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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Real-life horrors haunt Bly Manor in an episode full of flashbacks

The Haunting Of Bly Manor
The Haunting Of Bly Manor
Photo: Eike Schroter/Netflix
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“The Two Faces, Part One” opens with a great sonic transition from classic frenetic horror strings into “Tainted Love.” The production details that flesh out this story—set pieces, props, music cues, etc.—work together well to construct a layered, unsettling, surprising world.

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The music transition accompanies a visual transition from the smiling ghoulish figure in the window at Bly to the man behind the ghoul: Peter Quint (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a charming but calculating man who worked for Henry Wingrave. He’s the man from the polaroid Dani found, and the previous au pair Rebecca Jessel (Tahirah Sharif) is the woman in his arms. We finally meet Rebecca in the flashbacks woven throughout the episode. She’s sweet and attentive, concerned with the children’s trauma like Dani is.

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Peter Quint is attentive in a very different way. He’s a master manipulator. He brings flowers in the children’s classroom and instead of giving them to Rebecca gives them to Flora. She’s smitten by the gesture, and it’s exactly what he wants. “Do you know what life is really all about, Miles?” he asks. “Keys. See, people are like locked rooms. They’ve all got different locks, and you’ve got to guess the shape of their key.” This connects back to last episode, in which Miles whispers that he’s looking for the right key at boarding school.

Rebecca’s looking for the right key, too. She took the au pair job hoping to make connections via Henry to become a barrister. The flashbacks aren’t about romance so much as about obsession. Rebecca isn’t nearly as conniving as Peter, and I’m a little weary of a plotline that seems to hinge on a handsome man easily manipulating a smart woman. But Sharif and Jackson-Cohen are compelling in their performances here, and Jackson-Cohen is playing such a different character than his soft and vulnerable Luke in Hill House that I had to remind myself a few times that it’s the same actor.

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The flashbacks focus on the romance between Peter and Rebecca a romance that Jamie labels “the wrong kind of love” in the present during her fireside conversation with Dani. “I saw how he twisted himself into her, burrowed in deep,” she says. “I don’t know why so many people mix up love and possession.” Dani agrees with that latter bit, says love and ownership are opposites. The conversation does a few things: It implies that Dani, and it also foreshadows a possible romance between Jamie and Dani, which is foreshadowed further at the end of the episode but then interrupted by the appearance of Dani’s haunting, which doesn’t even need a mirror this time. Whatever haunts Dani is creeping closer. We also see a bloodied hand move toward her earlier in the episode.

The conversation between Dani and Jamie also colors the flashbacks. We see Rebecca and Peter falling in love at Bly, but it is indeed the wrong kind of love. Again, nothing is exactly as it seems as Bly. One of the scariest moments in the episode doesn’t involve monsters or ghosts at all but rather a jealous outburst from Peter. He accuses her of flirting with Owen, outright gaslights her. Like a doll becoming sentient or a figure appearing in a mirror, the shift is sudden and unsettling, but it’s a real-life horror. Peter Quint is human, but he’s also a monster.

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We do know for a lot of reasons that this relationship is doomed. We know Rebecca is dead, and everyone in the present insists that Peter Quint ran off with Henry’s money and hasn’t been seen since. Owen even suggests that he might not know Rebecca is dead, wondering if he’s the one behind the phantom phone calls. Given that Peter keeps showing up in creepy ways though, it’s safe to assume that he’s dead.

And on that note, there are increasing hints that Hannah might be dead, too. Miles says that he dreamed he hurt Hannah. She still refuses to consume anything other than tea. We’ve never seen her off the grounds of Bly—in fact, as of this point, only Owen and Dani have appeared off grounds. There’s also the fourth candle that she lights in the chapel and the fact that she keeps hallucinating the same crack in the wall but in different places. She also threatens Peter in the past, and Peter does not seem like the kind of guy anyone should threaten.

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Bly Manor weaves between the past and present smoothly on a technical level. The transitions are all as visually strong as that initial one. But on a narrative level, there’s less connective tissue between the past and present. We never spend enough time in either to really sink into the story. The writing around Rebecca and Peter feels rushed.

There are some little threads, like the fact that Flora got her “perfectly splendid” catchphrase from Rebecca. There are a few allusions to Flora’s attachment to dolls, too. Rebecca remarks that dolls are fun to make up stories for, but Flora interrupts her to say that they’re not made up. Flora also makes a doll version of Rebecca—the doll we’ve seen her with in the present. The doll stuff likely has significance to the show’s mythology, but these moments also give specificity to Flora’s coping mechanisms and grappling with grief.

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Bly Manor continues to obscure what might be a haunting/possession and what might be something more real. Does Flora say “perfectly splendid” all the time because she’s occasionally possessed by Rebecca or is that her way of keeping someone who meant a lot to her alive? The ghost of Rebecca appears at the edge of the lake in the present, and it’s implied that Flora can see her. And one transition goes from Flora’s sleeping face in the present to Rebecca’s in the past. Is Flora drawn to the lake because of what she witnessed there or is there a more supernatural connection between her and Rebecca? Both are possibilities, and Bly Manor continues to situate most of the characters as unreliable narrators. Miles says Flora lies. Miles keeps acting strange. Peter can’t be trusted at all. Bly Manor sews uncertainty into its fabric, which makes it perfectly poised to pull the rug out from us. But right now, the show is still carefully plotting, not giving up too much. Questioning what’s real and what isn’t seems to be exactly the point.

The episode culminates with one of the creepiest children’s storytimes ever. Miles and Flora perform two stories about a cat named Tales and a puppet named Poppet. It starts out sweet and turns sinister, which mimics the trajectory of Rebecca and Peter’s courtship. Miles’ story involves a puppetmaker who punishes his puppets for forgetting that he made them. Story time mostly reiterates the overall disturbing vibe the children often cultivate. But it’s also possible that Miles’ story contains clues about Bly’s mythology. The puppetmaker could be a stand-in for Peter, who probably does think he “made” Rebecca.

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Another phone call interrupts story time, providing another moment where Bly Manor sharply turns away from the expected. The phone call isn’t from Peter Quint or anyone else who could be haunting Bly. Instead, it’s the very real, sad news that Owen’s mother is dead. Bly Manor presents its real-life horrors as just as destabilizing as its supernatural ones.


Stray observations

  • Background ghost alert! Anyone see a shadowy figure—possibly in a uniform—in the back of the entryway while Dani was talking to the police officer?
  • The muddy footprints are referenced again. Rebecca thinks it’s the kids sneaking out in the middle of the night.
  • Do you know how hard it is for me to not work the phrase “perfectly splendid” into every single one of these?
  • Just a reminder that while sharing theories in the comments is fine, any outright spoilers for future episodes should include spoiler warnings.
  • Owen’s dad jokes are...perfectly splendid.
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