Warning: This article contains references to suicide which could act as triggers to some readers.
You may want to wait before booking your next Airbnb. To be honest, after watching Netflix’s The Haunting Of Bly Manor you may never want to leave your house again. Just in time for spooky season, the spiritual sequel to 2018’s The Haunting Of Hill House is here to offer another creepy look at a giant house full of vengeful ghosts. The series is primarily based on the 1898 Henry James horror novella The Turn of the Screw with shout outs to the creepy 1961 movie The Innocents, which is also based on the book. The gothic romance focuses on a young woman who takes a job at an English manor as an au pair for two young orphans who have experienced too much loss in their short lives. This new update takes place in ‘80s so get ready to hear pop hits from Cyndi Lauper and lots of acid washed high-waisted “mom jeans.” For some, that may be scarier than the ghosts.
Like that previous Haunting, the show deals with grief and how we move on from it, which as the title implies, is way harder when the ghosts of your past linger. The new season of the anthology series features some familiar faces from the Crain family: Carla Gugino, Henry Thomas, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, and Victoria Pedretti, who plays the American au pair in London, are all back. While some of the cast remains the same, the story does not. Gone is the bent-neck lady, but women still be haunting. This time, it’s the lady in the lake that you have to watch out for.
To help stay ahead of all the terrifying twists, we are recapping all eight episodes. Spoilers are definitely ahead, but, for those who like to read horror movie Wiki pages before watching, these recaps might help you decide whether this show is too scary for you. Word of advice for the horror TV show challenged: read this with the lights on.
Episode 1: “The Great Good Place”
If you needed a sign that Bly Manor would be as creepy as Hill House, just watch the opening credits. There is no cold open for the premiere, we meet the players of this season via oil painting. Each character looks seemingly healthy in their grand portraits until they just... aren’t. Their faces begin to decay and their eyes are swallowed up. The music box tune makes this introduction all the more terrifying.
The episode begins in darkness with an Irish brogued narrator reciting the lyrics to the old folk song “O Willow Waly.” (The song also plays an important role in the 1961 film The Innocents, based on The Turn Of The Screw.) “We lay my love and I beneath the weeping willow,” she says. The camera closes in on a foggy lake where a woman in white peeks out. Carla Gugino, who played Crain family matriarch Olivia in Hill House, awakens from a nap in a hotel room, gasping for air. “But now alone I lie and weep beside the tree.”
A lonely Gugino walks to the bathroom where the sink is full of water, as is the bathtub. Before we get an explanation, she arrives by yellow cab to a manor in Northern California in 2007. It’s a wedding rehearsal dinner, to which she is showing up late. The jetlagged Englishman giving a toast seems pleased but maybe surprised to see her. He continues his speech about the measure of a successful marriage being the ability to watch your partner die. Not the most cheery speech, but he is English after all. The real measure of love is being willing to endure the pain of losing, he says as the camera pans to Gugino who seems emotionally torn over his sentiment. What the viewer understands is the loss of a lover is a major factor in this story.
A house also plays a role. After all, it is the title of the series. These soon-to-be newlyweds are discussing why they didn’t want to stay overnight in this giant house that is their wedding venue. “I said, ‘No way.’ Not after those stories.” The stories are about a dead nun who has been spotted crying in the corners of this house, which used to be a convent in the ‘40s. The groom believes there is no truth. “They can charge a few hundred extra for the ghost story.”
As this conversation continues Gugino keeps sipping her drink, which might as well be hot tea since you know she’s got something to spill. After hearing about the different ghost stories that have been used to sell hotel packages, she decides to tell her story, which isn’t exactly her story. She also warns it isn’t exactly short, but with enough wine to keep them happy, she begins, but not before offering a few final warnings. This story includes “ghosts of all sorts,” and not one child, but two, which these wedding guests believe add an extra edge.
We timehop again, this time to London 1987 where a young woman is on her way to answer an ad placed by Lord Henry Wingrave. His young nephew and niece need a full-time live-in au pair at the family’s estate. With that description by Gugino’s character, we get our first jump scare. Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti) nearly gets hit by a car, but look close and you’ll see a ghostlike figure with glowing eyes pop up in the vehicle’s window. She’s scared, but perhaps, not as scared as she should be.
