The cold opening of the episode starts off in what should be an endearing moment between parents. Olivia holds her sleeping twins in her arms and wishes they could be that little forever. It’s a sentiment most parents are familiar with, especially if they are already dealing with angsty tweens. But in keeping with a theme of the episode, it’s not just selfishness that you want to keep them so small. At that age, parents are in near control of all aspects of their children’s life leading to this false sense that you can keep them safe as long as you can keep them close. As we see with Olivia losing time, Hugh is able to completely remove Luke from her arms and carry him off and had he not said a word, she wouldn’t have even noticed. It’s the first sign of many that Olivia is no longer in a position to be protecting her little ones.
Rather than jumping to the present, we’re sticking with Olivia and I’m pumped we’re finally getting to see her story. In the hallways upstairs, Mrs. Dudley is cleaning up after the storm we caught back in episode 6. Olivia makes some conversation by mentioning that she hates storms and it left her with strange dreams. Mrs. Dudley responds that she’s a fan of them but that her daughter is terrified of them. I’m surprised of the mention because to this point, we’ve had very little indication that the Dudleys are parents. With the exception of Mr. Dudley referring to their stillborn daughter as their first, they’ve not brought up children before. I expect Olivia to ask more about her but she’s still stuck on wanting to talk storms.
When she was just 12, her father died in a car crash and for days she was unable to cry over it. Like Theo, the shock of a sudden loss took days to set in and it wasn’t til she sat in his recliner that the dam broke and her flood of tears began. She claims that out of nowhere a violent storm began and rain quickly turned into hail. With the breaking of a window, she discovered that it wasn’t hail but in fact tiny small rocks beating down on the house. Her mother was even injured running into the house to hold her children and as suddenly as it started it had ended. Olivia knows that its not the first time such phenomena has occurred and Mrs. Dudley is quick to add that it happens in the bible as well. Despite Olivia saying that it was only as a little girl she believed her feelings caused the storm, it sounds as if she still thinks that she once possessed this god-like power.
While sitting in her reading room, she gets one of her migraines and heads downstairs to get some medicine. Along the way she passes Steve’s ghostly clock repairman on the way to the kitchen. Luke and Shirley are arguing about him trying to take some of her clothes to gift to Abigail, his imaginary friend that lives out in the woods. Abigail’s clothes are all old and I guess whatever Shirley is wearing was considered cool back in the day so he just wants to share with his buddy. Olivia is in too much pain to really get involved in this argument and dismissively tells Luke that he can’t have Shirley’s clothes and that she’s going back to her reading room. Luke wonders where that room is at and Shirl just informs him that she’s not feeling good.
Her headache worsens as she approaches the room but once she opens the door she does not want to go inside. And who would want to because her quaint sitting room has transformed into a morgue with 2 open slabs. She looks back to check to see where she is at and when she sees back into the morgue she sees a young woman (who we know to be Olivia) laying out on one. She gets closer and the way Olivia’s face changes to one of sorrow and fear, she’s recognized this as her grown daughter. She backs away from the prep table and stumbles into Luke, dead on the floor of an overdose. It’s the same way Nell saw him in her vision at the hotel so I’m going to retroactively chalk that up to the house sending her that fright since she was afterall in the nearby town. The scene only gets more horrifying when Nell sits up and struggles to speak. She reaches over to a tray of tools but rather than grab something to be used as a weapon she’s uses scissors to cut the wire keeping her mouth shut. I’m now doing a mental inventory of what I’ve seen in the previous 8 episodes but I feel safe in saying this is the most unsettling moment of the series (or a close 2nd to Shirley actually prepping Nell). She stumbles back and has magically returned to her reading room, understandably shaken by what has just happened to her.
In bed she tells her husband about what she saw but Hugh is quick to brush it off as just a bad dream. She doesn’t drop the topic however. She mentions that her headaches are constants and that her dreams have become more vivid than reality. Rather than focus on her problem, he instead changes the conversation to how he was too hard on Stevie. It’s the night of the hand mangling so we know he’s already been given the warning from Mr. Dudley to get her out of the house. It’s frustrating to know that even upon hearing his wife talk about her deterioration he’ll wait until she nearly kills him with a screwdriver in his sleep to suggest she go on a solo vacation. I haven’t been nearly as willing as his children to lay blame at his feet, but this is definitely a huge strike against him in my book.
