Actress Kate Siegel. Getty Images.

The Survival of Theo Crain

By Kelsey O’Regan

Theodora Crain, both on paper and in living, breathing Kate Siegel form, is a revolutionary LGBTQ character.

I would’ve watched The Haunting of Hill House with or without hearing whispers about Theo across social media in the weeks before I dove in. I’m a glutton for supernatural narratives— ghost stories, psychological horror, and just about any brand of creepy that doesn’t involve blood and guts. But to also have an openly lesbian character in the main cast?

Sign me the Hill up.

As summarized by Mashable:

Theo’s characterization is funny, fearless, and hugely likable. She is not relegated to stereotypes like “angry lesbian” and her story arc does not focus centrally on her sexual encounters. Her complicated relationship with her brother’s career as well as her clairvoyance takes center stage—a narrative decision that arguably gives her the most powerful subplot of all five siblings.

When Theo isn’t screaming in a ditch or having a panic attack, she tends to linger silently in the background while she watches her siblings’ nonsense unfold around her, and that physical and social isolation allows Theo to act as the audience’s eyepiece; our vantage-point into the Crain family drama. This intimate POV connection makes her arguably the most hashtag-relatable member of the family, which is, historically, virtually unheard of for an LGBTQ character.

(Bonus: her clairvoyance, which is induced via skin-to-skin contact, also drives her to be unapologetically insistent on personal agency and consent. No one is allowed to touch her without explicit permission, whether that touch is romantic or platonic, and anyone who crosses that line gets a mighty verbal bruising).

Horror series are one of the last places we expect to meet an explicitly queer person, let alone a good one—let alone a great one. Minority characters are frequently the most mistreated and disposed of in a horror or thriller cast, and the Bury Your Gays trope remains a pervasive issue across all media genres, so to have the privilege of watching someone as narratively (and visually, ahem) stunning as Theo both exist and survive their story is a victory that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

But worth noting is that Theo’s ultimate survival doesn’t make her character’s arc any easier to stomach. In fact, the Hill House script does an incredible job of letting the darkness in and refusing to shy away from the complicated and messy parts of being human, while never quite drifting into unforgivable or unnecessarily cruel territory. Even in Theo’s worst moments, whether she’s being unfair to a romantic partner or lashing out at a sibling, no plot twist (or otherwise Horrible Thing) ever comes as a punishment for her sexuality.

theocrain2

Speaking of romantic partners: I’m sure we all held our collective breath each time recurring love interest Trish showed up (because if anything makes the post-Clexa spidey senses tingle, it’s badass queer women going through hell together), but miraculously, they navigate flirting and fighting and intimacy and both manage to stay alive through it all. Theo is allowed to be scared and mean and reluctant and Trish (played by the delightful Levy Tran) is allowed to be compassionate and supportive and occasionally exasperated—just like any other authentic, imperfect, healthy relationship that’s trying to outlast a homicidal mansion.

Also normalized is Theo’s “coming-out,” which happens via flashback in a comedic anecdote involving youngest Crain sibling Nellie’s maid of honor. There’s no bigotry or emotional speech—just some discreet, knowing laughter shared between siblings, and then it’s done, allowing the episode to focus on matters far more important than sexual orientation (including, but not limited to, the homicidal mansion).

Last but certainly not least, we must talk about openly bisexual actress Kate Siegel’s powerhouse performance. Our community so rarely has the opportunity to watch an out queer person portray an out queer character, and she did so with breathtaking, soul-crushing intensity; “Theo,” declared Forbes, “especially when portrayed by Kate Siegel, is one of the most uniquely compelling characters on television in the last several years,” and it’s difficult to disagree. If episode six is the most technically impressive of the season, then episode three is a masterpiece of the narrative sort—Theo, a psychologist specializing in child trauma, uses her touch sensitivity during a difficult case, and director Mike Flanagan in turn gives us an hour of top-notch visual storytelling that ideally will earn Siegel every available Best Supporting Actress nomination.

For a series that relies wholly on making its viewers experience as much stress and fear as possible, Hill House ironically seems to be—for now, at least—a safe haven of sorts for LGBTQ viewers looking for fictional horrors that target our humanity rather than our sexuality. And honestly, if a show about an actual murder house can manage to not kill its LGBTQ characters… what’s anyone else’s excuse?

 

You can watch the entire first season of The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix now.

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