We’re at the halfway point in The Haunting of Hill House. Finally, we get our Nell-focused episode and, hopefully, get more insight into the tragedy that has set the series in motion. No cold open – just straight to the title credits.
The Past – Come Home Nell
No cold open in The Bent Neck Lady, just straight to the opening credits. And we open on the Crain’s first night in Hill House. It’s a replay of Nell waking up to discover The Bent-Neck Lady at the foot of her bed. This far into the series and some of Flanagan’s horror tricks are starting to feel little familiar. On a side note, Hugh continues to prove he may be the worst dad ever. On the next evening, Nell chooses to sleep on the couch. To help her sleep, Olivia lets Nell keep her locket containing the twins’ photos. But the gesture doesn’t help, and Nell awakens to see The Bent-Necked Lady floating above her.
Some of the past flashbacks in this episode offer us additional puzzle pieces. Nell finds an old tea set that includes a cup with stars on it. Mrs Dudley explains that the tea set once belonged to the daughter of the home’s original owner. Then rather oddly, Mrs. Dudley cautions Nell to ‘keep your cup of stars.’ Before we get any further explanation, Olivia angrily calls Nell upstairs to scold her for writing on the wall. Though Nell objects to writing her name on the wall, Olivia dismisses her in an out-of-character moment. Hill House drops two interesting tidbits here. First, Theo takes off her glove to feel the wall. Now Nell knows about her gift. In another fun callback to The Haunting, Theo pulls back the wallpaper to reveal the full message – ‘Come home, Nell’. We also get another sign that something is amiss with Olivia.
The Past – The Morning After
In the last childhood flashback in this episode, Hugh drops off the kids at a motel before leaving to go back and get ‘Mommy’. When he returns the next morning, he’s covered in dried blood with his right hand wrapped up. Only Nell is awake waiting for him. In another masterstroke of parenting, Hugh assures Nell that it’s just dried paint. When she asks about Olivia, he tells her ‘Mommy is okay now.’ The police show up and Hugh abandons his kids again, telling Nell their Aunt Janet will be there soon.
Not Quite The Present
Not quite the present, but not the distant past, The Bent Neck Lady takes some time to show us how Nell met her future husband, Arthur. As it turns out, Nell’s childhood trauma has taken the form of sleep paralysis. She meets Arthur, a sleep technician while arranging for treatment. We’re then treated to a happy montage that wouldn’t feel out of place in a romance flick. It’s happy times for Nell. We even get one scene of Steven not being a total jerk while he dances with his baby sister at her wedding.
But it’s Hill House so we know this won’t last long. Eight months later, Nell suffers her first bout of sleep paralysis in two years. But when Arthur tries to help this time, he suddenly spasms and collapses dead to the floor. Now back in therapy sessions, Nell’s psychiatrist tries to assure her that an aneurysm, not Hill House, killed Arthur.
It’s this point of The Bent Neck Lady that drags a little. The episode gives us a few interactions between Nell and her siblings. In one scene, Nell picks up her twin brother, Luke, and buys him heroin. In a slightly more entertaining segment, Nell crashes one of Steven’s book signings and basically calls him out on his bullshit. While not irrelevant, these middle bits of storytelling slow things down. The Bent Neck Lady is the first episode in the series to feel too long.
The Present – Nell Goes Home
During a therapy session, Nell’s psychiatrist offhandedly suggests that if she went to the house, Nell would see it’s not a ‘monster’. This comments sets in motion a terrible chain of events. Nell flies back to Massachusetts, returning to the same motel that her father took them to as children. She assembles cards, like Luke did with the toy soldiers, but includes a seventh card for Arthur. It’s a sad and almost strangely pathetic gesture.
If that seems a like a bit of a downer, the next scene is pure heartbreak. In a flip of scenes from Episode 1, we see Nell desperately trying to call Steven and Shirley, and her siblings not taking the call. While she stands outside Hill House, Nell makes one last call to her father, asking Hugh, ‘Do you remember The Bent Neck Lady, She’s back.’
All the lights then come on in the abandoned house. Inside Hill House, Nell is reunited with the younger versions of her parents and siblings. Young Shirley takes Nell to see her mom, who is writing the message on the wall she saw in the childhood flashback. (Welcome Home Nell). Hill House then ‘treat’s Nell to one final dance with Arthur as the now adult versions of her family watch. Then Nell’s alone again with the exception of her mother and a little girl in a blue dress – Luke’s imaginary friend, Abigail.
At the top of the stairwell, Nell finds a noose. When she turns around, Olivia offers her the same locket she once gave her as a child. But Hill House plays a trick on Nell. It’s not the locket, but the noose. Olivia tells her Nell to wake up, and then pushes her from the stairwell, snapping Nell’s neck. As Nell falls through the air, we see her in place of The Bent Neck Lady in each of the moments young Nell was haunted by her. Was Nell always the Bent-Neck Lady? Was ‘Nell Come Home’ written in the future. The Haunting of Hill House is finally starting to dangle plot points that move the narrative forward.
Some Final Thoughts
The Bent-Neck Lady is ultimately a mixed bag. On the one hand, the episode’s conclusion is an emotionally devastating end to Nell’s story. It’s one of the best fusions between the past and present timelines to date in the series. And by the episode’s end, one gets the feelings that Hill House’s story is ready to move forward. But the episode takes an awfully long time getting to its final destination. At just over an hour in length, The Bent-Neck Lady would have benefitted from a little editing. Now at the halfway point, Hill House is feeling too familiar in how it dispenses its scares.