We learn from her meeting with Henry (Henry Thomas) that this fourth grade teacher from the States has only been in London for six months. The British lord seems to despise her American-ness, her love for iced tea instead of high tea, her au pair inexperience. It’s not teaching he tells her. The kids are exceptional, he marvels, but challenging. When she asks why the little boy was kicked out of boarding school, he glosses over the reason. A major red flag.
The house is in the country where the kids used to spend holidays with their parents. There is a cook and a live-in housekeeper, but the children are her responsibility. “And yours alone,” the lord makes clear. “Don’t call on me, unless it’s an emergency. I’m extraordinarily busy.” Now, I would have some questions about that statement. You can’t be with your niece and nephew who just lost their parents? That seems pretty cold. But Dani says she understands and has experience working with children who have lost a parent. She sounds sincere, but he believes there is a catch to her wanting the job. Again, a sign this is not ideal work. He thinks she’s rather young to want such a demanding job so far away from the city. It’s then Dani shows she has a bit of bite to her, remarking that the listing is also odd. It seems too good to be true, but yet, it hasn’t been filled in six months. See, she saw the ad when she first moved to London. “So what is the catch?” she says. “That really is the question.”
The fact that she’s circling job listings in a bar, lets us know she probably didn’t get it. But when a frustrated Henry walks into the same bar she decides that she needs to toast to the awkwardness of the job interview. It really was a feat. Still, she wants to know the catch. He says they did find someone last summer who the children liked, but then she went and well, died. “It was her fault, to be blunt,” he says. “Her choice, to be blunter.” The fact she died on the grounds has made other more superstitious applicants turn down the job. The story of two orphans and a dead governess isn’t much of a sales pitch.
Dani also has her own backstory that makes her hard to hire. She says she couldn’t be home anymore. Teaching 25 kids left her spread too thin. She talks of being very attached to them, “even the worst ones.” A clue that something went wrong and now she’s trying to make up for it. She tells Henry she wants to make a difference in these kids’ lives, which is why she applied. “Now, I understand death. I know what loss is,” she says. And that statement right there got her the job.
When she tells someone back home that she’s staying around London for a lot longer, she gets some push back. “I’m not running from anything,” she says. “And it hurts me when you say that.” She does appear to be running from her own reflection. As she packs, she removes a pair of sheets hanging to cover the mirrors in her room. As she leaves, she takes a glance back at the mirror where we see that same shadowy figure with glowing eyes. She looks distressed as she leaves, but it’s clear this is nothing new. It also explains why she’s so tired, falling asleep on her chauffeured drive to Bly Manor.
The driver, Owen (Rahul Kohli) assures her that it will be quiet out there. He’s a local who isn’t all that impressed with Bly, the town, not the manor. “I escaped for a bit,” to Paris, he says to train to be a chef, but now he’s back because of family. The driving pays the bills, which doesn’t sound all that bad to Dani, who tells him there are worse places to be stuck. She seems to be speaking from experience. Still, he pushes back. The people in Bly live and die there, he says. It’s a rather benign statement, but it feels like ominous foreshadowing. “The whole town’s a big gravity well,” he says. “It’s easy to get stuck.”
Dani doesn’t seem to mind, asking to walk the rest of the way to the manor, which covers acres and acres of green grass. As she walks she hears a little girl singing “O Willow Waly,” the ditty that is heard in the opening. What is Carla Gugino’s character connection to this song 20 years later? And why is this little girl singing about her lover’s return? Well, the little girl, Flora (Amelie Bea Smith), Henry’s niece, didn’t even realize she was singing, so that’s alarming. But she is excited to see Dani and offers to introduce her to everyone at the manor. She also offers Dani a word of advice: stay out of the pond. Flora leaves behind a strange little doll. It’s nothing more than sticks and twine, but that closeup of it staked into the dirt lets you know it is worth remembering.
Also worth remembering, the fancy way in which Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth), Henry’s nephew, greets Dani, like he’s some playboy prince. A kiss on the hand feels both formal and too cozy. It’s here we meet the housekeeper Mrs. Hannah Grose (T'Nia Miller) who seems nervous and flustered. She also seems preoccupied with that well.
