The Haunting of Bly Manor
A few episodes ago, Bly Manor showed us the star-crossed love affair of Peter Quint and Rebecca Jessel, which ended — as far as we knew — when Quint snuck off with 200,000 pounds and the heartbroken Jessel died by suicide. But we only heard that tragic ending secondhand. This episode, which is pointedly billed as “Part Two,” finally shows us what actually happened, which turns out to be the saddest and grimmest story yet in this sad, grim story.
After Quint disappears, Jessel falls into a deep depression, which is only exacerbated by a police investigation that makes her feel like she was duped by a conman. Both Hannah and Jamie do their best to help Jessel move on. Hannah, whose husband left her for another woman, can speak to heartbreak in a very personal way — so she trots out the old maxim that it takes half the length of a relationship to get over someone, and reminds her that she didn’t know Quint very long. Jamie is even more pragmatic, urging Jessel to seize this moment of chaos in the Wingrave family to get Henry to take her on as his new pupil, and get away from Bly for good.
But their well-intentioned support isn’t enough to drown out the voice of Peter Quint in her ear. One night, Quint appears to Jessel as a ghost, swearing that death is the only thing that could have separated them. With her boyfriend back in a way she can’t plausibly explain to anyone, Jessel retreats deeper into her inner life, becoming isolated and withdrawn. And in the end, at Quint’s insistent urging, Jessel literally agrees to share her life with him, allowing him to occupy her body indefinitely.
Jessel’s blind trust in Quint leads to the most heartbreaking betrayal in the series so far (as well as an explanation for why Jessel drowned herself, which — even in her deepest grief — never quite jibed with what we saw of her on-screen). In control of Jessel’s body, Quint walks into the lake and drowns her, ensuring that she’ll be with him in death forever. And in a particularly cowardly flourish, he abandons her body just as her lungs fill with water, forcing her to face the sudden, painful realization of her own death before dying alone.
This is a truly horrifying scene that casts much of what we’ve seen in Bly Manor in a very different light. (Among other things, it adds new weight to Dani’s speech about how love is the opposite of possession.) Quint and Jessel are trapped at Bly Manor as ghosts, periodically losing themselves in old memories that only end when they suddenly remember that they’re dead. Eventually — like the other, older ghosts at Bly Manor — they’ll be doomed to fade into strange, fuzzy versions of themselves.
So before that can happen to them, Quint has a plan: Take over Miles and Flora’s bodies. All he needs to do is get past Dani, their current guardian, and convince the children themselves that they should consent to letting Quint and Jessel in. As the gagged and horrified Dani looks on, Flora agrees to let Jessel take over her. But Miles, who’s slightly older and warier, needs a little more convincing.
So Quint does his best, promising Miles that giving up his life to Quint will result in an eternity of joy. “Nothing sad will ever touch you ever again,” he says. “You just get your mom and your dad. A safe place with two people who will love you so much. That makes you the luckiest man in the world. The richest person. I wish… I wish I could be that rich.”
And while this isn’t actually true: In his own twisted way, I think Quint is being sincere here. In a series of flashbacks, we’re made to understand why Quint is so desperate to escape his own afterlife that he’ll sacrifice anything, including whatever soul he has left, not to be alone. Where characters like Hannah Grose and Flora have been able to revisit a variety of relatively happy memories while “tucked in,” Quint always ends up in the same place: In his own dingy flat when his elderly mother knocks at the door.
In the memory, Quint’s mom has arrived unannounced. She’s been released from some kind of unspecified treatment center, and she’s looking for money. When he resists, she drops a series of veiled threats, alluding to a dark past that included Quint being sexually abused by his father.
At this late stage in the season, it is hard to think of Quint as a sympathetic figure — but Bly Manor takes great pains to show us the very human horrors that have led him to this point. If he doesn’t find a way out, he’ll be trapped, reliving his mother’s final twist of the knife over and over again as he fades into nothingness. If his romance with Jessel is the only happiness he’s over known, and the alternative is essentially just hell… well, if it doesn’t quite make his actions justifiable, it makes them comprehensible.
