As one of the characters confirms in the final episode of ‘The Haunting of Bly Manor’, the sophomore entry in Netflix’s anthology series ‘The Haunting’, the story we spent the previous several hours learning is not as much a ghost story as it is a love story. And a tragic one at that. There are multiple doomed couples who fall in love in the course of the season, some even do so despite knowing where it will ultimately lead.
The horror aspect of the show exists in the circumferences of these romances, always threatening to overwhelm them. ‘Bly Manor’ is a modern adaptation of the 1898 gothic horror novella ‘The Turn of the Screw’ by Henry James. Series creator Mike Flanagan and his writers discard the ambiguity of the source material in favor of establishing disturbing and dramatic mythology around the eponymous property. SPOILERS AHEAD!
The Haunting of Bly Manor Plot Synopsis
The season opens at a wedding rehearsal, with a mysterious woman (Carla Gugino) reciting verses from the song ‘O Willow Waly’ by Isla Cameron. An ethnically Indian middle-aged gentleman stands up to give a speech about love and relationship. In the evening, as the guests and the would-be spouses settle down in the living room, the conversation almost inevitably finds its way to ghost stories. The mysterious woman speaks up, informing others that she has a ghost story to share, but she warns them that it is quite lengthy. The Indian gentleman assures her that they all have time, and so she begins her tale.
The story shifts to 1987 London. A young American woman named Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti) gets hired to serve as an au pair to the recently-orphaned niece and nephew of Lord Henry Wingrave (Henry Thomas) and subsequently moves to the family’s summer home, Bly Manor, located in Essex, England. Although the two children, Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) and Flora (Amelie Bea Smith), appear to be wonderful and charming in their first meeting, Dani soon realizes that something is definitely wrong with them. They lost their parents while the adults were vacationing in India. Their previous governess, Rebecca (Tahirah Sharif), seemingly committed suicide after being betrayed by her lover, Peter Quint (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), who also stole several hundred thousand pounds from Henry.
The current staff of Bly Manor comprises the cook, Owen (Rahul Kohli), housekeeper, Hannah (T’Nia Miller), and gardener, Jaime (Amelia Eve). The series has a multi-layered, multi-linear narrative. While the main plot of the show remains anchored by what Dani experiences at Bly, each episode focuses on providing the backstory of different characters, both humans and ghosts, and how their actions have led to their present circumstances.
The Haunting of Bly Manor Ending
Like in the source material, the au pair’s repressed sexuality serves as a key component in the show. But Flanagan doesn’t let it shackle down his protagonist, writing her in such a way that she ultimately embraces it. Episode 4, titled ‘The Way It Came’ (this and the rest of the episodes are named after James’ various short stories), offers an in-depth look into Dani’s history. She was to be married to her childhood sweetheart but discovered that she is attracted to women. When she comes out to him, they have a huge fight, just before he is run over by a truck. Since then, she has been experiencing these disturbing visions of him with glowing eyes (in a homage to Stephen King’s ‘The Outsider’). She leaves the US to escape them, but they follow her to England. It isn’t until she burns her dead boyfriend’s glasses, given to her by his mother who couldn’t bear to keep them herself, that she is finally free of those visions and everything they represented.
The rest of the characters are also burdened by their past. Henry is guilt-ridden for having an affair with his brother’s wife before their deaths. Flora is his daughter, but he has distanced himself from both her and her brother, preferring to punish himself through self-loathing and alcoholism. He even has created an alter-ego based on the last conversation with his brother, who accused him of being a smirking, little monster. Peter’s parents are swindlers, who have no problem extorting money from him. In episode 7, it is heavily implied that he was sexually abused by his father as a child. Hannah, the main focus of episode 5, was cheated on by her husband. Jamie, a product of a broken home, grew up in foster care.
The penultimate episode is set in the 17th century and revolves around Viola (Kate Siegel) and Perdita (Catherine Parker), the daughters of the then-owner of the manor. After their father’s death, Viola marries a distant cousin, so the ownership of the property would remain within the family. Not long after the birth of her daughter, Viola is diagnosed with terminal lung disease and given only a few months to live. But her stubbornness and rage help her persevere for years. She is angry at her God for the unfairness of it all, as well as her sister and husband for the growing bond between them. She makes her husband promise that he would lock away all her jewelry and silk and give their daughter the keys when she comes of age.