Gugino’s narrator begins to explain that the house feels oddly familiar to Dani. “It yawned open to welcome her home.” Still, Flora gives her the grand tour, racing through the foyer and the kitchen, which are “splendid.” A word she uses to describe almost everything including Owen. She’s a little too proper for my liking. Also, does anyone else think Owen might be the nameless man giving the speech in the beginning of the episode?
No time to think too much about that since Flora is showing off the oil paintings that fill the house, which are, you guessed it, just “splendid.” The paintings pop up in the intro and while we know they were painted by hand, Flora doesn’t give any other details. She does warn Dani of the stairs, which are too dangerous for running. They’re “not forgiving in the least,” she says. “They’re brutal on the knees.” Flora points out the old wing where their parents used to live and Miles says they don’t go in there anymore. It’s all covered up, but underneath it’s “perfectly splendid,” of course.
Dani’s room is the last stop on the tour, but there will be more to see like the statue garden, which sounds creepy. Is that where they keep dead relatives? Creepier is little Miles peeping on Dani as she settles in. That camera shot of him peeking through a slightly opened door is very Hitchcockian, so you understand Dani being a little weirded out. He gives her a butterfly hair comb and leaves but you don’t blame Dani for locking the door on his way out.
Dani still needs work on her tea making skills, but during dinner, we start to learn more about this American in London. She really just wants to see the world and Bly doesn’t seem like a bad place to start. Well, unless you’re Owen who has a real bad attitude about the place. To be fair, he seems to be dealing with a sick mom, who he lives with. “Lives for her, more like,” Mrs. Grose says. While Owen says his mom is getting better, Mrs. Grose doesn’t believe him. He’s leaving earlier and earlier to go be with her. Mrs. Grose also leaves without eating dinner leaving Dani alone with the children.
Flora isn’t happy to see Dani wearing the hair comb Miles gave her. The clip belonged to Miss Jessel, their previous au pair who allegedly died by her own hand. Dani apologizes, but more concerning is Flora looking off into the distance as if she’s staring at someone who Dani can’t see. “I was wrong. It’s actually fine,” Flora says as if someone has given her the OK. Perhaps that wouldn’t be all that weird to Dani, who once again sees the shadowy glowing eyed figure in the bathroom mirror. This time she stares the figure down, swatting at the mirror only to realize he’s gone. Whoever Dani is trying to outrun, they followed her.
Dani is more interested in getting Miles to open up. She wants to know why he had to leave school, but he’s not taking the bait yet. Instead, he wants to know why she isn’t wearing the butterfly clip. It’s because of Flora, who appears to be doing some kind of voodoo. As Dani walks through the bathroom to turn out the lights, we watch Flora play with a doll that looks a lot like Dani. The doll is also walking through the house, taking the same path as Dani. When Dani enters Flora’s room we see she has a lot of dolls. One for each person she knows? Too early to say, but Flora’s dollhouse is a replica of the manor.
The doll she’s playing with, well, it’s just a doll that happens to look alot like Dani. Totally normal, yeah? The other dolls in the house include another stick and twine man, a scary looking baby ghost, and another blonde all placed in different scenarios. Dani finds a faceless brunette doll lying under the dresser, which Flora demands she put back.
She also asks Dani to do something else: stay in her bed all night and not leave her room until the morning. It’s something Dani says she can’t do. “But you must,” Flora says. Easier said than done for Dani, who has trouble sleeping. The narrator returns to speak of the expansive manor, that has “an emptiness that called out to be explored." As anyone who has seen a horror movie knows, you do not go exploring in the darkness. Not in a house this big with kids this creepy. Yet Dani wanders down the stairs towards the kitchen to make a pot of tea. That’s when the creaking begins and the faucet drips become horrifying echoes. The ominous music kicks things up a notch. You might also find yourself screaming at the screen as Dani starts wandering back into the dark hall.
The sound drops out and we see things from Dani’s perspective. She’s afraid to know what lurks behind the corner and do you blame her? Too dark to see, but easy to sense something bad as Dani begins to breathe a little heavier. It’s the teapot whistle, though, that causes her to jump.
After a spot of tea and some cookies, Dani walks back to her room. The faucet continues to drip and the crickets get louder. When she’s out of view, it’s then we see another gray figure in the foreground of the shot. They were there the whole time and I’m justifiably freaked out for her. But she’s none the wiser the morning after, going on about the beauty of the manor and how she’ll never get sick of it. Flora though is none too happy about Dani’s midnight stroll. Flora doesn’t want her to see Dani. “The lady in the lake,” she says before her spider-carrying brother frightens her enough to stop talking.
