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Nothing is as it seems in The Haunting Of Bly Manor

Illustration for article titled Nothing is as it seems in iThe Haunting Of Bly Manor/i
Image: The Haunting Of Bly Manor
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The most explicit connection between The Haunting Of Bly Manor and its predecessor The Haunting Of Hill House is found in the visual landscape of both. In Haunting Of Hill House, ghosts and monsters lurk in the backgrounds. Bly Manor continues that tradition, and the careful details put into the set pieces and props also contribute to the overwhelming feeling of unease. You never know exactly where to focus your attention. Is that a creature lurking or simply a shadow? Is that doll just a doll or will it move? Every statue, mirror, dripping faucet, fluttering curtain could suddenly shift into horror. Or maybe it won’t. It’s the uncertainty, the anticipation that frightens. Bly Manor so far has fewer jump-scares than Hill House, but it thrives on these quiet, visual scares. Something is wrong with these children, with this house, with the people who occupy it. And we don’t know what that wrongness is, but it unsettles in its ambiguity.

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“The Pupil” provides a flashback to Miles’ time at boarding school just before his return to Bly. He takes a strong interest in Father Stack’s lesson about Biblical demonic possession, confirming my loose theory from the first episode that Miles might have an unwelcome guest within. He indeed exhibits some disturbing behavior, throwing himself from a tree, picking a fight with his bunkmate, and eventually killing a bird and showing no remorse.

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But are those really the results of a demonic possession? The ending says maybe not. Miles trying to hurt himself, Miles trying to hurt others—it could all just be his extreme ways of trying to be sent home from boarding school at the request of Flora, who writes to him with this urgent plea. Bly Manor so far does an excellent job of blurring the lines between what might be supernatural influence and what might just be children reacting to shared trauma. “I was just looking for the right key,” Miles tells his bunkmate. Father Stack is determined to help Miles and keep him at school despite the tree and the fight, and it finally takes the bird incident to finally get Miles sent home. Perhaps the key he’s looking for is simply that.

“Given what they’ve lost, strangeness is expected,” Hannah says to Jamie. Hannah is particularly aware of the fact that Miles and Flora have suffered greatly. Bly Manor toys with our expectations often. Are the kids evil? Does Flora put on those glasses because she knows it’ll hurt Dani or is she just being an innocent kid rifling through stuff out of curiosity? Were they trying to torture Dani by locking her in a closet? Or are they actually protecting her from something—or someone—that haunts this house? Are they literally possessed or is their trauma the possession? Hill House played with these themes, too, although so far Bly Manor isn’t diving in as deep.

Even though some of his behavior might be explained by his grief, there are plenty of clues that something more sinister is happening with Miles. He has a lot of questions about the demon pig story. “Why do the bad ones get to come back and not them?” he asks Father Stack, speaking of his parents, who aren’t coming back. But someone has come back, and it’s someone bad. Miles also continues to speak in strange ways for a child, calling Jamie “darling” and asking to speak with Dani in private and then tucking her hair behind her ear. “Such a draining thing, dealing with children” he says before whistling away. Miles is not himself. So who is he? Someone else? Or has he been forever changed by the things he has experienced? I can honestly see it going either way: He really is possessed or it’s a misdirect. And the uncertainty there is keeping me hooked.

Despite the closet debacle, Dani remains largely unbothered by the horrors of Bly, perhaps because they still remain relatively passive, especially compared to her personal haunting seen in reflections. She does all the things characters in scary stories shouldn’t do but do anyway: She goes down to the creepy cellar, but only we get to see the dolls that move below. She’s more focused on teaching the children a lesson, making them do chores and yardwork, than she is on Bly’s ghosts. She even agrees to a game of hide-and-seek, which is straight up the last thing I would ever do in a massive old house in the middle of nowhere. But alas, Dani’s relative lack of fear actually makes her a great horror protagonist. She has slight Sidney Prescott energy or, even more so, Betty Cooper energy. She runs toward danger.

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The game of hide-and-seek naturally provides the most overt horrors. Again, I can’t believe Dani agrees to this after these children literally locked her in a closet, but hey, it wouldn’t be horror without someone doing something dumb! As Flora hums “O Willow Waly”—a song that keeps cropping up on the show—a being joins her. Flora’s unfazed though, shushing whoever the ghost—who appears to be a woman in a large dress—might be. Between her dolls and this moment, Flora seems to have a lot of control over those who haunt Bly. The man who appeared on the terrace in the premiere also appears again in the window, smiling creepily at Miles, who faints. This could be the demon he hasn’t given permission to enter him.

Dani’s much more affected by her own demons than by the ones that belong to Bly. When Flora puts on a pair of glasses from her bag, she has a full-on panic attack. Jamie helps her get out of that state, which makes for a sweet moment between the two. But Dani’s too shaken to explain what’s going on with her. The glasses have the same shape as the fiery eyes from Dani’s mirror demon, so they’re another clue at what she tried to escape when she left the States. Bly Manor is spinning quite the web of questions right now, but it manages to do so in a thrilling way, so I don’t feel too caught up in craving answers as to exactly what’s going on. There’s something intoxicating about the uncertainty of it all. What’s real and what isn’t? What’s just normal-strange and what’s supernatural-strange? In these early episodes, Bly Manor runs on its own unreliability.

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Stray observations

  • Speaking of reliability, I think it’s safe to assume that Carla Gugino’s character is an unreliable narrator.
  • Mysterious muddy footprints appear at the start of the episode. Maybe they’re just the kids’, but the narrator hints at something more, especially since they always follow the same path from the front door into the forbidden wing. Hannah accuses Jamie of the footprints, but Jamie says she always wipes her shoes. Is someone/something coming up from the lake?
  • Owen, Hannah, and Jamie all have great chemistry together.
  • Hannah continues to exhibit strange behavior, only ever seen consuming tea. She also sees a crack in the wall that isn’t there.
  • Dani also finds an old polaroid of a woman and a man who aren’t the dead parents in the forbidden wing.
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