Episodes 4, 5, and 6 of the Haunting of Bly Manor are a solid second act that deepens the story and drops the scares almost entirely.
Most films follow a three act structure. The second act is typically used to deepen the conflict and offer more complications. The second section of The Haunting of Bly Manor feels like it fits that description exactly. These episodes are about offering backstories and adding deeper complications to the plot. The story becomes more labyrinthine in these episodes. The explain a lot and unearth even more questions. They also embrace Mike Flanagan’s love of twisting time to create a tense and disorienting viewing experience.
I will try to avoid spoilers, but the rest of the review will be brad downs of each episode individually. I can’t promise something spoiler like won’t slip out. Proceed with caution.
The fourth episode focuses on Dani. It explains who Dani was before coming to Bly Manor and what drove this young American teacher to flee her country and take a job in remotest Britain. The episode employs a familiar flashback setup. Dani’s backstory is revealed in flashbacks that seem to be inspired by moments in Dani’s current life. She has a complicated and tragic backstory, because of course she does. This episode raises some interesting ideas about what ghosts really are. Are they the spirits of the deceased, or are they the manifestation of trauma that we carry with us? This episode argues the latter. Ghosts are not the spirits of the living by the memories we refuse to let go. We are haunted by our worst moments and not by the people who have passed. This episode is the least scary so far. There are some good jolts, but for the most part it’s all about the backstory.
The fifth episode really takes a turn into the surreal. It focuses on Hannah, the caretaker and reveals her backstory and answers a few questions about her odd behavior throughout the series thus far. The filmmaking here is very interesting. Hannah walks through her own memories. A scene takes place, and Hannah walks out of the room and into a different memory, a different time, and a different drama. So much is explained and yet so much more is left unexplained. It is opens up so many questions that hopefully will be answered in the final episodes of the show. The storytelling here is confusing at times. I got lost and my attention waned in the middle as it felt like the story was spinning its wheels. However, that confusion is paid of big time as the nature of Hannah’s memories come in to sharp relief. It becomes one of the most unsettling and frightening episodes of the series.
The sixth episode of the series is more backstory. By the time I got to this episode, I was ready to move on. We keep getting back story, it’s time to progress the plot proper and gets things moving again. This episode employs an inventive strategy to carry the audience through the memories and flashbacks. The episode focuses mainly on Henry Wingrave, played by Henry Thomas. He is the uncle of Flora and Miles the creepy kids of Bly Manor. His story offers up a lot of answers as well as a lot more questions. The biggest question is why is he here? His story is actually very compelling. It’s a deeply affecting story of a broken man who is broken by his own misdeeds. He is a picture of what guilt and shame does to someone. However, he hasn’t been important to the story thus far. He has been completely removed from the action. Getting his own episode feels like a weird tangent. The episode isn’t entirely his. Other plots are progressed, and different characters get the spotlight at different moments, but the episode feels like his. Hopefully, it pays off.
Hopefully, the series is just ramping up to a big finish. There are only three episodes left. I’m hoping we get some more explanations and some more big scares. The manor is filled with spirits, and none of them have gotten enough screen time. There is so much potential here. I hope the series takes advantage of that potential in these final episodes.