The Haunting of Bly Manor
It has been clear from the very beginning that something strange is going on with Hannah Grose. The housekeeper at Bly Manor has always taken her job unusually literally; on top of dusting and vacuuming, Hannah is fiercely protective of the house and what’s in it. She adores Miles and Flora, does her best to prevent Peter Quint from stealing the belongings of their late parents, and spends much of her time alone in the chapel, keeping a silent vigil as she lights candles for the dead.
But Hannah’s strength and warmth have been offset by the occasional inexplicable incident. From the very first episode, the cracks were quite literally beginning to show; when Hannah saw a crack in the wall and asked Jamie to fix it, Jamie discovered the crack wasn’t there. Periodically, Hannah has seen the exact same crack in different walls—and kept quiet about it. But that’s not the kind of thing a person can ignore forever. Eventually, the wall needed to come down.
So what’s the matter with Hannah Grose? This truly dazzling fifth episode gives us an answer, but it takes almost an hour for the show to unspool it. So let’s start with the first big revelation: Like Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse-Five, Hannah is unstuck in time, living through a series of pivotal moments in her life in a seemingly random, non-chronological order. The episode zigzags wildly from scene to scene, sketching in the details of Hannah’s biography: her friendship with her employer (and Miles and Flora’s mother) Charlotte Wingrave; her grief at being abandoned her husband Sam, which led her to a live-in job at Bly; and her intense distrust of Peter Quint, which led to mutual hatred as Quint did his best to snatch up whatever he could from Bly Manor’s vaults.
But as disorienting as a scrambled chronology can be, it clearly means something. Especially because there are certain moments that Hannah is forced to repeat over and over again. At several times throughout the episode, Hannah finds herself somewhere she’s already been before, and the path will suddenly fork into a different direction. A job interview with Owen might pivot into a conversation about the writer and theologian Thomas Merton. Or it may pivot into a conversation about whether a mouse is smart enough to know when it’s caught in a trap. Or — most chillingly — it may pivot into Owen’s sudden, panicked proclamation that something is wrong with Miles.
Before the episode drops its final tragic twist, we learn the ultimate fate of Peter Quint. Because he disappeared on the same night that £200,000 vanished from the Wingrave family’s coffers, everyone has assumed Quint ran off with the money. As Hannah revisits the night Quint disappeared, we learn that his plan really was to flee the country with a boatload of cash — but he didn’t get to complete it. When he leaves Miss Jessel’s bedroom, he is greeted in the hall by Flora and Miles. And as Quint urges them to go back to bed, he’s attacked and killed by a ghost, who drags his corpse off into the water on the grounds of the lake.
We don’t know much about this ghost, but Miles and Flora do. Flora calls her “the lady from the lake,” and she resembles the creepy doll Flora keeps under her dresser. She has no eyes, and she’s apparently responsible for the watery footprints that pop up in the foyer of Bly Manor, so she comes up with some regularity. (For the record, she’s also played by Kate Siegel, who starred as Theodora Crain in The Haunting of Hill House.)
But Peter Quint’s “death” has an unexpected side effect. His ghost is trapped at Bly Manor, but, for brief periods of time, he’s able to possess Miles. This, it’s heavily implied, is the explanation for some of Miles’ stranger behaviors — flirting with Dani, putting Dani in a stranglehold, cursing about his desperation for a glass of wine. Suddenly, all of Hannah and Owen’s talk about mice and traps makes sense; Quint’s ghost is trapped at Bly Manor, and he’ll gnaw his own leg off if that’s what it takes to get free.
And just when you’ve caught your breath long enough to process that particular twist, another one drops. Hannah flashes back to a memory of a confrontation with Miles when she catches him smoking at a well. Unfortunately, this “Miles” is Peter Quint, and he shoves her down the well, breaking her neck. The last thing she sees before she dies is the crack on the stone wall.
So it turns out Hannah Grose is yet another mouse fighting against the realization that she’s been caught in a trap. Ghosts don’t want to be dead any more than the living do. To break out of the loop, Hannah has to keep telling herself that her name is Hannah Grose and that the year is 1987. And then she has to watch, heartbroken, as she finally takes Owen up on his suggestion that they run off to Paris together, as she realizes that it’s too late for her to make that choice. For now, and maybe for forever, she belongs to Bly Manor.
If Bly really is a mousetrap, it’s done a tremendous job ensnaring people over the past year. Peter Quint, who spent his life raging about the financial and social gap between himself and the Wingrave family, gets a monkey’s paw of a “reward” — the ability to possess their young heir, Miles Wingrave. Rebecca Jessel, who took what seemed to be a dead-end job at Bly Manor as a stepping stone toward the life she actually wanted, ended up trapped in what literally became a dead-end job. And Hannah Grose, who devoted herself so wholeheartedly to protecting the Wingraves and their property during her lifetime, discovers that her obligation hasn’t ended with her death — even as she mourns the life she could have had.
