Once inside, the mystery deepens as Bly Manor slowly develops a fascinating character of its own over the course of the season’s nine episodes. There are strange supernatural happenings during the day, but especially at night. However, unlike Hill House in which we saw a terrifying crooked-neck lady or a frightening slender man with a bowler hat roam the halls, Bly is less showy with its ghost than its predecessor. Sure, there’s a faceless lady in the lake and a sense of impending doom around every corner, but there’s really nothing scary that’s jumping out at you or chasing small children down the hall this time around. The lackluster amount of scares is disappointing since Hill House set a high bar with some big scares sprinkled throughout the series.
While I wish Bly Manor raised my adrenaline a bit more at times, Flanagan is loyally following in the footsteps of original author Henry James in this regard. That means it leans into its Gothic horror roots, rather than the more in your face fare we typically see today, including a fair amount in Hill House.However, although this story is completely separate from Hill House, Flanagan successfully employs some of his best storytelling techniques used in Season 1, like bouncing through time in order to offer more revelatory context and depth to each character. Each backstory is carefully crafted in such a way that, by the end of the series you have a strong sense of why each character made the decisions that they did.
Underneath the horror, Bly Manor is really a love story. And apart from the supernatural oddities happening all around the estate, Flanagan seems more fixated on exploring the complex relational aspects of his characters and finding unsettling elements within them more than telling an effective ghost story. It’s in these dynamic relationships, like the friendship between Hanna and Bly Manor’s chef, Owen (Rahul Kohli), where the show has some of its most compelling moments. There’s nothing grandiose here, just two people engaged in conversations about life in Paris and a longing for better things. These are very subtle character-building moments here, but Kohli and Miller’s chemistry is palpable.
There’s also a strong family dynamic between Flora, Miles, and their uncle Henry Wingrave (Henry Thomas, aka young Hugh Crain in Hill House). While the kids are being raised by Dani at Bly Manor in the country, Henry is married to his work in London and hasn’t seen his niece or nephew since their parents died. Thomas gives an impactful performance as he convincingly portrays his character’s struggle to wrestle with his own inner demons. However, even with Flanagan’s use of flashbacks to offer more context, Henry’s story feels like it’s part of a different show due to the degree to which he’s disconnected from everyone else at Bly Manor. The series never quite reaches the emotional heights of the Crain family dynamic from Hill House, but it gets pretty close.
The Haunting of Hill House Season 2: First Look at The Haunting of Bly Manor