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R29 Binge Club: The Haunting Of Hill House, Episodes 1 – 2

"Am I walking toward something I should be running away from?" So goes the question Eleanor Vance asks herself in Shirley Jackson's 1959 novel, The Haunting of Hill House. Eleanor, along with a few other intrepid (or maybe naive) folks, has volunteered to spend a few weeks in the most haunted house in America. As the days go on, Eleanor finds herself falling under Hill House’s spell. While watching the ingenious Netflix adaptation of the book, which arrives to the streaming service on October 12, you may find that you're asking yourself the same question. Are you walking into a show that maybe you should be running from, and choosing lighter sitcoms instead?

The answer is no. Come inside. Take off your shoes. Make yourself comfortable. You're about to spend time in a house cut off from the outside world, so leave those outside world worries behind. The show follows the hapless, naive Crain family over the course of the summer they spend in Hill House, and then tracks the repercussions those months have on the rest of their lives. Here, we’ll be recapping the episodes of The Haunting of Hill House. Let's go.

Episode 1

So, you’ve come to watch a haunted house show. I hate to disappoint you, but The Haunting of Hill House is really a show about a family. Yes, there’s a very spooky house involved. But the sinew the binds the show together, between jump scares and gray-hued ghost creatures, are family ties. Get ready to fall in love with the most beautiful doomed family on TV since the Fishers on Six Feet Under. This is what the spooky version of This Is Us looks like.

The Haunting of Hill House is a ten-episode series created by Mike Flanagan. Though it’s based on a work of horror by Shirley Jackson, Flanagan took major liberties with the story. Fans of the book may groan about the show’s lack of period costumes and paranormal investigators. Flanagan preserved the character’s names and general personality traits, but cast them in new roles entirely. The story is now about a family, not a group of strangers all participating in an experiment to prove the existence of the paranormal, as in the book. What Flanagan rendered so accurately was Hill House itself: That creaky and exquisitely wallpapered house that had “good bones,” as my mom would say, but also has a wicked heart.

The first few episodes of The Haunting of Hill House are told from the perspective of one of the nearly identical members of the Crain family. They’re related, yes, but do they have to look like a dysfunctional brunette army? Let me introduce you to the key players so you don’t stumble around the show, and this recap, like one of those gray-hued creatures:

Liv Crain (Carla Gugino, aka Spy Kids Mom): All of her kids are comfortably aware of the fact that their mother will forever be more effortlessly cool than they are. She’s a long-haired moon goddess.

Hugh Crain (Henry Thomas when Young, Timothy Hutton when old): He has no idea how he manage to marry the Moon Goddess Olivia; is appropriately adoring.

Steven Crain (Paxton Singleton when young, Michiel Huisman when old): A brow-furrowed version of Daario Naharis, Steven is peak older brother. Believes in the god of rationality. Steven grows up to write paranormal horror stories for a living, though he doesn’t believe in ghosts.

Shirley Crian (Lulu Wilson when young, Elizabeth Reaser when old): Shirley magnanimously forgave her parents for naming her Shirley. Shirley, clearly unable to shake off an ingrained appetite for the macabre, now works at a funeral home that she owns with her perpetually in-over-his-head and left-out husband.

Theodora “Theo” Crain (Mckenna Grace when young, Kate Siegel when old): Theo is super sensitive to others’ needs so she walls herself off. She’s a psychologist.

Luke Crain (Julian Hilliard when young, Oliver Jackson-Cohen when old): Young Luke is anatomically the cutest kid alive; sorry to all your nieces and nephews. He grows up to have a drug problem. He’s celebrating his 90-day sobriety mark in the first episode.

Eleanor “Nell” Crain (Violet McGraw when young, Victoria Pedretti when old): Eleanor – well. Eleanor is best summed up by her brother Theo: “One foot on crazy, one foot on a banana peel.”

THE HOUSE! The final, silent, most important character.

Episode one is told from the perspective of Steven, who, as an adult, is a persona non grata among his siblings. Steven found success via turning his younger siblings’ traumatic childhood experiences in Hill House into a bestselling novel called The Haunting of Hill House. The book made him loads of money and turned his family into legends. The only issue? Steven adamantly doesn’t believe in ghosts. He just scoops up other people’s stories and makes money off of them by turning them into books. His siblings won’t accept the royalties earned from his book of lies.

The siblings’ current dynamics stem back to their experiences in Hill House. As a kid living in Hill House, Steven assumed the role of Valiant Older Brother, and he had to assume this role often because of the sheer number of horrors they all encountered. Essentially, Mama and Papa Crain initially moved the family to Hill House for another one of their ambitious home “flipping” projects. They expected to fix a few pipes, swipe out a few carpets. That’s not what happened.

