We’re down to the last two episodes and there are so many questions left. Can Mike Flanagan and The Haunting of Hill House deliver an emotionally satisfying conclusion that also addresses most of the missing puzzle pieces? That remains to be seen, but prepare yourself for a downer of an episode. It’s entitled Screaming Meemies, which is an old term for a panic attack. It’s an Olivia-centric episode that may promises to finally reveal how she met her end in Hill House.
Before the Storm
Episode 9 opens before the big storm and finds Olivia lying on a couch with the twins sleeping in her arms. In a bit of sad foreshadowing, Olivia wishes ‘she could freeze them at this age forever.’ Every parent wishes they could keep their children young and protected. But we know how things ends and it’s this sense of inevitably that defines Hill House’s penultimate episode. In an unsettling moment, Hugh says that Olivia’s arm must have fallen asleep. Though we assume she is still holding both twins, the camera pans away to reveal that one arm is empty – Hugh is carrying one of the twins to bed. Olivia is clearly confused and disoriented.
Olivia Hates Storms
Following the opening credits, Screaming Meemies takes us to the morning after the storm. Olivia shares a story with Mrs. Dudley about hating storms. She sadly recounts losing her father in car accident when she was 12 years old. Mrs. Dudley stares impassively while Olivia describes being so sad that she believes she caused a hail storm of massive stones to fall on her house. It’s an interesting addition to Olivia’s backstory. There are several alleged paranormal incidents in which giant hail stones rained down on isolated locations. Stephen King even used this idea in his book, Carrie.
‘When Daddy died, I made it rain rocks.’
After retreating to her ‘reading room’, Olivia suffers another migraine. Pay attention as she walk down the stair to the kitchen. You’ll spot the ‘man fixing the antique clock’ again. As an irrelevant aside, I wonder if Mike Flanagan deliberately decided to make him look like ‘Super Mario.’
In the kitchen, Shirley is arguing with Luke about his ‘imaginary friend’, Abigail. Luke wants to take some of Shirley’s clothes out to Abigail, confirming he may be the most selfless member of the Crain family. Olivia doesn’t have the patience to referee a spat between her kids and leaves, telling them to ‘have fun.’ There is one more interesting clue dangled in this exchange. Luke asks, ‘Which room is the Reading Room?’
Nell Calls Out to Her Mother
In Screaming Meemies, Mike Flanagan again hints at the overlapping of past and present. Olivia walks into her Reading Room, but instead finds herself in the Harris Family Funeral Home’s morgue. She sees a vision of her twins – Luke lying dead on the floor and Nell on the metal table. Hill House gives us one of its creepiest moments when Nell sits up and cuts open the stitches in her mouth to cry out to her mother. Later in bed, Olivia confides to Hugh that the migraines and nightmares are constant. Is Olivia mentally ill or is Hill House chipping away at her sanity?
A Mother-to-Mother Conversation in the Dead Of Night
Olivia wakes up in the middle of the night and meets the 1920’s ghost of Poppy Hill all decked out like a ‘flapper girl’. In another bit of foreshadowing, Poppy echoes Olivia’s fears of protecting and losing your children. Poppy laments losing her own children and the grief that followed. But Flanagan doesn’t tell us how they died. Was it an accident? Did Poppy Hill murder her children? This is arguably the most unsettling scene in Hill House. If Poppy is just a ghost, it’s at this moment where the seeds of Olivia’s downfall are planted. Promising to know how to rescue her children from the ‘screaming meemies’ of their worst nightmare, Poppy leans in and whispers something into Olivia’s ear.
“It was a dressing room for me. Then a nursery.”
A few more interesting ideas emerge from this scene. Poppy talks about Olivia’s ‘Reading Room’ being different for her. Yet one gets the impression that she’s not talking about decorating or re-modelling. It’s another hint that Hill House may show people what they want or need – a tree house, a game room, or a reading room. Could this be the infamous ‘Red Room?’ And is Olivia dreaming or seeing a ghost? Or for a brief moment do Olivia and Poppy Hill occupy the same space in what they both imagine as dreams?
