There’s no better way to kick off spooky season in earnest than to settle in and binge watch one of Netflix’s scariest shows. The Haunting of Bly Manor is the next entry in the franchise that started with 2018’s The Haunting of Hill House and, while it may be an anthology series rather than a continuation of the Crain family’s story from the first season, it’s packed to the rafters with terrifying, heartbreaking moments–and some familiar faces in new roles to top it all off.
But, like Hill House, Bly Manor is anything but a straightforward ghost story. This year, the show adapts the short stories and novellas of Henry James, like Turn Of The Screw, The Jolly Corner, The Beast in the Jungle, and more. It puts a twist of its own on the gothic romance James was known for and turns it into a sweeping, interconnected story about love, loss, and grief through multiple characters. The question is, of course, what does it all mean?
Let’s break down the ending of the show to examine those little details you may have missed and, hopefully, help you assign some of your own meaning to the whole experience.
Obviously, we’re getting into major spoiler territory from here on out, so if you haven’t finished all nine episodes, proceed with caution.
Bly Manor is told by a narrator who starts the season by offering to tell a ghost story at a wedding party. The narrator, who remains unnamed until the final moments, is revealed to be Jamie, who was none other than the gardener at Bly during the show’s events. Of course, this narrative device also adds another layer of subjectivity onto the whole story. You can assign your own meaning to each part, and decide just how much metaphor she was using.
At the end of the show, we return to the wedding to see that Flora, Miles, Henry, and Owen have all grown older and found some level of happiness in their lives. Flora’s getting married, has completely lost her British accent, and has forgotten all about the traumatic events of her childhood. Neither Jamie nor Owen seems to have found new partners after theirs each passed away, but both seem to be coping with the loss–though we can see Jamie is still very much looking for Dani in everything she does. She leaves the tub and sink full hoping to catch her reflection, and her door cracked before she goes to sleep, hoping to let her in.
This is, of course, because Dani is now Bly’s new “lady in the lake,” a curse that was placed on her when she saved Flora’s life. This is where things start getting a little complicated.
It turns out Bly Manor’s haunting is all the responsibility of one woman: Viola Lloyd (nee Willoughby), who was murdered by her own sister, Perdita, after struggling with a debilitating illness for years back in the 1800s. The real cause of Viola’s death was never uncovered and Perdita eventually married Viola’s widower and began raising her infant daughter.
It went down like this: Years after the tragedy, the family fell on hard times and looked for ways to settle their debts. Perdita suggested selling a trunk full of fine garments that Viola left under strict instructions that they should go to her daughter when she comes of age. Despite her husband’s refusal, Perdita decided to sell the dresses anyway, and snuck into the attic where they were kept. However, the act of unlocking the trunk inadvertently freed Viola’s angry ghost, which reached out from beyond the grave to strangle Perdita to death. Her husband found her corpse later and decided to move from the Manor with his daughter, but not before hurling the chest and all its contents into the lake on the property, believing it to be cursed.
This symbolic gesture condemned Viola’s ghost to a watery prison where she began repeating the same cycle over and over again, even as she faded from the memories of everyone who knew her. This creates a “gravity well” on the property that keeps the spirits of anyone who dies there trapped–a tally that Viola’s angry spirit occasionally raises. Anyone who is unlucky enough to step into her path as she walks the grounds meets a similar fate to Perdita–unless they’re a child. Viola’s ghost, unable to remember much of anything about herself and her life, is still able to recognize that she once had a child of her own and will take children in her path back with her to the lake to drown, rather than strangling them to death.
Over the years, Viola increased Bly’s population of ghosts, and now they lurk around the grounds repeating their own endless patterns as they’re eventually forgotten and left as faceless husks of their former selves.
There is a catch, however. The more recent ghosts–the ones who haven’t forgotten themselves yet–are able to possess and inhabit the bodies of living people. This process is temporary unless the living person willingly invites them in, which is what Dani did to lift the curse.
Surviving The Curse
Dani broke the curse by inviting Viola into her mind. Removing the curse allowed all of Bly’s trapped ghosts to move on, which included Hannah Grose, who died just moments before Dani arrived at the manor, pushed down an empty well by Miles, who was possessed by Peter Quint. Peter, too, was freed, saving Miles from a fate as his vessel, and so was Rebecca Jessel, who was intending on taking over Flora.
But Dani inviting her in didn’t actually free Viola, only “tucked her away” in Dani’s mind, which meant that after a handful of years spent with Jamie, it was eventually time to pay the proverbial piper. But, rather than allowing Viola to take her over, Dani laid her to rest by returning to Bly and drowning herself, effectively taking Viola’s place as the new “lady in the lake,” who would keep the pattern from ever starting back up again.
This left Jamie alone–or at least alone as far as she could tell. The final shot of the show is the older Jamie, asleep in her hotel chair before her open door, with Dani’s hand coming to rest on her shoulder–meaning that even though Jamie might not be able to see or feel Dani, her invitation worked and Dani remains with her.
Putting It All Together
It’s definitely tragic, but in the words of creator Mike Flanagan, it’s that moment that really drives home the theme of the entire show. In a roundtable interview with GameSpot he explained its importance. “That’s the thing for me, about a great love story. Even if you can’t see that person anymore, even if they’re gone–the idea that you’re looking for them puts them with you, whether you can feel it or not. That was the beginning and ending image that we really always wanted for this season.”
“For me,” Flanagan continued, “the whole season was always going to be about those couple of paragraphs Carla [Gugino] gives in the last episode, when you talk about ghosts and loss. In Season 1, we talked about the different things a ghost could be, we talked about a ghost being a wish the most. So [this season], that question of ‘I’ve found someone I love more than anyone else in the world, one of us has to die first–what happens to my life after they’re gone?’ That’s one of the most upsetting, uncomfortable, and haunting questions that I’ve ever wrestled with internally. I’ll never have a good answer to it. I’ll always be scared of the various answers to it. And it’s too uncomfortable to look at–but what else is horror? It’s the things we’re scared to look at. It took a whole season’s worth of work for us to arrive at and crystalize those last couple of paragraphs.”
The Haunting Of Bly Manor is available to watch now on Netflix.
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