One of the most chilling and talked-about series to hit our screens this year is The Haunting of Hill House. Our writers have decided to turn over a few rocks and do some digging with in-depth profiles of the main characters in the show. Who knows what they might discover? So, draw the curtains, turn out the lights, and tuck in for Part Four of Five in 25YL’s look at the Crain siblings from The Haunting of Hill House.
“I don’t know how to do this without you.” – Luke Crain
For me, this quote from Luke Crain in The Haunting of Hill House could actually be written about Luke himself, as the show would not work for me without his character. I know the big reveal—that the “Bent-Neck Lady” who had haunted Nell all those years was actually Nell herself—was a shocker, but when we got a glimpse into what life has been like for Luke, particularly since Nell’s death, I was sold. He was the guy for me. From his first haunting in Hill House, the thing in the basement, the floating man, and his “imaginary friend,” all the way up to his drug abuse and disownment by his siblings, Luke’s life has been one hell of a ghost train ride. But unlike real ghost trains, I didn’t want this one to end.
But let’s start, as so many good stories do, at the beginning. Luke Crain was born to his parents Hugh and Olivia Crain on February 21, 1986, a full 90 seconds before his twin sister, Eleanor Crain (aka Nell). When Luke and Nell were six, the family moved into a beautiful old building called Hill House. Our first introduction to Luke in the show is in episode one when a young Steve is woken in the night by the sound of Nell crying. When he goes to check on her, we see that she shares a room with her twin brother Luke. Steve asks him why he is awake and Luke replies, “‘Cause Nellie’s awake.” His first line in the show gives us an insight into his relationship with Nell and how strong their twin connection is. If one twin is awake, so is the other one. Young Luke is adorable, too, which makes you feel for him right away. His oversized spectacles and cute little voice make us want to protect him the second we sense he may be in danger.
Played by young actor Julian Hilliard, the six-year-old Luke is thrown into this world of horror and suspense when his family moved to Hill House. Other than Nell, I feel like he is the most vulnerable due to his innocence and youth. I don’t think the scene where he talks Theo into helping him use the dumbwaiter as an elevator would have been quite as terrifying if it had happened to one of the older children. For something so horrifying to happen to such a small, defenceless character really taps into that primal emotion to protect the young. Even though he is technically older than Nell, it always felt to me like she was the “big sister” to Luke, and he was the one that needed to be protected.
One twist I didn’t see coming was Luke’s “imaginary” friend Abigail actually being a real girl: the ill-fated daughter of housekeepers Mr. and Mrs. Dudley. When it is finally revealed to us just what happened on THAT dreaded night, and we see Olivia setting up the poisonous tea party, my heart sunk as I realised what was going on. Luke had this friend all along, and now he was going to witness his mother killing her. Later, we are shown a scene that we saw in episode one, but now with more clarity. As Hugh Crain is loading his children into the car to escape, Luke tries to run back to the house shouting, “I saw Abigail in the window.” In episode one, we almost shrug this off. We don’t know who Abigail is so we kind of ignore it. Seeing it again in this later episode, we see what it really is. Luke has seen Abigail’s ghost in the window, telling us she is to remain in Hill House as another spirit to haunt its halls. Not a great end to Luke’s first friend.
Moving on to grown-up Luke, excellently portrayed by Oliver Jackson-Cohen: we see him moulded by his dark past into a shadow of a man. The first time we see adult Luke he is on the stairwell of Steve’s apartment building, holding Steve’s camera and iPad, and shivering uncontrollably. Steve asks if he is cold, which feels sarcastic, as though he knows Luke is shivering because of his drug dependency. Steve and the audience believe Luke has been caught stealing his possessions to pay for drugs. It’s disappointing for Steve and heartbreaking for us. What happened to the little boy with the big eyes to make him rob his own brother for drugs? It’s an emotional punch to the gut.
All we’ve heard of Luke’s drug abuse is that he’s reached 90 days sober, so to see him stealing from his own family is a hard hit. What went wrong since Steve called the rehab centre? It’s not until a later episode that we find out the truth. Luke WAS stealing from his brother, but it wasn’t so that he could pay for drugs; it was so he could pay for a hotel room with his only friend, Joey, a fellow recovering addict who will likely turn back to drugs if he doesn’t find her a place to stay. This revelation is sad enough but made sadder when she then turns on him, stealing the money and leaving him behind. This leads to him being beaten up by a gang of men, left to walk the streets with no shoes or coat, and also being followed by a ghostly man.
It’s a rough episode to watch. I’m not afraid to admit that it was the first time this show made me cry. We see Luke still being haunted by the forces of Hill House. We see his only friend stabbing him in the back. We see him beaten by thugs and left freezing in the night. But it’s the closing scene that sealed the deal. Luke complains about being cold and having a sore neck throughout the episode and we don’t know if it’s the weather, if he’s turned back to drugs, or something else. When we see Steve’s car pull up at the end of the episode, and we see how Luke looks through Steve’s eyes, it all falls into place. He looks like a homeless, shivering, beaten-up drug addict. The audience knows this is not the case, but to Steve (and no doubt everyone else who knows him) it looks like Luke is back on drugs. It wasn’t until this scene that I figured out why he was so cold. I remember pausing it there, turning to my sister (who I watched the whole series with) and saying, “Oh my god, he’s cold because Nell is dead—it’s the twin thing.” And that’s what made me cry.
