If you’ll indulge me for a moment, I’m going to take a brief moment to revisit “The Bent Neck Lady” and specifically something I addressed in regards to what I now consider an unwarranted criticism. I just couldn’t stop thinking about why Ghost Nell visits Nell at the times in her life and why it all seemed so random. I don’t know it hadn’t occurred to me til about 6 hours after my review went up, but it struck my that maybe random was the entire point. Well not random, but completely different. One of my first guesses to the ending was that Nell was witnessing her life flash before her eyes.I tossed that out because pop culture and wishful thinking had given me this idealized version that such an occurence would be only big moments or the happiest ones. But what is life if not a series of random events tied to a spectrum of emotions we all feel. And maybe that’s what we all see before we die and more specifically what we witness happening to Nell in those disturbing couple minutes.
Life isn’t just when you are at your happiest, like when your realized how much you loved your fiance for guiding you through something terrifying. Or when you are at your saddest like when you felt completely alone in the world. Or your most scared like when you saw your husband collapse to his death with unable to help him at all. Or your most ashamed, like the time you bought drugs for your addict brother. Or your safest, like when your mother laid beside you through the night to keep the monsters at bay. Or the moment you blame on everything that has happened to you, like your first night in a haunted house that kills your mother. Nell’s life isn’t just the sum of those events, but if you had only minutes to relive your existence, wouldn’t you want the variety? Even if that is not what Flanagan was going for, it is what I’m going to take from that ending. And I’m going to apologize to him that I had complained about when he was spelling things out to much but I went and complained when he left it as a puzzle. I should have been grateful because there was a weird satisfaction in finding that order on my own.
With that out of the way its time to move on to the gutpunch that was “Two Storms”. I was prepared for the show to pump the breaks on the scares and focus on the family after a stellar fifth episode and for the most part it did. I had earlier pondered why it was the show was refusing to show all the kids in one place, but after seeing the remaining ones together, I get why family reunions are infrequent. Well that’s not entirely true. As the youngest of 4, I’m fully aware how difficult it is trying to herd that many people with their own lives. It’s even harder to convince yourself its worth the time and effort when a shared trauma leaves you all scarred with injuries you’d all rather not address. Unfortunately for me, drawing on personal experiences made this episode an extremely hard watch for me. I think the tears started flowing about 9 minutes in and didn’t really stop til well after the episode had ended.
Death is something everyone is going to have to deal with. Grief is an emotion that feels entirely unique to the person going through it and yet something that all of humanity experiences. We all agree that there are separate types and everyone should have the right to go through it the best they know how, but this episode hit so many chords for me of what it’s like to lose a sibling, not just individually but as a family, that I question how different we really are.
Spending an hour (well most of it) confined to the funeral home, trapped with the corpse of their baby sister, you see the Crain children both share in their sorrow but almost compete over the right way to do it. And perhaps this is me projecting my family bullshit onto them, but I witnessed this weird paradox of trying to prove you hurt the most while trying to make everyone feel worse than you currently do.
Each of the Crain children play their role even in this terrible setup of a private family viewing. Steve wants to tell stories. Shirley wants to take care of the evening. Theo wants to expose the truth hiding under it all. Luke, well Luke just doesn’t want to face what scares him. I’m not happy about this fact, but Luke and I could be the same person if you swapped needles for pills. Every single motion he makes in the hour is some funhouse mirror trick of an altered reflection of me. From his halting to get a view of the casket, him being stopped in his tracks when the reality starts to hit him, his running from it only to try again with the help of his brother (in my case it was my sister).
Seriously, the only thing that shatters this mirror is that my reaction after seeing the made-up corpse of my brother was precisely like Steve’s. I made some off-handed comment that might have sounded like a joke and followed by trying leave the room once I had seen something my brain could not make sense of. He was both some lifeless imitation but also somehow my helpless brother and I could not bear to leave him unprotected. Its completely absurd because what worse could happen to him but it made as much sense to me in that moment as is does to me right now. Watching this scene I forgot how to breath, or more like I suppressed it knowing that the second I took in air I’d stop being able to hold back the wave of tears that were coming.
I was so relieved when the show got me out of that room and into another to wait for the arrival of Hugh. Passing around the minute details they already knew on what happened to Nell, the only thing we get to learn is just how much of an ass Steve can be. Instead of spending the 6 hour flight back from Los Angeles either catching up or swapping horror stories, he’s still in the dark because he needed fly first class while pops and baby brother travel in steerage, er, economy class. I go from being completely sympathetic with him back to completely annoyed and now it’s as if Steve is a member of my own family I begrudgingly have to stick with.
When Hugh arrives he appears to be handling the situation much better than anyone could rightly expects. He compliments Shirley on her lovely home, oblivious to the fact that he’s just in the business section. It’s yet another chance that the show could have the family all together in one frame, but it’s not until they are in the room with the casket that we see all remaining Crains in one shot. In fact, once they are all together the camera slowly works its way to be from the perspective of the casket, and there we finally see the remaining five being joined by a silent Bent Neck Nell watching from a distance as her father clumsily compliments Shirley on her great job restoring her sister.