Olivia awakens that night to the sound of someone out in the hallway. She takes a gander and sees no one but when she turns around she is startled to see a beautiful woman in a satin flapper dress leaning over her sleeping husband. It’s almost comical when she puts a finger to her lips to let Olivia know not to disturb him. She tells Olivia to “shake a leg” and she dutifully follows her into the reading room. We learn that it was once a dressing room for her before it was turned into a nursery. Olivia asks if she is dreaming and Poppy tells her that they are both dreams. I find it interesting that of all the compliments she could have given Olivia to charm her, she calls her “a real tomato”. I had to look it up and yes, it was a real term of endearment in the era Poppy comes from, but it’s also relates Olivia as something to be devoured.
Poppy sits down with her and begins to talk about the loss of her two kids. It sounds as if they died of natural causes or that at least both dealt with physical illnesses Poppy might have relieved them from. If I was to take a guess, I’d say the little girl had TB and her son had polio. Regardless of the cause, the end result is the same and Poppy has experienced what both women (and most people) would agree is the worst thing that could happen to someone: losing your child. After a demented chuckle to herself she proclaims that it was just a dream, a screaming meemie.
Next she brings Olivia to the twins room where they are fast asleep. She makes Olivia admit she’d do anything for them before proposing a scenario. What if they were trapped in a terrible nightmare? Even though Olivia says she’d wake them up, Poppy continues to chillingly describe those nightmare of sick and sad and loss and rot. Well of course she’d wake them up. Its just then that Poppy reveals herself as snake oil salesman. Cause she’s got a secret, a way to wake them up and keep them safe forever. We can’t hear her muffled pitch, but I think we all know her secret.
Speaking of waking up, she does and we’re back to the night when she nearly kills Hugh in his sleep. Once again we see the blueprints and her agreeing to get help. The next morning she walks downstairs looking more pained than ever from her headaches. They’re so bad she actually leans against the wall as workers pass her by. Hugh sees her in distress but he’s not worried enough to actually stop and check on her.
We flash to night with Olivia tucking the twins in for bed when Nell sits up with an innocent enough question that you often hear from a child “What if I have a nightmare?” Olivia guesses she’s afraid of the Bent Neck Lady or nightmares of imaginary friends in the woods. But the next line of questions get far more disturbing. “What if you kill us?” she asks so plainly. Nell goes on to fear that she’ll be sent out into the dark and the world will hurt her and break her heart. Luke chimes in to say what he starts putting poison in his veins. It’s completely fucked up listening to these kids describe their eventual death. And once again, the show bumps it up a notch when Nell blames her for all of this because she sent them out all alone in the night….in the dark. I love that the house is using the same words Olivia hears but from the opposite stand point. It’s not that the house should be feared but everything that could happen to them outside of its security. It’s also twisting the idea that it’s reality that’s the bad dream and death that’s the waking release from it.
The moment comes to a quick end when Steve walks in and wakes his mom up. This is when he saw her before he goes to the game room and finds the vanity. I find these jumps jarring as a viewer so I can only imagine how scary they must be to the woman going through them first-handed. She finds a room downstairs where she can be alone in her thoughts when Mrs. Dudley walks by for a conversation that’s definitely more harm them good. Olivia starts to open up about all the fears that she is having and attributing that anxiety to her headaches and lack of sleep. Mrs. Dudley forcefully tells her to listen to her gut and to follow those instincts even if the kids or her husband are angry at her for it. She’s not aware that Olivia’s gut (or haunted brain) are telling her to keep the family around forever. If she did, maybe she would have been just as forceful when telling Olivia that the sooner she gets her family out of the house the better. Clara relays that she would never let her own daughter into the house and that none of them are to come at night. She also says that she wouldn’t have even come back to work on the property had she not found out a couple with 2 children the age of her own girl were living inside. She wants to keep a watchful eye to help keep them safe, but she’s doing a pretty crap job at it.
We next see Olivia receiving her vanity and how quickly she turned on it when it revealed the faces of her grown up dead children. She and Hugh discuss the event and once again he’s more worried about the damage to Steve than he is to what is going on with her. I mean, I get it, your kids come first, but Stevie’s not the one having a breakdown in front your very eyes, Hugh. Olivia isn’t just scared, she’s petrified that something is really wrong. Hugh finally sees how bad he’s been at being “the line” and suggests that she leave sooner than planned.
