Perfectly Splendid? : A Review of Netflix's "The Haunting of Bly Manor"

Last year, I watched and fell in love with Netflix's The Haunting of Hill House, a loose but well-written adaptation of Shirley Jackson's horror novel of the same name. I probably finished Hill House in about a day or two, and since the plot wrapped up really nicely, I was curious to know if there was going to be a second season. 

While the writers decided not to write a second season with the plot and characters of Hill House, they did decide to write a second show with a different plot and characters, naming this one The Haunting of Bly Manor. For this, they chose Henry James's Gothic novella, The Turn of the Screw, again, taking creative liberties to further develop and adapt the story to a modern audience and to make it last for a whole season. 

I won't summarize the show here because I want you guys to watch it for yourselves, but I will be discussing specific aspects of Bly Manor, so if you haven't watched it yet, bookmark this page and return to it after you've finished binging the show! 

Praises for the Show

There were a lot of things that I thought this show did really well and that I really liked, and I'll start here before I get into my critiques of the show. 

1. Returning Actors 

Even though Hill House and Bly Manor are separate works that have nothing to do with each other, I love that the writers chose to have some of the actors from Hill House return in their new show. For me, it just helped to add some contingency between the two shows, even though they aren't connected and can stand alone. I like that the familiar face reappear and it honestly helps to highlight the incredible acting skills of the actors. 

2. LGBTQ+ Representation 

One thing that I really loved about this show was how the LGBTQ+ characters were written. Dani, our main character, struggles with compulsive heterosexuality and struggles with her sexuality in the shots that we get from her backstory. She seems to be from a small town in the US, where she plans to marry her male best friend, but she clearly feels like she is obliged and trapped in this situation. 

This idea probably resonates with a lot of queer viewers who have also struggled or seen friends struggle with compulsive heterosexuality, or just struggled to find attraction to someone that they didn't like because they hadn't figured themselves out yet. I just thought that this was such an important concept to integrate into Dani's background, and it was so much more interesting than her having homophobic friends or family. 

Love is Love board on Pride Flag Sarah Pflug from Burst

3. The Frame Story 

I actually got to read the original text that this show was based on for a class that I am taking on Gothic literature. One thing that we are talking about in this class is the concept of the frame story, which is basically an unrelated set-up that leads into the story. In the original, it opens with a bunch of people deciding to share scary stories to each other, and the story that takes place at Bly Manor is one of those stories. The frame story is really important to Gothic literature, and I think incorporating this aspect really pays homage to the original. 

Criticisms for the Show: 

No show is perfect, so this show is no exception. Here is what I thought didn't go so well for this one. 

1. POC Representation 

While the LGBTQ+ representation is well done, especially with Dani, the way that the people of color are written in this show is... not great. Sure, the show has more racial representation than its predecessor, Hill House, but it isn't handled well. 

In total, there are two black women and one Indian man who are at the forefront of the show and are main characters. All three of them are in positions of servitude. All three of them. There is no reason that these specific characters have to be people of color, and there is no reason that the white characters have to be white. So why is it that the only three characters of color are all servants who work for the rich white characters? 

Further, as if that part wasn't bad enough, the only two black characters, Rebecca Jessel and Hannah Grose, get very brutally murdered on screen. Sure, this is a horror movie, and there are other characters that die, but the audience is forced to watch Rebecca drown and then Hannah get pushed into the bottom of a well, where her body rots for the rest of the show. The black characters just seem to suffer in death more than the white characters, who get much softer, quicker deaths.

Both of these women are also murdered by a white man. Black women face enough violence in reality at the hands of white men, and there is already that trope of black characters dying first in horror movies. The writers of Bly Manor had the opportunity, not only to make choose which characters got to be people of color, but to subvert all of these toxic tropes within the genre. But instead, they lean into those tropes and treat their characters of color, especially the black women, so horribly. Overall, could have been done much better. Much, much better. 

man behind a black lives matter sign Photo by Cottonbro from Pexels

2. Toxic Relationships and Domestic Violence 

Another thing that really bothered me about this show is how Rebecca is murdered. Rebecca dies because her boyfriend, Peter Quint, a white man, is murdered by one of the ghosts in the house and now is bound to the property. He tries to appeal to her to get her to stay with him forever, but she has big dreams of being a lawyer. Throughout the show, Peter is always undermining Rebecca's goals and dreams, instead making them seem hopeless and that his way is the only way if they want to succeed. He is demanding and forceful with Rebecca, pushing her to do things that she doesn't want to do, like riffle through the dead parents' things and have sex when she doesn't want to. 

Over and over, Peter uses her. Once he realizes that he cannot leave the property, he decides that he doesn't want to be alone, he possesses Rebecca so that she doesn't know that he is murdering her. It is so awful and painful, and I think that if the writers really wanted to kill Rebecca, they could have done it in a way that fit the genre a bit better, like have her be killed by the ghosts, instead of reducing her to forever be a victim of her manipulative boyfriend. 

3. Explanation of Peter's Motives

The main conflict of the show is that Peter Quint keeps trying to possess the children and wants to kill their souls so that he can have their body. There are many points where Miles does a lot of bad things under the possession of Quint, like murder Hannah, and this becomes a main factor in the suspense aspect of the show. 

However, as the show reaches its climax and things start to fall into place, it is never really explained why Peter needs to kill Miles's soul and take full control over his body. It has already been established that the ghosts in the house can't leave the property, even if they are possessing a living person. And at that point, the stakes are really high as Dani and the others try to stop Peter from killing Miles. However, this conflict and tension doesn't really seem to exist for any other reason than to add suspense to the show. It just falls short. There is no reason for Peter to really fight back after he is defeated. It is just a one-and-done deal, and since there was so much lead up to this part in the show, it just wasn't satisfying. 

Despite all of my critiques, I still really enjoyed this show. I was very invested in the characters and really interested to see similarities to the original novella. Once I started this show, I seriously couldn't stop, so I still recommend it. I just recommend it with a grain of salt and warning that this show is not free of imperfections, like any other show that exists.