Hugh quickly excuses himself from the viewing to use the restroom and we follow him along the corridors through the house. Seeing more of the house adds to a my belief that the funeral parlor looked like it is a missing wing of The Overlook Hotel from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining with the patterns the lights on the wall create or that hideous carpet that looks more commercial than residential. With the turning of a corner he transitions into Hill House in a move that feels as natural to the viewer as it does to him. After the dropping of a chandelier, we see an older Hugh in frame looking at his younger self. The moment is brief but it is the perfect visual representation that the man who runs towards the bumps in the night is not the same as the one who briskly walks away from dealing with his family tragedy.
Hugh is not the only one who comes down to find out what the noise was. He’s joined by his wife who reveals she must have been sleepwalking while having strange dreams. Before she can elaborate, the twins arrive downstairs as well as Theo and Steve. The storm outside has intensified and the hail starts breaking windows throughout the house. Shirley, who somehow didn’t hear the crash comes running down to complain of broken glass in her room. Hugh and Steve take off to assess household damage while Olivia stays with the rest of the children trying to comfort them. That all the family members convene in the same location in the matter of 2 minutes yet never completely share space make me positive that separating Crain’s is an intentional creative choice.
Some of the kids go off to look for flashlights while Olivia perches on the steps with Nell to comfort her during the storm. Distracting her by teaching her how to calculate the distance of lightning by counting after thunder, I find myself completely falling for Olivia. Carla Gugino just imbues her with such compassion and warmth and that these tender scenes give me pangs of grief knowing that within days, these children will have this wonderful guiding spirit taken from them.
The lights go out and Nell gets up in a panic and moves through the house and into the statue room, twisting and turning in fear with an uncanny similarity to how she will dance through it with her ghost spouse in the final minutes of her life. Her dance is shortlived when the Bent Neck Lady frightens her back to her mother’s arms. Its then that Olivia chooses to tell little Nell that she too sees the people in the house but that they don’t mean any harm. Its a stark contrast to how she’s previously handled similar situations with plausible excuses.
Hugh comes back down with Steve before Olivia can say how she knows the house won’t hurt them and she joins him in the middle of the room to sort flashlights. She leaves Theo to hold her hand and the camera slowly circles the 5 sitting in the center of the room while Hugh tells the opposite of a ghost story and Olivia and the kids keep counting thunder. In a parallel to the cold open of episode 3, Theo finds herself empty handed despite her belief that she felt Nells hand squeezing hers the entire time. Right when the tone of the story is set to shift back to the typical horror beats, which would have been a welcome break, we go back to Nell’s wake.
Steve is trying to fondly reminisce about little Nell but Theo is having none of it. She uses it as an opportunity to make Steve feel like crap for not being there more. Shirley chimes in to criticize Theo for her drinking but Hugh jumps in to try to defuse the building tension with some more information on the 2 departed Crain ladies. He speaks of the origin of puffalopes (a word I’m totally adding to my lexicon) and the selfless and sweet nature of his youngest daughter. Shirley isn’t in a place to be fondly remembering things, she’s too wrapped up in the guilt that follows when a loved one commits suicide. While we may know (and perhaps Theo as well) that Nell didn’t take her own life, her words still hold true because Nell was in an unspeakably dark place and no one was really there for her. Luke stops her morbid train of thought with a time Nell so naively thought that they were indivisible.
Steve’s in a whole other mind space. Caught up on a new revelation that Nellie was in steady contact with their dad throughout the years, he’s ready to point the finger at Hugh for not picking up on how badly she was doing and what signs he missed. It naturally morphs into blame for what happened to his mother and he pressures his dad to finally cough up some information. He’s been waiting too many years for answers to questions far more important than the Crain’s vocabulary.
We finally get to find out how Hugh knew to go to Hill House to find Nell, it was a call from Mrs. Dudley who said she found the car then discovered the body. I feel ashamed that I doubted we’d get an answer. Flanagan’s done nothing at this point to make me doubt his story telling capabilities and I remind I need to be more patient. This grown kids have been waiting 26 years for answers, surely I can wait a couple more hours.
The family is quick to all jump in trying to make sense of what they know despite not really having any more information. They’re quick to try to pin the blame of this on someone and instead of going with the easy target of their father, they look outside the family for once. It must be the therapist she was seeing. Theo, clearly wasted, is more than happy to dump on him for missing the red flags she must have been throwing. They are all trying to figure out which of them spoke to her last and what state she was in and once again it looks like Hugh is the man who knows the most.
