Netflix’s The Haunting of Bly Manor is every bit a whodunnit as it is a what-did-they-do. Those looking for answers to some of those questions should read our recap of episode one “The Great Good Place”.
As was the case with the premiere, Bly Manor’s second episode is more of a slow burn when compared to the bombastic trajectory of season one. Instead, we are treated to even more backstory, this time focusing on the elder Wingrave orphan, Miles (newcomer Benjamin Evan Ainsworth), and his short time away at boarding school. What is divulged during the episode is not quite as satisfying as one might hope as it results in more questions than it does answers, which, at this point in the series, doesn’t seem too alarming given that there are seven episodes remaining. What remains to be clear is whether the slower pace will pay off in any significant way.
Overall, if the first two episodes are anything to go by, it appears that Bly Manor has traded in some of the horror elements from season one for plot points that are rooted in dramatic tension.
Before going into additional detail, from this point forward, those wishing to avoid spoilers of any kind should stop reading now and return after having finished the second episode, “The Pupil”.
A Walk in the Garden
From the start, we pick up directly where the first episode leaves off. Someone (or something?) has tracked copious amounts of mud into and throughout the manor. Dani (Victoria Pedretti), the children’s Au Pair, is alarmed and slightly outraged at the disturbance, but housekeeper Hannah (T’Nia Miller) seems merely bemused, stating that the children are known for their midnight treks into the muddy gardens.
Then there’s the whole mess about the doll that Flora (Amelie Bea Smith of Peppa Pig fame) seems intent on keeping close. Why is she so particular with it and why does Miles throw it down the laundry chute into the basement? It is unclear if this action was intended to be harmful or protective.
Then there is the basement itself, where something is most definitely off. Flora refuses to follow Dani down to the cellar to retrieve her doll for it is “perfectly dreadful” down there. We learn that this is for good reason, as it doesn’t take a keen eye to see the inhuman movement coming from within the toys stacked in the shadowed corner.
For their recent actions, the children are punished by Dani and are to cleanup their mess, a task that is usually seen to by the manor’s staff. For their part in the chaos, the children appear solemn but say truly little in the way of explanation. Additionally, not much is divulged about their reasons for locking Dani inside a closet. We are left little time to ponder on these thoughts, however, for it is now time for a flashback…
Traveling back a short six months, we find Miles Wingrave, a student at a catholic boarding school. From the start he appears to be the perfect student, asking intelligent questions and engaging in Father Stack’s (Jim Piddock) lesson on casting out demons. The content of the lesson itself seems like an ominous premonition of things to come, especially given Miles’ fascination with the subject matter.
We also learn that classes have just resumed from Christmas break and that Miles has already received correspondence form Flora, his sister. From this point forward, Miles sets out on a trajectory of self-destruction that is hard to explain. He climbs a tree and falls (or rather jumps), miraculously only injuring an arm. That night, we are introduced to his bunkmate, a boy who so graciously allows Miles to take over the lower bunk while offering words of compassion, that one would almost wish they too had such a friend. For his kindness, Miles strangles his bunkmate unconscious.
These antics are troubling for Father Stack who explains he has intervened on Miles behalf and indicates that Miles is on thin ice with the school. Miles in turn strangles Father Stack’s beloved pet bird and leaves it’s body on the church alter. The school administration demands an apology, which Miles complies with, adding that he is in fact sorry; sorry that he didn’t rip out the bird’s insides or decapitate it’s head.
Miles is finally expelled. Before being sent away, he cryptically tells Father Stack that he acted in such a manner because he needed to “find the key”. What this means is not yet clear.
The only redeeming evidence as to why Miles so aggressively sought out expulsion is found within the letter that Flora sent on the first day of school. Found by his recovering bunkmate, Flora’s letter simply states “come home” with a drawing of what seems to be herself and two adults, one, a woman who appears to be crying, the other a man, who is smiling.
Hide and Freak Out
Jumping forward six months, we find the Wingrave children properly punished, cleaned, and ready for bed. But wait, there’s more! Dani has planned a surprise for the children as a reward for good behavior(what good behavior they’ve depicted is unclear: refer to the locked closet and muddy floors). The children choose the perfect game for a haunted house: hide and seek!
The Wingraves set off throughout the manor, shutting off all the lights as they go. This ought to immediately register to Dani as a poor decision, but poor decisions seldom register for those who find themselves in a horror story, and a horror story this is.
We follow Dani about the dark manor, passing suspicious shapes and overlooking blatantly placed ghosts. Upon entering the forbidden wing of the house, Dani locates a polaroid of a man (Oliver Jackson-Cohen The Invisible Man, The Haunting of Hill House) and woman whom appear to have taken the world’s first known selfie. We must make mental notes on the couple’s identity for later because all thought is interrupted, alongside Dani’s oxygen supply, by a tightened arm around her neck; the arm belonging to none other than our favorite sadistic pupil, Miles Wingrave.
Upon releasing Dani, Miles tauntingly leads chase throughout the house, ultimately leading her into a room with an exterior window, behind which stands peering in, the man in the polaroid. The man’s face is distorted through the opaque glass, but he is without a doubt grinning as only a maniacal fiend with murderous intent would. Or maybe, he’s just happy. Nevertheless, Dani is alarmed by his sudden appearance and runs outside to confront him but finds the yard empty.
From this side of the glass looking in, Dani observes Miles, who claims to feel unwell before falling into a heap on the floor. Back inside, Dani frantically tries to administer aid to Miles, unaware that the boy has reopened his eyes and is amidst a stare-off with the face in the window who has now reappeared.
There are so many more questions now than what we had before, and so few answers given. Who’s routinely tracking mud throughout the manor? Who, or what, is hiding amongst the forgotten toys in the basement? Why does housekeeper Hannah see the same cracked shape in various walls and surfaces (and why does she still refuse to consume food and beverages?)? Who is the ghost in the attic with whom Flora seems so casually acquainted? And probably the most important question of them all: how long would one reasonably remain at such an employment when there’s so much obviously wrong?
Here’s to hoping that all this and more will be answered in the episodes to follow.
Austen Miles is a husband, father, and writer. He can be found on Twitter: @austen_miles, and on Instagram: austenmiles.