S1: I want you my, my, now I see.
S2: Charlotte, Braiden, Fábio, I am. What’s in the box, you know, you’re blowing up your house.
S3: Hello and welcome to Slate spoiler specials. I’m Sam Adams, the senior editor at Slate. And today we are spoiling the haunting of Ballymena, the Netflix adaptation of Henry James, The Turn of the Screw. Joining me to talk about it is Slate’s book critic, Laura Miller. Laura, hello. Hi, Sam. Let’s start off in traditional fashion. What did you think of the hunting implementor, Laura?
S4: I didn’t love this. There were parts of it that I admired. I thought that the performance of the little boy who plays Miles, Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, was really remarkable because he had to switch between being a child and being a child, sort of possessed by an adult man. And I do like Victoria Pedretti, who plays the Danny Governess character, but I just I don’t know. I feel like my ability to assess it is so dominated by my love of the novella, the Henry James novella Turn of the Screw that it’s based on. And I had a hard time getting past the ways that it wasn’t quite as interesting as that book. It’s a classic problem.
S3: We should mention right up front that this is sort of, I guess, a sequel or a continuation of the haunting of Hill House, which was on Netflix two years ago, has the same creator, Mike Flanagan, and the same basic premise, which is he’s taking sort of an iconic, really foundational work of horror. That was the Shirley Jackson novel. In this case. It is. So technically, the credit is based on the work of Henry James. It’s probably, I don’t know, 75 percent, the turn of the screw, and that he works in some of James’s other ghost stories and goes off and has very much in his own directions, which Hillhouse did as well. But this is a little bit more of a there’s a little bit more of a melting pot, I guess, of Henry James Yianna. I liked Hillhouse a lot, but it was a kind of a strange thing to explain because I thought the whole thing worked very well while at the same time a lot of the parts didn’t like I didn’t actually think most of the performances in it, for example, were really like any good at all. Carla Gugino was great. And then other than that, it really fell off very dramatically. This, I feel like works in a lot of smaller parts, work much better. You mentioned Benjamin Haynesworth, who plays Myles Vettori. Pedretti, who plays the main character named Danny Clayton in this adaptation is great. Tanya Miller, who plays Mrs. Gross, the housekeeper is wonderful. There’s a number of cast members who carry over from Hillhouse in Oliver. Jackson Cohen is one of them. He plays Peter Quint in this. And he was so I thought so bad. Hillhouse In part because he was he’s English and he was saddled with this very kind of bad American accent. You saddled with a Scottish accent in this one, but I think pulled that off a lot better. And it just really well, I should say eight nights of it works very well for me. We’ll get to the other one night in due time.
S4: And Sam, you’ve got to admit, there are some bad fake English accents in this one.
S3: I mean, I think they’re they’re not terrible for the most part. There are a couple of bad ones, but I don’t think they’re as bad as like the fake American accents in Hillhouse. So I and I did in some cases have to kind of look up like who you know, some of the fake accents where like I was suspicious of some in some cases I was suspicious that that turned out to be wrong. So I think they were maybe just, you know, English actors putting on a different English accent was a little of the history, the turn of the screw to begin with, like why it’s such an important novella, both in terms of Henry James work and in terms of the history of horror or as the creators of Blindman, it would very much refer to it Gothic Romance.
S4: The Turn of the Screw is a novella about a governess who takes a job in a remote country house from a man who is the guardian of two small children and who does not want to be bothered at all with any of the details of their care. So she sort of sent off to sort of raise them and told not to bother him at all. You know, her only real companion in the place is the housekeeper, a woman named Mrs Gross, who has the same name in Bly Manor. And what she learns is that the previous governess had an illicit affair with the gardener. The previous governess was named Miss Jessel, and the gardener was named Peter Quint. And this is treated as a extremely depraved situation. You know that Miss Jessel and Peter Quint are completely corrupt for having this affair, which sort of crosses the boundaries of both class and obviously its its adulterous. And this novel was published in the 19th century. So clearly a different standard of sexual morality obtained. But then. She finds out that the boy has done something unspecified that was very terrible at school and gotten expelled, and she begins to wonder if the children have been corrupted in some way by their exposure to this couple, and then she starts to see apparitions of the couple. And the really important thing to remember about Turn of the Screw is that it is never clear whether the governess has just lost it alone in the country by herself obsessing about this illicit sexual relationship and convincing herself that she is the heroine of a, you know, a battle for the souls of these children. And therefore, she is guilty of the tragic conclusion of the novel in one of the child’s death or the haunting is real and she simply fails to save him. And that has been hugely influential that I think that, you know, when the novel was first published, it’s really not clear what James intended. He didn’t really discuss it much. And in one letter, he described it as a potboiler. So he may have always meant the ghost to be real. But in the 20th century, when James in the early 20th century, when James became like this object of worship for all American fiction writers, the possibility that the governess was mad and that the ghost didn’t exist became a very commonly accepted interpretation of the story. But the fact that you can’t tell whether she’s being haunted or she’s losing her mind is is the thing that makes the novella so unsettling. Now, when we read it now.
