Loss. Everyone has struggled with it at some point. The characters of The Haunting of Bly Manor deal with it in some way; a loss of a lover, loss of self, loss of purpose, loss of a parent or child and loss of a home. Loss is an emotion that creates sadness and rage and ultimately draws people in, willingly or not. In the follow up to Netflix’s first entry in The Haunting series, The Haunting of Bly Manor manages to retain the original spirit of its predecessor, introduces us to a spooky new home and its inhabitants and presents a new theme for us to ponder.
Please be advised, this review WILL contain spoilers for The Haunting of Bly Manor. Consider this your warning if you wish for your experience to be spoiler free.
In 2018, audiences were starved for new horror content to digest. Jordan Peele’s 2017 masterpiece, Get Out, helped pump new life into the genre but inevitability, a vacuum formed and was sealed in the form of Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House; which gave us a new definition of what it means to create a slow burn series. Over the course of ten episodes, we became acquainted with the Crane family and the trauma that divided their family and ultimately brought them back together. Throughout the course of the first series, we saw hidden ghosts peppering the frame unbeknownst to the family as well as the former inhabitants of Hill House who remain trapped there due to their rage and unresolved trauma in their own lives.
We see a similar pattern unfold in The Haunting of Bly Manor and you will spend time searching for the hidden ghosts that pepper each scene. In the first several episodes, we see a plague doctor with a macabre mask that seems to stalk the new governess, Dani Clayton, as she is unaware of the dead inhabitants of Bly Manor. The most terrifying of these ghosts are the faceless ones who have forgotten what they look like or what their purpose was staying behind even after their loved ones have moved on.
In keeping with a shared continuity of Hill House, Bly Manor has several cast members reappearing in different roles; Carla Gugino, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Henry Thomas, Kate Siegel and Victoria Pedretti are holdovers from Hill House while retaining similar aspects from their previous characters. While it’s not unprecedented for actors to be recast in anthology series, it can be unusual to watch actors you grew to love in a past series, come back to play new characters. It would be helpful to avoid rewatching Hill House prior to watching Bly Manor. The most tragic of these new characters would be Henry Thomas’ Henry Wingrave, the owner of Bly Manor and defacto patriarch to his niece and nephew, Flora and Miles, following the sudden death of his brother and sister-in-law.
In the sixth episode, “The Jolly Corner”, we learn via flashback/dream sequence that Henry had an affair with his sister-in-law and is the biological father of young Flora. This comes to a head later in the episode when his younger brother, Dominic, practically evicts him from their shared office and effectively banishes him from his and his children’s lives. We later see Henry grappling with a twisted version of himself as this shadow person revels in Henry’s continued drunken stupors, angry outbursts and creepy late night phone calls to Bly Manor. This shadow person seemingly came into existence following the death of his brother and sister-in-law and feeds off of Henry’s regret and loss and is only there to remind him of his shortcomings as a human being. His redemption comes in the form of making a long drive to Bly Manor only to find that the Lady in the Lake is taking Flora to a watery grave. While he valiantly tries to save his daughter, he is cast aside and hovers between life and death until Dani steps in to save the young girl.
Dani is dealing with her own sense of loss and regret in the form of a bespectacled specter that seemingly appears out of nowhere or in mirrors to torment her in the most private moments. We later learn that this spirit is that of Edmund, Dani’s former fiancé who was tragically killed immediately after she voiced her desire to not get married to him. Given that Edmund did not die on the grounds of Bly Manor, this is a private ghost Dani has been carrying around with her all this time and traveled to England in the hopes Edmund would leave her alone. Dani’s trauma is ultimately lifted from her when she shares her story to Jamie, the gardener to whom Dani finds attractive, and the two begin a romantic relationship. In the final episode of the series, Dani invites the Lady of the Lake to inhibit her soul and creates a fear in her that one day she will take over and will kill her. In the years following the events at Bly Manor, Jamie and Dani have stayed together and continue to love each other with Jamie being the faithful lover who will help share the burden her forever person is forced to carry. We see through these two that trauma, loss and regret will always remain with us regardless of what we do to move on but can be bearable when we let people into our lives and help us share the load.
While Dani and Henry are two contrasting sides on how to deal with loss, two additional characters contend with loss in wildly different ways. Henry’s former valet, Peter Quint, found himself on the wrong end of the Lady of the Lake and was ultimately killed by her when he tried to steal jewelry from the home. In life, Peter was someone who was so desperate to move beyond his stature that he was willing to lie and steal in order to get there. We see the cost of his choices in the form of his brutal death but we also see that he is so desperate to move beyond the plane of death that he is willing to manipulate Miles and Flora into assaulting Dani and possessing Miles in order to move beyond the grounds of Bly. Peter’s desperation is so deep that he even convinces his one-time lover and au pair, Rebecca, into drowning herself in the lake just so he doesn’t have to be alone in his new existence as a ghost.