Rarely does the horror-movie cliché of a ghost having “unfinished business” come across so poignantly. But if there is a silver lining to the deep sadness that runs through this episode, it’s this: Not even death can strip Hannah’s life of meaning. The children still need to be protected from Peter Quint, and Hannah is in a unique position to do it. “This is my home, Peter Quint. You’ll leave long before I do,” Hannah warns Quint in life. Now that they’re both dead, I guess we’ll see if that remains true — but, based on everything we’ve seen so far, I know which of them I’d bet on.
I have one more thought on this episode, but if you want to watch this show without knowing anything about The Turn of the Screw, skip the next paragraph and pick up again at the “Bumps in the night” section:
Spoiler space for The Turn of the Screw (which was published in 1898 and is pretty different than Bly Manor — but you can’t be too careful):
So barring another wild twist, we have our final answer: In this adaptation of The Turn of the Screw, the ghosts are real. You can certainly read the original novella and conclude that Miles is in league with the ghost of Peter Quint. You can also read the novella and conclude that the governess is delusional and has convinced herself that Miles is in league with the ghost of Peter Quint because of (a) her own mental illness, (b) the vague intimations that Quint had some kind of inappropriate relationship with Miles, and (c) Miles’s subsequent bad behavior. I don’t think Bly Manor leaves any room for the latter reading. Like Joyce Carol Oates’s “Accursed Inhabitants of the House of Bly,” this riff on The Turn of the Screw doesn’t make sense if you don’t accept the premise that the ghosts are real.
Bumps in the night:
• So let’s start with the obvious question: Who is “the lady from the lake”? Whatever her backstory — and whatever reason she has for killing Peter Quint and haunting Bly Manor in general — will apparently need to wait for a future episode, but post any theories you have in the comments below.
• There are scenes in the first four episodes of Bly Manor that will play very differently now that we know Hannah is dead. I’ve previously noted that she always turns down food and drink (although she did seem to be having some wine at the bonfire), but I’d especially recommend taking a second look at her scene with Dani in the chapel near the end of the premiere, where she explains why she lights candles for the dead. There’s also Miles’s “dream” that he hurt Hannah, which is something Peter Quint did in his body that he apparently fuzzily remembers.
• I went back and looked at the scene where Dani arrives in the premiere, and as far as I can tell Bly Manor cheats it — you can see some trees in the background, but you can’t see Peter Quint peeking out from behind them. Then again, Quint seems to have some control over when and how he appears, so maybe he’s just choosing this moment to be invisible.
• That said, the first thing Hannah does before she snaps back to reality is grab the back of her neck, which has a whole different resonance when you know her fate.
• The scene with Miss Jessel and Peter suggests that Bly’s ghosts can choose to relive their favorite memories, which is probably why Hannah keeps returning to the job interview with Owen (and which breaks my heart for them even more). Both T’Nia Miller and Rahul Kohli are so, so good in this episode (and this series).
• There are some interesting plot parallels between this episode and Alejandro Amenábar’s 2001 film The Others, which — though not a direct adaptation of The Turn of the Screw — was clearly heavily influenced by it.
• Hannah is pretty direct with Miss Jessel about her concerns regarding Peter Quint. Owen is much more subtle about it, but he clearly shares them. “The sweetest honey is loathsome in its own deliciousness, and in the taste destroys the appetite,” he mutters when Miss Jessel runs off with Quint. That’s a line from Romeo & Juliet, but he leaves off the most important part: “Therefore, love moderately.”
• There are lots of lines in this episode that play differently when you know Hannah’s fate — like, say, Charlotte’s promise that Hannah can stay at Bly Manor, “As long as you like. Forever, if you need to.”
• Miss Jessel’s death has been described as a suicide by drowning — but now that we know Peter Quint’s corpse is in the lake, I wonder if the truth is more complicated. Maybe she saw his body (or his ghost) and thought she could save him, drowning herself in the process?
• “Do you want to die a horrible, choking death?” Hannah asks Quint (in Miles’s body) as she chides him for smoking a cigarette. As it turns out, he already did!
• I love how Peter Quint’s grand dream for life in the United States involves Jessel being a lawyer and him doing … something. As always, there’s an emptiness at his core that he can’t figure out how to fill.
• Before he leaves the bedroom, Quint flirtatiously tells Jessel he’s the “stableboy” to her “queen.” I’m not sure if the double entendre was intentional or not — but given that she never sees him again, leaving by reassuring her that he’s a “stable boy” is a particularly cruel twist of the knife.