Dani assumes this is his way of scaring her off, but all his spider trick did was traumatize his little sister. “I’m a lot braver than people think,” Dani tells him, a warning that she’s in this for the long haul. But he wasn’t looking to scare her, he knows that she’s brave. He sensed it in her. What we see is how starved for affection this kid is. All he wants is for his uncle to come visit. But it’s Dani who is getting a new visitor.
We see her spot a well-coiffed man staring at her from the second floor patio of the manor. She waves, but he doesn’t wave back. He just stares until he is gone. She seems confused as if he isn’t someone she’s seen before.
When Dani enters the house, Owen is back. He once again mutters under his breath about what a shithole this place is and picks up the ringing phone to have no one answer on the other end. This keeps happening, according to Mrs. Grose. There is also another person to meet, the gardener, Jamie (Amelia Eve), who walks into the kitchen without introducing herself or even acknowledging Dani. No one else seems all that weirded out by this. Dani, the narrator reveals, feels as if she had already met this woman. There is a connection that the show isn’t ready to reveal quite yet.
To be fair, Dani is too busy trying to figure out who she just saw in the house. No one seems to know who she’s talking about. More concerning is where she saw this guy. To get up there, he would have had to go through the old wing where no one is allowed to go. Mrs. Grose believes she imagined it, which sets Dani off a bit. We know she saw something; is she being gaslit? Also, when does Mrs. Grose eat? She’s now skipped two meals, a clue that something is off about this woman. Well, assuming she is a woman and not something more supernatural.
How should we describe Dani though? Is she brave or just foolish to explore a room where she was told not to go? She traipses right through to the parapet where she saw the peculiar man. She stands where he was and finds another creepy twine doll sitting where the man once stood. She doesn’t get too much time to inspect it before she sees a light in the small stone house across the way. No surprise, she walks over to check it out. It’s a chapel and Mrs. Grose has lit a candle.
She seems unfazed by seeing Dani, even asking if she found anyone on the grounds. The question sounds genuine as if she’s hoping to get an answer. Is she also seeing strange men on the premises? Dani asks her about the doll and Mrs. Grose asks her not to judge the children "after what they’ve been through.” Two years ago, their parents died, but Mrs. Grose seems to feel that losing their last au pair, Miss Jessel, was actually worse. She was brought down by a man, Mrs. Grose says. “The only thing that can bring down a woman like that.” He left town with Henry’s money and Rebecca’s heart. She died in the lake and Flora found her, which explains why she’s so afraid of it. The doll is a talisman that is supposed to keep them all safe. The candles, Mrs. Grose says, are for the dead. Four are lit but only three can be accounted for: Flora and Miles’ parents and Rebecca. Who is the fourth?
No time to find out, Dani has to put Miles to bed. Unfortunately, he’s gone all Saw on us, asking if she likes games. He’s just being weird, Flora says, but scary is the word I would use. Dani decides bedtime is a time to discuss the talisman with Flora. She thanks her for keeping the safe, but asks her to keep herself safe first. To do that Dani asks Flora not to go on the parapet anymore to which Flora tells her she’s splendid, of course. That splendidness doesn’t last too long though. Dani ends up kicking one of Flora’s dolls, the faceless brunette that was under the bed. Flora shoots up and Dani realizes these dolls are very real to her.
Miles then pops in to ask for a fan, but it’s hard to ignore that nod Flora gives him as if this is a setup. As Dani looks through the closet, the two kids stand outside the door watching until they lock her in. The two swear that the door is stuck as Dani pleads with them to open it, getting more scared with each second she stays in there. Soon things go silent and the ominous music starts, not unlike what we heard during her late night wandering. The kids stop answering her and she starts pounding on the door. She starts to panic and sees a mirror behind her. She screams and covers it and screams some more until she blacks out. It’s unclear how long she’s in there before the kids let her out, but the doll is once again under the dresser.
Dani is once again alone wandering the house. She finds dirty footprints all over the floor. She assumes the kids went outside and follows the steps to find the front door open. She looks out on the fog that covers the garden. She then looks up to see the kids watching her. That’s quite a first day on the job.
