Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House
Season 1, Episode 9: “Screaming Meemies”
Directed by Mike Flanagan
Written by Meredith Averill
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Witness Marks” – click here
* For a recap & review of the finale, “Silence Lay Steadily” – click here
Fittingly, the episode is titled “Screaming Meemies” which is a slang, silly term for an anxiety or panic attack. Particularly it was used in the ’40s and ’50s for supposed hysterical women. It’s a serious thing treated as a joke, and in that sense we can find a connection to the series itself— how mental afflictions can be treated as nothing serious, from Olivia (Carl Gugino) to her children Nell (Victoria Pedretti) and Luke (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), how it’s played down and ignored, as we see throughout these episodes, to the detriment of everyone.
Olivia was beginning to have troubles with reality, losing little slivers of time. Just enough to make her worry. After the initial storm, Mrs. Dudley (Annabeth Gish) was cleaning, joined by Mrs. Crain, who opened up somewhat about her family history and her father dying when she was young. She described being home after the funeral, finally crying after being unable to before, and it brought on the rain as she cried, until it hailed— only they were black stones, not hail. She mentioned a couple places where this happened through history, including Sicily, whereas Mrs. Dudley mentioned the Bible and Revelation, in which a passage states hail as “heavy as a talent” fell from the sky, from Revelation 16:21.
Olivia was experiencing worse migraines, making it harder to deal with everyday life, let alone all the supernatural madness masquerading as mental illness. Even Shirley (Lulu Wilson) and Luke (Julian Hilliard) noticed she wasn’t well. Later, Olivia walked into one of the house’s rooms and into the funeral home morgue, where a grown Nell laid on one of the slabs. She also stumbled onto the corpse of Luke, overdosed, before Nell rose and tried speaking, but her mouth was cinched shut from the embalming.
“When daddy died I made it rain rocks”
Olivia told Hugh (Henry Thomas) about her bad dream. She didn’t want to admit the reality, passing it off as lucid dreaming. One night, she thought someone was in their house. She saw a woman standing over her husband. It was Poppy Hill (Catherine Parker). They chatted about keeping their children safe— something Poppy knew of, all too well. Poppy had dreams, too. Like ones of her children dying, the same as Olivia. The dead Mrs. Hill put more worries in the living woman about “rot and loss” and horrifying dreams, like those Hill House grows in people’s minds. She suggested, if the kids became stuck in those dreams, there was a way to wake them up.
Then Olivia came to, the night she sat on her husband with a screwdriver to his throat. Later, she was confronted with the strange floor plan, and it became clearer she was deteriorating psychologically. She was walking through the house like one of the ghosts herself, and for all his concern Hugh let it go on, believing she realised the need to get better. But she couldn’t help Hill House’s lure. Putting the kids to bed one night, Olivia heard Nell and Luke talk about bad dreams. They started telling her how “the dark gets us” when they grow up. Little Nell talked of a “silver table” and Luke said he’ll grow up to “put poison” in himself. They said she did it to them. The kids wondered: “Are we safe with you mommy?” Except it was another apparition.
This is a moment we saw briefly before, when Steven (Paxton Singleton) watched his mother talk to an empty room. Olivia kept believing it was all anxiety, convincing herself she was a hysterical woman like others thought. The only one to assure her she ought to listen to her feelings? Mrs. Dudley, whose experiences in the mansion led her to understand that place better than others.
Steven fixed up the vanity for his mom, then she smashed the mirror. She claimed it was an accident, though Hugh was sceptical. She was crying out for help, literally, yet her husband wanted to keep attributing it to stress and “all the familiar things.” She finally realised there was something terribly wrong, and the married couple planned to get Olivia out of there in the morning.
Mom was off on her trip to Aunt Janet’s. The kids were sad to see her go and Luke wanted to have his ghostly friend Abigail stay in his room for a sleepover while she was gone. When she left, Hugh was working downstairs, and he found the black mould stain on the basement wall had disappeared somehow— the one that looked like the shape of a child.
Instead of staying away, Olivia returned to the house in the night while the family was asleep. She went downstairs, where she found a bottle of rat poison. Shirley found her mother in the kitchen preparing a “tea party.” Does anyone else worry she’s going to take her littlest kids to the Red Room for a fateful party? Remember what little Luke said about that night when they got to the motel?
In the kids’ room, Olivia found Luke and Nell sleeping, and in a third bed was Abigail (Oliva Elise Abercrombie). She invited them all for tea and they headed inside the Red Room. Downstairs, Hugh woke from a nightmare and Shirley told him about mom coming home. Upstairs, Olivia poured the kids their tea, as her husband simultaneously discovered the poison on the kitchen counter.
Suddenly, Abigail started choking and vomiting from the tea. “She‘s safe,” Olivia explained to her kids. That’s when Hugh rushed in, knocking everything off the table. He threw his wife into the wall and pulled his kids out of the Red Room, leaving her and already dead ghost Abigail there alone. Thus began the terror of that last night at Hill House. The ghosts all made their presence known to Hugh, and he scrambled to get his kids out safely.
Olivia felt the ghosts, too. They were consuming her, convincing her Hugh was taking the kids away to some bad place. She went back up to the Red Room. Then she, like Nell years later, climbed to the top of the spiral staircase. Instead of using the rope, Olivia plunged to the floor below, cracking her skull open. We see a flashback to the first time the Crain family arrived at Hill House, excited over the promise of what that place held, unaware of the horror that would follow.
“I want to wake up, so badly.”
Devastating episode! The themes at play are so heavy, and they’re wrapped up in a supernatural haunted house story with such precision. One of the best horror shows, ever. Fight me.
The finale – “Silence Lay Steadily” – is next.