Nancy Drew Episode 9 Review: The Hidden Staircase

Nancy Drew goes back to the beginning in its winter finale, and adds some messy new layers to the series’ path forward.

This Nancy Drew review contains spoilers.

Nancy Drew Episode 9

In its winter finale, Nancy Drew decides to go back to the beginning – in more ways than one.

“The Hidden Staircase,” which lifts its title from the second of Carolyn Keene’s original Nancy Drew novels, is the first episode of this television adaptation that actually gives us a look at the origins of the infamous girl detective.

Of course, those origins involve a demon and the kidnapping of small children in the hopes of sacrificing their souls, because that’s just how this show rolls. But it also goes a long way to explaining why Nancy is the way she is now, and sets up several intriguing new story threads for the rest of the season.

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It also instantly wins Best Episode Title Nancy Drew Has Used So Far, and if the season finale isn’t called “The Old Clock,” we riot. Just saying.

Much of the season thus far has been driven by the stories of two dead women – the decades-old mystery surrounding Lucy Sable’s death, and the recent murder of Tiffany Hudson. Though neither of those cases has been solved yet, it’s been unclear where Nancy Drew might go when they are.

“The Hidden Staircase” kind of gives us a roadmap toward what that kind of series might look like. This isn’t exactly a standalone episode, given that there is fairly significant movement on the Dead Lucy investigation at its end. But it’s as close as this series has come to one, telling a singular contained tale complete with a creepy human villain, a supernatural element, and an emotionally illuminating connection to Nancy.

This episode contains precious little movement on any of the season’s main plots, but there’s plenty of great character moments, as the town comes together to search for George’s missing little sister, Ted. There’s not much here that could be called a larger arc, even if creepy kidnapper Nathan Gomer feels like the sort of Hannibal-esque bad guy we’ll likely see again at some point. And, thankfully, that’s all okay.

Instead, we get an installment that focuses on Nancy’s general state of emotional repression, something that apparently may be the result of the traumatic events that took place during her first case. When she was just twelve years old, she rescued a little girl named Rose from Gomer, by means of a hidden staircase. There sequence which recreates these events is honestly fantastic, switching seamlessly between the POVs of a young and an older Nancy and repeatedly mirroring the famous cover image from the original Nancy Drew novel.

Of course, it turns out that part of the emotional trauma Nancy repressed was watching Gomer communicate with some sort of demon, and offering Rose and her soul to him in trade. Young Nancy saves the day, of course, though she doesn’t remember much of it afterward, and Gomer is arrested, but in all honesty, I get why she might have grown up a little bit messed up after that. Yikes.

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(Whether or not that one horrifying incident is enough to justify spending the next decade of her life largely emotionally closed off to those around her is up for debate. But that’s a topic for another day.)

However, this episode’s supernatural element is actually its weakest link. The demon, known as “Simon,” feels like nothing so much as a lame version of one of the creatures from CBS’s Evil, and the show skims fairly quickly over explanation about what he is, how his deals work or what he wants besides the pure joy of consuming kid’s souls.

Gomer and his lady friend Moira – who is about two steps from being a Manson Girl, if we’re honest – are much more intriguing villains, simply because they feel as though they were both monsters long before they made a literal deal with the devil. (It’s also interesting that we never actually find out what Nathan wanted from Simon in the first place.) This is the rare instance in Horseshoe Bay when real life is just as dark and disturbing as anything supernatural that might lurk in the town’s dark corners. After all, it’s still a real person that kidnaps Ted.

But “The Hidden Staircase’s” most satisfying narrative beats once again occur during the emotional scenes between Nancy and her father. After their blow-up last week about whether Carson killed Dead Lucy, it does feel as though the air has been cleared between these two. They’re certainly talking more openly and honestly – about Nancy’s childhood, about her mother’s death – than they have since the series started. And I know this is the second week in a row that I’ve said this, but Kennedy McMann and Scott Wolf really are wonderful together, a fact which becomes increasingly clear as the relationship between Nancy and Carson gets messier and more nuanced. (Watching the two learn to treat one another as adults instead of just as father and daughter is going to be a real highlight of this season, I suspect.)

Of course, Carson’s arrest at the end of the episode naturally complicates that newfound tentative peace in the Drew household. (Thanks a lot for that, Karen. Who just reads people’s open journals?) It certainly seems as though her father wasn’t entirely honest with Nancy when he supposedly came clean about the events surrounding Lucy’s death. And his refusal to say anything when his daughter begged him to declare his innocence feels pretty damning. Of course, he’s also a lawyer and probably knows better than to say anything without representation present, and it’s unlikely that Nancy’s own father is an actual murderer even if he is generally shadier than he should be. But that’s a problem we’ll have to wait until 2020 to solve.

Happy holidays, Nancy Drew fans! Our favorite show got you a burned-out demon shrine and an arrest for a decades-old murder. What more could you want?

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4 out of 5