S3: One of the interesting things about Blyer manner as you watch it and knowing the liberties that Mike Flanagan and his team took with the haunting of Hill House in the first series, which included, among other things, changing the last word of the most famous line from Shirley Jackson’s novel, which even as some of it is very much not, appears throughout adaptations, I found to be kind of a slap in the face. Yeah, but, you know, this one begins with the framing story, begins with Carla Gugino as the narrator. And I think we eventually find out. Twenty seven. It’s about 20 years after the events of the kind of main story at a wedding in America, kind of sitting everybody down around the fire and telling them the story. And that is basically how James’s story begins. It’s not a wedding, but is it kind of a bunch of travelers at an end? And so it’s kind of a doubly framed. You have a storyteller who’s telling the story. The title of the novella comes from her words. It’s you know, those stories are scary, but you add a child and that is another turn of the screw. And what if they were two children, yet another. So it’s sort of multiple layers of uncertainty there. And it’s also written in. And I will defer to you a little bit on the description of the style, but it’s written in what I found, having just read it. I mean, this kind of absurdly ornate style where I found myself like it’s an effort just to kind of find the subject of a sentence because it might be after, like two sets of dashes and five semicolons, like four lines into it. And I mean, that’s just interesting, but kind of absurd. And the only way the only rationale I could come up with for that other than that, just like this is how John Henry James likes to construct a sentence, is that either the narrator or the governors are both kind of this extreme class anxiety going on, as you mentioned, like Peter Quint, especially in Mistress’, or just supposed to be this by their very presence, this corrupting influence. The governor’s refers to their ghost as abominations without really any grounding, like just their mere existence is this kind of malevolent force in the house. And it feels very much like, you know, the government’s I think we’re led to believe comes from a fairly sort of modest background. But she is still kind of she’s like management in the house, sort of. And they’re they’re more like the help. And there just seems to be like this worry that some sort of power is going to rub off on her. And so she’s either she or the narrator. Both are coming up with these absurdly ornate sentences just to kind of prove that they can, you know, as a kind of class signifier.
S4: Well, I’m going to stop you right there, because that is just how how Henry James writes. And actually this is is not nearly as sort of convoluted and elusive as some of his later works. It’s an acquired taste. Most definitely. I mean, the thing that I think is significant for this conversation is that he he avoids stating things directly. He creates almost a space in which an idea or a feeling can occur rather than pinning that feeling or idea or event down. So obviously, when you’re reading the turn of the screw with 21st century sexual mores, the governor seems super hysterical because she’s so horrified by this sexual relationship, because the governesses were gentle women, they were educated, which meant they were not working class, even if they were poor, whereas gardeners were working class. And there’s not supposed to be this. I mean, she would be regarded as having degraded herself in a serious way, not just by having sex outside of marriage, but by having sex with a working class man. But, you know, none of a lot of this is not stated directly. And that is just James’s technique, which in a way is kind of compatible with certain kinds of ghost stories where because it’s not specific, you know, it’s not crystal clear. And, you know, he’s not denoting things. You create this atmosphere of uncertainty, which is is more unsettling than things that are explicit.
S3: As you wrote in your piece for Slate, where you cover both hillhouse, intern of the Screw and sort of the several various adaptations of them over the years. The kind of psychoanalytic reading of Turn of the Screw is really the one that’s predominated. I think the most famous and certainly most influential adaptation of it is Jack Clayton’s 1961 movie, The Innocence with Deborah Carr, which is kind of a wonderful movie, but it’s just nuts and is really, really tied up in the governances state of mind. Her anxieties, her her panic. It does have this sort of that subjective sense of whether or not the ghosts are real. Every shot of the ghosts in the film, I think, except one is preceded by a shot of her reaction to it. So they’re all framed within her. Yeah. And it seems characteristic of, you know, for good or for ill. Mike Flanagan’s approach to the hunting of blank approach, that it just the show just completely dumps that angle like right from the beginning, practically the first thing we see in this adaptation, the main character whose name is this is Danny Clayton, her last name given in homage to the director of the Innocence, Jack Clayton. Practically the first thing we see as she is in London. She’s an American in London in 1987, going up to her job interview to get this job at Bly Manor. And as she is standing in the street before she’s even gone in London, Black Cab goes by and she sees in the reflection of its windows, sort of the figure with these round glasses that are kind of illuminated by this bright light. Maybe it’s fire, maybe it’s something else. She sees it. We see it. You know, it doesn’t feel like a subjective shot. I mean, it’s not real in the sense that anyone else can see it, but it’s not you know, she’s haunted. She’s not nuts. And I think we know that, like, right from the beginning. So it’s just not interested in that ambiguity element. The ambiguities in it are ambiguities of plot. You know, who are these ghosts, Implementor? What are they doing? What do they want, et cetera. And that’s a very different approach, I guess.
S4: Yeah. And I mean, there’s something to be said for the fact that because this, you know, eight episode series is such a long format, you kind of have to have more. I mean, it was the same with the haunting of Hill House. There’s just so much more plot and so much more almost sort of soap operatic, you know, drama in it than there is in the original, partly just as it has a factor of length. I mean, both the launching of Hillhouse and Turn of the Screw are really short texts with not very many characters and not a lot of complex relationships.
S5: Do you want to walk us through sort of the dramatis personae of this particular adaptation, Laura?
S4: Sure, sure. So Victoria Pedretti plays Danny, who is a kind of an American, can’t remember where she’s from, but she has like a vaguely Southern accent, like she might be from Virginia or something.
S3: Yeah, they don’t say just America.