As children, the Crains are all haunted by their own personal visions, which evolve in each episode of the show. Young Nell sees a woman called the bent neck lady. Young Luke has an imaginary friend named Abigail only he can see who plays with him in the treehouse. The kids also see a red door that’s locked.

Eventually, the hauntings culminated in one Very Big Bad Night, which we first see from Steven’s perspective. On that night, Steven’s father carries him out of the house in the middle of the night, making sure Steven keeps his eyes shut. The six of them drive away — notably, without Liv. Liv dies that evening of an apparent suicide. Despite losing his wife, though, Hugh refuses to sell the house. Instead, he demands that the house stay empty forever. The Dudleys, the house’s caretakers who seem to be transported from the ‘40s, are the only people allowed in the house.

In the present, the adult siblings are swirling back into each other’s lives because Nell, the youngest sister, is making contact after a period of isolation. One by one, she’s calling them on the phone. On the phone to her father, Nell claims the “bent neck lady” is back. Clearly distraught, she drives back to Hill House — the site of all the horrors. When she enters the Red Room, all the siblings are woken up from their sleep, as if connected by some genetic string. Eventually, Nell shows up in Steven’s house. But she’s not Nell anymore. She’s a ghost.

Nell, like her mother years before, has taken her own life in Hill House.

What we know about Hill House: The Hills built the house years ago. The townspeople avoid it religiously. Aside from the Crains, the Dudleys are the only people who go into the house, and they go home at night. No key will open the door to the Red Room. It definitely has a high heating bill.

Lingering mysteries: What’s the bent neck lady? Who’s Abigail? What happened to Liv? Why did Nell commit suicide? Why is Steven such a fun-sucker? Why/how does Steven look so damn foxy in old man’s glasses? Why is Steven having marital problems with his wife, Leigh (Samantha Sloyan), the show’s only non-brunette? Why was Luke robbing Steven?

Episode 2

How does time work in The Haunting of Hill House? Seemingly, the show pivots back and forth between two distinct timelines. In the past, the Crains live in Hill House for the course of one summer. The present-day events seems to generally take place over the course of the same few days, with each sibling treading and re-treading the same events from their own perspective — save a few flashbacks. But don’t get too comfortable. Events could potentially get more confusing, timeline wise.

Episode 2 belongs to Shirley, the second oldest sibling. Through looking at their adult life paths, we can see how the Crain siblings have processed their respective pasts. After living in a haunted house as a child, Shirley has chosen to literally live in the most sterilized version of a haunted house: A funeral home. Every day, she “fixes” dead bodies and renders them to a clean, preserved state, so they stay frozen forever. Essentially, Shirley makes ghosts that stay in place, unlike the very unpredictable dead beings in her past. Shirley is so at ease with death that she’s able to clean up her dead sister’s body which frankly, is unthinkable. To her, death is a job. It’s like she’s comforted by the finality of it.

In Hill House, the boundaries between living and dead waver. It’s a porous border, where the dead cross over to the living side. Prime example: Shirley finds some kittens in a shed (after one of the show’s scariest jump scares). The cats all die, marking Shirley’s first real encounter with the permanence of death. But just as she’s dropping the kitten into its grave, the kitten opens its eyes. Later on in the episode, Nell awakens in the funeral home basement, as if the effects of Hill House were bleeding out into the real world. Like the Ironborn of Game of Thrones say, “What is dead may never die.”

Hill House is textbook haunted, beyond just the weird statues, graveyards, and gargoyles. It’s not a “oh, maybe it’s just in their head” situation. As kids, Shirley and Theo are plagued by a series of intermittent, strong knockings on the door. No wonder Shirley and Theo live together as adults. That shit bonds you.

Despite their fights, the adult Crain siblings really are close. No one understands the siblings like each other — not even Kevin (Anthony Ruivivar), Shirley’s husband. In episode 2, Crain siblings all appear together for the first time in the show in a mini-flashback. At this moment in the not-so-distant past, Luke is checking himself into rehab. This is before Steven has made his millions, so Shirley’s footing the gargantuan bill. Clearly, after their mother died, Shirley supported them all emotionally. She’s the mom — and the bad cop on occasion. When Luke arrives to Nell’s wedding high, Shirley kicks him out.

Shirl’s been holding it together for everyone for ages. When’s she going to crack?

What we know about Hill House: The Crains are planning to turn the profit from flipping Hill House to build their “forever house,” where they’ll live in peace forever. Olivia is working on the designs. There’s a graveyard in the back of Hill House. Also, Shirley sees Abigail, which means she’s a real presence, not limited to Luke’s imagination.

Lingering mysteries: Who’s that man (yet another handsome brunette) who appeared in Shirley’s living room holding scotch? Why does Shirley’s husband have a separate checkbook? What’s up with Liv’s headaches? Are they a new brand of Sinister Migraine?

Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?

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"Am I walking toward something I should be running away from?" So goes the question Eleanor Vance asks herself in Shirley Jackson's 1959 novel, The Haunting of Hill House. Eleanor, along with a few other intrepid (or maybe naive) folks, has volunteered to spend a few weeks in the most haunted house in America. As the days go on, Eleanor finds herself falling under Hill House’s spell. While watching the ingenious Netflix adaptation of the book, which arrives to the streaming service on October 12, you may find that you're asking yourself the same question. Are you walking into a show that maybe you should be running from, and choosing lighter sitcoms instead?

The answer is no. Come inside. Take off your shoes. Make yourself comfortable. You're about to spend time in a house cut off from the outside world, so leave those outside world worries behind. The show follows the hapless, naive Crain family over the course of the summer they spend in Hill House, and then tracks the repercussions those months have on the rest of their lives. Here, we’ll be recapping the episodes of The Haunting of Hill House. Let's go.

Episode 1

So, you’ve come to watch a haunted house show. I hate to disappoint you, but The Haunting of Hill House is really a show about a family. Yes, there’s a very spooky house involved. But the sinew the binds the show together, between jump scares and gray-hued ghost creatures, are family ties. Get ready to fall in love with the most beautiful doomed family on TV since the Fishers on Six Feet Under. This is what the spooky version of This Is Us looks like.

The Haunting of Hill House is a ten-episode series created by Mike Flanagan. Though it’s based on a work of horror by Shirley Jackson, Flanagan took major liberties with the story. Fans of the book may groan about the show’s lack of period costumes and paranormal investigators. Flanagan preserved the character’s names and general personality traits, but cast them in new roles entirely. The story is now about a family, not a group of strangers all participating in an experiment to prove the existence of the paranormal, as in the book. What Flanagan rendered so accurately was Hill House itself: That creaky and exquisitely wallpapered house that had “good bones,” as my mom would say, but also has a wicked heart.

The first few episodes of The Haunting of Hill House are told from the perspective of one of the nearly identical members of the Crain family. They’re related, yes, but do they have to look like a dysfunctional brunette army? Let me introduce you to the key players so you don’t stumble around the show, and this recap, like one of those gray-hued creatures:

Liv Crain (Carla Gugino, aka Spy Kids Mom): All of her kids are comfortably aware of the fact that their mother will forever be more effortlessly cool than they are. She’s a long-haired moon goddess.

Hugh Crain (Henry Thomas when Young, Timothy Hutton when old): He has no idea how he manage to marry the Moon Goddess Olivia; is appropriately adoring.

Steven Crain (Paxton Singleton when young, Michiel Huisman when old): A brow-furrowed version of Daario Naharis, Steven is peak older brother. Believes in the god of rationality. Steven grows up to write paranormal horror stories for a living, though he doesn’t believe in ghosts.

Shirley Crian (Lulu Wilson when young, Elizabeth Reaser when old): Shirley magnanimously forgave her parents for naming her Shirley. Shirley, clearly unable to shake off an ingrained appetite for the macabre, now works at a funeral home that she owns with her perpetually in-over-his-head and left-out husband.

Theodora “Theo” Crain (Mckenna Grace when young, Kate Siegel when old): Theo is super sensitive to others’ needs so she walls herself off. She’s a psychologist.

Luke Crain (Julian Hilliard when young, Oliver Jackson-Cohen when old): Young Luke is anatomically the cutest kid alive; sorry to all your nieces and nephews. He grows up to have a drug problem. He’s celebrating his 90-day sobriety mark in the first episode.

Eleanor “Nell” Crain (Violet McGraw when young, Victoria Pedretti when old): Eleanor – well. Eleanor is best summed up by her brother Theo: “One foot on crazy, one foot on a banana peel.”

THE HOUSE! The final, silent, most important character.

Episode one is told from the perspective of Steven, who, as an adult, is a persona non grata among his siblings. Steven found success via turning his younger siblings’ traumatic childhood experiences in Hill House into a bestselling novel called The Haunting of Hill House. The book made him loads of money and turned his family into legends. The only issue? Steven adamantly doesn’t believe in ghosts. He just scoops up other people’s stories and makes money off of them by turning them into books. His siblings won’t accept the royalties earned from his book of lies.

The siblings’ current dynamics stem back to their experiences in Hill House. As a kid living in Hill House, Steven assumed the role of Valiant Older Brother, and he had to assume this role often because of the sheer number of horrors they all encountered. Essentially, Mama and Papa Crain initially moved the family to Hill House for another one of their ambitious home “flipping” projects. They expected to fix a few pipes, swipe out a few carpets. That’s not what happened.