Savvy viewers of both Hill House and Bly Manor will note that the shows are brilliant in their use of foreshadowing and there is no better example of this during Bly Manor than that of the caretaker, Hannah Grose. In the episode “The Altar of the Dead” we see Hannah jump to random points in time until she finds Miles in the woods and confronts the spirit of Peter, who is biding his time until he can fully possess the young boy. This confrontation comes to a head when Miles/Peter shove Hannah down a well and kills the poor woman. The ghost of Hannah sees her dead body at the bottom of this well but is unable to accept that she is dead. Leading up to this episode, we see Hannah refusing to eat or drink meals prepared by Owen, Bly’s cook and fellow caretaker, and witness her holding vigil in Bly’s chapel by lighting four candles; two for Dominic and Catherine Wingrave, one for Rebecca and one for an unnamed person. She also remarks that “funerals for the living” and that she wouldn’t be able to join Owen on a trip to Paris as her spirit is tied to the property. Dani, Miles, Flora, Jamie and Owen are unaware she’s a ghost until she’s released from Bly and this hits Owen the hardest. Owen is easily the most likeable person among the new characters as it’s revealed that he uprooted his life to return home and care for his mother who later passes away due to dementia. In one of the best monologues in the show, he reveals that while he’s accepted that she would die, he had to begin mourning her years ago when his mother began to confuse him with his grandfather. Owen is in love with Hannah even she knows she can never be with him and knows that he needs to see her body in the well in order to accept her death.
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As mentioned previously, the main ghost tying all of these spirits to Bly Manor is the ghost known only as the Lady in the Lake. In the episode titled “The Romance of Certain Old Clothes”, we learn that the Lady in the Lake was originally Viola Lloyd, the Lady of Bly Manor who was murdered by her sister following a period of cruelty coupled with a prolonged illness. Viola’s last wish was for her daughter to inherit Viola’s collection of jewelry and fine clothing but in death, she’s forced to watch her former husband and sister carry on a romance and they eventually marry. When the financials of Bly Manor fall into dire straits, Viola’s sister, Perdita, recommends selling off Viola’s past possessions but when Perdita inspects a chest full of those possessions, Viola’s spirit attacks her and chokes the life out of her. Viola and Perdita’s widowed husband becomes superstitious and leery of the chest that now houses Viola’s spirit and in a final act before abandoning Bly, throws the chest into the lake and forever ties Viola to the manor’s grounds. In the following years, Viola’s spirit would emerge from the lake looking for a child for reasons that become lost to her in her rage and sorrow. We see her killing anyone who would stand in her way including a plague doctor and a priest who were unfortunate enough to cross her path. She sees her home used by strangers for decades until she strikes. Viola’s rage and sorrow become a “gravity well” in the words of an older Jamie telling the story to a crowd of wedding guests. Viola only releases her rage when she is invited to share her burden with Dani and thereby releasing the spirits that are unwillingly tied to Bly and so many years of pain, loss, regret, and sorrow.
the ghosts of bly manor: 👁👄👁 pic.twitter.com/RzYQzUAVwr
— ⚰️😈 The NXorcist 👻🔪 (@NXOnNetflix) October 14, 2020
If the main theme of The Haunting of Hill House was family and how trauma can divide but bring a family together, then the theme of The Haunting of Bly Manor is loss and how we can begin to heal from when we put aside our regret and rage for the good of others. For the majority of Bly Manor, each character is dealing with some sort of loss but by the end of it all, everyone has moved forward in some way. In the final episode, “The Beast in the Jungle”, the spirit of Viola is attempting to compel Dani to kill Jamie and not willing to sacrifice the most important person in her life, returns to Bly Manor to drown herself in the lake thereby ending the cycle of rage and sorrow and finally bring peace to her soul. In the most heartbreaking of circumstances, Miles and Flora have forgotten about their experience at Bly and do not remember the face of Jamie as she tells the story of how Bly Manor went from a home of despair to an oasis of hope. The series ends with an older Jamie leaving the door open a crack, falling asleep in a chair and forever waiting for her lover to return to her once again. In Jamie’s words, “ghost stories are really love stories”. We all carry the ghosts of lost friends and family members and we remember that dead doesn’t mean gone.
The Haunting of Bly Manor is now available for streaming on Netflix, is created by Mike Flanagan, adapted from the works of Henry James and stars Victoria Pedretti, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Amelia Eve, T’Nia Miller, Rahul Kohli, Tahirah Sharif, Henry Thomas, Amelie Bea Smith and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth
Featured Image Credit: The Haunting of Bly Manor Trailer