S4: She’s sort of countryish in a way. She’s not a New Yorker or a West Coast person. So she sort of was kind of gormless, provincial, and she takes a job taking care of these two kids from Henry Wynn grave, who is their uncle. And they live in this big house, Bly Manor. And in the manner she meets the housekeeper, Mrs. Gross, this guy who comes in to cook, Owen, who doesn’t actually stay in the house, but he he’s caring for his mother in the village. And he’s had a sort of cosmopolitan life, but he’s taking a break to take care of her. And then there’s Jamie, played by Amelia Eve, who is the gardener. So there is a kind of an entity emerges her Danis love interest. There is a kind of echo of the Peter Quint Miss Jessel relationship in the novella by having the governess and the Gardener have this affair. But obviously it doesn’t have any of the class issues that it did in the James novel. And Peter Quint is this character who seems to be Henry Thomas’s assistant. You know, he’s at some point someone calls him a butler, but it’s not really clear what his title is. He’s sort of the jack of all trades guy who’s trying to sort of make his fortune, but he’s presented as a sort of lower class chancer, you know, like he’s trying anything he can to sort of get himself out of the slightly shady family background that he apparently has back in Scotland.
S3: So I think what we’ll do is because we obviously can’t deal with all nine episodes individually, is the Hanegbi Manor, like the haunting of Hill House is basically the season kind of splits into around a pivotal fifth episode. It’s the you know, the the beatnik lady in Hillhouse. And in this one, it is called The Altar of the Dead. And we talk about that individually. But basically we have sort of a first half of the season, the first, you know, four episodes bleeding into the fifth. That is kind of introducing us to Bly Manor to this malevolent ghost who we will eventually come to know as the lady in the lake. And then also taking us through flashback the previous stories of particularly Danny, Peter Quint and Miss Jessel, Rebecca Jessel. Rebecca, I think another nod to the sort of a horror classic, the Daphne Damouré novel and the Hitchcock movie, which were both influences here and the back story of Miles and Flora. And these are episodes of kind of we have this menacing presence kind of lurking around the manor. It may be after the children that it may be inhabiting the children. The children may actually be kind of in on it with the malevolent. Presence and Dennie, meanwhile, is kind of dealing with her own anxiety and, you know, as you mentioned, it’s not class in this case, but it’s basically, I don’t know, sort of repressed, internalized homophobia. When we finally find out the identity of this figure who’s been haunting her for the first half of the season, this man with these lit up classes, we find out in her flashback episode that this was her childhood sweetheart, lovely fellow who, you know, she’d known since she was, you know, basically Flores, age eight or 10. He started asking her if she would marry him when they were like 12 or something just because kids do just kind of kept it up. And eventually she says yes, and they’re engaged. And it’s kind of only on the eve of their wedding that she is able to come out and tell him that actually she’s gay and loves him but has no romantic feelings for him. Never will. He is sort of classic horror movie. Fashion gets very upset at this steps right out of the driver’s side of the car and directly into the path of an oncoming truck, which is headlights light up his glasses and then he gets smashed to the ground and killed. So she is dealing with this guilt over partly over being gay in the 1980s and not being able to tell people that also, you know, of having, like, genuinely lied to and betrayed sort of her closest friend, the person she loves the most in the world. And so that is and that plays a huge part in the very end of the story, which will sort of get to in due time. But that is, I think, a very, very interesting kind of reworking of the core of the story to put that right in the middle.
S4: Yeah, it is. I just I kept waiting for the dead fiance, his ghost, to figure in that story again, but it kind of just got dropped and I don’t know, maybe she just got over it. But for someone who was completely you know, she’s got every mirror covered and the room that she’s renting in London, she’s left America entirely really fleeing this guilt. And then suddenly she has this relationship and it kind of falls by the wayside. And it’s a little I don’t know. You know, I guess it’s interesting in the romance between them is really sweet, but it seems like it’s a back story to be a little on the thin side to me. Right. Just just because she’s so like she’s basically having a nervous breakdown and then all of a sudden it just goes away.
S3: It’s a fair point. And I think in, you know, nine plus hours of television, which spend a lot of time on backstory and flashbacks, there ought to be plenty of time to flesh out characters, at least kind of the main ones in a satisfying way. But I do think I mean, I and I was really the Pedretti who played the kind of, you know, doomed twin Nell in Hillhouse. And I thought was I mean, not one of the worst performances, but certainly not one of the better ones. I thought that was just a very kind of one note thing. I really I think they pretty stunning in this. She’s playing, you know, this kind of game, 1980s American stonewashed jeans like American abroad thing with this real kind of, you know, pluck, but also this really kind of it’s hard not to use the word haunted, but this really kind of haunted quality mean she’s just very good at you know, there are moments where just the idea of kind of wedding or funeral is something that obviously triggers the past in her comes up. And she’ll just she just kind of goes to bits and at one point kind of run outside and start hyperventilating, you know, look like she’s just about to kind of lose her mind. She does the essential thing for a ghost story, which is that face when you are seeing something that just like destroys your mind and you can’t process what it is even before the audience can see it, she does that face really well. So I think I mean, she carries a tremendous amount of it herself. And having not thought very much of her in Hillhouse, I’m really, really impressed with her in this.
