The Haunting of Bly Manor
It was never really about the ghosts, was it? Bly Manor has been full of ghosts — some real, some symbolic — but in the end, the show has been much more interested in what being haunted means for the living.
And so in its final hour — having carefully and meticulously assembled all the pieces on the chessboard — Bly Manor essentially zooms through the ending, sewing up the main narrative with shocking speed. Let’s not forget: Bly Manor has spent more than half of the entire season building up to this moment. Episode after episode turned back the clock to ensure we understood how Dani, Hannah, Quint, Jessel, Flora, Miles, and Viola reached this particular point of no return.
And now that the climax is finally here, it turns out to be … well, a little anticlimactic. Here’s the short version: Henry arrives, and Viola “kills” him just long enough for him to experience the afterlife before Owen revives him. Viola then mistakes Flora for her own daughter Isabel, grabs her, and prepares to drag yet another living person to the bottom of the lake with her.
It’s here that Dani makes her final stand — and given Bly Manor’s consistent thematic obsessions with grief and guilt and love, it makes sense that the solution to Viola’s reign of terror at Bly Manor turns out to be empathy. Repeating a phrase she barely understands, Dani calls out to Viola and says, “You, me, us,” inviting the ghost to share her body and her life. Viola accepts her offer.
All of this happens in the first 15 minutes of this 51-minute finale, and as a result, some of Bly Manor’s most compelling characters barely appear in the climax of the story. (Personally, I’m bummed that Quint and Jessel are basically an afterthought here.) With Viola satisfied, the remaining ghosts at Bly Manor are exorcized. Meanwhile, Henry takes parental custody of Flora and Miles, so Dani, Jamie, and Owen prepare to leave Bly Manor for good.
If this all feels a bit rushed, it’s because Bly Manor has an elaborate epilogue it is very eager to unspool. Yes, Dani has saved Flora and Miles (despite Jessel’s apparently inaccurate belief that Miles was already too far gone). But the cost of Dani’s heroism has been heavy: At some indeterminate point in the future, Viola will take over her body for good.
Having shed one ghost during her time at Bly Manor, Dani picks up another one on her way out the door. This time, she decides to spend whatever time she has left with the woman she loves. The episode offers a highlight reel of Dani’s life with Jamie: opening a flower shop, visiting Owen’s new restaurant (which has a punny name, of course), and exchanging rings to affirm their commitment to each other. All the while, Viola lurks in the occasional reflection, waiting for the moment when she can take over Dani’s body. And after a number of years, when Dani realizes Viola is getting close enough to controlling her that Jamie’s life is in danger, she gives in, returning to Bly and drowning herself in the lake.
Jamie realizes what has happened, and tries to drown herself in the lake as well. This tragic love story lives in notable contrast to the tragic love story of Quint and Jessel, which ended with Quint tricking Jessel into drowning herself. But despite Jamie’s wish, remember the foundational conversation of Jamie and Dani’s relationship: Love is the opposite of possession. There’s still enough of Dani in Viola that she refuses to take Jamie’s life as well.
So Jamie is forced to keep living on without Dani. And roughly — ten years later, if I’m doing the math right — Jamie travels to California to attend a wedding.
And also, she looks like Carla Gugino now, because — brace yourself — Jamie is the one who has been narrating this story all along. And she just told this whole story to a group of people that happens to include Henry, Owen, Miles, and Flora, because the wedding is Flora’s wedding.
I suspect this reveal will be both confusing and polarizing to a sizable chunk of Bly Manor viewers, so let me unpack the logic as best as I can understand it. We already know that, through whatever supernatural coping mechanism exists to spare the trauma of children, Miles and Flora have forgotten everything that happened at Bly Manor (though their adult caretakers, for better or worse, remember everything).
Further: Older Jamie’s admission that the real manor wasn’t called Bly, or even located where she said it was in the story, gives Bly Manor a lot of rope for the various inconsistencies that would otherwise exist here. If Older Jamie is an unreliable narrator — which, in itself, feels like a nod to The Turn of the Screw — then I suppose we have to accept that the characters we saw at Bly Manor wouldn’t necessarily resemble their real-life counterparts at the wedding, or that Older Flora wouldn’t have an English accent anymore, or whatever other nitpick you want to get hung up on.
