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A Scaredy-Cat’s Guide to The Haunting of Bly Manor

Can we maybe cool it with the creepy dolls and dollhouse stuff, Bly Manor? Photo: Courtesy of Netflix

There’s a new season of The Haunting, Mike Flanagan’s anthology-season show where he uses the central premise of a family in a haunted house to scare the bejesus out of me. This time it’s The Haunting of Bly Manor, a roughly Henry James–inspired story of unnerving children, a new nanny, and a very large, very concerning house.

So it’s time once again for this wimp to walk you through exactly how terrified you’ll be when you watch it. Guess what? It’s actually not as scary as I’d feared!

It’s still some scary though. This will be mostly a guide to the frights of Bly Manor — one filled with spoilers, obviously — but because my tried-and-true terror coping mechanism is to use a shopping browser window to cover up half the screen so the ghosts can’t see me, this will also be a little bit of a guide to my current favorite terror-distraction device: rugs.

Episode 1: “The Great Good Place”

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix

Right off the bat, I can tell you that this episode title is gonna be ironic. After setting up a frame narrative about an older woman telling a ghost story at a wedding-rehearsal dinner — not my preferred happy-nuptial vibes — “The Great Good Place” jumps into the main story. We meet young and idealistic nanny Dani as she gets a new job at Bly Manor. Obviously she walks up to the mansion and immediately sees a small child (Flora) kneeling by a body of water, singing a creepy song and cradling a faceless handmade doll. Seems fine!

Dani gets to know the house, including a whole wing that is closed and forbidden, and then she immediately fails to follow Flora’s strict advice to stay in her room at night. She heats up some water on the range (in a classic Mackenzie-Childs teapot, by the way) but then hears something and slowly walks out of the kitchen. It’s very dark! I nearly pull up a rug website in self-defense, especially when there’s something with a long beak watching her in the hallway! But the only major scare comes at the end of the episode, as Flora and her equally scary brother Miles lock Dani in a closet? And then she sees a ghostly lady in a mirror?

How scary is it? 5/10
Creepiness level: High
Extremely alarming dolls: At least 3
Jump scares: 2, if you count one teapot whistle
Times Flora says things will be “perfectly splendid”: Too many to count

Episode 2: “The Pupil”

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix

This episode is mostly about Miles, the older brother, and how he’s probably a sociopath! Nothing says scary quite like a flashback episode about a child who has no regret about nearly beating one of his classmates to death at his boarding school. It’s mostly not that bad, extreme scariness–wise. It’s upsetting for sure, but in a “something is clearly wrong with this kid!” way, not in a “cover your eyes and hope” sort of way.

The current-day events of Bly Manor are much more unpleasant, frankly. Dani learns a bit more about Miss Jessel, the nanny who worked here before her. Flora is obsessed with Miss Jessel’s former belongings, in a way that sends me straight to a contemplation of where I would put this six-by-nine-inch vintage number. The worst of it is at the end, when they make the unimaginable choice to play hide-and-seek in this extremely haunted house at night. Why?! Why would you do that?! I spent the entire last ten minutes of this episode considering this collection of runners, which I didn’t regret at all, especially when they all see a man hovering outside a second-story window.

How scary is it? 7/10
Creepiness level: Very high
Extremely alarming dolls: Mostly just the one with the long, stringy black hair
Jump scares: 3, including one real whopper at the end
Times the housekeeper contemplates a strange crack on the wall: 2
Truly, why would you play hide-and-seek in this house? I don’t know

Episode 3: “Two Faces, Part One”

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix

After the police fail to discover Peter Quint, the guy Dani saw standing on the parapet late at night, everyone in the house takes it upon themselves to search. Apparently there have been many prank phone calls to the house, and Owen and Hannah (the cook and housekeeper, respectively) explain to Dani that they think it’s Peter Quint, calling to hear Rebecca Jessel’s voice because he doesn’t know she’s dead. I think that’s probably not the full story.

Much of this episode is spent in a flashback to Rebecca Jessel and Peter Quint growing close to each other, back when Rebecca was the nanny. That part’s mostly okay. The upsetting bit is when Dani finds Flora standing next to the lake, staring at something, transfixed. It’s Rebecca Jessel, on the edge of the lake! Aah! The other alarming sequence is near the end, when Flora and Miles put on a little play. It’s not big ghosty scary, but it is “no seriously, Miles is so freaky” scary.

