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The Haunting of Hill House

3 Questions Answered (Maybe)

It’s been a hot minute since The Haunting of Hill House, Mike Flanagan’s first outing with Netflix, aired but fans still have questions. There’s a pleasure in not knowing precisely what was intended when a thematically complex series enters the cultural consciousness. It gives viewers permission to draw their own conclusions, which is part of the show’s lasting appeal. Granted, it’s also part of what keeps it from being everyone’s cup of tea, though some of that could be chalked up to the houseful of lurking ghosts.

The ten-episode series wrapped up in a way that felt emotionally inevitable, in part because it didn’t answer every question that it posed. Why didn’t Hugh have a red room? Was Hill House always evil? We don’t know, and we’re not going to know for sure because Mike Flanagan has moved on to new projects, and if he wanted to nail the answers down he probably already would have.

That said, there are three burning questions that fans have spent many threads debating, and the answers are pretty compelling.

Who were all the other ghosts?

There are a lot of ghosts in Hill House, (check the background in every other scene and you’ll probably find one). That said, we only get to know a few of them.

1. We know that Poppy Hill, the terrifying flapper who targets Olivia, is William Hill’s wife, whom he met in a mental institution. If the House were to have a face, it would be Poppy’s, though it’s implied that she was far from the first to wrong while living there.

2. The Bowler Hat Ghost is Poppy’s husband, William Hill.

3. The Creepy Old Lady in the Bed is Hazel Hill, William Hill’s sister.

4. The Burned Ghost in the Basement who terrifies Luke is Hazel’s son, Edward.

5. The Little Boy in the Wheelchair is Poppy’s son, Eugene, whom Poppy may or may not have killed.

6. The rest of the ghosts are just people who were unfortunate enough to die inside Hill House. Unlike the ghosts of the Hill family, most of them just seem to hang around as bystanders.

Did Theo’s powers come from the Hill House?

Though it’s never explicitly stated, the answer to this one is pretty straightforward. Theo’s (Kate Siegel) ability to sense emotions and information about people and objects through touch doesn’t originate in Hill House. She inherits the “sensitivity” from her mother, Olivia who says that “sensitivity” runs in their family. Olivia gets “color storm” migraines and made it rain rocks when she was a child, while Flanagan has said that Theo’s sisters, Nell and Shirley, inherited powers too. Nell can see across time, which is why she sees “the rest as confetti” and Shirley dreams premonitions. The only thing that Hill House presumably did was make Theo more aware of (or possibly heighten) her natural “sensitivity”.

Why are some people driven mad by Hill House but not others?

It’s safe to assume that if Olivia hadn’t moved into Hill House, she wouldn’t have tried to kill her own children. That raises questions about why Olivia’s mental health suffered so badly when her husband and kids seemed ok, (stressed out and terrified, but ok). We actually do get the answer to this one from Mike Flanagan. 

In an interview with TV Guide, he explained that Hill House’s influence isn’t static or homogenous. Different people experience its effects differently. “Some people are just more vulnerable. Or more special. There are more ways in […] The symptoms might be harder to see overtly in some, but I’d argue that the house works on the family in equal measure.” Given enough time, Hill House’s effects on Hugh and the rest of the kids might have become more obvious. As it is, you could argue that Nellie and Luke remained haunted long after they left.

There are a lot of other questions left on the table. Who was the lady who took Abigail’s hand after she died? Does a ghost even need to be dead? (My answer is no). Did I miss a question? Do you have an answer? Definitely let me know.

The Haunting of Hill House is still streaming on Netflix.