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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Memories are a trap in another disorienting Haunting Of Bly Manor

The Haunting Of Bly Manor
The Haunting Of Bly Manor
Photo: Eike Schroter/Netflix
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Henry Wingrave has mostly been a background character up until this point. He hires Dani in the first episode, and it’s evident right away that something is off with him given his refusal to spend time at Bly despite being the children’s sole living family, but to be fair, I wouldn’t want to spend time in a very obviously haunted house either. Henry does, however, have a very valid reason for keeping his distance: Flora is his daughter. He had an affair with Charlotte, his own brother’s wife, and when that affair comes to light, Dominic Wingrave essentially places a curse on his lying brother. Henry Wingrave has a demon, and that demon is himself.

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Much of “The Jolly Corner” disorients, continuing some of the work of the brilliant “The Altar Of The Dead.” Flora finds herself reliving memories—not unlike Hannah. But it does seem like something different is happening with both her and Henry, who also is reliving some of his worst memories, which could partially be because he drinks a prolific amount of booze but also because he has trapped himself in his office, drowning himself in his work because he has nothing else. He’s the one behind the phantom calls, his way of reaching out to Flora. His self-haunting and time-looping also stems from a sense of denial (denial really is a huge theme for this series). “The world in which you can pretend your brother is still alive gets a little bit smaller,” his doppelgänger taunts him in reference to Henry’s hesitation to send out death notices about Dominic.

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Henry’s shit-grinning doppelgänger haunts him every night, a manifestation of his guilt over what happened with Dominic and Charlotte. Like Dani, Henry is wracked with guilt, and it has taken the shape of a literal monster. Dani’s personal haunting, by the way, seems to be completely gone now that she has gotten rid of those glasses. She probably should have done that sooner! As with the pre-Bly Dani flashbacks, Henry’s flashbacks spend a little too much time barreling toward an obvious ending. The affair is effectively dramatic but also pretty by-the-numbers. Characters like Henry, Charlotte, and Dominic get fleshed out more, but are they really the characters we need to know more about? Rebecca remains a rough sketch, and Jamie’s backstory is doled out in a tedious monologue (more on that in a bit). The flashbacks that aren’t really flashbacks but rather Henry reliving his memories in a cursed time-loop are much more interesting than the flashbacks that seem to just serve the purpose of exposition. Memory-hopping makes for a fun device rife with psychological humor. Henry’s doppelgänger is genuinely terrifying, and he serves as the tour guide for Henry’s nightmarish worst memories, including the night he learned Dominic and Charlotte died. Henry’s trapped in his own hell.

Flora’s memory-hopping makes for the most thrilling parts of the episode. The way Bly Manor unspools its latest time jump is skillful. References to Flora being little provide breadcrumbs that become more and more significant as the story progresses. In one memory, Flora finds a faceless boy (um, what?) and rushes to her mother’s room to tell her about it, accidentally stumbling upon Charlotte in bed with Henry. As they try to soothe her, Henry remarks: “Surely no one is as little as you.” But the scene ends with her realizing that she’s too old in the memory. “I feel like I should be littler,” Flora says, realizing she’s “tucked away” in a memory. But then Flora’s “littleness” takes on a whole new meaning later on, when Dominic Wingrave remarks that Flora was born early but wasn’t as little as she should have been for a baby born that early. “Math didn’t work, did it?” he asks. Charlotte obviously lied to him about when her pregnancy actually started so that Dominic wouldn’t realize that she actually got pregnant when he was away in Russia. Flora repeats the line about the math not working later on when she realizes she’s tucked away again. These little callbacks and recurrences help make a sprawling nonlinear story more coherent and more compelling.

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So here’s what we know about memory-hopping so far: It apparently is something that the living and the dead can do. Or else...Flora and Henry are actually dead? But we haven’t been given any concrete reason to believe that. When Flora becomes aware that she’s in a memory, she returns to her waking life. For Hannah, memory-hopping stems from her denial about being dead. For Henry, it stems from his guilt. Flora lets us know that it’s happening more and more to her, and there are a few clues as to how and why she keeps getting tucked away: Rebecca’s ghost taps Flora’s head at the start of the episode, suggesting that Rebecca is the one tucking Flora away in her memories. To what end, I’m not sure. Rebecca’s motives as a ghost remain a bit hazy. When she taps Flora’s head again, it seems like Rebecca has maybe taken over the little girl. Do the ghosts have to tuck away the children in order to take over their bodies? But also, this is the first we’re seeing of Rebecca being a possibly malevolent ghost, and it just doesn’t track.

When Dani asks Jamie out for a drink at a pub and says that the date will be “dreadfully boring” as a joke but joke’s on us, because it is honestly pretty boring! They don’t even make it to the pub and instead have their date in the woods? That certainly lends itself to the feeling of being trapped at Bly, but this romance is also starting to feel a little suffocating. It should provide a nice reprieve from all the awful stuff happening, but it drags. The chemistry just isn’t there. And this scene in the woods provides an opportunity for developing their dynamic more robustly but instead dips back into Jamie’s backstory in great detail and yet without depth. It’s not exactly shocking that Jamie has some sad and sordid backstory, and it also doesn’t add much to our understanding of her, her relationship with Dani, or anything, really! Jamie’s monologue has some lovely language in it, but it’s also the most overtly corny bit of the show so far. I think sentimentality and horror actually go well together, but this particular moment doesn’t land and certainly doesn’t help me better understand their relationship. Bly Manor might be going for a gothic romance, but so far, it’s not pulling it off.

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Stray observations

  • Look, I’m still rooting for Jamie and Dani, because years of yearning for more lesbian romances in genre television conditions me to root for even chemistry-less pairings!!! My personal curse.
  • Henry bought Flora the dollhouse replica of Bly. So I guess the dollhouse is cursed because it’s a product of the affair.
  • When Henry tries to soothe Flora about finding a faceless boy, he says that he had an imaginary friend who was a soldier, which is probably the uniformed ghost who has been occasionally popping up in the background.
  • On that note: Who the hell is the faceless boy?!
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