Oh, how I wish I could feel relief seeing Olivia say her goodbye to leave for Aunt Janet’s, but we already know she never makes it there. Before she faux departs, Luke asks if Abigail can come over for a sleepover and she agrees because what harm could it be to have an imaginary friend keep him company.
Hugh tries to get back to fixing up the house but down in the basement, the black mold is still there. The camera switches focus to the bottle of rat poison that might as well have a flashing arrow pointing to it. Upstairs he gets a call from his wife who is pretending she’s at her sister’s house. It’s an easy enough lie to get away with cause Hugh is too distracted by his 5 loud children begging for his attention. In reality, she’s actually staying in the same motel her family will check into after Hugh flees into the night. A close examination makes me believe it’s actually the same room they will stay in unless all of the rooms come with the exact same paintings.
Olivia leaves the motel and returns to Hill House where Hugh is sleeping downstairs. She watches over him silently for a moment before heading down to the basement to get the rat poison. She takes it to the kitchen and makes a deadly pot of tea and that’s when Shirley sees her home. Fortunately for Shirley, she’s not going to get invited to late night tea party. She and Theo are too old and have outgrown their need for their mommy. She wakes the twins and brings them towards The Red Room where the door is open and Abigail is waiting out front. Nell gets excited that her mom found the key but Olivia tells them “We are the key”. That’s not weird at all.
Shirley goes to wake her father and inform him that she just saw her mother back in the house. Upstairs the tea party has begun and Abigail’s excited because she never gets to do stuff like this at home. I’m ashamed it took me this long to even question it, but I’m freaking out beginning to question if Abigail is actually real. Olivia brings up that disturbing q&a bedtime session with the twins and that of course she would wake them but Nell has no idea what she’s talking about. It’s just enough to stall her from partaking of her cup of stars and then Abigail start to choke. Foam is coming out of her mouth and I’m 99% sure we are watching a real child dying for the first time. There’s just nothing ghostly about it, just ghastly. The twins start to get upset and Olivia proclaims “She’s safe”. I guess in Hill House it’s Opposite Day. Hugh comes running into the room and immediately puts together what is going on. He swipes across the table knocking the killer tea onto the ground. Olivia starts to argue with him but Hugh shoves her into a fall and she blacks out.
When she comes to, she goes searching for her family. We see the other half of the scene from the premiere with Hugh and Stevie watching as the door handle jiggles before they make their run. Olivia is the one who is trying to gain entry with Poppy egging her right over her shoulder like a fucked up Jiminy Cricket. Luckily for Hugh and Steve, Ghost Hazel (the old lady) comes out of her room to warn Olivia that Poppy is a liar. When Olivia goes to ask her for help waking up, the distraction proves useful for the two guys as they dart out of the house. Olivia tries and fails to catch up to them. She beats on the window as they take off in the night proving that Luke was right about seeing her. Poppy is done paying nice and taunts Olivia that he is taking her kids and he is killing them. But Olivia seems to finally being wising up to her tricks.
She stumbles back to the Red Room to survey what she has done. She finds Abigail lying dead on the floor and she begins to realize what a horrible mistake she has made. But when she looks over, Abigail is standing in the hallway, back in her little blue dress, silently watching. Olivia asks her if she’s awake now, but before she can answer, a much more matronly looking Poppy comes over and takes Abigail’s hand and walks off. She’s gotten what she came for all along, a child, just not the one she was expecting.
Broken of body, mind, and spirit, Olivia hobbles her way over to the spiral staircase. She tells Poppy she wants to wake up so badly. Unlike Nell who had a noose to wake up, Olivia spreads her arms and takes a dive to the floor below, cracking her head open.
The ending was already plenty heartbreaking, but Flanagan is great at pouring salt into wounds. In the only actual flashback in the episode, we see the day the Crains moved into Hill House and all the excitement of its grandeur and mystery. The kids start arguing over who gets each bedroom, Olivia sends Hugh up to take care of it saying “Go on without me”. He replies, “How could we?” and we’re all well aware that he’s absolutely right about that prediction.
I have just one issue with this installment. As fun as Poppy was with all of her old timey slang and just her general snappy presence, I wish she had been a bit more toned down. At times she’s more of a caricature than a character. What I loved was that once again the series managed to take real life fears and implant them so seamlessly into a supernatural horror. I’m trying to lower my expectations for the finale because horror endings are rarely satisfying but the past 8 episodes have been so fantastic its hard to do that. Regardless of how this wraps up, this has been my favorite show of 2018.