S4: Yeah, she really does manage to combine this fragility and vulnerability with a sort of determination. And I think the character does make sense a little bit in the way that the governor’s in the original story does, in that she rises to the occasion. Now, the governess in the original story, I think she’s rising to this occasion of saving the children. And Danny knows that she’s doing it. But nevertheless, you know, she’s fragile when she’s thinking about her own guilt. And one of the things that the storyline does allow her to do is to save somebody, you know, save the day to a certain extent. You know, she is the kind of character who has trouble defending or protecting herself, but has great strength when it comes to defending others, particularly children. So, yeah, it’s a. It’s a moving performance and and again, the the love affair between her and Jamie is a really nice part of this. It might be my favorite thing in the series. Just it’s the most sort of plausible relationship among the different romantic pairings that we’re given.
S3: Yeah. Amelia Eve, who plays Jamie, has this great sort of, you know, kind of guttural, like working class English accent. And she just she just kind of wonderfully, like, cut the shit character. Like, when she, you know, she could tell I mean, she’s sensitive to Danny kind of being in distress. But then we’ll just also, like, crack a joke about it or whatever. Like, there’s no she’s she just seems to be a character with no hang ups whatsoever.
S4: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, she’s great. Yes. In the original story, there’s all this sort of framing of unrequited love where the guy who tells the original story in this kind of, you know, fireside tale telling mode, that was a particular way that people used to tell ghost stories and adventure stories in the late 19th and early 20th century. He’s telling the story. I think he has like some documents or a diary. I can’t I can’t remember. Sam, you’ve read it more recently. Something like that. Yeah. Papers written by the governors herself telling her story. And he has met her. And the people in the gathering speculate that he was a little in love with her. And then it’s also clear that one of the things motivating her is that she was kind of in love with her employer, but he’s completely absent. And so she you know, it’s just this it’s this incredibly starved, emotionally starved existence that she has signed on to probably out of financial need. And that just that sense of unsatisfied yearning is, you know, of all these people in love with someone who’s not available in the original or at least to people who feel that way, it is kind of sweetly counteracted by the fact that there is like one or a couple of really wholesome consummated relationships in Bly Manor.
S5: So, as I mentioned, the hunting of Bly Manor turns on this kind of crucial fifth episode called The Altar of the Dead, which focuses on Hansgrohe played by Tanya Miller, who I think gives one of the other really great standout performances in this.
S3: And, you know, kind of starts off quite cleverly, I think, as another flashback episode. OK, this is going to be this is going to tell us how Hannah ended up where she is. We’ve we’ve gotten the sense of her as someone who’s just kind of a little off. Somehow there’s been several references to her kind of not sleeping well, not having an appetite. So she’s persistently seen in Bly manners, kind of free-standing chapel lighting candles at the altar of the dead are really actually just one candle for a person. We don’t know who it is yet. So this this is our flashback episode. This is where we’re going to find out what Hannah’s deal is. And so it starts overlapping with the end of the previous episode, which is the funeral for Owen, who’s the cook, played by Raoul Collier, his mother, who has had dementia and has been dying all along. She has finally died there, kind of drinking around a campfire to celebrate her life and also discussing kind of the nature of death and memory and how these things kind of get eaten away and jumbled up. And the fifth episode starts back a few minutes from the end of the fourth, which is something that’s never happened before in the show and that maybe throws you off a little bit. But then, you know, Hannah and I are drinking by the fire. We’ve had this sense all along that there’s a sort of, you know, unconsummated, unacted upon longing between them. They both kind of seem to be into each other. But neither of them is like a romance of the day type situation where whenever you’re sitting there like, come on, Kesser, nobody’s doing anything. And so then, you know, then it flashes back to their first meeting when she’s interviewing him for the cook job. And you think, oh, you know, that’s just another flashback. But there’s something a little weird about it, because the first shot of Hannah, you know, she seems to know that she’s in a flashback. It’s not a straight cut to it. There’s going to be her figure stays in the same place in the frame, and it’s like she’s been physically transported back. And we find out over the course of the episode that, in fact, Hannah is a ghost. She has been a ghost all along in the flashbacks that have been said implementor. She is a real person. But, you know, the first shot of the show where we where we meet her for the first time or Danny wanders in and she is sitting there. And if you watch this again, it’s very clear she is sitting there kind of looking down a well with Miles by her side and straightens up and kind of looks like she has a little cricket or neck or something, straightens out and says, oh, sorry, I was miles away, miles away, wink, wink. We find out at the end of this episode that the reason she’s doing that is because she has just been shoved it down the well by Miles, who is possessed by Peter Quint at the time. She’s lying there at the bottom with her neck snapped, but her ghost has already come back up. Her ghost doesn’t know that she’s dead yet, is not kind of processed it. And so the ghost has been basically kind of living in not the past, but kind of her own memories, which sort of take on physical form in Blyer. They’re places that you can inhabit or get tucked away in is the term that becomes used later in the series. And so she has been kind of reliving these moments, some of them pleasant, some of them not. So she occasionally, by the end of the episode, is drifting into other people’s memories, particularly Peter and Rebecca’s memories of their romance. But she’s stuck in this and she’s we find out that she is stuck and that Peter and Rebecca are stuck, that all of the other go sibling manner, some of which we have only seen in shadow at this point, microlensing. And again, does the thing that kind of was very popular kind of went viral with regard to Hillhouse, where they’re just these little dark, shadowy, ghostly figures kind of tucked away in the corners of frames all over, all over the place through the first five episodes. We’re more in the second half for kind of sensible, practical reasons. And we will kind of eventually find out who they all are in, at least in small form. They’ll be given kind of names and faces and things. But she has been they’re all stuck on blindman and they have all been kind of condemned there because they’ve all pretty much all been killed by or held there by the lady in the lake who is we finally, I think, at our first really good glimpse of at the end of this episode, when she runs out of the dark, grabs Peter Quint by the neck and snaps it and then drags his body back into the lake. So this is kind of the episode that has this big twist in it, that she was dead all along, yadda, yadda, yadda, but also tells us that, you know, the ghosts who have been lurking around and just seeming kind of menacing and inscrutable in the first half of the show are all they kind of come into the story as characters now speaking, interacting with each other, interacting with the characters. And they have they become characters that they have kind of goals in the present, things they want to do. And it really takes a story in a whole different direction. Laura, like what did you make of this this episode and particularly kind of where the story goes after?