The World is Hungry and It Has Teeth
Viewers familiar with one of the trailers for Hill House will immediately recognize the next scene. As Olivia tucks the twins into bed, Luke and Nell ask their mother if she would protect them from all the awful things waiting for them. It’s an upsetting scene made all the more disturbing knowing that their nightmare will become reality in the future. Olivia insists she would wake them from that nightmare, but she’s rattled and uncertain. And we know she can’t protect her children. Things then shift quickly and it’s not nighttime. Olivia is standing alone in the twins sunlit bedroom. This is where Steven found his mother babbling to herself in the last episode. Is Hill House trying to push Olivia to hurt her own children?
“But are we safe with you, Mommy? Are we really?”
Annabeth Gish finally gets a moment to shine as Mrs. Dudley. Sensing Olivia’s distress, she urges the mother to do everything she can to protect her children. Hill House once again uses the metaphor of the house as a literal monster with teeth waiting to feast on the Crain family. You’ll want to pay close attention to Mrs. Dudley. She talks very briefly about her daughter. It’s a small, but important detail.
Olivia Wakes Everyone Up
Screaming Meemies does indeed fill in several missing pieces in its heartbreaking final 20 minutes. Hill House continues to exploit and push Olivia to the brink. Olivia sees another in the vanity mirror of her dead children and she lashes out, smashing the mirror. Hugh convinces her to leave for Aunt Janet’s early, but Olivia lies and stays at nearby hotel.
Now Screaming Meemies bring us full circle to the Crain’s last night in Hill House. Olivia returns while everyone is sleeping and prepares a tea party for the twins. She wakes the twins and, surprise, Luke’s imaginary friend Abigail is having a sleepover. When Olivia takes the twins into the ‘Red Room’, she tells Nell that ‘they’ are the key. As she pours tea laced with rat poison, Olivia promises that she is going to wake her children from that awful nightmare they described.
Fortunately, Shirley saw her mother in the house and wakes Hugh. He saves the twins, but can’t stop Abigail from drinking the poisoned tea. We now get another version of Hugh rushing Steven to the car. Hugh does indeed see a collection of ghosts converging in Hill House. Olivia chases after him, egged on by Poppy Hill who insists that it’s Hugh who will kill their children. Another ghostly old woman – perhaps Hill House’s matron – warns Olivia that Poppy is a liar. In the end, Hugh escapes with the children. Horrified by what she tried to do and prodded on again by Poppy, Olivia jumps off the stairwell to her death. It’s the same stairwell that Nell will hang herself from years later.
Some Final Thoughts
There’s so much to digest at the end of Screaming Meemies. Mike Flanagan deserves a lot of credit for his work on Hill House. On the one hand, he has woven a very intricately layered story. Will every detail or ghost be explained? Maybe not. But Flanagan has connected dangling plot bits across time periods and multiple character arcs. In addition, he has crafted a series that works as both a ghost story and a brutal look at family trauma and mental illness.
Aside from Olivia’s tragic arc, Screaming Meemies offers a huge serving of possible story hints to decipher. Those black speckled marking that we saw previously on the bottom of the vanity and Shirley’s broken model home? There’s a very quick moment where Hugh finds similar black markings along the re-finished basement wall again. He can’t believe that mould could come back that quickly. But is it mould? Or is it some trace left behind by ghostly apparitions? And surprise, surprise. Flanagan pulls the carpet out from under us. Luke’s imaginary friend, Abigail, isn’t so imaginary. But who is she? My money is on Abigail being the Dudley’s daughter.
If Screaming Meemies wasn’t sad enough, Flanagan twists the knife in the final minutes. The episode ends with the Crain family walking into Hill House for the first time, filled with hope and joy. As the kids run up the stairs, Olivia hangs back and tell Hugh, “You guys go on without me.” Hugh smiles at her and says, “How could we?” Thank, Mike Flanagan.