But whether it works for you or not, Bly Manor isn’t interested in closing off every loop here. More than any individual, this is ultimately a story about something bigger: how people live on after they die. Viola clung to existence and became a monster. Dani accepts her death and lives on, instead, in the memories of Jamie — and now, thanks to this story and the hard-won wisdom in it, she’ll live on in the memories of Flora. That’s a better, truer kind of immortality.
The series ends as Jamie returns to her hotel room following the wedding, completing the rituals that keep Dani’s memory alive in her: leaving the door open in case she arrives, and filling the bathtub with water in the hope that Dani’s face might appear. These rituals haven’t literally worked yet — but like Hannah Grose lighting the candles, they still keep the dead close to the hearts and minds of the living, and that might be enough. The show’s final image is a hopeful signal that the people we loved who have died really are with us, even if we can’t see or feel them: As the series ends, and Jamie falls asleep in the chair, Dani’s hand is resting on her shoulder.
And that might seem like a fitting enough grace note for Bly Manor. But I have a piece of advice: When the credits roll on the final episode, don’t stop watching, because the show isn’t quite finished yet. Instead, you should immediately go back to the premiere. Like a Bly Manor ghost who’s tucked away in a favorite memory, cycle back and watch the opening five minutes of the first episode again. If you’re like me, it’ll feel like you’ve learned a new language; almost every shot, and every line of dialogue, is laden with weight and meaning that you couldn’t understand the first time around.
As the older Flora openly notes — needlessly, for anyone who has been paying attention — Jamie originally offered a ghost story, but ended up telling a love story. Jamie ultimately agrees. And in that context, the finale’s weaknesses seem a little more tolerable in service of the greater story it’s telling. The Haunting of Bly Manor opened with a woman who was afraid to look at her reflection in case there was a ghost waiting for her. It closes with a woman desperately searching her reflection in hope that the dead woman she loves will be waiting for her there. And in all the trauma and horror, it’s clear that she doesn’t regret any of it. As Owen said in his wedding toast at the beginning of the season: To truly love another person is to accept that the work of loving them is worth the pain of losing them.
Bumps in the night:
• If you’re willing to ignore the fact that the credits include names like Older Owen, Older Miles, and Older Henry, you could probably read the reception scene as Jamie “seeing” people who just remind her of her friends from Bly Manor, instead of literally being older versions of the same people. Honestly, I think that answer makes more sense, and might even be more thematically satisfying — a reminder that the “ghosts” of the people Flora knew and loved are never far from her mind no matter where she goes. But the credits are the credits, so …
• A (possibly not-hypothetical) question: If there ends up being a third season of The Haunting of [Insert Spooky House] series, what should the source material be? I mentioned in a previous recap that I think Mike Flanagan might have adapted Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca as The Haunting of Manderlay if Netflix didn’t already have a new film adaptation of that on deck. But I’ll toss out two other possibilities. There are plenty of Edgar Allan Poe stories that could be knitted together into an interesting season — The Haunting of the House of Usher, maybe? But my personal vote would be the cherry-picking from the ghost stories of M.R. James (no relation to Henry James). They’re great and weird and ripe for a smart, modern adaptation — probably something like The Haunting of Burnstow, as a nod to his story “‘Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’.” If you have other ideas for source material, leave them in the comments below.
• And while we’re talking classic literature: The whole “wedding guest tells a long story for someone else to repeat” plot device is very reminiscent of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s long, spooky ballad “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”
• Glad we got one quick shot to say goodbye to everybody’s favorite hidden ghost, the plague doctor.
• I know it’s just a plot device, but I refuse to believe this bride and groom decided to spend the eve of their wedding listening to a super-long ghost story from a woman they barely know.
• I covered the groom, played by The Room star Greg Sestero, in my recap of the premiere — but I didn’t realize until now that Christie Burke, the actress who plays Older Flora, started her acting career playing Edward and Bella’s daughter Renesmee in the final two Twilight movies.
• The song that plays over the closing scene is “I Still Believe,” by Sheryl Crow.
• In a clever bit of marketing, Netflix put Bly Manor up on Zillow this weekend. (Unfortunately, it’s currently off the market.)
• Still wondering what happened to Arthur and Isabel Lloyd!
• As we close the book on Bly Manor, I’ll repeat a suggestion I made at the beginning of the season: if you want to read a cool old ghost story, pick up The Turn of the Screw. It’s the same basic premise — a governess raising two orphaned kids in an old English country house that might be haunted — but The Haunting of Bly Manor deviates so dramatically from the original story that you’ll basically be flying blind. Happy Shocktober, everybody, and thanks for reading!