Steve is set off when he finds out she was seeing the Bent Neck Lady. He flies off into a rage about the unrecognized and untreated mental illness that runs through his family. They’ve now lost 2 of their clan to this disease and he’s rightly pissed. His father defending his outburst that he’s entitled to it only furthers his rage. Shirley is apparently not in a fixing mood this night because she decides to bring up Steve’s book and it appears an official Airing of the Grievances has started. Kevin pathetically tries to break things up, but all that does is bring in Theo. She doesn’t appreciate a dismissive comment Shirley makes and decides this would be the appropriate time to bring up that she took the book money. While the siblings are busy throwing daggers at each other, Kevin jumps in again to confess he also took the money. You could see this as some kind of gesture to keep this family from crumbling right before his eyes, but I’m pretty sure he’s just afraid that one of them is going to rat him out.
Shirley walks off feeling betrayed by the lot of them and goes back into the room with the casket, I guess cause no one in there is going to piss her off. Just after Theo and Kevin take off to look for more booze, Shirley discovers Nell now has two buttons on her eyes that she assumes is some morbid joke. Their blame game of who might of done it is cut short by a power outage. Once again we seamlessly transition from the present to the past. Its a trick I quite like as it gives since it gives an immersive feel to the horror elements of the episode.
The family has split up searching for Nell with mom and pop taking the top floor. Olivia doesn’t notice the old lady on the bed that we see with the aid of the lightning. She does see the little boy in an antique wheelbarrow she mentioned before and doesn’t mind him one bit. The camera style throughout provides these long track shots alternating from Hugh to Olivia which not only aids in not only understand the enormity of the house but adding a labyrinthian feel.
What started as a hunt for Nell turns into Hugh frantically trying to find and follow his wife through the halls, magically disappearing into dead ends. The windows shattering as he passes adds to my anxiety as now the house itself has turned against them. Hugh has what turns out to be a vision of Olivia standing in front of a large glass window that shatters and blows into her but then turns to find her sitting unharmed on the floor in a hallway. She’s no longer able to tell the difference between reality and dreams but as parents their concerns for themselves is superseded for their fear for their children as they hear their screams coming from downstairs.
Even though they were together the whole time, they can’t agree on what they saw with Steve of course trying to rationalize what the others describe what I’ve come to think of as a hell hound (I watch way too much Supernatural). Steve points them in the direction of where he saw the unwanted canine go and Papa Crain doesn’t hesitate to seek it out. What he finds instead is a fast breathing terrified Nell breathing heavily. Before we can get a word out of her it, we’re back to the funeral home.
In what I’ll call the biggest breakthrough for this family, Hugh finally is willing to address the ghosts that haunt the Crains. Not the metaphorical kind, of course, but at least its progress. He second guesses this choice when Luke wants to find out more about what happened to his mother, but the kids aren’t going to let it go again. Demanding to know, Hugh coughs up the truth but Steve is unwilling to listen. Instead he wants to blame it all on mental issues which for any other family would be right but in this case its totally ghosts, you knob! Sorry that was me yelling at Steve. This show has done such a superb job making me empathize and sympathize with them that I feel like I’m one of the bunch and I needed to yell at him like he’s one of the family.
The only thing more crushing then hearing Steve scream that the wrong parent died is Nell’s casket falling to the floor and her body shifts. If any of them were previously buying into the illusion that she was just sleeping, its completely shattered by the current need to resituate Nellie’s corpse. The shot of Steve’s face as he strains to lift the coffin through his tears breaks me all over again. He had one job that night, to look over and protect her, and he couldn’t even get that right. The men resign to leave her casket on the ground but Shirley insists she’ll fix her back up and leaves the room. Hugh leans over and kisses Nell’s forehead and slowly walks out of the room, quietly apologizing knowing no one cares. He can’t fix anything and when he tries things just get worse so he quits.
Steve and Luke decide to leave her alone as well, but not before one last look goodbye. We hear the voice of a young Nell hauntingly explain what happened to her the night she went missing. She was never gone. She was always there and no one could hear her or see her. While it makes no sense outside of symbolism and foreshadowing, it’s so unbelievably effective in twisting that knot my stomach thats built up over the course of the hour and somehow I find more tears to shed. For the first time in the entire episode, we are finally allowed to see the casket alone before we see Ghost Nell standing right next to it, having witnessed the demise of her family and unable to do anything about it.
Whoever said that time heals all wounds is either lying or incredibly lucky. With the death of Nell, the wound of Olivia’s death resurfaces with a vengeance and it seems impossible for the remaining Crains to recover. They’ve left it untreated for too long and possibly killing what is left of them as a family. With just a few simple frames and lines, my own wounds have been unearthed but I’m trying to take a lesson from this series and look at them openly and honestly. Perhaps those wounds with never heal, but maybe I can treat them to a point where they don’t bring me so much pain. I hope for the sake of the Crains and for myself that addressing them and opening up to feel them will prevent any further damage and to mend those wounds until they are just scar that just itches once and a while.