sheep flesh, which kind of makes a return to life as a concert pianist feel like an unfulfilling career move. Any investigation that Detective Graves would make into what left all the inhabitants of the Big House buried side-by-side might uncover some more of the “how,” but any extra episodes would tear at the thin fabric of “why” that these six episodes already left with us.
“Requiem” works as a ghost story because it’s not rigid in its allegory. The forces haunting Matilda and the people of this Welsh town got a brief possible explainer in a book from the Big House’s library, but the show never lingered on the mechanics of what or how it was doing it. Matilda found proof that she’s Carys, the Penllynith occult brood achieved their goal of bridging the gap between astral planes, and the loop of justice against those responsible for separating a child from her mother has been closed. To open that up again would mean having to get into the details of what glowing being Matilda has now become.
So much of Season 1 benefited from the eeriness of things that these characters couldn’t see (and did their best to avoid looking at straight-on). Even when characters like Hal caught a glimpse of these ghosts, they were nothing more than the faint wisps of spirits like those that destroyed Belloq and Co. at the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” By design they are featureless and unexplained. An inevitable part of any continuation of this “Requiem” story would be getting deep in the weeds about what this spirit represents; a Season 2 effort to tell what Season 1 carefully showed in small amounts.
“Requiem” had only one shower scene, one floating body, one weird eye change. (And, when the officer tells Matilda that Hal was “lost,” one sly “Arrested Development” reference.) Part of continuing this story would mean making those snippets recurring features instead of setpieces and elements designed for a one-time payoff. One possible direction for “Requiem” Season 2 would be for the show to go full anthology, something that “Channel Zero” has done with increasing creative success on Syfy. Maybe a different mystery outside the Carys saga would give a chance to explore some other horror/thriller standbys.
Much of “Requiem” was Hal and Matilda reconciling their search for answers with the ways that journey was tearing apart the fabric of this town. Now that they’ve just added a few extra ticks in the Penllynith body count column, that process is done. One of the satisfying parts about the finale is that it flipped the perspective of the entire series. Once the Carys-Matilda connection was solidified, it became less about an investigation and more of a long-planted process of comeuppance that snatched up everyone who was instrumental in making it happen in the first place.
Like the unexplained blue stuff now coursing just underneath Matilda’s skin, guilt was the lifeblood of this mystery. Everyone feels some responsibility in this story, whether it was Trudy for abandoning the playground, her father for the moments caught in those photographs, or even hapless Ed, who realizes that his amateur horticulture days are becoming exponentially not worth it. The idea that those respective storylines go unresolved is a nice bit of thematic fulfillment in itself — it makes sense that characters fueled by regret don’t get the catharsis they seek.
Aside from the pentagram-styled communes with unseen spirits and the mystical car crashes, there’s one clear metaphor for where “Requiem” can go next. The unfortunate fate of Matilda’s cello, now lying in a heap of smashed shards, doesn’t mean that she’ll never play again. But whatever comes next for her will be a fundamental change in what made this first group of six episodes great. That doesn’t guarantee Season 2 would be a disaster, but if this team is still interested in telling a completely different story, it seems like the best choice to leave Penllynith behind. That last look into the mirror is something worth ending on.
“Requiem” is now available to stream on Netflix.