S4: This well, it’s an elaborate concept, I mean, what we eventually find out is that Peter Quint was killed by the lady of the lake. He’s a ghost. He realizes that he cannot leave Bly Manor, but he also has the ability to possess Miles. So he persuades Rebecca Jessell to kill herself so that she can also become a ghost. And the two of them can possess Miles and Flora. And what they offer the children in exchange is that they will be tucked away in memories of their late parents. We also learn that the Uncle Henry, one of the reasons why he stays away from Bly Manor is that he was having an affair with his brother’s wife and his floras father, right? Yeah. And it’s actually for his father. He didn’t really kill anybody but Flora and Miles, his parents, or rather the you know, his his brother and his sister in law went off to India to try to repair their marriage after his brother found out about their affair and then they died overseas. And now he’s sort of in charge of these children and he’s sort of obsessed with law, but he never wants to see her again. He feels guilty the way Danny does. But instead of being haunted by the ghost of his victims, he for some reason has this grinning doppelganger that comes around to taunt him. And this happens to him in London. So, you know, not all of the supernatural stuff is actually tied to Blindman or as as, of course, the haunting of Danny is not tied to Bly manner, but the the the complicated thing that’s that, you know, I have to admit, sometimes I lose the finer threads of the plots and these really complicated narratives. And it’s not really clear to me like how the tucking away thing happens and how it can be controlled, like whether Peter and Rebecca are lying to Miles and Flora about being able to tuck them away only in good memories and how exactly they are as powerful as they seem to be. But then we also get the whole back story of the lady in the lake. She was a 17th century woman. She had this sister to whom she was devoted. Their father died. She married some guy just so that they could hold on to that. She and her sister could hold onto the house. But then she got really sick. And although she had a child, she for some reason was stayed alive through sheer force of will. But then she finally just goes on and on and on and on. And all that’s left of her is just this kind of jealousy of her sister who ended up marrying her, her widower, and a desire for her daughter, and that the the haunting that she performs takes the form of coming, you know, being this dripping wet with the kind of hair in the face thing that we all remember from the the ring. Right. You know, pacing out of the lake and into the room where the her daughter slept and then going back again, like that’s her sort of ghost walk and that she doesn’t actually really have much of a mind or intention anymore. It’s just this kind of habitual motion that she somehow, like whoever is in her way, she grabs them by the throat and drags them back into the water.
S3: Right. Well, let’s talk about because we you know, you mentioned the little lady in the lake’s back story. So let’s talk about that eighth episode, which is called The Romance of Certain Old Clothes, which is titled in a kind of general idea taken directly from another James story. And this episode, barring the kind of beginning and end of it, as you mentioned, it takes place in the sixteen hundreds. It is all shot in black and white. This is where I think we get the dodgiest English accent in the entire film. It centers on, you know, Viler, who becomes the lady in the lake played by Seagull, who’s another Hillhouse album, and also creator Mike Flanagan’s wife and her sister, Perjeta, Katie Parker. And yeah, so Vilo, we finally find out, becomes the lady in the lake. She is this kind of spurned woman who is eventually kind of murdered by her own sister out of in a purported act of mercy and then kind of gets back at her by coming back as a ghost and strangling her and then just kind of goes ham on Bligh Manor for the next three hundred years. It’s just, you know, she kind of gets confused like a people wander into the wrong place if they try and touch her stuff, which is Peter Quint’s terrible mistake, she will kill them. At one point she kind of forgets who she is, but she has a kind of vague memory that she was a mother, that she had a child. So at one point she just, you know, there’s a child in by manner and she just picks up the child and takes it back into the lake with her. Suffocating it, of course, so she loses all memory of who she is, her face eventually kind of gets melted away, becomes like this kind of melted wax work, which is the appearance we’ve seen in the present day. And she just becomes this kind of sort of unthinking, like persistent, you know, longing, heartbreak, you know, failed romance, whatever embodied. And that’s that’s kind of what’s been haunting Blattmann all along.
S4: The thing that bothers me about this idea is that just has the haunting of Hill House is mostly about mental illness and how the descendants of the mother of the whole Craine clan are, you know, kind of battling their fear that they will go crazy like their mother. And the terror of losing your mind is is the terror of that of that storyline, which is true of Shirley Jackson’s novel as well. And in a way, you know, whatever the flaws of Hillhouse, I feel like in some ways it remains fairly true to the idea of Hillhouse, which is that the most terrifying thing is to lose your your sanity in this. You know, we’re set up to feel like there are all these characters who are grieving and who feel guilty. There’s Danny who feels guilty about her fiancee and who grieves the loss of him. And then there’s Uncle Henry and who feels guilty about the death of his brother and sister in law. And then there are the children who are grieving their parents. And also, I think Kenneth Gross was close to Miles’s mother.