How scary is it? 4/10
Creepiness level: Moderate
Extremely alarming dolls: Oh, yeah, there are some dolls
Jump scares: Watch out, there’s one you’re not expecting right at the end!
Ghosts with empty circle eyes: Why?! Why?! (There’s one major one.)
Time I spent browsing rugs: Zero, but a nice rug website would’ve been helpful there in the end

Episode 4: “The Way It Came”

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix

This episode is the big Dani flashback, where we see her fall in love with her childhood friend and then gradually realize that she doesn’t actually want to marry him. He gets hit very suddenly by a car as he storms out of their big fight scene, and I guess that counts as a jump scare, but to me it mostly feels like a Meet Joe Black scare.

Meanwhile in the current day, Owen the cook’s mother has died, and everyone sits thinking about death and remembrance and has a big bonfire. Dani thinks about her guilt over her fiancé’s death, and as Dani and Jamie the gardener get closer, it becomes increasingly clear that this whole season is gonna get pretty gay! Good for them.

I would very much appreciate it if Bly Manor cut it out with the dolls and dollhouse stuff though. It rarely works its way up into full-on “let’s check out some 9-by-12-inch vintage area rugs in Tree of Paradise pattern on Etsy” level, but this episode has a lot of constant background doll/dollhouse stuff that is quietly alarming. What also freaks me out: In the scenes where Dani’s in the hospital after her fiancé dies, and then again at his funeral, she sees those empty-eyed ghosts in the mirrors! Wait, the ghosts can leave Bly Manor? Or maybe she only sees them because they’re memories? Anyhow, I am not a fan.

How scary is it? 5/10
Creepiness level: Moderate
Extremely alarming dolls: Too many dolls in this one! Please cool it with the dolls!
Jump scares: 3, but none of them are all that bad
Times Flora stares at someone invisible behind Dani’s back: Ahhh, I do not like it!
Gay romance: Oh, yeah, we’re getting there

Episode 5: “The Altar of the Dead” 

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix

This episode is all about Hannah Grose, the housekeeper, who’s spent the first several episodes being mostly okay except for feeling occasionally distracted by what I will admit is a highly unnerving crack-in-the-wall shape that seems to follow her around.

It’s not really a big jump-scare kind of episode, or a gross-out scary, or even “something’s definitely wrong with those creepy dolls” kind of scary. Instead, “The Altar of the Dead” is a looping, folding, slowly building kind of acceleration, as Hannah returns to various scenes in her memory over and over again. Gradually we realize that she’s learned things about the real state of Rebecca Jessel and Peter Quint’s relationship, and through revisiting these memories we get to one big, really good scary scene where the giant, living version of Flora’s black-haired doll attacks Peter Quint. The way she grabs that guy by the neck and drags him into the lake … PHEW. In related news, you can often get West Elm rugs on sale! I actually got this one for my entryway.

Truly, though, this is a great episode. It builds to this crescendo where we realize Hannah is dead, and the crack that’s been haunting her is a crack in the bottom of the well where she died. For my money, the lady in the lake is terrifying, but Owen staring straight into Hannah’s eyes and saying, “Something. Is wrong. With Miles,” is almost worse!

How scary is it? 7/10, but very little of it is scary in a “cover your eyes” way
Creepiness level: Very high, mostly due to time loops
Jump scares: 1 or 2, only moderately scary
Amount of time I spent yelling, “Hannah, no!”: At least ten minutes
Amount I love Hannah and Owen and wish they could just go to Paris together and be happy: Infinite  

Episode 6: “The Jolly Corner”

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix

It’s time to focus on Uncle Henry, the emotionally withdrawn, motivationally mysterious family patriarch. Episode six gives us some backstory on his relationship with Flora and Miles’s dead parents — most notably, that Henry loooooooved Charlotte Wingrave, and that eventually Henry’s brother Dominic figured out that his wife and his brother were having a secret love affair. Also that Flora is not Dominic’s daughter. She’s Henry’s daughter! Lotta messed up dynamics happening in this mansion!

As far as scares go, “The Jolly Corner” first provides us with a scene where Henry drinks bourbon with the very creepy smiling version of himself. We also get a scene where Flora has a meeting with a little-boy ghost with no face. It starts out scary, and then moves into “uhhhh?” territory when Flora provides the ghost with a broken doll face. FLORA WHY ARE YOU LIKE THIS? Bly Manor also starts to unspool a little bit more of how all the ghosts and strangeness works: Flora complains to the ghost of Rebecca Jessel that she keeps getting “tucked away” in a memory. While that’s definitely not great, it’s a bit of a scariness turning point. The more we understand about how the ghosts work, the less frightening I find all the jump scares and ghost reveals.

