I’m all for giving people second chances. Sometimes things just get off on the wrong foot and first impressions turn sour. There’s a level of grace and maturity that comes with giving someone a shot at redemption. But sometimes, a person shows you exactly who they are right away and no amount of second, third or fourth chances will change that. If that person’s name is Miles Wingrave, then that’s most certainly the case.
Remember how Miles and his little sister Flora locked their nanny, Dani, in a closet for hours on end at the conclusion of the first episode? Well, no matter how often he says he’s sorry or how oddly formal the apologies may be, I’m not buying it. But that won’t stop Dani from trying to bring out the best in the children.
Episode 2 picks up the morning after the kids’ late-night shenanigans, and there are muddy footprints to be cleaned. Instead of simply letting the housekeeper, Ms. Grose, mop up the mess, Dani is using the cleaning as punishment and a chance to teach the children a lesson. While cleaning, Miles insists everything that happened last night was an accident – that the door shut itself and the lock was jammed. Again, not buying it. Before he can even finish apologizing, though, Miles is acting out again, this time tossing one of Flora’s dolls (the creepy one from under the dresser, to be precise) down the laundry shoot and into the basement.
Great. As if this mansion wasn’t already creepy enough, it’s got a dark and dusty basement, too. Right as Flora and Dani are about to head down to retrieve her doll, the little girl backs out, calling the basement “perfectly dreadful.” How convenient. Now we can all but guarantee something horrific will happen to Dani while she’s down there all alone. Still, the young governess forges onward and downward into the shadowy abyss where Flora’s doll is waiting for her. Conveniently, the toy landed standing up, but something tells me this isn’t a coincidence – something likely helped it achieve that position. Oh, maybe it’s that massive pile of dolls lurking in the corner? As Dani grabs the doll and heads back upstairs, the camera hesitates on the pile for a few seconds longer, until one of the many toys begins to move. It’s really like demented “Toy Story” up in Bly Manor!
After the close call in the basement, “The Haunting of Bly Manor” bucks its present day narrative and winds the clock back six months in order to shed a bit of light on what could be at the root of Miles’s disruptive behaviour. While Episode 1 focused on establishing Flora, this episode is her brother’s time to shine, and it starts at boarding school – that’s right, the one Miles was expelled from. We join Miles in the middle of a class discussing the Biblical story of the Miracle of the Swine, in which Jesus exorcised demons from a man and into a herd of swine, which then ran into a lake and drowned.
Miles is intrigued by the demons – a totally, completely normal thing for a young boy to be – and inquires if the evil spirits need permission to enter a host or whether they can just barge right into a person. The teacher reveals that demons do, in fact, need permission to take over a body, and if I had to bet, I’d say it’s only a matter of time until Miles swings the door wide open to host a good old fashion demon party.
After class, the teacher gives Miles a letter sent from Flora back at home, and while the contents are not revealed, they clearly strike a chord with Miles as his behavior takes a dramatic negative turn. During a recess break, Miles and his classmate Hooper (Rhys Slack) are climbing a tree, but instead of navigating his way back down once they reach the top, Miles opts to free fall from the branches. The fall lands Miles’s arm in a sling, and chatter spreads through the school. Multiple people saw the boy drop on his own accord, but the accident is spun as if Miles slipped and fell. It seems like Miles has a pattern of trying to convince others that his intentional actions are innocent accidents…
But that’s only the start of his troublesome behavior. We next see Miles picking a fight with Hooper which ends up in him choking out the boy who seemed to be his closest friend. Still, we’re not to the worst of it yet. One night, Miles sneaks into the school’s cathedral and leaves a present at the altar: his teacher’s pet bird… dead. He’s quickly caught and punished for his behavior, but what seems like an apology quickly turns darker. “I’m sorry,” Miles says. “Sorry I didn’t do worse,” claiming he wished he had cut off the bird’s head and disemboweled it. If that’s not enough to get you expelled, then I don’t know what is. Remember that demon party? The invites are definitely in the mail.
Voiceover from the Storyteller kicks in and it’s finally revealed what was in the note from Flora that could have led to this sort of behavior – a stick-figure drawing of Flora crying next to a man, presumably her uncle, and a woman, potentially Ms. Grose. The figures are accompanied by two words: COME HOME. So was Miles behavior actually horrific, or just a ploy to earn a one way ticket back to Bly Manor?