S3: So she also and she was abandoned by her husband who cheated on her and left her. So, yes.
S4: Yeah, yeah. So there’s so there are all these grieving characters. And then but then we find that the ghost that is sort of the central sort of vortex sucking all these people in is not really grieving. She’s just really furious. You know, she’s an angry ghost and and she’s angry in a way that is sort of confusing because she’s angry that she died and that her sister, whom she has always seemed to be completely devoted to up until this point, ends up marrying her husband and raising her child. And then ultimately in what seems really petty, taking her clothes to sell them to save the house, which is the whole motivation behind her marriage to begin with. I just felt like the character was completely sort of incoherent and not really compatible with the other sort of theme that was set up in the beginning of the series. You know, she’s mostly just angry. I mean, she’s she she doesn’t like she didn’t suffer the death of someone she loved. Like so many of these other characters, she didn’t suffer a loss. She just died because she she couldn’t she first she couldn’t die. She sort of stayed alive despite having tuberculosis out of just sheer ordinariness. And then eventually, you know, and this made her incredibly abusive to the sister whom she had previously been devoted to. And then the sister finally killed her because she could just couldn’t take being abused any longer. So I just felt like that story kind of broke the sort of the thematic consistency of the first part of the series and and the only other character who really has anything sort of similar to violas. You know, furious energy is Peter, who’s sort of mad at the world because, you know, we see his mother, who clearly is no good and the father is no good either showing up and trying to shake him down for money when he’s trying to leave his past behind. And he has all this resentment of people who have more than he does. But it’s not it’s I don’t know. I don’t feel like it’s as deep a feeling as the grief that Danny and Henry and Miles and Flora have.
S5: Right. I agree with all of that. I mean, I mentioned at the beginning that I really like eight nights of this story. This clearly is is the other one ninth. I mean, I think this episode is like basically a disaster from start to finish. I mean, I think that, you know, the black and white is just kind of a silly affectation. I think the, you know, recreation of 17th century that Milia is just looks kind of threadbare and cheap and it doesn’t. And the writing is so off for that period, or at least what we’re used to in representations of that period. You know, it is a it is a story that is about the creation of the ghost. But because of a very leisurely way in which the show is paced, that means like we go like 30 minutes, 40 minutes with no ghosts in the story that has used the continuing presence and tension of ghost all along to kind of keep us engaged. So instead, we’re just left with this very kind of. Flat, affectless, badly accented melodrama, not to mention it’s like this huge the ending of the seventh episode is the lady of the Lake grabs Danny by the throat and starts dragging her into the lake, which again, they repeat at the beginning of the eighth. So it’s a huge moment of suspense. And then it’s just like, you know, it’s like it’s like the Terrance and Phillip episode of South Park where they built this thing. And then it’s like, what if we just gave you, like, a bunch of, like, sort of like languid black and white crap for an hour while you’re waiting to find out if Danny gets your neck snapped or not? It just kind of kills everything. It’s such a huge miscalculation. It is very funny to me that there was a time when this movie was sent out to press. This is not did not happen to me. But there was a bug in the way that some of the press got the episodes where it showed them this one first. And I really like honestly salute any of our colleagues who watched it first and then went on to watch the second, because you would be totally justified in tapping out if you started with this one. So if you’re watching it, don’t start with Episode eight. I really wanted to tell you that you can just skip it because the details of the story are ultimately, as you say, kind of not that interesting or even particularly relevant. And it just comes very close to killing the whole thing dead. I think it’s a huge miscalculation in basically every way.
S4: Yeah, I’m trying to think now if it is some kind of adaptation of some other Henry James story, you know, he has so many novels and I can’t remember one that meets the structure of like the two sisters and then one dies and the other one marries her husband. But there may be one. I could be wrong, but it just seems like such a missed opportunity to sort of stick with what seems to be the theme, which is of people not being able to let go of their grief for the dead and fully live. And it just is a story about someone who’s mad about her clothes. You know, it’s just it’s so petty.
S5: Don’t touch my shit or I will watch over 100. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yes. So I do think that and this was pretty surprising to me because I really felt like watching this episode, like, oh, man, that like, they’re fucked now. Like, they just they had seven episodes, like, pretty good stuff. You’re obviously waiting the whole time for, like, what’s the explanation it’s going to be. And then it just like it completely blew it. I knew there was an hour, another hour left and obviously eight hours and you’re going to finish the thing. But I was not optimistic at that point. And I feel like the ninth episode really, really redeems it. Let me ask you what you thought first before I go into my spiel.
S4: Yeah, I really liked it. You know, there there is the concept behind it is bizarrely complex. And it, again, has to do with Flanigan’s thing of of sort of making all of these ghost stories that are fundamentally about loneliness into sort of parables of togetherness. And so Danny sort of saves the day by reciting these words that cause the lady of the lake to enter into her somehow so that she’s been carrying around this sort of, you know, psychic time bomb where the lady and Lake is eventually going to come back and take over and, I don’t know, kill her or kill the people around her or whatever. It’s not really clear. And so she goes on to have this life with Jamie. They go to America. They live in Vermont. They they have a forest stand, you know, for a flower shop. They’re so happy and they learn from, you know, Owen, who tells them that Miles and Flora have been freed of the possession of Peter Quinten, Miss Jessel, and they’re, you know, living full lives. And Henry is like, you know, gotten over his thing of like both being obsessed with Flora and calling her on the phone just to hear her voice and then hang up, but at the same time never wanting to see her. And he’s actually being a parent to them and everything is fine. But she, again, is afraid that this this monster inside of her is going to come. And so she starts talking about the beast in the jungle, which is another Henry James story, which has a completely different meaning than this. But, you know, they incorporate as sort of like the very end of this story. And then at the very, very end, we find out that she did, in fact, kill herself in order to prevent the lady in the lake or viola from taking over her and turning her into a psycho who will kill Jamie. And Jamie has just been pining for her. But in this really, you know, not agonized way, unlike everybody else in the series, and that the wedding is actually. Flora’s wedding and Flora doesn’t even really remember any of these things that happened at Bly Manor and doesn’t even have an English accent anymore because they’ve been living in America too long, which is sort of.