Episode 2: “The Pupil”
This one begins with the sounds of a mop sloshing. Mrs. Grose is left to clean up the muddy footprints from the night before. As the narrator explains, this was nothing new. A few times a year she was forced to clean up this same dirty path from the door to the forbidden wing and back again. It seems the culprit may not be coming from inside the house. The kids swear the door got stuck and it’s just a little mud, nothing to worry about. Dani is willing to forgive, but she can’t forget.
It’s clear this all has something to do with the doll, which Miles throws down the laundry chute. Dani uses this as a teachable moment. He ran through Mrs. Grose’s just- mopped floor and now she wants him to finish the job. “It’s just a bit of mud,” she says, throwing his words back at him. Dani and Flora are now left to go get the doll from the cellar, another spot that the little girl doesn’t like going. “It’s perfectly dreadful,” she says before repeating the same phrase again. She’d rather stay with Owen, who she is obsessed with. It’s kind of cute, but also a little concerning?
As is the fact that the cellar lightswitch doesn’t work and Dani still goes down there. Seriously, Dani what are you doing to us? When she does find a light she finds the doll sitting perfectly upright in the center of the room, as if it had propped itself up. She grabs it and we see that this cellar is full of dolls that look like a creepy choir all propped up together. Creepier still is Flora’s response to the question of what her doll’s name is. “She can’t remember.” Her powers of protection also don’t seem to work, which is why Flora has been hiding her away.
Miles also hides away in the classroom. When Dani finds him he seems catatonic. He’s thinking back six months ago when he was at his boarding school. He learned about Jesus casting out the demons of men and putting them in pigs who jump into a lake and die. Another deadly lake story that makes you wonder how this particular story from the Gospel connects to Rebecca’s death. Miles’ teacher, Father Stack, is more interested in the different accounts of this story. There are slight variations depending on which Bible you read because man is fallible, Stack says, but the fact that the story, at its core, stays the same with each retelling should make anyone a believer.
Miles is more interested in whether the demons need permission to enter the pigs. They did, Father Stack says. But what about the man, Miles asks, did the demon need permission to enter him? Man is free to make his own choices, he tells the young boy, which is why the demon did need his permission. “Evil exists and we are tempted,” Father Stack says. “But we are not compelled.” That’s a lot for a little boy to take in, but Father Stack has a reading suggestion for Miles, John 16:22, a Bible passage about death and the sorrow that comes with it. It’s not all doom and gloom, the passage also states that there will be joy again, as hard as that might be to believe in the moment.
Unfortunately, Miles took the Bible’s words to mean he didn’t have to wait to feel the joy of reuniting with those he’s lost, he could join them right now. He climbs up a tree and
falls jumps off. He only breaks his arm, but it’s clear his intentions were far more bleak. “I was just looking for the right key,” he mutters under his breath.
Miles is surrounded by people who want to help, but he isn’t ready to take it. He attacks his friend, but Father Stack shows empathy for his situation. He lets him know we all do bad things sometimes, but it’s that remorse, “that’s what distinguishes us in God’s eyes.” The only innocents are animals and the unborn, the rest of us are not blameless. With that reasoning, Miles questions whether what Jesus did to those pigs was really fair. “Maybe not,” Father Stack says. “The Lord works in mysterious ways.” A cliché but a true one. Also true, he says, death is something to mourn and not something to fear.
Miles knows his parents aren’t coming back and while Father Stack tells him they’re in a better place, he has a hard time understanding why the bad ones get to come back. Father Stack doesn’t question what he means. Who are the bad ones who have returned? Is he talking of the demons of the Gospel or has seen these demons himself? Worse, does he feel possessed? That question might seem silly until Miles kills Father Stacks’ bird.
The priest doesn’t want to see Miles get suspended for what he did, but he also doesn’t think an apology will quite do the trick. It’s just the first step “towards some kind of absolution towards grace,” he tells the boy. He wants him to know that he can be forgiven. He doesn’t believe Miles is a bad kid because of this. Flora said something similar. That he is good, but sometimes does bad things like throwing her doll down the laundry chute.
