Welcome back to Nerds Gets Spooky, where we take a look at some of the best episodes of different television series set on or around Halloween! Today, we’re taking a trip to Horseshoe Bay to check in with the Drew Crew as they try to find out what ghost is trapped in “The Haunted Ring.”
The new incarnation of Nancy Drew is full of scares in a normal episode, so it’s no surprise they pulled out all the stops for their Halloween episode. But what the show has balanced well throughout its first season is making the scares matter by creating emotional connections to the ghostly apparitions. It’s not just a spooky bump in the night, it’s a being with a story that directly connects to our heroes. This is prominently on display in “The Haunted Ring,” in which Nancy Drew and her friends are trying to find out who or what is haunting the ring that belonged to murder victim Tiffany Hudson.
The ring comes to symbolize a lot more than just a trinket as supernatural happenings make Nancy realize the ghost of Lucy is trying to tell Nancy who killed her – and that that person is connected to who killed Tiffany. It also brings up a lot of unresolved emotional baggage for Nancy, who has been experiencing tension with her father as a result of his working with Ryan Hudson (who Nancy suspects had something to do with wife Tiffany’s death).
Nancy has thus far been very resistant to the idea that ghosts exist, much less that one could have potentially been involved in a murder. She’s a fact finder who only wants the objective facts, and the realm of hauntings feels like fiction to her. But as Lucy’s ghost moves from garden variety broken windows and shattered laptop screens to full-on possession, Nancy must admit that ghosts are not only real but also might have a body count.
But why is this admission such a big deal? And how does it connect to Nancy’s rift with her father Carson? In a beautifully written scene, Nancy visits her mother’s grave, where she finds her father waiting with bouquets of flowers. When he asks how they can resolve the tension between them, the real root of their conflict is revealed: Carson didn’t call Nancy when her mother died of cancer, and so Nancy wasn’t there for her final moments. Carson thought he was sparing her added pain, but Nancy feels she never had a chance to say goodbye to her beloved mother. Carson shares his advice: “Whatever you’re feeling, you can carry it with you, but you can’t let it consume you.” Nancy remains at the grave and talks to her mother, saying that the reason she has fought so hard to not believe in ghosts was because admitting ghosts are real means asking why her mother hasn’t come back to her, even just to let Nancy know she’s at peace. She wonders aloud if she isn’t enough for her mother’s spirit to hold on to.
Nancy’s unresolved grief over her mother’s death and her feelings of alienation as a result are part of Nancy’s arc through the entirety of season one, but this episode prioritizes Nancy’s emotional development over looking for clues. The scares are certainly there (hello, Bess getting scratched by a ghost in The Claw), and the overall murder investigation gets some new leads, but taking the time to set up the stakes for Nancy makes us care about the heroine at the center of the haunted happenings. When Nancy finally admits to herself that she has been pushing her anger and sadness down all this time, we see that that baggage has been haunting her as much (if not more) than the ghosts of Lucy or Tiffany. And until she can let go of the pain and move forward, she’ll be as stuck in Horseshoe Bay as those phantoms are.
Most shows take their “themed” holiday episodes like Halloween and use it to do something completely different from their normal episode structure, adding a ghostly aspect while ignoring the current story arc, then never mentioning the events of the episode again. Nancy Drew does the opposite, setting aside the scares and mysteries for a character-based episode meant to deepen the audience’s connection to Nancy. Kennedy McMann’s performance sells the humanity behind the horror, and it adds a new dimension to an iconic character. “The Haunted Ring” is a great example of a Halloween episode that adds to the overall show mythology while telling us something new about the people at the center of the spirits.
Be sure to check back here tomorrow for another edition of Nerds Gets Spooky! You can watch season one of Nancy Drew on HBO Max or The CW app.