The following contains spoilers for The Haunting of Bly Manor.
While many have pointed out that The Haunting of Bly Manor is not quite as scary as its predecessor, it certainly has a more satisfying conclusion. The Haunting of Hill House seemed to lose its nerve in the final hour, delivering an ending that was too saccharine and unearned. On the flipside, Bly Manor concludes its story in heart wrenching, then bitter sweet fashion, revealing the identity of the series’ mysterious narrator, detailing the fates of the 1987-set characters, and expelling the spirits of the titular manor.
Here is what really happens at the end of The Haunting of Bly Manor.
The Romance of Certain Old Clothes
Much of episode 9 “The Beast in the Jungle” is informed by the penultimate episode “The Romance of Certain Old Clothes,” a break from Bly Manor’s central story and a loose adaptation of Henry James’ short story of the same name. The episode serves as an origin for The Lady in the Lake, the spirit responsible for killing Peter Quint (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and creating the “gravity” that holds in all of the spirits misfortunate enough to die at Bly Manor. The black and white episode follows Viola (Kate Siegel) and Perdita (Katie Parker), two 17th century sisters who are left with Bly Manor after the passing of their father. Both sisters fall in love with the same man named Arthur Lloyd, but Viola, the more competitive, Type A sister, wins his hand in marriage.
However, Viola grows ill and in the many years she lives after being diagnosed as terminal, she grows angry, resentful, and jealous of her sister for growing close to her husband. Before her death, Viola makes Arthur swear that her collection of fine gowns be saved for their daughter, believing that along with her husband, Perdita will get her hands on her prized clothing and jewelry as well. Perdita, having waited far too long to get the proper love and recognition from Viola’s husband while her sister clings to life, suffocates ailing Viola.
Sure enough, Perdita marries Viola’s widowed husband, but their relationship goes south after Arthur squanders away their savings. At risk of losing their home, Perdita suggests that they sell the chest containing Viola’s gowns and jewelry, but it is forbidden. When Perdita opens the chest to go through the old gowns herself, Viola’s spirit kills her. Fearing the curse on the chest, Viola and Perdita’s widower throw the chest into the lake, thus creating The Lady in the Lake who sleeps, wakes, and walks over and over again, taking victims from the Bly Manor grounds. Over time, as her story and name are forgotten, Viola herself forgets who she was, what’s she’s doing, and her face begins to fade, with the anger and resentment she felt before her death being the only thing that drives her.
Dani and the Lady in the Lake
In “The Beast in the Jungle”, Dani (Victoria Pedretti) lets The Lady in the Lake into her consciousness in the same way that Peter Quint and Rebecca Jessel (Tahirah Sharif) were let into little Miles and Flora’s consciousnesses. Dani’s act of sacrifice frees the ghosts of Bly Manor, including Peter, Rebecca and Ms. Grose (T’Nia Miller), and saves Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) and Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth). Dani is seemingly OK, but The Lady of the Lake is now inside of her, lying dormant like a time bomb. One of her eyes turns brown, and she can feel the anger that The Lady in the Lake harbored infecting her. She explains this to Jamie thusly:
“I have this feeling like I’m walking through the dense, overgrown jungle and I can’t really see anything except the path in front of me. But I know there’s this thing hidden. This angry, empty, lonely beast. It’s watching me. Matching my movements. Just out of sight. But I can feel it. I know it’s there. And it’s waiting. She’s waiting. And at some point, she’s going to take me.”
Dani’s feeling is eventually proven correct, but she lives a great life with Jamie before the Lady in the Lake begins wearing down her defenses. She and Jamie move back to the States, open their own flower shop, and live as spouses. However, the beast finally pulls Dani back to Bly Manor, and she assumes her place at the bottom of that icky, depressing lake. Jamie tries her best to save her, to invite her into her own consciousness, but it doesn’t work. Dani becomes the new Lady of the Lake, but never harms another soul at Bly Manor, only walking the grounds peacefully.
At this point, the narrator is revealed to be an older version of Jamie (played by Mike Flanagan muse Carla Gugino). It’s also suggested that those receiving the story are older versions of Flora (on her wedding day), Miles, Henry, and Owen, though it appears that they aren’t perfect analogues. For instance, the bride’s middle name is Flora and she does not have an English accent. This suggests that “Jamie” might be using the story she tells as a metaphor, populating it with figures and tragic events from her own life. When someone asks if the story is true, and if Dani’s ghost is still haunting Bly Manor, Jamie responds, “No, I suspect if you flew to England, you’d find no such place by that name.”
Perhaps losing Dani to the Lady of the Lake was a metaphor to losing her lover to a terminal illness, like in Viola’s story, dementia, like Owen’s mother, or depression. The bride seems to suggest this by relaying her fears about dying before her husband (played by The Room’s Greg Sestero), to which Jamie replies:
“Eventually, after some time, you’ll find little moments, little pieces of your life that remind you of him. And they’ll be silly and dumb, or they’ll be sad and you’ll cry for hours. But they’ll still be pieces of him. And you’ll hold them tight. It’ll be like he’s here with you. Even though he’s gone.”
But then again, if none of this story was real, why would Jamie begin and end the season by drawing a bath, cracking open her hotel room door, and sitting down and waiting for her love to exit her lake and return to her? Nothing about the events of The Haunting of Hill House suggested that the Crain family didn’t go through a traumatic, ghostly experience. And most of The Haunting of Bly Manor feels just as crushingly, heartbreakingly real.
In the end, whether the bride “Flora” is really Flora or whether there’s such a thing as the Lady in the Lake doesn’t change what the show is trying to communicate. Bly Manor is a love story, but it doesn’t gloss over the burden that love can be; the obligation we feel to take care of an ailing loved one, the hoops we jump through to avoid hurting those we love, the lengths lovers go to be together even under enormous stress and odds, the pain we feel over a lover’s absence or death. Jamie’s Bly Manor story could be fiction, but the pain and longing in it is real, real enough that we see Jamie at her hotel, still waiting for the spirit of her love to return.