Let’s spill the pop-culture tea: ‘The Haunting of Bly Manor’ is a spooky season must see

A young girl in a purple coat emptily stares off screen while two adult women rush towards her in the background.
Anna Tolkien CM ’24 reviews Netflix’s original series “The Haunting of Bly Manor,” a supernatural, scary drama that is perfect for the Halloween season. (Courtesy: Netflix)

This article contains spoilers for “The Haunting of Bly Manor.”

An old British estate with ivy-covered brick, ominous misty skies, sweet children with tragic pasts, a foolishly brave nanny and ghosts hiding behind every corridor. Welcome to Bly Manor. 

Usually, this is when we all would be putting the finishing touches on our costumes to debut at Halloween parties. With social distancing guidelines and campus closed, most of us will not be having the Halloween we were hoping for. So, as you are cozying up on your sofa with a bowl of candy or popcorn, let me recommend the perfect show to watch for the season: “The Haunting of Bly Manor.”

The show premiered on Netflix on Oct. 9, and is the second in Mike Flanagan’s anthology series “The Haunting.” The show is loosely based on the Henry James novel “The Turn of the Screw.” 

“The Haunting of Bly Manor” is set in 1987 and tells the story of two orphan children, Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) and Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth). Their uncle Henry Wingrave (Henry Thomas) hires Dani (Victoria Pedretti) to watch over the children at Bly Manor and be their nanny.

While the manor is beautiful and the other staff are friendly, there is something unmistakably off about the place. Whether it is the hauntingly beautiful lake, their late parents’ wing of the house with sheets draped over the furniture, the phone calls with nobody on the other end or the constant presence of dolls, there is something downright creepy going on at Bly. 

Throughout the show, Peter Quint (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and Rebecca Jessel (Tahirah Sharif) are main characters through flashbacks, and their story is quintessential in understanding what happened at Bly. One of the strongest performances of the show is done by Jackson-Cohen. His character is deeply troubled, and his love story with Rebecca is one of toxicity and possession. He feels like an outcast at Bly and says he sees brighter things for Jessel and him and doesn’t want to feel like the help anymore. The Bonnie and Clyde dynamic is juicy to watch and one of my favorite performances in the show. 

On the topic of love stories at Bly, my favorite is between Dani and Jamie (Amelia Eve) the landscaper. Dani, before arriving at Bly, was engaged to Edmund (Roby Attal), her childhood boyfriend. Dani struggles with her sexuality and finally reveals to Edmund that she’s gay and while she loves Edmund, she can’t go through with the marriage. The relationship between Edmund and Dani ends in an abruptly shocking way that will leave viewers absolutely stunned. 

Dani wants to live her life authentically at Bly but is quite literally haunted by Edmund’s ghost, seeing his figure with neon glowing spectacles everywhere she turns. She is able to confide in Jamie and they instantly have a connection which blossoms into a relationship. 

One of the scariest aspects of the show is the ghosts and their relationship to the children and their dolls. Flora religiously guards her dollhouse and has dolls that represent each member of Bly. She also has some terrifying faceless dolls. She tells Dani not to touch her dolls, and must place the dolls in specific places in her room “or else.” These dolls are talismans for the real ghosts in Bly which are trying to possess the children. The show does a good job of not just using shock value to scare the viewer — instead, it builds up the suspense and tantalizingly reveals the different ghosts in the manor in ways that will make you jump and cover your eyes with a blanket. 

The weakness of the show is that there are some storylines that detract from the overall suspense of the story. The cook Owen’s mother passes away and the show spends almost two episodes on the characters mourning her passing as Owen (Rahul Kohli) explores his views on life and death. While Owen isn’t an unlikeable character, I found that the story lost momentum, and the fright factor disappeared for a while. The viewer gets so hooked on Peter and Rebecca’s demise, the children’s possible possession by the ghosts and the safety of Dani that Owen’s storyline can feel distracting.

Besides the Owen situation, one thing I enjoyed about the show is that it’s story-driven, and not just focused on petrifying the viewer for 50 minutes at a time. It explores themes to do with sexuality, love versus. lust, life and death, class and more. Viewers really become invested in each character’s individual story and how it relates to the overall history of Bly.

I won’t spoil the ending, but it is quite the twist! While this may not be the absolute scariest show ever or the most serious, if you are looking for eight hours of entertainment and to escape into a spooky story in the English countryside, I wholeheartedly recommend binging “The Haunting of Bly Manor.”

Anna Tolkien CM ’24 is one of TSL’s pop culture columnists. She’s a media studies and literature dual major and loves her pugs, iced coffee and Timothée Chalamet movies.

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