The fact of the matter is that while I was invested in the story of every member of the Crane family in Hill House, I was indifferent to most of the supporting players of Bly. And it seems Dani has brought a ghost of her own: a figure who is always seen wearing a pair of glowing round glasses. As much as I loved Hill House, I’ll contend that the final episode tipped into schmaltzy territory, and I wasn’t very happy with how they altered Shirley Jackson’s famous “whatever walked there, walked alone” line into the cringeworthy “those who walk there, walk together.” Bly Manor, in sharp contrast, is the complete opposite. If only. It robs the show of its potential for horror, and saps away some of the story’s strength. Had Flanagan – or even another filmmaker on the list – helmed all the episodes this season, the full narrative might feel less jumbled and more guided. It all culminates in a big finale in which Dani is almost killed by Peter, and then almost killed again by the Lady in the Lake. What Works
The Haunting of Hill House floored me. After an incredibly awkward job interview with the wealthy, rather jerkish Henry Wingrave (Henry Thomas), Dani lands a gig as a nanny looking after Henry’s orphaned niece and nephew – Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) and Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) – in the family’s sprawling home, Bly Manor. The Lady in the Lake starts to rouse from her slumber, and Dani is afraid she’ll be forced to hurt Jamie as a result. Rebecca is, understandably, not very happy with this turn of events – but Peter has a solution. Henry has his own problems – he’s haunted by his own grinning, evil doppelganger, and he’s also haunted by the fact that he had an affair with his sister-in-law (Alex Essoe), which resulted in the birth of Flora. But that’s not to say there isn’t plenty to enjoy, either. And yet…something was amiss. Gross in the big, sprawling estate – which makes things all the more disturbing when she starts spotting ghostly figures. Dani’s solution: she goes back to Bly and drowns herself. Ghosts have a bad habit of bumping people off at Bly, because it was another ghost – the Lady of the Lake – who killed Peter. Some may take issue with Dani’s demise – is it yet another case of the unfortunate Bury Your Gays trope? But Dani is still gone – just as Hannah is gone, and Rebecca, all the other unfortunate souls lost at Bly. That doesn’t make it any less tragic, though, and there’s an oppressive melancholy that settles over the final moments of Bly Manor. The two will eventually act on their attraction, but first Dani is able to free herself of Edmund’s spirit by tossing his glasses into a fire. The housekeeper and the cook clearly had feeling for each other, but they never got a chance to act on them. This is underscored in the final episode, where the dead Hannah flashes back to the moment she first met Owen. But Bly‘s digressions into the past all feel like filler. Viola’s actions – spurned by her anger at coming down with consumption, which in turn caused her husband to grow romantically attached to her sister – have triggered a whole slew of deaths, with all those killed on the grounds stuck at Bly, forever cursed to haunt the grounds. Katz (Channel Zero), and Axelle Carolyn (Tales of Halloween) – all do good work here, I still yearned for one authoritative voice guiding the narrative. And while the directors working this season – Yolanda Ramke & Ben Howling (Cargo), Ciarán Foy (Sinister 2), Liam Gavin (A Dark Song), E. They even manage to convince the kids to go along with the idea, but things are further complicated with Dani the mix. Sure, it’s neat that “The Romance of Certain Old Clothes” is in black and white, but…so what? – but in the context of the story, it works. Did we really need an entire flashback episode to show us where the Lady in the Lake came from? Things kick-off at a rehearsal dinner for a wedding where a mysterious woman (Carla Gugino) offers to tell a small gathering of people a ghost story. While the episodes that come before its finale aren’t as good as Hill House, it sticks the landing perfectly, closing the story on a far-less-positive note. There are three distinct different love stories here: the romance between Rebecca and Peter, which is passionate but doomed; the romance between Dani and Jamie, which is awkward but sweet; and, more tragically, the would-be romance between Hannah and Owen. The pros seem to far outweigh the cons in Bly Manor, but it’s hard to shake of the disappointment. With that in mind, I was eagerly anticipating Bly Manor, which might have been a mistake. I’m talking copious amounts of tears. I’ll say there’s not a wrong performance in the bunch, although some of the accents – I’m looking at you, Henry Thomas and Carla Gugino – are a bit touch and go. Bly Manor is primarily pulling inspiration from Turn of the Screw, but that story – and its several film adaptations, most notably The Innocents – is a story of seclusion. Unfortunately, that’s just one ghost down and many more to go. Even