(Slight spoilers ahead!)
The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020) is a nuanced commentary on the many different types of love and how powerful they can be, including how powerful the loss of love can be. Directed and written by Mike Flanagan, previously known for his work on The Haunting of Hill House (2018), The Haunting of Bly Manor is based on the Henry James novella The Turn of the Screw. It is a story of grief, loss, and love, and it lives up to the standard Flanagan has previously set with the first installation of The Haunting series.
The story begins with Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti) taking a job as an au pair for the Wingrave children, Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) and Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth), after they have suffered the loss of their parents and their previous caregiver. It is repeated various times throughout the series that people are never really gone, no matter how they leave us. This message is woven through every aspect of the story and a major focus of the series. It reiterates how loved ones stick with us through people or things that remind us of them, through our own emotions, and, most importantly, through our own memories, scenes our minds have carefully chosen to preserve the memory of someone we miss.
However, The Haunting of Bly Manor illustrates how captivating a memory can be. Its characters become trapped in their subconscious, in a desperate grasp to preserve their love for someone else. This love is so powerful that it drives them all to act in a seemingly irrational manner. This aspect is similar to The Haunting of Hill House, in which Olivia Crain (Carla Gugino) is manipulated through the love of her family, to the point where they end up in danger because of it.
Similar to its predecessor, this series is extremely focused on the dynamics between its characters. In Hill House, the story is focused on the Crain family, specifically the relationships between the siblings and their relationship to their parents. Straying from this dynamic, Bly Manor focuses more on romantic relationships, such as the ones between Hannah Grose (T’nia Miller) and Owen (Rahul Kohli), Rebecca Jessel (Tahirah Sharif) and Peter Quint (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), and Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti) and Jamie (Amelia Eve). Hannah Grose is the housekeeper, who has seemingly had some sort of long-lasting relationship with Owen, the cook. In her memories, she always comes back to him, in a specific flashback of the day she hired him. This romance is shown as a somewhat confusing, but stable type of love, a vast contrast from the manipulative love of Rebecca Jessel and Peter Quint. Rebecca was the previous au pair, who fell into a whirlwind romance with Peter Quint, a business associate of the family and a former Bly Manor employee. It becomes clear that Peter Quint has affected her, as the other employees at Bly Manor take note of, and she becomes seemingly less of herself because of it. This unglamourous love manipulates her into decisions she can never escape. Finally, there is the relationship between Dani and Jamie, a patient, sacrificial, and forgiving love, conflicting with that of their pasts.
The biggest difference between the two series is what is haunting the characters and how they deal with it. In The Haunting of Hill House, the Crains are haunted by personal traumas and ghosts of their pasts, while coping with it through familial love. The Haunting of Bly Manor deals with death and grief, showing how people cope with the loss of a loved one through new love and how some people can never truly let go of those they have lost. Instead of focusing on blood-related family, it focuses on chosen families. In addition to this, they are both anxiety-provoking in different ways. The Haunting of Bly Manor invokes fear in the way that it illustrates how temporary life can be and how overwhelming the grief of that can become, while The Haunting of Hill House is more direct in its confrontations with fear and personal struggles themselves.
Mike Flanagan, the director and writer of both The Haunting series, has a knack for complex characters and emotions, with his directing style only accentuating this. The shows are so easily watchable, with captivating dialogue and a constantly unfolding story that keeps the viewer engaged and inquisitive. With countless mysteries gradually unfolding, and dynamics between characters growing, The Haunting of Bly Manor is methodical in its story-telling. The chilling score, created by the Newton Brothers, only adds to this effect: it is emotion-evoking and hauntingly beautiful. The Haunting of Bly Manor is a commendable stand-alone series. It’s important to note that the two shows are meant to be different; it is not a second season of The Haunting of Hill House. Bly Manor is an emotional, enthralling series, filled with Flanagan’s signatures. His strengths really show through the 9-episode season, and the entire cast showcases their acting abilities to the fullest extent, making each episode more interesting to watch than the last.