Luke and Nell’s connection was so strong that when she broke her neck, he literally felt it. As her body grew cold and stiff with rigor mortis, so did his. This had me asking a number of questions. Does Nell feel the effects of Luke’s drug abuse? Does Luke feel the effects of her sleep paralysis? Theo describes Nell as having “one foot in crazy, and the other on a banana peel.” I can’t help but feel that Luke’s drug addiction has contributed to this. And here’s the kicker: they are both aware of “the twin thing,” so Luke knows that Nell could be feeling it every time he shoots up. Surely this would add to his emotional burden. I know that addicts can’t just stop, but knowing he was potentially hurting Nell every time he used must have taken a toll on his mental state. Everywhere you look there is a reason for Luke to be depressed. Another grim but brilliant scene for me was when we saw him ask Nell to buy drugs for him. It’s hard to see Luke in his full-on addict phase, and when he starts shooting up right there in the car beside Nell, I welled up again. Who could have predicted that the two adorable Crain twins would end up in this position?
But as strong as their connection may be, they have grown up to be two very different people. We are shown how Nell met her true love whilst seeking help for her sleep paralysis. The whirlwind romance and beautiful wedding were truly joyous for Nell. And when we see her devoted husband literally by her side, helping her breath through her paralysis in bed, we feel that she’s found the one for her. Of course, this ends in tragedy, but for a moment at least, she knew what love and stability felt like. And as a viewer, this was a welcome change to the otherwise grim mood of the show. He was perfect for her, and he clearly loved her as much as she did him. Luke, however, did not find this happiness.
As far as we are shown, the only possible love interest he had was Joey. Nell found safety and love; Luke found abandonment and pain. We do see that flashback of Luke and Joey having dinner with Steve and his wife, and during my first viewing I actually thought this was more of a wishful thinking kind of thing, or even the ghosts showing Luke what could have been, Charles Dickens style. On my second viewing, I decided it really had happened. Luke had brought Joey to meet his big brother, and even though it’s an awkward scene to watch, it feels good to see him in a normal setting with loved ones—no drugs, no fear, just normality. But this is short lived when we see Joey turn on him in the current timeline. The only person who never turned their back on Luke was Nell, so losing her was clearly the final straw that lead Luke to his attempt to destroy the house and the events of the final episode.
I’m very close with my own sisters and I can relate to how Luke and Nell’s differences never got between their bond, unlike Luke and his other siblings. Nell still wanted him at the wedding despite his drug abuse. Luke still wanted to attend despite being wasted. And Nell was the person he turned to when he needed someone else to buy his heroin for him. I can understand why Theo, Shirley, and Steve would put up walls against him after all he’s done, and it would be easy to see Luke as the villain of the Crain family. He’s stolen from them, lied to them, and continued to feed his drug addiction despite the twin thing. There are a lot of things that fans of the other family members could look down on but he is portrayed so well by Jackson-Cohen; he just steals your heart and keeps a hold of it until the very end. On a personal level, I relate most with Nell. I couldn’t turn my back on my sisters no matter what, and I think that’s why I love the Luke and Nell dynamic so much.
I read a theory online that states that each of the five Crain children represent one of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I love this theory and really see how it makes sense. If it is true, then Luke Crain represents depression, which is portrayed brilliantly on-screen both visually and emotionally. Luke has been through hell and back. He’s been on the edge of the abyss more than once and struggles daily with his addiction, his grief, and his terrible childhood memories. Losing Nell could have been the end for Luke but luckily for us, she saved him once again so he could continue to live for the both of them.
When Luke returns to Hill House with the intention of burning it to the ground once and for all, I was sure he was about to meet a similar fate to Nell. Why did he want to burn it down, though? Did he think it would stop the ghosts that were clearly still haunting his family after all this time? Was it revenge for Nell’s death? For me, it was revenge. Nell’s death was the last straw for Luke. Hill House had taken his mother, his father, and his childhood, and the drug abuse resulting from his childhood trauma had taken most of his adult life as well. This had in turn led to his older siblings turning their backs on him. Nell was all he had left and she had been taken away by the house, too. Of course he wants revenge, but what gets me is that Luke probably knew that returning to the house would kill him. At this point he had nothing left to lose, so sadly I think he wanted to die, but he was taking the house with him. At least, that was the plan; the house had other ideas, extinguishing the flames moments after they start to spread. And then the spirit of his mother appears, he falls under her spell, and his fate is sealed—or so we’re led to believe.
I was overjoyed when he survived the series despite so many hints that he was going to die. In the scene in the final episode where the four living siblings see and speak to Nell’s ghost, Luke gets to tell her that he doesn’t know how to do this without her and it felt like closure for me. Nell explains that people never really leave; they remain scattered on our lives like confetti. This, again, pulled on my heart-strings. Anyone who has lost a loved one knows how you yearn for one more conversation, one more hug, one more anything from them to ease the pain of losing them just a little bit. And this is just what Luke needed to hear from her. He goes on to survive the ordeal and we later see a joyous glimpse of his two-years-clean party, surrounded by his older siblings: the perfect ending for Luke’s incredible story.