a shorter season – say 6 episodes instead of 9 – could’ve helped things out. But the two discuss the great romance they could have had, if only they had just professed their feelings for one another. I’ve seen some people trying to compare that episode – episode 8, “The Romance of Certain Old Clothes” – to Hill House‘s game-changing sixth episode “Two Storms,” and that comparison isn’t warranted at all. But now that Bly Manor has been streaming for a few days, I’m returning to touch on some of the more spoiler-centric elements haunting the new Netflix horror series. It is, perhaps, unfair to constantly compare Bly Manor to Hill House since they’re technically different shows. The children forget all about their trauma, and Dani and Jamie try to start a life together, with the Lady in the Lake lying dormant within Dani’s body. T’Nia Miller is remarkable in the role of Hannah. As a result, I spent this entire season feeling slight off-kilter. But the real standout here is Victoria Pedretti. And I’m not talking a single tear rolling down my cheek here, gang. Here, Pedretti’s Dani is the glue that keeps Bly Manor together, and it’s a tricky role. Some of those moments may stretch on for years – decades, even. That would be perfectly splendid. While Flanagan isn’t behind-the-camera for the entire season this time (more on that below), Bly Manor fits in nicely with the filmmaker’s emotional-driven approach to horror. But there are other specters haunting the halls of Bly – far scarier creatures with featureless faces. Before Dani, the children were looked after by Rebecca Jessel (Tahirah Sharif), who drowned herself in the lake on the property. As far as I was concerned, Hill House could stretch on as long as it wanted to. I was never in a hurry for the story to wrap itself up. With its final moments, The Haunting of Bly Manor is reminding us that life is fleeting. What Happens in The Haunting of Bly Manor
Having firmly wrapped up the story in The Haunting of Hill House, Mike Flanagan and company decided to take an anthology approach to their Haunting series and tell a completely new story. The nanny in that story is alone with the children and Mrs. Through flashbacks, we learn that this ghost is Edmund, Dani’s childhood friend whom she grew up to become engaged to. She’s afraid to give voice to it, and when she and Jamie finally kiss, it causes even more conflict. Miller is backed-up by a strong cast across the board. Dani’s pent-up sexuality boils over into a fight with Edmund that ends with Edmund is killed after being struck by a truck. After his demise, Peter, in ghost form, possessed Rebecca, his lover, and forced her to drown herself so they could be together in the afterlife. In Bly Manor, however, Dani is constantly surrounded by people. With the Lady in the Lake in her new host body, all the other ghosts – including Peter, Rebecca, and Hannah – are free to go…well, wherever it is ghosts go when they’re not haunting big, spooky houses. But her ghost is still sticking around, as is the ghost of Peter Quint (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), Rebecca’s lover, and an employee of Henry. But they can be set free – and they are, when Dani invites the Lady of the Lake to possess her in order to stop the ghost from drowning Flora. I hope Flanagan’s experiment continues into a third season – lord knows there are plenty of ghost stories to adapt. It’s hard for us to be so concerned for Dani when she’s forever in the company of other adults and not just mischievous children who may or may not be playing mind games with her. Dani isn’t alone in caring for the kids at the house. Unfortunately, he gets killed by the Lady in the Lake. And oh yeah – Bly Manor is haunted. I can’t say the same for Bly, which jumps around in time so much that it begins to grow tedious. But the connection between the two – similar actors, similar behind-the-scenes talent, similar scenario – makes that difficult. Several of the Hill House cast members have returned – Victoria Pedretti, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Henry Thomas, Kate Siegel, Carla Gugino – they’re all playing new characters. This type of acting could tip into gimmicky in the wrong hands, but Pedretti knows exactly how to play it so that Dani feels like a real person, not just a character. Pedretti nails all of this perfectly, playing Dani as a fidgety, awkward, slightly neurotic bundle of nerves – constantly fidgeting with her words, and her hands. Through yet another flashback – this one jumping far back in time – we discover that the Lady of the Lake is Viola Willoughby (Kate Siegel), one of the original occupants of Bly and the root cause of all the hauntings going on in the house over the years. But I also hope that next time more of that Hill House magic returns. Which makes the ending almost unbearably heartbreaking. But different story or not, Bly clearly inhabits the same galaxy as Hill House, and separating the two is easier said than done. Posted on Monday, October 12th, 2020 by Chris Evangelista
