So we’ve finally arrived – the final episode of The Haunting of Hill House. No more character-centric episodes. All roads have brought us to the ‘Red Room’. There are so many questions lingering as we go into this last episode. So what does Mike Flanagan have in store for us.
Silence Lay Steadily’s cold open gives us a good idea of where things might be going. It confirms many fan theories. We get an intersection between two prior episode events – Nell and Shirley trying a key on the ‘Red Room’ door and Theo in her ‘dance studio’ with the door knob mysteriously turning. As it turns out, it was Shirley on the other side of the door, with Nell, trying the key Mr. Dudley gave them.
Steven in the Red Room
Following the credits, Silence Lay Steadily throws us a curve. We join Steven in his California house, reunited with a now pregnant Leigh, and working on his follow-up novel. But it doesn’t take long before Flanagan confirms something many viewers have speculated – the Red Room shows people what they want. Hugh and Steven followed Luke into Hill House. For a brief moment, William Hill, the unusually tall ghost that once haunted Luke, confronts father and son. Hugh urges his son not to look. The scene then cuts back to Steven and Leigh together again. A confused Steven can’t recall what happened after Hill House – he doesn’t remember reconciling with his wife.
Well that’s because there was no reconciliation. Leigh taunts him about his shortcomings before Nell appears and pulls him from the moment. Steven wakes up, back in the Red Room, surrounded by the unconscious bodies of Theo, Shirley, and Luke.
Luke Saves Joey … Or Does He?
Next, Silence Lay Steadily cuts to Luke walking through Los Angeles. It’s where we first joined Luke earlier in the series. But this time he finds Joey, his addict friend. But it’s just a temporary reprieve. Soon Joey’s eyes are melting, and Luke is staring down at a needle in his arm. Seconds later and we’re back in the ‘Red Room’ and Luke is unconscious lying next to the same jar of rat poison his mother once tried to use.
Shirley’s Toasted By a Ghost, Or a Memory?
The ‘Red Room’ takes Shirley back to an evening at a hotel bar where a gentleman in a suit buys her a drink and toasts her. Yes – it’s that man we’ve seen several times. It turns out that Shirley had an affair with him. And it was a very cold and calculated choice. Shirley knew her odds of getting caught were slim as the gentleman was also wearing a wedding band. Over the years, however, the guilt has gnawed away at her. In one final vision, Shirley is back in the funeral home where she saw her mother’s body. Yet this time she sees her own body, which sits up in the casket, and peels away at its own face.
The Red Room is the Stomach of Hill House
After he ‘dies’, Luke wakes up in a brightly lit ‘Red Room’ where he finds his mother and a young Nell and Abigail. Olivia tells him she’s been waiting and bids him to join their tea party. But Nell repeatedly warns him to leave. Though he’s confused and tempted to stay with his mother, Luke chooses to live and turns to leave.
And then all the Crain children are reunited again in the dark ‘Red Room’. Nell appears and assures them they’ve all been in the ‘Red Room’. It was a treehouse for Luke, a game room for Steven, a dance studio for Theo, a family room for Shirley, and a toy room for her. Silence Lay Steadily also hints a little more at the nature of time in Hill House. Nell remarks that time doesn’t fall like a straight line, but more like rain or confetti falling around us. Playing on another theme running throughout the series, Nell warns her siblings that the ‘Red Room’ isn’t the ‘heart of the house, it’s the stomach.’
Our moments fall around us like rain.
Hugh and Olivia Have a Reunion
Outside the ‘Red Room’, Hugh finally wakes up on the floor outside the door. Hands shaking, Hugh takes his heart medication before he is suddenly confronted by Poppy Hill. Poppy is somewhat of the ‘agent provocateur’ of Hill House, and she plays the role well as she gently taunts Hugh. But then Olivia arrives to help her husband.
Of course, Olivia’s still plenty mad that Hugh took her children away, leaving her alone in all these years. It takes some convincing, and a promise he says he won’t break, but Hugh convinces Olivia to open the door to the ‘Red Room’ and, in a scene reminiscent of their last night in Hill House, Hugh gets his adult children outside and to the car.
Father and Son Reconcile
Silence Lay Steadily finally shows us – and Steven – what happened when a young Hugh returned to Hill House. Hugh found his wife, Olivia, dead on the floor. Now we know why her blood was all over his hands and shirt.
In a bit of an interesting twist, the Dudley’s arrive at Hill House to find Hugh cradling his wife, repeating over and over, ‘I can fix this.’ As it turns out, the Dudley’s are looking for their daughter – Abigail. Though they’re a little upset to find her dead on the floor, their anger subsides when Abigail’s ghost arrives to console them. At the same time, Hugh sees Olivia’s ghost crouched over her own body, commenting on having a strange dream.
So it seems that once you die in Hill House, your ghost is confined to the property. This is a bit of liberal borrowing from American Horror Story. It does explain why Hugh would keep the house standing and not tell his children anything. On that last night in Hill House, the Dudley’s begged Hugh to leave the building intact, keep them on as staff, and never let anyone else in. As Mrs. Dudley so eloquently puts it, ‘let the house starve’. The Dudley’s want the house intact so they can see their daughter. In a scene that’s part eerie, part touching, the Dudley’s leave Hill House, one parent carrying their daughter’s body, the other parent holding her ghostly hand.
Most times a ghost is a wish.
Now Steven knows the burden his father carried all these years. As the camera pans back, we see that Hugh has kept his promise to Olivia. His dead body is lying on the floor, while his ghost comforts Steven. Hugh joins Olivia and Nell in the ‘Red Room’. The burden of keeping Hill House is now passed to Steven. In an almost perfect bookend to the first episode, the man who claimed to have never seen a ghost leaves Hill House surrounded by all of its ghostly inhabitants.
A Few Final Thoughts
Personally, The Haunting of Hill House chose to end much in the same way as Lost. Not every question was answered. Many plot bits have been left to our imagination. Instead of opting for a cerebral finale, Mike Flanagan arguably made the better choice to give us some emotional closure.
The series’ coda finds the living Crain children dealing with their trauma or, as Steven puts it, knocking down the walls they built around themselves. Shirley sits down with Kevin and tells him about her affair. Theo moves out of Shirley’s guest house, leaving her gloves behind. Steven apologizes and reconciles with Leigh. An old Mr. Dudley carries his dying wife to lay her to rest on Hill House’s grounds. He looks up and see his wife, as she was when she was young, hugging their daughter.
Two years later, we see the Crain children celebrating Luke’s continued sobriety, with both Leigh and Kevin. It’s an almost perfect ending to a show that was always more about family, grief, and trauma, than it ever was about ghosts.