Ghost story, love story–it’s all the same here!
But if you love a good ghost story, this follow-up season to The Haunting of Hill House may not be your cup of tea. For me–a person who was thoroughly terrified by Hill House and could only deal with the slow pacing of the story because I was constantly scared–I really looked forward to the follow-up to the very successful Netflix haunting spectacular, created by Mike Flanagan. While there was a lot that I really enjoyed (and even loved!), I think the connection to Hill House may let down people looking for a horrific secondary adventure.
**but not a lot of spoilers because not everyone will binge this 9 episode series in one day like I did**
Just to get all my Hill House references out of the way now so that this doesn’t become a ramble, I’ll start by saying that Bly Manor is also based on a horror story, this time Henry James’ novella, The Turn of the Screw, which was actually mentioned at the beginning of the intro to my edition of The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. Already, there are similarities between the stories that make James’ novella a great follow up: scary old house, young woman, ghosts. But the choice to stick a bunch of actors from the first season into the second put me juuuust a little out of it; then again, i also liked the connection, and I got over any aversion pretty quickly because Victoria Pedretti, who plays main character Dani, is so good (so are the others, but we see Dani the most of the returning cast.)
Also like Hill House, Bly Manor is slow and a little confusing, at least until this one excrutiating episode in which housekeeper Hannah (T’Nia Miller) repeatedly “dream hops,” a special little exercise performed by certain people at Bly Manor. That episode–my God–it was torture. I don’t have the attention span for such repetitive, drawn out messages to be smeared in my face like cold butter on bed, always close to making sense but not quite there until the end. And after that, which was about halfway through the show, the rest of the episodes were a little info-dumpy. It felt almost as if the show took so long trying to be mysterious and vague that it forgot it only had a few more episodes to actually explains things.
And, boy, do things get explained, like why the children that nanny Dani (she’s actually an au pair, but what do I care?) take care of–Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) and Flora (Amelie Bea Smith)–are so darn creepy and odd. For instance, they warn Dani not to be out of her bedroom late at night, and lock her in a closet after she holds one of Flora’s more horrifying dolls. It’s satisfying to know why these things are happening, but I feel that the information could have been sprinkled a little more evenly through the season.
Aside from long, long bouts of exposition (I accidentally saw a review that said this show wasn’t dully expositional, but there were definitely moments that I looked away from a monologue for ten minutes and it was still going on when I looked back), I thought that a lot of the writing was awesome; moody, somber, and secretive is the best way I can describe the script, and every actor did a fantastic job of delivering on that tone. Especially those kids! I mean, spoiler spoiler, but they spoiler spoiler! Very talented youngins.
Now, about Bly Manor being a love story. Again, won’t get too deep into it, but the ghosts–first and foremost–have various motivations due to lack of love, loss of love, and want of love. Nanny Dani has her own lovelorn “ghost” issues, and is haunted by certain decisions she made before leaving America for Bly Manor, namely–and I may be putting it too lightly here to avoid big spoils–her inability to embrace her attraction to women. Yes, dear Dani is a LESBIAN (which I am assuming over bisexuality because of certain reasons, but others may disagree.) After some initial vibing with the gardener, Jamie (Amelia Eve), Dani lets herself loose of her past regrets and ~love~ blossoms.
I did really like the love story. I did. It was one of the shining moments of the show for me, that and the romance between Hannah and the house cook, Owen (Rahul Kohli), but I don’t want to freakin’ talk about that one and DON’T ASK ME WHY! There are a few more romances, but they suck, and they aren’t nearly as sweet as the other kind of love in this show, which is familial/found family type mushy gush, particularly at the end when Dani does a thing for little Flora, and it results in pretty dire consequences for our gentle nanny.
Honestly, this season kind of felt like two shows: one was about a nanny and some creepy kids being scared by ghosts, and the second was a nanny falling and her gardener girlfriend dealing with the lurking consequences of being associated with Bly Manor. Disjointed is the only word I can think to describe it.
Maybe the experience is different for those who take this show one episode a day, or week, or who split it up like I planned to do. But for me, Bly Manor felt like a Gothic drama parading as a fright fest and trying to do too much. I could have seen the season being half as long with half as much content. They were really cramming a lot of stuff in there and trying to get all philosophical half the time, and a lot of real deep stuff was said, but it flew right through my brain and sort of landed there in a pile on the floor. Have I ever mentioned that I’m not a great audio learner?
Overall, I like The Haunting of Bly Manor, but I do think a lot of Hill House fans could be disappointed. There are a lot of mysteries to be solved, so, if you’re watching this with someone else, blurt out literally every single guess you have as to what’s happening, because it could be true!
And a boo to you,