The Haunting of Bly Manor

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Reviewer

Paul Asay

TV Series Review

Hauntings are, truth be told, not that unusual. Most of us are haunted by memories; past relationships, past experiences, past mistakes that just won’t leave us. We try to move on, but the figurative ghosts of the past sometimes cling to us.

But when those ghosts take form and haunt more than your memories … well, that’s a different thing entirely.

The Innocents?

Dani Clayton knows all about ghosts. The American teacher brought one all the way to England with her—one that feels so real that she can’t look in mirrors anymore, for fear of seeing its reflection.

She takes a job as an au pair at beautiful Bly Manor, which seems like just the ticket to free herself of her own personal haunting. But the ghost doesn’t stay behind: Indeed, it seems like whoever or whatever the glow-eyed specter might be, the thing just found a bevy of new friends. Or could it be that all of them are just a product of Dani’s own haunted imagination, egged on by the rather unusual children she’s supposed to be minding?

Miles and Flora seem normal enough at first, especially under the circumstances. True, 10-year-old Miles was sent home from boarding school due to his rather disruptive behavior. And 8-year-old Flora has some very strong feelings about her dolls. And the house. And the property’s unsettling pond. But neither froth at the mouth, and both seem to like Dani well enough. (Miles, in fact, seems to like Dani a little too much.)

But their parents died in a freak accident two years before, so perhaps their oddities are understandable. Moreover, their previous au pair died of apparent suicide in that very same pond. Flora found the body, and both seem haunted by their own persistent ghosts. Perhaps that’s why they play funny little tricks on Dani. Like locking her in a closet ’til their au pair screams herself asleep.

But Dani could swear that Bly Manor is home to more than just herself and the children and a couple of servants. She sees unfamiliar people in the house. She finds muddy tracks on the floors. The home seems alive with its own sad history. The past does not rest easy here.

Things That Go Bump in the Netflix Queue

The Haunting of Bly Manor is the second-season follow-up to Netflix’s popular The Haunting of Hill House. Like AMC’s American Horror Story, most of the actors from the first season have returned for the second, but the story is completely different. While the first season took Shirley Jackson’s classic ghost story of the same name and reimagined it as a ghostly and tortured family drama, Bly Manor finds inspiration in Henry James’ 1898 classic psychological horror story The Turn of the Screw.

James’ original story focused on a governess (unnamed) and the pair of children she watched. But The Turn of the Screw was a study in ambiguity. Is the governess really seeing ghosts? Or is she, quite simply, mad? Television tends not to be quite so subtle, and any underlying ambiguity is wiped away within two or three episodes. Bly House is an unsettling, supernatural ghost story.

As you might expect, it’s not just the ghosts that prove disturbing. So, too, is the content.

The shades here are obviously the spirits of those who died, and we see how most of them met their ends. (Rarely do any of them die quietly in their sleep, by the way.) Murder and mayhem are just part of the story.

Oh, and romance is, too. Several illicit love affairs helped spawn some of the specters we see lurking about in the hallways. And Dani, we learn, is attracted to other women. (She strikes up a relationship with the female gardener a few episodes in, involving some kissing and at least one bedroom dalliance.)

Language can be an issue, though not (in the episodes we’ve watched) as big an issue as you might expect. People drink and smoke as well.

But again, perhaps the show’s biggest bugaboo as far as any family viewing might be concerned—with an emphasis on “boo,” of course—are the ghosts themselves, some of whom like to possess the living.

The Haunting of Bly Manor is a well-crafted study in terror. But unless you want your sensitive children sleeping with the lights on until they’re, say, 35 or so, this is a show to stay away from.

Episode Reviews

Oct. 9, 2020: “The Great Good Place”

This season’s tale is told, essentially, in flashback—a ghost story told by a guest at a 2007 wedding. She begins to recount how Dani Clayton, a young American living in London, came to work at Bly Manor. There, Dani meets Miles and Flora, the young children she’s expected to teach, along with the manor’s other servants. And soon, she becomes aware that the home may house some other entities, as well.

Dani is haunted by her own personal apparition—a shadowed figure who appears to have flashlight-yellow eyes. Dani sees him mostly in mirrors, which she covers up every chance she gets. We see other mysterious figures, too: Some look just like regular people, while others have more disturbing features. (A specter which appears to wear a long-beaked plague outfit, for instances, looms in a hallway briefly.)

We learn that the home’s previous au pair drowned in the estate lake—apparently taking her own life after suffering a devastating romantic disappointment. (We also learn that Flora discovered the body.) Miles’ and Flora’s parents, we also learn, died in an accident while overseas. The property was also once a convent, we’re told, and it’s supposed to be haunted by a ghostly nun.

The children’s official guardian, Henry Wingrave, seems to have no interest in the children. “Don’t call on me unless it’s an emergency,” he tells Dani. “I’m extraordinarily busy.” But he has no such aversion to alcohol. He pours a great deal of it in his tea while interviewing Dani, and later the two bump into each other at a pub. (They both drink beer.) In 2007, a man making a toast jokingly suggests that perhaps it’d be better if the couple didn’t get married and fled instead to “do drugs on Bali.” (The wedding party drinks champagne.)

The 2007 toaster also jokingly suggests that it’s horrifying that half of all marriages work. The reward: “You two get to watch each other die.” He adds, “To truly love another person is to accept that the work of loving them is worth the pain of losing them.” At Bly Manor, a woman—Hannah, the housekeeper—sits in a chapel, contemplating something as a handful of candles burn nearby. When Dani asks what the candles mean, Hannah says they’re to honor the dead.

Flora leaves several homemade dolls around the manor and its grounds. Hannah tells Dani they’re talismen, part of a “tiny game of Flora’s to keep us all safe.”

Miles walks in on Dani as she’s taking off her shirt and appears to leer at her. (Audiences see Dani’s midriff and part of her bra.) He tries to scare her with a spider, and both he and Flora lock Dani in a closet for what appears to be several hours. People misuse God’s name nine times.

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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