The Mysterious Benedict Society, now airing on Disney+, is a refreshingly subversive adventure story. Based on the book series by the Arkansas novelist Trenton Lee Stewart, The Mysterious Benedict Society places children at a level of importance rivaling Jesus’ words in Matthew’s Gospel: “Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” The children who make up the mysterious society are four brilliant and talented orphans, led by Reynie Muldoon, who is played by Mystic Inscho. Young George “Sticky” Washington has a photographic memory; Kate Wetherall has endless practical knowledge and physical prowess; and Constance Contraire, played by the hilarious young Russian actress Marta Kessler, appears to be telepathic.
Tony Hale produces the show and stars as the mysterious Mr. Benedict, who finds the four children and prepares them for a special mission, telling them, “You all possess a quality that is lacking in our society.” Benedict is a kindly, rumpled intellectual—an orphan himself who seeks to save the world from “the Emergency,” a mind-control campaign being waged through subliminal messages in the media. He lives in a remote, beautifully wooded landscape, surrounded by books, drinking tea and eating earthy meals with his eccentric associates, including the superb Kristen Schaal as Number Two.
Like a loving father, Benedict is noncoercive and noncompetitive to a fault, creating a refuge from the world’s manipulations. He says, “There is a place where truth matters, even if most people don’t pay attention to it.” In either an uncanny coincidence of names or an unacknowledged common source in the work of Alasdair MacIntyre, The Mysterious Benedict Society evokes something like the “Benedict Option,” the prescription for renewing civilization that Rod Dreher describes in his well-known 2017 book.