Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House is a 10-hour exploration of the ways we carry our trauma. There’s an authenticity to the way Hill House tells its story of emotional wounds and mental illness, but in the final episode, Hill House creator Mike Flanagan made decisions that left many viewers less than satisfied.
Yes, Hill House skillfully illustrates the enduring trauma of loss—and manages to terrify viewers with ghosts and jump scares—but something feels off about the ending of The Haunting of Hill House. The final episode shifts the entire season tonally, and some things in Hill House simply don't make sense.
There’s certainly an argument for giving the audience and the Crains a happy ending. If you binge-watched the series, an optimistic ending was likely a welcome reprieve from the overwhelming sadness that permeated much of the show. Still, it's unfortunate such an interesting series that captured the raw intensity of depression, anxiety, and addiction didn't end on a note as powerful as the ones struck throughout the first nine episodes.
It Spells Everything Out For The Viewer
So much of Hill House's finale is about closure. This should be obvious to anyone who's watched the series, but in the finale, Mike Flanagan hammers the message home by spelling it out in every line of dialogue. Instead of the nuanced—albeit theatrical—dialogue in the rest of the season, characters speak either in eye-rolling phrases like, "We’ve been here so many times but we didn’t know," or speak in huge swaths of text pulled directly from Shirley Jackson's novel. Steven's voiceover at the end really spells it out for viewers, as he verbalizes the message Flanagan's telegraphed throughout the entire series, saying, "Ghosts are guilt. Ghosts are secrets. Ghosts are regrets and failings."
In fact, much of the dialogue in the finale comes straight from the book. Steven takes on the narration, Nell utters lines from the original Eleanor, and Olivia delivers lines from the book piecemeal. It makes the characters sound like they've just woken up from a 60-year-long coma.
It almost feels like Flanagan doesn't trust the audience to understand the message he telegraphs throughout the entire series. And as all of the fan theories and discoveries of hidden ghosts in Hill House have demonstrated, the show's fans are anything but oblivious.
In Death, Nell Becomes A Hallmark Card
Throughout the series, both in life and death, Nell brings her family together. As a child, the family rallies around her. At her wedding, she brings them back together after years apart. Her wake also reunites the family. And as a ghost, she brings them back to Hill House. In the finale, she wakes each of her siblings from their Red Room dreams to tell them it's okay to move on from their pain.
This is actually the catharsis they need, but the way she speaks is so highly stylized, so greeting card-cum-manic pixie dream girl that it's off-putting. When Luke tells Nellie's ghost he can't go on without her, she says, "There’s no without. I’m not gone. I’m scattered into so many pieces, sprinkled on your life like new snow." It is a beautiful, saccharine sweet line, and it would fit in well with many other shows or movies—just not Hill House.
Luke Should Have Died
Luke would have died after shooting up rat poison in the Red Room. While ingesting a small amount of rat poison produces nonlethal (but still painful) side effects in humans, putting it directly into your veins is an entirely different story.
The most common rodenticides are anticoagulants, or blood thinners. Anticoagulants contain chemicals that deteriorate the walls of the blood vessels and veins. Once these veins rupture, they begin to hemorrhage, or bleed internally. Since they are anticoagulants, the rodent's body is unable to clot or stop the bleeding, which ends its life.
If you put this directly in your veins, there is no way you would be able to survive unless you got a massive amount of Vitamin K in your system ASAP. Luke sat in the Red Room for an undisclosed amount of time, but chances are it was longer than he could have realistically survived.
Admittedly, the episode plays with ghost logic (after all, he's saved by his dead twin sister), but it still doesn't make a lot of sense. There's a theory that Luke dies in the finale, but if we take the episode at face value, it appears the man's got veins of steel.
The Line From The Book Doesn't Work In The Context Of The Series
The line from Shirley Jackson's book, "Whatever walked there, walked alone," underpins the grim reality of Nell's death. In the book, she thinks she's going to find her own forever home at Hill House, and in a way, she does. But to change the line to the more upbeat, "those who walk there, walk together," completely undercuts the tone of the series.
The previous nine episodes show a house full of solemn ghosts who walk the corridors of Hill House in search of a connection to their former lives, but the finale posits a kind of Beetlejuice- or American Horror Story: Murder House-style haunted house where ghosts hang out as they please.