Back in the present day, Dani has put the kids to work. Not just mopping, but now they’re giving the gardener, Jamie (Amelia Eve), the day off as they get their hands dirty working in the soil. From a table nearby, Jamie, Ms. Grose and Owen, the chef, look on as they share their feelings on Dani’s new and improved nannying style. The women ask Owen whether or not he finds Dani attractive, but before he can give an answer, Ms. Grose reminds him of an ominous message: “Romances don’t fare well at Bly.” Once again, a likely reference to the fate of the late Miss Jessel.
The chores continue and Flora tidies up Dani’s bedroom, but in the process finds a pair of broken glasses Dani had tucked away. With the glasses on, Flora greets Dani, and the governess is clearly shaken. Actually, she launches into a full-on breakdown, dashing out of the house to get a bit of fresh air and privacy. But Jamie quickly encounters Dani, and the gardener who just yesterday completely ignored Dani, provides a comforting shoulder to cry on. The two share a tender moment as they mutually complain about the children, and it looks like Dani has regained her composure. Welp, it wouldn’t be an episode of “Bly Manor” without a Shadow Boy sighting. While washing her hands, Dani is once again confronted by the mysterious, mirror-bound silhouette, and there goes the composure.
Later that evening, the crew is gathered in the kitchen prepping for dinner. The phone rings and Flora answers to no response – a ghost dial, if you will – and Miles asks for a word in private with Dani. Could this be? Has Miles turned the page? He offers a sincere apology, sharing his deep regret for last night’s incidents and explaining that he often feels the need to play “games” to keep Flora entertained because she simply misses Miss Jessel too much. What a sweet young boy, right? Then he gives Dani flowers, beckons her closer, whispers in her ear and strokes her face, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. Oh, and in order to get those roses, he ruined Jamie’s flower bed. Remember what I said about first impressions? This kid is messed up.
As night falls, Dani rewards the children for their hard work by letting them choose a game to play. At Flora’s request, they settle on hide and seek. Always a brilliant selection to play in a dark, unfamiliar, and likely haunted mansion! HELL. NO.
Dani wanders through the hallways searching for the children, but a hidden guest is following her – our first look at Miss Jessel, played by Tahirah Sharif. Naturally, Dani’s search leads her back to the forbidden wing of the house, and if that wasn’t enough to get your blood pumping, a music box lures her deeper by playing “O Willow Waly,” the song quoted at the series’ start. Dani finds the music box, and inside it are photographs of Miss Jessel cuddled up with a man – the mysterious man from the parapet, actually. Flora’s humming joins the melody emanating from the box, and before long, it’s accompanied by a wheezing, groaning voice, too. Flora turns around to shush the disturbing sound, and it’s… a terrifying, faceless, human-sized doll? Whatever it is, it listens to Flora, and the doll lays back down.
While Dani continues to look through the photographs, that little shit Miles sneaks up behind her, jumps on her back and puts her in a headlock. To him, it’s all fun and games as he tells her it’s now her turn to run and hide, but Dani is clearly struggling, begging for him to ease up his grip. He finally frees her and sprints from the room with Dani in pursuit, but when she reaches the manor’s entryway, Miles is nowhere to be found. But when one terrifying boy vanishes, another appears, and it’s the parapet man outside the window. Dani grabs a fireplace poker and runs to confront him, but once outside, he too is gone.
Miles reappears inside and tells Dani through the window that he doesn’t feel well before promptly passing out and crumpling to the floor. Dani rushes to his aid alongside Ms. Grose, and when he comes to, the sinister-looking man is once again outside the window staring directly at Miles.
What served mainly as an expository episode diving into Miles’s dark history quickly escalated into a pulse-pounding conclusion. It’s safe to say “Bly Manor” is already hitting its spooky stride.
- During the classroom scene detailing the Miracle of the Swine, the teacher makes it a point of emphasis that the story was included in three different books of the Bible, each with different details included. This may be reading too much into a minute detail, but if we’re going by Chekhov’s gun, then this emphasis on varying accounts of the same event could come into play regarding our own story here.
- I said it last time, and I’ll say it again: Something is up with Ms. Grose. She didn’t pass up any meals this episode, but she did opt to turn in early and not participate in any nighttime activities. We know she’s still around at night, seeing as she rushed to Miles’s aid when he fainted, but she knows something about what’s going on here that’s keeping her away.
- Love is in the air. It’s now all but confirmed that the man Miss Jessel was infatuated with is the same man who appeared on the parapet and outside the window. My money is on him being some sort of ghost, spirit or demon, and that his supernatural being drove Jessel to end her life in pursuit of uniting herself with him. Now, it seems he has his eyes on Dani as his next love interest. Plus, there’re definitely some feelings beginning to grow from Owen towards Dani.
Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Raleigh, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.