So — with a fair amount of uneasy prodding from the ghosts in the form of adults they’ve come to trust — Miles and Flora agree to let Quint and Jessel take over. But when Quint-as-Miles goes off to confront Hannah Grose, Flora reveals that Jessel opted not to enter her body after all. Jessel may be fading away, but she’s retained enough of herself to instruct Flora to set Dani free and flee from Bly Manor. And when Dani asks after Miles, Jessel confides that he’s already gone for good.
Whether or not that’s true will likely turn out to be the endgame of Bly Manor, and the answer will make it clear whether this show is about overcoming tragedy or succumbing to it. In the end, this struggle may come down the wild cards anyway. Henry is on his way to Bly, Owen and Jamie are unaccounted for, and there’s a whole house full of ghosts who might have their own scores to settle.
That’s certainly the implication of the episode’s final scene, as Dani — trying desperately to escape with Flora — is attacked and dragged off by the mysterious Lady From the Lake. The Lady was similarly merciless with Peter Quint, which makes it seem like her vendetta might be against any stranger who takes a job at Bly Manor. So who is she, and why have Miles and Flora been exempt from her judgment? It’s one of the last pieces of the puzzle, and with just two episodes left in the season, I suspect it’ll fall into place before long.
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 so far, but you can’t be too careful):
In The Turn of the Screw, it’s certainly possible to read the governess’ intense belief that Quint and Jessel “corrupted” Miles and Flora as a reference to child molestation. Bly Manor doesn’t go that far, but it does nod at the cycle of abuse in the way Quint was abused by his own father. That said, the implications of two grown adults taking over the bodies of two children are genuinely disturbing — particularly when it is two adult lovers occupying the bodies of two adolescent siblings.
Bumps in the night:
• In an act of sheer cruelty that may well come back to bite him in the ass, Quint (as Miles) leads Hannah back to the well and forces her to accept that she’s dead. Hannah ends the episode in a moment of despair, saying “there’s nothing I can do about” what’s happening to Flora. But that’s not true, right? As a ghost, Hannah can talk to (or possess!) anybody who shows up at the grounds of Bly Manor — like Owen, or Jamie, or even Henry Wingrave, who is drunkenly speeding there right now. Hannah will have to figure out how the rules work first, but it certainly feels like Quint, in the style of your classic overconfident villain, just made his primary adversary way more powerful for essentially no reason.
• The revelation that Peter Quint can’t leave the grounds of Bly Manor also means that all the scary shit Miles did at the boarding school was of his own volition. I know he was just trying to get home to Flora as quickly as possible — but maybe there was a way to do that that didn’t involve strangling a classmate and killing a bird?
• At last, we also get the explanation for the strange, faceless ghosts that have been scattered around Bly Manor. The longer a ghost “lives” at Bly Manor, the more they fade away, and fading literally includes their faces. (If I had to guess, it’s because they get further and further away from the people who remembered them in life, but the show doesn’t give us more detail than that.) This explains why The Lady From the Lake has no eyes, and why the plague doctor and the little boy wear masks — they’ve lost their features and decided to cover their faces as a substitute.
• This also explains the imagery of the opening credits, in which literally every major character in the series appears in a painting with their facial features gradually fading away. Ominous!
• It’s disturbing to see how Quint twists the conventional language of love to suit his own purposes. When he talks about “sharing a life” with Rebecca, he really means stealing hers. And “you, me, us” could easily slip right into your standard wedding vows — even though, in this case, it’s the dead fully stealing the life of the living.
• It’s going to be really interesting to go back and watch the previous six episodes and try to figure out whether Miles and Flora are 1) themselves, 2) being influenced by their secret conversations with Quint and Jessel, or 3) being possessed by Quint and Jessel.
• Hard to imagine an image more traditionally gothic than Jessel’s corpse sinking down to join Quint’s at the bottom of the lake.
• Quint’s mom is played by Lizzy McInnerny. You might have seen her recently in The Crown, where she played Elizabeth’s nanny and confidante Bobo MacDonald.
• The investigating officer derisively refers to Quint as Henry Wingrave’s “butler” — which means that, as in so many classic British mysteries, the butler did it.
• “It’s hell. It’s like I’m in hell.” “Well… Where else would you go?”
• Meep meep.