- Margaret A. Robbins, Ph.D
The Haunting of Bly Manor: A Horror Romance Story that Brings Tears
Caution: Spoilers Present
When I decided to watch The Haunting of Bly Manor during a Halloween month that I daresay looks different from most, I thought I was in for an entertaining, scary story that would take my mind off of the intense elements of life. I was right, and I was wrong.
Not unlike The Haunting of Hill House, which tells the story of a different family, The Haunting of Bly Manor is captivating with realistic, diverse characters and inviting story lines. However, the story haunted me from within, in addition to scaring me at times. As the finale notes, it’s a love story perhaps more so than a ghost story, although the two can certainly overlap. However, it’s also a story about overcoming guilt, and specifically, it’s about love stories that do not get a forever happy ending.
Perhaps the most tragic story is that of Hannah the housekeeper and Owen the cook. It’s a story of lost opportunity. There are hints from the beginning that Hannah might be a ghost, as she politely refuses food as well as a late night invitation to play games with Dani and the kids. However, the viewer doesn’t know this for certain until later in the series. Hannah ends up in a repeated dream sequence where she meets Owen for the first time and feels a strong connection to him. The last time she has this dream, she says, “I love you, and I should have told you,” right before Owen urges her out of the dream to help others escape literal ghosts. In another scene, the two drink wine together at a late night camp fire and talk about potential plans after working at Bly Manor has run its course. Owen talks about finishing his culinary training in France and opening a restaurant there, and he invites Hannah to join him. Initially, it’s a question unanswered due to an interruption, but in later dream sequence scenes, Hannah tells him she’ll go with him and share a life with him in France.
Sadly, this dream is never realized due to Hannah’s death and her inability to leave Bly Manor. However, late in the series, Owen opens a restaurant in Paris called “A Batter Place,” which includes a photo and candle in honor of Hannah. Although his romance doesn’t come to fruition, his dream of owning his own restaurant does. At least Owen gets to have part of his happy ending through his career success. Owen had quit his French culinary program initially to take care of his mother back in England, which is why he took the cook job at Bly Manor, a job not befitting of his qualifications. Owen sometimes felt that his mother was a burden because of her dementia, but he felt guilty for feeling that way. Her death was both tragic and a relief, since she had left long before she died. Owen was definitely a character I was rooting for as a viewer, so I was glad when his restaurant dream came to fruition, even if the woman he loved was there in spirit rather than in body.
Jamie the Gardener and Dani the Au Pair Nanny get to have time together as a couple, just not the long term life together they had hoped for. After they leave Bly, they get to have a quiet life running a floral store. Dani has finally stopped having visions of her dead former fiancé, which were likely a result of the guilt she felt after the terrible accident he faced right after she ended their engagement. Her fiancé did not know she was a closeted queer woman, and Dani never had a chance to tell him why she did not love him more romantically. The guilt with her lies in words unspoken.
Yet thanks to Jamie’s stability and escaping Bly, Dani is finally able to have peace for a while, five years, which as the show’s narrator notes “is longer than some people get.” Yet, eventually, the Lady in the Lake comes to claim her penance, since Dani traded Flora’s life for hers. Dani knew it was only a matter of time, but she had hoped to have longer. Perhaps she got five to six years because that is how much longer the original Lady in the Lake got after getting sick? It’s hard to know, yet Dani knows when her time has come and takes her place as a non-threatening Lady in the Lake. Jamie is heartbroken, yet presses on and gives Flora warm wishes on the night before her wedding many years later.
Arguably, the most complex love story of them all, and the one most plagued by guilt, is Uncle Henry Wingrave. Henry loved his brother’s wife, a woman who was forbidden to him. The two carried on an affair for years while his brother traveled a lot for work. The tragic accident of Mr. and Mrs. Wingrave, ironically enough, happened while they were in India on a trip attempting to rekindle their marriage. Henry’s guilt is why he avoids Miles and Flora for so long, as the adults eventually figure out that Flora is actually Henry’s daughter rather than his niece.
During his days as an alcoholic, Henry’s brother’s ghost visits him, symbolic of his lingering guilt. Eventually, Henry gets sober and invites Miles and Flora to live with him in America. Taking care of the kids is Henry’s restitution, and perhaps, becoming the new, gentler Lady of the Lake is Dani’s. Both characters gain an ending that, while not without complications, brings them a feeling of connection that they wanted in their past lives and did not receive.
Ghosts and monsters are scary. However, the feelings of isolation and guilt are even worse. None of the main characters in The Haunting of Bly Manor get the happy ending they hoped for. However, as someone who has not yet found a permanent significant other, I can appreciate that honesty, and I think a lot of other people can too, just for different reasons.
The characters are flawed. In particular, Henry and Dani are escaping past demons, and Owen is having to reconcile mixed feelings about his mother’s passing. All three characters wrestle with guilt, but eventually get to find peace, at least for a while, with people and/or passions close to their heart. The show reminds us that love can exist in many forms and that even when romantic relationships do not last forever, they are still valuable and important. Guilt can be a scary monster, but people deserve happiness even after making mistakes, so long as they learn from their mistakes and try their best to reconcile them. Because of Dani’s sacrifice and genuine connection with Flora, Bly Manor ghosts finally get to depart in the end. Even though the central characters who live don’t get their fully desired happy endings, they only hold on to the ghosts they want to and can find moments of peace, joy, and love amid the madness that is life.