In the world of Netflix series, creators now know that viewers are likely to binge watch a whole series in one go. Now they design series as a long movie rather than episodic. For his Haunting of Hill House adaptation, Mike Flanagan wanted to give viewers such a twist that they would go back and watch episodes one through five before even moving on to six through 10.
“I think that would be very wise,” Flanagan told Bloody-Disgusting in a phone interview. “Six was always kind of the fireworks. All of the groundwork that we lay in one through five to bring it all together in six, I really felt like six is the first time we really understand what show we’re watching. I think for a lot of the characters, it’s the first time they really understand what’s actually happening.
“I would strongly recommend watching the first half twice because there’s quite a bit in there you might miss.”
In the series premiere, the Crain family finds out that Nellie (Victoria Pedretti) has killed herself. By the time Nell’s death becomes the focus of episode five, it will make you see the previous episodes differently.
“To me, episode five is a real high point of the series,” supervising producer and co-writer Jeff Howard said. “It’s like a mini-movie and a massive character piece. There’s just so many moments of real, raw humanity in that thing. I think episode five touches your heart in a way that it would probably be a smart idea to go back at that point and take a look again before you move on, because you’ll definitely pick up on a lot of things that you might miss if you just keep blazing forward. But by the same token, I know that I’ll be there on a Saturday morning lying in bed hitting Next. I won’t be able to resist the idea of moving forward.”
Also by the time the full circumstances of Nell’s death are revealed, it will be as heartbreaking as it is terrifying.
“That was the hope,” Flanagan said. “In a lot of ways, this is a show about assumptions, assumptions that the Crains make and assumptions that the audience makes. One of the really exciting parts of it – when we were in the writers’ room – was looking at okay, what would I assume approaching this story? What would I assume about this particular ghost or that ghost or how Nell died and why? How can we weaponize those assumptions and make for some really lovely surprises. It was really fun to approach it from a perspective of what would surprise me about this moment or this character. With Nell, it was never going to be a secret that she died. I think how she died and what that means and how that echoes backward through those first five episodes kind of re-contextualizes a lot of what you’ve seen. That was one of the things that was really appealing about the episodic structure was being able to lay some episodes down and then have one that makes you kind of rethink the ones that came before it. That’s one of the unique benefits to television.”
Whenever you do move on to episode six, it will break the tension with a continuous single take episode.
“That was his idea from the very beginning, to do a one-take episode,” Howard said.
“The minute I heard that I was like, hey, if we’re going to write one together for the series, let’s make it that one. I had a feeling it would stand out. It stands out technique wise and emotionally because it’s the first time we get to see everybody together and see everybody processing their grief as a unit instead of everybody alone.”
And finally, by the time viewers reach the end of season one, they will also have a different experience than they might have expected at the beginning.
“I hope it also makes it feel like it’s like life,” Howard said. “I think once you absorb the 10 episodes, you realize that this is a really compacted timeline of events that we’re watching. Yeah, pieces of the pilot are also pieces of five and pieces of eight. It’s a big circle of time logic that tells a bigger, broader scope of story. Episodes are hours apart so hopefully, in our binge reality, it’ll only be a couple hours.”
The Haunting of Hill House drops Friday, October 12 on Netflix.