How scary is it? Would be a 5/10, but I’m giving it 6 for the faceless boy ghost alone
Creepiness level: Moderate
Jump scares: 2
Gay romance: Oh, yeah, baby, now we’re cookin’ with gas
Amount I wish Dani and Jamie would just run away together: 10/10
Level of hope I have that Dani and Jamie will make it out of this just fine: 0/10

Episode 7: “The Two Faces, Part Two”

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix

This episode goes a long way toward explaining most of the mechanics of the ghost stuff! So while we spend more solid ghost time here than in any other previous episode, it’s actually less scary overall than when the alarming ghost faces just pop into mirrors and windows and whatnot. There’s no explanation for why this is happening at Bly yet, but what we learn is that Peter Quint dies, realizes he’s stuck there as a ghost, and then convinces Rebecca to let him into her body because he’s found a way for them to be together forever. Somehow she doesn’t get that this means she has to die?! Rebecca, I thought you were smarter than this!

The really alarming part is that while Peter and Rebecca have this whole conversation about how they’re going to jump into Flora and Miles, Dani’s with them tied up in the attic, just moaning and freaking out the whole time. None of it is leap-out-of-your-skin horrifying, like when it’s broad daylight and you’re just staring out the window chanting to yourself about how it’s just a TV show. I didn’t even shop for rugs! But it is very compelling, sad, and slow-burn tense. Also, the lady in the lake grabs Dani and carries her away, and I am more than willing to admit that she is still quite scary to me.

How scary is it? 4/10
Creepiness level: High
Jump scares: I only counted 1?
Gay romance: Dani was trapped in the attic the whole time! Very depressing
Amount Bly Manor wants me to feel bad for Peter Quint: Quite a bit
Sympathy I actually feel for Peter Quint: Zero

Episode 8: “The Romance of Certain Old Clothes”

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix

If the previous episode explained how all the ghost mechanics worked, and thus was not that scary because now we understand what’s happening, this episode does the same, except it goes even further back into the origin story. Episode eight is almost not scary at all! Sure, it has its moments, but you can watch the whole thing without any truly hair-raising alarms.

The backstory, roughly, is that many centuries ago, two sisters loved the same man, but one sister married him and he gave her a trunk full of super-fancy clothes. Not long after she had a baby, she came down with consumption, and rather than die peacefully and quietly, she hung on with increasing bitterness and rage while being consumed with jealousy that her sister was stealing her life. When she finally does die (killed by the sister), she gets trapped inside her trunk of fancy clothes and waits for the day when her daughter opens the trunk. Turns out: The sister opens the trunk! (This is the only terrifying bit.) Dead ghost sister kills living sister; father decides the whole house and especially the trunk is cursed and chucks it in the lake; dead ghost sister continues to roam the grounds searching for her daughter, and gradually her face wears away until she becomes the lady in the lake ghost. See? Isn’t it nice when all the pieces come together?

How scary is it? 2/10
Creepiness level: Moderate
Jump scares: 1
Unnerving women who slowly waste away and also puke on a very nice rug: 1
Number of beautiful rugs inside Bly Manor: Too many to count

Episode 9: “The Beast in the Jungle” 

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix

Now we come to the final, tragic wrap-up episode, where the lovely, warm relationship growing between Dani and Jamie crashes headlong against the fact that this is, sadly, a ghost story. Like episode eight, it’s barely scary at all. Things are pretty tense in the opening scenes: Hannah (who’s dead, remember) tries to stop the lady in the lake from stealing Dani, but in the end only Flora can distract her. The lady starts to carry Flora away into the lake, Uncle Henry fails to stop her (what is the point of Uncle Henry, I ask you?), and only Dani figures out that she has to invite the lady inside of her, just as Miles and Flora have been carrying around the ghosts of Peter and Rebecca.

That’s it, really! That’s the end! Everyone lives happily ever after and Dani and Jamie are never sad again!

Okay, fine. It starts that way. Jamie and Dani move to America, and they are very happy and in love for years, but Dani can never shake the feeling of the lady in the lake still inside her. She stares at reflections and into bodies of water, trying to see her face. Eventually, Jamie wakes up one morning, and Dani’s gone. Jamie catches the first flight back to Bly and dives in the lake to find her, but she already knows she’s too late. There’s Dani, drowned at the bottom, along with Peter and Rebecca, and also a plague doctor and a child and the trunk. And, of course, our narrator this whole time has been older Jamie, talking about her lost love. It’s not scary! It’s just so sad!

How scary is it? 3/10
Creepiness level: Pretty low, honestly
Jump scares: Barely any!
Sense of overwhelming sadness: Off the charts
Also Hannah died at the bottom of that well: I know, it’s so unfair!
Would I take one of those rugs, even though it was from a haunted house? Honestly, maybe

A Scaredy-Cat’s Guide to The Haunting of Bly Manor