S3: Yeah. That she lets them maybe surprise you with this. Yeah.
S4: Yeah. So she just shows up at this wedding and she tells the story that only some of the people there actually know is is a true story.
S5: Right. And we find out that this is you know, she’s been kind of Jamy all along. I mean, I think probably most people have figured this out by then. I mean, the key for me is because, you know, Caleca Gino comes in at the beginning and is talking about this in a very particular kind of, you know, Mudie British accent And, you know, and you ask yourself, I mean, I usually ask myself, why is he doing the accent? And then the answer to that question as well, because obviously she must be the grown up, Jamie, because she’s the story a that accent. Yeah.
S4: The middle aged. Jamie Yeah. Yes, yeah. And then at the very end, we see that she leaves her door open waiting for Danny somehow to come back. Maybe she’s inviting this haunting, which I guess shows that she has a more wholesome relationship to her grief than the other characters who are sort of recoiling from their haunting. She is trying to be haunted, but apparently is not getting anywhere.
S3: I mean, I feel like the closing images, which if you go back and watch the first episode, there’s a lot of circularity in the story. I didn’t notice that. Yeah, it’s basically the closing images are basically exactly the same as the opening images. There’s this idea that as Danny is haunted by the lady in the lake, she sees this in her own reflection, particularly in water. And we can tell that she’s kind of losing the battle because she will just kind of sit and stare into a sink or the bathtub for hours. So after Danny has kind of gone back to Baylie and, you know, killed herself at the bottom of the lake in order to, you know, put the lady in the lake to rest, Jamie kind of takes to looking for Danny, for looking for her ghost. And Jamie tries to do the same. It’s you. It’s me. It’s us mantra to get Danny’s spirit to inhabit her. It doesn’t seem to have worked. But then she spends, you know, the next 10 years or however long it’s supposed to have been kind of looking for her in these reflections, leaving the door to her hotel room ajar, kind of sitting in a chair, facing it, waiting for her ghost to appear somehow. And those are the first shots of the series that don’t mean anything at the time. It’s just like, oh, here’s this here’s this old woman. And it’s kind of funny to me that, like, in order to make the Gothic feeling work, like they have to, you know, Eugenia’s forty nine, you know, she’s not particularly old, but they have to give her like, gray hair and make her look like she’s 65 or something. Although in order for Florida to still be kind of, you know, regular like marriage age in her late 20s, early 30s, like they can only, you know, age the character up so much, they kind of cheat a little bit there as well.
S5: But, yeah, you do see that these are you know, that Jamie has kind of stayed faithful to Danny in a way that she is still kind of keeping her in her heart, looking for her reflection in the water. And in fact, like the last the last shot of the show was her. She is sitting in her chair facing the door. She goes to sleep. And then we see this hand, you know, Danny’s kind of creep in the frame and plays itself on his shoulder. And I do think that’s like a lovely image. You know, so much of the story is for me. Hillhouse, among other things, is kind of a story about childhood trauma. You know, it’s dealing with the characters as kids when there’s this haunting in the house and then when they’re adults. And it turns out and I love this because there’s so many horror movies where it’s like, oh, the kid’s in danger, but they got away from the ghosts then and everything’s fine and always been like, well, no, everything’s not fine. That kid is fucked up for the rest of their lives. Like, you don’t go through that when you’re eight and then forget about it. And Hillhouse is kind of a story about how that fucks you up. And then you become like a heroin addict and you overdose or you have sleep paralysis because you’re haunted by these memories of the thing that happened to you when you were a kid. And Blyer Manor is, as you mentioned, kind of about regret being like stuck in the past, being haunted by it, unable to get things about it. And this is the ending kind of takes Jamie to a place not of just forgetting the past, which is kind of the American solution. Right. Like you just nobody has any past to reinvent yourself. You know, as far away in another country. Besides, the wenches is dead, you know. But Jamie instead tries to kind of keep the past with her. I mean, don’t get the sense that this is kind of prevented her from moving on. You know, it’s more like kind of melancholy or sorrow than it is like Danny’s kind of paralyzing grief, you know? And it is a way she has kept, you know, Danny’s memory with her. And we have the sense that, you know, Danny has sort of physically or metaphysically, you stayed with her somehow. And I think that’s kind of a lovely idea. You know, it’s not exactly it’s not like a horror movie bit to end on. But as you mentioned in your piece, I mean, it’s the way Hillhouse changes the end. That famous line from Shirley Jackson’s novel, Whatever, walked there, walked alone. And Hillhouse changes it to whatever walk their walk together. It is a series about it, the family kind of being reconstituted, albeit on kind of opposite sides of the living dead line. Yeah, but they’re all sort of together somehow. And this is is likewise about, you know, a relationship that, given the time period, could not be a marriage, but was kind of in every other way, kind of, you know, persisting and even even beyond death, finding a way for these two to be together. And that that seems like of actually like a very lovely note to end on.