However, the headmaster needs him to apologize for killing the bird. “Dead doesn’t mean gone,” Miles says before giving the most #sorrynotsorry apology. “I’m sorry I didn’t do worse. Cut off his head, spread out the insides, or burn it.” It’s that which leads to his expulsion. He does apologize to Father Stack, telling him he did it to find his key, but it’s too late. It was hard to explain why Miles had done this, the narrator says, but a letter from Flora did offer a clue. Her message was “come home” alongside drawings of her, her brother, and a figure with its face blacked out.
The story returns to 1987 where Flora is playing with her dolls, specifically a little baby doll in yellow. Miles’ room is spic and span thanks to his boarding school years and Mrs. Grose is staring at a crack in the kitchen tile. Bly Manor’s staff is pleased that Dani put the kids to work — a first it seems. Mrs. Grose doesn’t like to see them punished, even if they did lock Dani in a closet. “You can’t give them a pass forever,” Jamie says before sipping the gin and tonic Owen made her. Mrs. Grose passes, “Gin is a sad drink.” But it is a good drink for gossiping, and these three are happy to talk about whether Dani is too pretty for this job. Jamie specifically wants Owen to talk about how pretty Dani is. “Romances don’t end well at Bly,” Mrs. Grose says. Already, we know one romance that ended in a lost life.
After tidying the garden, Flora cleans up Dani’s room going so far to try on a pair of glasses in her suitcase. One glass is cracked, but Flora says they were like that when she found them. Dani gently removes them and puts them on her dresser. She looks freaked out by the eyewear. Jamie finds Dani outside panicking and tries to calm her down, admitting she finds herself crying multiple times per day. It’s how she waters the plants. She’s also handy with tile which is why Mrs. Grose asked her to check out the crack in the kitchen. When she gets there though it’s gone. However, Dani’s shadowy figure with the glowing eyes is back.
If you thought that would be the weirdest thing that happens in this episode, think again. It’s Miles making a move on Dani. He brings her flowers as a mea culpa, leaning in close to whisper in Dani’s ear before tucking a loose hair behind it. It’s a flirty move that feels way too advanced for such a young boy. Jamie’s response to him cutting her flowers also feels out of the ordinary. But Dani understands her frustrations and believes Miles needs to be taught a lesson. She also has set up a surprise for the kiddos that she asks Mrs. Grose to take part in. Just like the G&T and the dinners, the housekeeper passes. She seems a little jittery, disoriented, but says it’s just lack of sleep.
Dani uses her time to play a game with the kids, a reward for clean-up duty. Flora is worried the game will keep them from getting to bed on time. She looks at the doll under the dresser. They decide to play hide-and-seek and like, are you kidding me? In this gigantic haunted house?
Without turning a single light on, the kids run off. Flora goes to the old wing. Dani ends up in the classroom, but as she searches we see someone wandering the halls behind her. She keeps searching, realizing the kids might be where they shouldn’t be. “O Willow Waly” starts playing out of a jewelry box and Dani follows the music to the old wing. Flora is once again singing the song, she seems possessed. Soon we hear another, reedier voice harmonizing with her. Dani finds a Polaroid in the jewelry box and we see a woman and a man in a white shirt (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), the same one she saw earlier.
We again hear the strangled singing. Flora turns and shushes a woman who is laying on the floor behind her. The little girl keeps on humming like she’s in a trance. Dani keeps staring at the photo until Miles scares the bejeezus out of her. He puts his forearm around her throat and tells her to run and hide. She urges him to “ease up” on her neck, but he keeps tightening his grip before running off. Dani begins to worry about Flora, but also starts to notice the wind whipping through the house and the creaking. She turns to see a smiling man in the window, the same guy in the photo and on the parapet, staring at her before he disappears. She grabs one of the fire pokers and runs outside. She threatens to call the police, but before she can Miles appears in the window to tell her he’s not feeling well.
He collapses and Mrs. Grose suddenly appears. Dani tells her that he was the same man from before. Miles awakens to see the man in the window staring back at him. There’s nothing more frightening than a cheshire grin.
More to come. Check back for the full season recap on Oct. 13.
If you are thinking about suicide, please call Crisis Services Canada at 1-833-456-4566 at any time or text 45645 between 4 p.m. and 12 a.m. ET. Residents of Quebec, please call 1-866-277-3553.