As children, the Crains are all haunted by their own personal visions, which evolve in each episode of the show. Young Nell sees a woman called the bent neck lady. Young Luke has an imaginary friend named Abigail only he can see who plays with him in the treehouse. The kids also see a red door that’s locked.

Eventually, the hauntings culminated in one Very Big Bad Night, which we first see from Steven’s perspective. On that night, Steven’s father carries him out of the house in the middle of the night, making sure Steven keeps his eyes shut. The six of them drive away — notably, without Liv. Liv dies that evening of an apparent suicide. Despite losing his wife, though, Hugh refuses to sell the house. Instead, he demands that the house stay empty forever. The Dudleys, the house’s caretakers who seem to be transported from the ‘40s, are the only people allowed in the house.

In the present, the adult siblings are swirling back into each other’s lives because Nell, the youngest sister, is making contact after a period of isolation. One by one, she’s calling them on the phone. On the phone to her father, Nell claims the “bent neck lady” is back. Clearly distraught, she drives back to Hill House — the site of all the horrors. When she enters the Red Room, all the siblings are woken up from their sleep, as if connected by some genetic string. Eventually, Nell shows up in Steven’s house. But she’s not Nell anymore. She’s a ghost.

Nell, like her mother years before, has taken her own life in Hill House.

What we know about Hill House: The Hills built the house years ago. The townspeople avoid it religiously. Aside from the Crains, the Dudleys are the only people who go into the house, and they go home at night. No key will open the door to the Red Room. It definitely has a high heating bill.

Lingering mysteries: What’s the bent neck lady? Who’s Abigail? What happened to Liv? Why did Nell commit suicide? Why is Steven such a fun-sucker? Why/how does Steven look so damn foxy in old man’s glasses? Why is Steven having marital problems with his wife, Leigh (Samantha Sloyan), the show’s only non-brunette? Why was Luke robbing Steven?

Episode 2

How does time work in The Haunting of Hill House? Seemingly, the show pivots back and forth between two distinct timelines. In the past, the Crains live in Hill House for the course of one summer. The present-day events seems to generally take place over the course of the same few days, with each sibling treading and re-treading the same events from their own perspective — save a few flashbacks. But don’t get too comfortable. Events could potentially get more confusing, timeline wise.

Episode 2 belongs to Shirley, the second oldest sibling. Through looking at their adult life paths, we can see how the Crain siblings have processed their respective pasts. After living in a haunted house as a child, Shirley has chosen to literally live in the most sterilized version of a haunted house: A funeral home. Every day, she “fixes” dead bodies and renders them to a clean, preserved state, so they stay frozen forever. Essentially, Shirley makes ghosts that stay in place, unlike the very unpredictable dead beings in her past. Shirley is so at ease with death that she’s able to clean up her dead sister’s body which frankly, is unthinkable. To her, death is a job. It’s like she’s comforted by the finality of it.

In Hill House, the boundaries between living and dead waver. It’s a porous border, where the dead cross over to the living side. Prime example: Shirley finds some kittens in a shed (after one of the show’s scariest jump scares). The cats all die, marking Shirley’s first real encounter with the permanence of death. But just as she’s dropping the kitten into its grave, the kitten opens its eyes. Later on in the episode, Nell awakens in the funeral home basement, as if the effects of Hill House were bleeding out into the real world. Like the Ironborn of Game of Thrones say, “What is dead may never die.”

Hill House is textbook haunted, beyond just the weird statues, graveyards, and gargoyles. It’s not a “oh, maybe it’s just in their head” situation. As kids, Shirley and Theo are plagued by a series of intermittent, strong knockings on the door. No wonder Shirley and Theo live together as adults. That shit bonds you.

Despite their fights, the adult Crain siblings really are close. No one understands the siblings like each other — not even Kevin (Anthony Ruivivar), Shirley’s husband. In episode 2, Crain siblings all appear together for the first time in the show in a mini-flashback. At this moment in the not-so-distant past, Luke is checking himself into rehab. This is before Steven has made his millions, so Shirley’s footing the gargantuan bill. Clearly, after their mother died, Shirley supported them all emotionally. She’s the mom — and the bad cop on occasion. When Luke arrives to Nell’s wedding high, Shirley kicks him out.

Shirl’s been holding it together for everyone for ages. When’s she going to crack?

What we know about Hill House: The Crains are planning to turn the profit from flipping Hill House to build their “forever house,” where they’ll live in peace forever. Olivia is working on the designs. There’s a graveyard in the back of Hill House. Also, Shirley sees Abigail, which means she’s a real presence, not limited to Luke’s imagination.

Lingering mysteries: Who’s that man (yet another handsome brunette) who appeared in Shirley’s living room holding scotch? Why does Shirley’s husband have a separate checkbook? What’s up with Liv’s headaches? Are they a new brand of Sinister Migraine?

Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?

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