S4: Yeah. I mean, that relationship is the best thing about the series to me has almost nothing to do with the ghost story. But I think it’s nice that there is this sort of healthy, real love as the sort of counterpoint to all of the messed up relationships in the in the rest of the series. It’s just that I feel like there’s so much complexity in in getting there and that it would have benefited from just simplicity, which, I don’t know, maybe it’s a foolish thing to wish for in something, as you know, that’s eight hours long. But I do think that, you know, it’s sort of given away by the fact that the voiceover just. Becomes much, much more pervasive in the last half of the series, where there’s just so much that needs to be explained and you don’t really want to think about it. What do you want to think about? Is Danis, you know, guilt, Henries, guilt, the grief that they feel for this loss, that they also feel responsible for that sort of very pure grief of of Miles and and Flora, the sort of way that Peter and Rebecca sort of clung to this obsessive relationship and then the counterpoint of of Jamie being able to grieve Danny in a in a in a way that’s beautiful. And that doesn’t cause her a torment. You know, she’s not tormented. But unfortunately, we have in between there, we have this kind of ridiculous lady in the lake story that feels like it’s from like another movie in some ways.
S3: Right? Well, I think that kind of brings us to the end of our haunting here. I want to ask you, Laura, someone has written quite a bit about kind of early horror and Gothic literature. I mean, if Mike Flanagan has said he’s doing an original movie story next, but is there if you wanted to sic him on another kind of period, classic ghost stories or what would you turn him towards next?
S4: I don’t really know. I feel like in some ways his what he wants to do is kind of antithetical to ghost stories because ghost stories tend to be short. They tend to not be very specific. I mean, there are tons of great Ma James ghost stories, but and some of them have had amazing short television and film adaptations. But I think the thing that he wants to do, which is turn everything into a sort of an ensemble like epic ensemble piece, is just not that compatible with the things that make a ghost story great to me, which is a kind of a kind of ambiguity that is both very creepy and it does define a certain kind of experience. So, you know, hopefully he will come up with this original thing where he’s not taking a work and completely, you know, just violated I mean, sort of stripping stripping it for parts really is sort of what he’s. Yeah, exactly. That that’s good. I mean, I don’t want to sound completely outraged because there is an amazing film version of the haunting Hillhouse and an amazing film version of Turn of the Screw, which I’m completely satisfied with. So it’s not like this is the only thing. I mean, to be interesting, if he could do something like The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, a modern ghost story, although that has already been adapted or maybe even something by Stephen King or Peter Straub. I mean, those those those writers feel more in line with his they have a more epic sort of bent to them than James or Jackson. And maybe what they you know, there’s always like this huge climactic battle and a lot of characters like Salem’s Lot or or any number of Stephen King’s stories. And then the famous Peter Straub novel Ghost Story, which was made into kind of a terrible film. They seem more compatible with what he wants to do than these sort of older classics. I hope he does something like that. And we get a chance to see him apply this particular angle that he has, which seems to be that ghosts are just like a form of togetherness. You know, like ghosts don’t want to leave us. Like, ghosts are kind of a good thing. If we can all just, you know, realize that the whole point of ghosts is so people don’t ever have to be separated. And that’s an interesting idea that he should just run with. I don’t feel like it’s what these stories were originally about. And they’re not they’re not really well suited to that concept.
S5: Right. I mean, he is stuck in this very kind of particular kind of, you know, whatever, 20 teens, 20 20s conundrum where the sort of everything has to be based on IP.
S3: Even at that IP is like one hundred and thirty year old novella that probably no one watching the hunting of Blumenauer has ever even heard of. But for some reason that’s, you know, considered a safer bet for these things. I mean, he did do a Stephen King adaptation last year, two years ago of Doctor Sleep, the sequel to The Shining. But that kind of dead to certainly the Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. What you know, Hillhouse and Blindman are due to the original novels, which is just like what have we kind of explained everything and made it really sort of like psychological rule driven and adventure was like, well, if we just kind of like figure out what the ghosts are doing and then beat them at their own game. But it’s interesting because the original turn of the screw and especially the innocence, the movie that’s based on it is. The governor’s thinks that she’s doing that. She thinks she’s figured out the rules, she’s like, if I just get Miles to admit that he’s being hunted by Peter Quint and just say his name, you know, he’ll be fine. She finally does get Miles to say Peter Quinn’s name and then Miles immediately dies. You knew going in. I mean, I knew from the second they announced this. I’m like, well, he’s not going to obviously going to kill like the 10 year old boy at the end of the story. But it is, you know, a pretty dramatic shift to be like actually, you know, they grew up and they got married and now they have American Idol and everything’s fine. Yeah.
S5: Laura, thank you very much for doing this with me. It’s been my pleasure. This has been another slate spoiler special. That’s our show. Please subscribe to the Slate spoiler special podcast feed. And if you like the show, please rate and review it in the Apple podcast store or wherever you get your podcasts. You’ve any suggestions for movies or TV shows which should spoil or if you have any other feedback you’d like to share, please send it to spoilers at Slate Dotcom. Our producer is Melissa Kaplan for Miller. I’m Sam Adams. Thank you for listening.