[Spoiler Warning if you haven’t seen The Haunting of Bly Manor.]
In the last episode of The Haunting of Bly Manor, titled "The Beast In The Jungle," the Storyteller, played by Carla Gugino, finishes telling the story of Bly Manor and its residents. After almost all the guests go to sleep, one remains: a bride who will soon become a wife. The young woman looks at the other and says, "You said it was a ghost story. It isn't. It's a love story."
The bride's words are true. The Haunting of Bly Manor is a beautiful tale, a heart-wrenching gothic romance based on the works of Henry James. Flanagan did something extraordinary. The director, known from The Haunting of Hill House and Doctor Sleep, took the writer's work and transformed it into a refreshing sapphic love story that ultimately relates to the LGBTQ+ society on a very personal, deep level.
When we meet the American au pair, Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti), she's just arrived in England to take on a job offered by Henry Wingrave (Henry Thomas). The young, blonde-haired woman travels to Bly Manor, a beautiful yet dreary mansion, to care for Flora and Miles (Amelie Bea Smith, Benjamin Evan Ainsworth), orphaned siblings. Together with the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose (T'Nia Miller), the chef, Owen (Rahul Kohli), and the gardener, Jamie (Amelia Eve), Dani navigates her life in the manor while caring for Henry's niece and nephew. But not everything is as it appears. The kids act quite odd, and their erratic, peculiar behavior is connected to the late Miss Jessel (Tahirah Sharif), who was the au pair before Dani.
Although the mystery revolving around Miss Jessel and Peter (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), Henry's former employee who went missing, is quite surprising and, at times, scary, it's another storyline that brings the audience to their utmost attention. Dani and Jamie's heartbreaking, emotional, and utterly beautiful love story also awes viewers with its narrative, storytelling, and tragic finale.
From the beginning of the series, Dani's past is mysterious. The audience doesn't learn about it right away. At first, we can only notice an unknown man's dark shadow with rising flames reflecting in his round glasses. As each episode passes, we find out that the shadow man is Dani's fiancé, who died brutally the second after she broke off their engagement. After all, the only thing she has in her possession are those round glasses.
The character, so flawlessly played by talented Victoria Pedretti, had her reasons rooted deep within her. The shadow the character keeps seeing can be read as a result of her guilt. Dani blames herself for Eddie's death and blindly believes that she caused it. However, that changes when she meets Jamie. Dani's sexuality finally climbs out and comes to light. The gardener helps her understand that she shouldn't blame herself for wanting to be who she truly is. Dani comes to terms with her true self and confronts Edmund’s ghost by the bonfire. As per Jamie's knowledge, the bonfire is also known as "bone fire." In the time of Celts, bones were burnt to ward off evil spirits. It's a perfect place to confront her guilt and the past that haunts her. She throws Edmund's glasses into the fire, and the shadow of Eddie finally disappears. The main character can subsequently move on.
What happens next is the most unexpected yet notably remarkable part of The Haunting of Bly Manor. Dani and Jamie fall in love with each other. While the au pair tries to figure out what's happening to Flora and Miles, her feelings blossom and become stronger. One of the most beautiful scenes is the one where Dani and Jamie take an evening off. The gardener shows the governess a moonflower: "Everyone is exhaustive," she says, "even the best ones. But sometimes, once in a blue goddammed moon, someone, like this moonflower, just might be worth an effort." In her emotional monologue, Jamie means that Dani is that one moonflower worth an effort. The gardener is not only sweet, but very understanding. When Dani reveals to her earlier that she keeps seeing Edmund's ghost, she doesn't laugh it off, but feels immense compassion for the other woman. Said deep understanding is what drives Dani to kiss Jamie for the first time.
The danger threatens Bly Manor, and the ghosts of Peter and Miss Jessel grow more dangerous than the people. Nevertheless, that doesn't stop Jamie and Dani's relationship to become stronger and more intense. Sadly, nothing lasts forever, especially in a story that is meant to be a gothic romance; The Lady of the Lake disrupts their tranquility. The audience discovers that it's Viola Lloyd, the previous owner of Bly Manor. The woman was murdered by her sister and is now trapped in the lake. When Viola attempts to kidnap Flora, Dani does the most selfless act: "It's you, it's me, it's us," she says, and Viola enters her body. It only further proves how much Dani cares for the children and people close to her heart. As a result, one of her eyes turns a different color. Viola is now a part of her, and Dani knows that she'll be back to consume her whole. Despite the fear, Jamie and Dani decide to travel together and explore the world—one day at a time.
