SPOILERS for Episode 2 of “The Haunting of Bly Manor,” “The Pupil,” and the 1961 film “The Innocents,” both based on Henry James’s novella “The Turn of the Screw.”
The backstory of the troubled children that Danielle Clayton (Victoria Pedretti) has been hired to take care of and teach is, like everything else at Bly Manor, rather mysterious.
But in the second episode, we find out what got Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) expelled from his boarding school. After the death of his parents and his au pair, every accommodation is being made for the young boy. But his behavior is increasingly unforgivable.
First, he climbs a tall tree and intentionally jumps, injuring his arm. When asked about why he jumped, Miles lies and says it was an accident. Later, he starts a fight with his bunkmate, choking him until he’s unconscious.
Father Stack (Jim Piddock) attempts to find out why Miles started the fight, telling him that “none of us are blameless, except the souls not yet conceived, and the animals. They’re the only innocents.”
Miles turns his gaze to the pet bird Father Stack has in the classroom. The caged bird gets so many close-ups, what follows next can hardly be a surprise to any horror fans. Especially if you’ve seen the film “The Innocents.” **
Later that evening, Father Stack finds the bird dead, purposefully laid out where he can see it. Although shocked at Miles’s crime, he is still trying to find a way for Miles to redeem himself and avoid expulsion.
In front of a gathered board of priests, Miles does say, “I’m sorry,” but then adds he’s sorry that he didn’t do something worse, like behead the bird or take out its insides or burn it. Now not even Father Stack can save him from being expelled.
We later find out why Miles was so desperate to be expelled: Miles’s bunkmate finds a letter from Flora, Miles’s sister, urging him to come home.
But his behavior back at home, in which he cruelly locks Dani in a closet for hours, hints at something far darker at work. And it appears that everyone at Bly Manor is under the impression that Miles was sent home early after his “accident,” and know nothing about the death of the bird.
Earlier in the episode, Father Stack had been teaching the class about the story from the Gospels where Jesus sent several demons possessing a man into a herd of pigs, who then ran into a lake and drowned themselves. Miles very astutely asked if the demons needed permission to enter the pigs and Father Stack says they did. Miles then asks if the demons also needed permission to enter the possessed man. The priest pauses for a moment and says, “We are, all of us, free to make our own choices… Evil exists. And we are tempted. But we’re not compelled. So yes, they did need his permission.”
Later, when Father Stack is talking alone with Miles after he attacked his friend, Miles says it’s “It wasn’t fair, was it? What Jesus did to the pigs in the demon story?” Just as it’s not fair that his dead parents cannot come back.
He then adds “why do the bad ones get to come back?” We later see the grinning figure of Peter Quint (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) outside Bly Manor, where he spooks Dani. He vanishes, but returns to share a meaningful gaze with Miles.
** In “The Innocents” Miles (Martin Stephens) breaks the neck of one of the birds from the Bly Manor aviary. Even more disturbing, he puts it under his pillow for the governess (Deborah Kerr) to find, then caresses the dead animal.
Note: The death of the bird is referred to later as something Miles “had to do,” but it is the only animal death in “The Haunting of Bly Manor.”