I’ve already given a traditional, spoiler-free assessment of The Haunting of Bly Manor, in which I delved into how the series felt like a bit of a step-down from The Haunting of Bly Manor. But don’t worry – he gets to come back to life. Henry shows up in the nick of time to help. Standouts include Oliver Jackson-Cohen, who has the market cornered at playing sexy-yet-evil guys at this point; and child actors Amelie Bea Smith and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, who are both precocious and twee without it becoming annoying. Shifting timelines is a Mike Flanagan staple – he did it notably in Occulus, and Bly Manor cuts back and forth between past and present as well. And while Dani may be gone, Jamie keeps hoping to be with her again, because as the adult Flora says, this isn’t a ghost story – it’s a love story. All the pieces were there to make Bly as good as Hill House. But Hill House had the benefit of having Mike Flanagan behind the camera for every episode. It’s an ending tailor-made to emotionally destroy you, and it works oh so well that I can only respect it while also comically blowing my nose after weeping so damn much. TV, like film, is a collaborative art, and it takes many people working behind-the-scenes to make things happen. That none of us really gets a happy ending. It’s not the real Owen, of course – just her memory of him. Flashbacks and twists prevail throughout the season. Back at the rehearsal dinner, all the pieces come together: the storyteller is an older Jamie, and the bride about to be married is Flora. I was already a fan of Mike Flanagan, who directed that entire season, before watching, but I was still completely unprepared for how great the Netflix series would be. But Dani has a secret: she’s gay. For a while, Dani and Jamie have a happy life together – but it can’t last forever. All of the romantic elements click, and it’s interesting how they’re contrasted. Henry Thomas’ performance is fine, but watching the actor bicker with himself for almost a full hour stops the show’s momentum in its tracks. But eventually, they will end, our bodies will return to the dust, and our spirits will go off to wherever it is spirits go – assuming they go anywhere. Yes, the show gives us a sweet final image of Dani’s ghostly hand on Jamie’s shoulder as she sleeps. I can’t help but think that ultimately, Bly Manor would’ve worked better as a film rather than a series. What Doesn’t
The Haunting of Bly Manor has a serious pacing problem. L. Dani is full of conflicts, forever betting herself up for the death of Edmund and for her own sexual orientation. He and Hannah will possess Miles and Flora. Part of that review abided by embargo notes – Netflix sent out a list of details they really didn’t want covered in reviews, for the sake of protecting spoilers. There’s also housekeeper Hannah Gross (T’Nia Miller), chef Owen (Rahul Kohli), and gardener Jamie (Amelia Eve), who just happens to have an accent that sounds very similar to the accent of the mysterious storyteller. And hopefully, the listeners all have plenty of free time, because it’s ultimately takes nine-hours to tell the whole thing. Perhaps if I had been able to completely divorce myself from memories of Hill House I’d be more won over by Bly‘s charms. Over the course of its nine episodes, I never grew tired of The Haunting of Hill House. Edmund’s ghost has been haunting Dani ever since she was gifted with the dead man’s glasses. There’s such great material here, and it’s frequently getting lost in the shuffle. The episode focusing on Henry’s doppelganger is perhaps the worst offender here. The ghosts that haunt Bly are able to possess living people, and the ghost of Peter Quint possessed Miles and pushed poor Hannah down a well. We learn that Hannah is also a ghost, although no one seems to realize it – not even her. She’s able to make the character both stoic and melancholy, and these final moments, with Hannah finally confessing her love for Owen, are so powerful due to Miller’s performance that they brought tears to my eyes. What a find Pedretti is – virtually unknown before Hill House, Pedretti has fast become one of those performers worth watching in anything, no matter what the role. The same can’t be said for all the other ghosts at Bly, however. Flora is unaware that Henry is secretly her father, but Henry wants to rectify that. We only get happy moments. And in many respects, the emotional elements of Bly Manor actually surpass Hill House. The guilt over Edmund’s spills over into more conflicting feelings as Dani finds herself attracted to scrappy, no-nonsense gardener Jamie – and it becomes clear that Jamie has feelings for her as well. The story told jumps back to the 1980s, where we meet Dani (Victoria Pedretti), an American in the UK looking for work. And while Hill House stuck with Shirley Jackson’s iconic tale of terror, The Haunting of Bly Manor adapts several different stories from Henry James – most notably The Turn of the Screw, which provides the framework for the season. With Bly, Flanagan only directs the premiere.