The last 40 minutes of the ninth episode are extraordinary, gratifying, and tragic—all at the same time. We see years of Jamie and Dani's lives; they open the flower shop called Leafling, move in together, meet Owen in his very own restaurant in Paris. Gugino's character narrates their tender, delightful moments: "The days turned to months, the months to more, and before the au pair knew it, a year had passed," the Storyteller continues. "A trip around the sun, and she was still here. She was still her." The audience observes their tranquil happiness, but there is still something in the back of their mind. When will the Lady of the Lake claim Dani's body forever? Yet, the Storyteller reveals, "One year became two. And from two, it spread into an endless time, so it seemed. Three, four, five years would pass. And there was peace". One of the most touching scenes between them is the one in which Dani proposes to Jamie. The au pair knows that she doesn't have a lot of time; she already sees Viola in the reflections, looking at her with the faceless expression that was worn out by unforgiving time. But Dani wants to spend the rest of her remaining days as Jamie's wife. Although they cannot legally get married at this time, they'll know. And that's enough.
Eventually, the harmony they have diminishes. "That peace held for years, which is more than some of us ever get," the Storyteller says. The narrative reaches its apogee when Dani nearly chokes Jamie in her sleep. She then knows that the time has come for her to be the new Lady of the Lake. Jamie wakes up and immediately knows. Although the former gardener travels to Bly and rushes into the lake, she knows that the love of her life wouldn't let her drown. "And [Dani] could not risk her most important thing, her most important person. Not for one day." The Storyteller continues the tale and describes the most tragic, emotional moment of Jamie and Dani's life: "The gardener said the words she'd heard those years ago. She willed it with everything she had: you, me, us. 'Take me with you,' she cried in her heart. 'Take me. Drag me down like you did to others.' But the lady in the lake was different now. The lady in the lake was also Dani. And Dani wouldn't. Dani would never."
As the Narrator takes the audience back to Northern California, she reveals her identity, making The Haunting of Bly Manor finale even more poignant, agonizing yet delightful. Carla Gugino's character turns out to be Jamie. By telling her lover's story, older Jamie makes sure that Dani stays in her memory forever, and one day, she'll come for her. The audience, at long last, understands the beginning of the ninth episode. "For the rest of her days, the gardener would gaze into reflections, hoping to see her face. Her own Lady in the Lake. She'd leave a door open at night, just a crack, should she ever come back. Waiting for her lover to return."
And she does. At the very last second, when Jamie is falling asleep on the chair, her head falling, there is a delicate hand on her right shoulder. Dani's there, although Jamie cannot feel her. Dani is home. The ending can be read in many ways, precisely why Flanagan's work is such a masterclass by leaving the ends open. Did Jamie die and Dani come for her? Is Dani always there because Jamie tells her story over and over? We will not know for sure, and there is a specific beauty in it. As viewers, we can choose our ending.
Despite the tragic, heart-wrenching finale, Dani and Jamie's love story was a true anchor of the show and meant even more than we can imagine, especially for the LGBTQ+ community. It's extremely personal to see such an incredible, beautiful sapphic love story, especially while being a lesbian film and television critic. Their storyline is a true power of The Haunting of Bly Manor. We finally received a love story where sexuality isn't an issue or a core focus of it. Instead, it's a one-of-a-kind, special love between the au pair and the gardener. The LGBTQ+ community deserves to see those stories. We deserve to see the happiness, the love, the domesticity, the bad, the good, and the tragedy of it. Thanks to this storytelling, we are able to finally relate to something that we see on television. With a bit of luck, more filmmakers will follow Flanagan with their narratives and notice how they can positively affect the audience and influence the personal lives of viewers.
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[Photo Credit: Above photo courtesy of The Haunting of Bly Manor on Twitter.]