Ultimately, it’s not the disease that kills Viola, but Perdita. Grown tired of the constant abuse and taunts, she suffocates her older sister. She then marries her former brother-in-law, but the union doesn’t last long. Driven by both her greed and the desire to save her family from an impending financial disaster, she opens her sister’s silk-and-jewelry chest. What she doesn’t know is that her sister has been possessing it since her death. Viola strangles Perdita to death, turning her into one of the ghosts roaming within the premise of Bly Manor.
‘The Haunting of Bly Manor’ makes multiple references to the 1961 psychological horror film, ‘The Innocents’, which is a more faithful adaptation of the source material. ‘O Willow Waly’ was originally written for the film by Paul Dehn and composed by Georges Auric. It is also the same tune that Flora hums throughout the series. In James’ novella, the protagonist doesn’t have a name. She is simply referred to as “the governess.” In ‘The Innocents’, she is given the name Ms. Giddens by director Jack Clayton and his writers. In ‘Bly Manor’, Flanagan is likely paying homage to Clayton and his work by giving Dani the same surname as him.
Following the death of his second wife, Viola’s husband sells the property and leaves with his daughter. Viola thinks they will take the chest with them, and they will be together forever. Instead, they dump it into a pond in the property, turning it into a watery grave for her spirit. In the centuries that follow, she loses all the memories of her life, becoming a faceless, grotesque, and malevolent monster. All those ghosts that we see on the edges of the screen, from a physician to a child to a vicar, are victims of her rage. Even those whom she doesn’t directly kill die because of her actions. She kills Peter right before he is supposed to elope with Rebecca. He then possesses Rebecca and drowns her in the pond, promising her that they will be together afterward. He also convinces Miles to let him possess him and pushes Hannah down into a well.
Most of the characters never really attain what they desire. Viola is denied a life with her daughter. Her anger and malice are powerful enough to keep the rest of the spirits trapped in the Bly Manor premise. Despite the possibilities it shows, Owen and Hannah’s relationship ends before it even begins. The two children want to escape the constant grief and pain that they are experiencing by retreating into their memories of their parents. It is that vulnerability that Peter wants to exploit by convincing them to let him and Rebecca permanently possess them. While he successfully does this with Miles, Rebecca refuses to complete the ritual with Flora and frees Dani with her help.
When Viola comes into the manor again and is about to Kill Dani, she sees Flora. Although her memory has almost faded, she still knows that she is there for a young girl. As she takes Flora and begins walking towards the pond, Henry arrives and tries to stop her. He is nearly killed in the process. Rebecca convinces Flora to let her in one last time, so she can take the pain of death for the young girl. Dani then recites the words of possession, effectively permitting Viola to inhabit her body.
This ends Viola’s reign of terror in the manor. All the spirits, including Hannah, Peter, and Rebecca, are free to leave the premise. Owen seems to have brought back Henry, but which version has come back, the real Henry or the alter ego, is left unclear. Either way, he becomes more attentive toward the children. In time, Miles and Flora completely forget what happened to them in Bly Manor.
A Love Story
Dani and Jaime’s relationship develop slowly during the season. it’s with the gardener’s help that Dani manages to exorcise her past. After she becomes the host of Viola’s spirit, the two travel to the US and eventually settle down there. They live every day as their last, knowing that Viola can resurface at any time. When Dani starts seeing Viola in reflections and one day stops herself from strangling her partner, she realizes that it is her time to leave. Jaime follows her to Bly Manor where she discovers her body at the bottom of the pond. This is Dani’s final sacrifice. She becomes a much more benevolent version of the ghost of the pond, whose memories of love and her own humanity are still intact.
The closing scene takes the audience back to that living room. It is revealed that the mysterious woman is Jaime, the Indian gentleman is Owen, and the would-be bride is Flora. Miles and Henry are also present. After the wedding, Jaime goes back to her room. She moves a chair so it faces the door, keeps the door ajar, and falls asleep on the chair. After all these years, she still believes that her love will return to her someday.
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