The following contains spoilers for every episode of THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR.
“I liked your story”, a grown-up Flora tells an older Jamie in The Haunting of Bly Manor’s finale. “But I think you set it up wrong just in the beginning. You said it was a ghost story. It isn’t. It’s a love story.” Almost right. The Haunting of Bly Manor is two love stories: the centre-stage romance between Bly’s au pair and gardener Dani and Jamie, and the unrealised romance between housekeeper and chef, Hannah and Owen.
Both are tragic tales. Dani and Jamie’s marriage was unfairly – like too many lesbian love stories on screen – cut off in its prime, while Hannah and Owen’s relationship was stopped before it could even begin. Before the pair had confessed their true feelings to each other, Hannah was killed. Not that she realised.
“You went off a cliff and you just kept going”
That’s the thing about living in a haunted house: when you become a ghost, very little changes. The rules of Bly Manor show that until a ghost’s facial features fade away, they look just like the living, can make themselves seen by the living, and are able to physically touch objects and people – hence, for instance, Viola being able to choke Peter to death.
Viola’s story, in which her intractable resolve to remain at Bly keeps the spirit of anybody else who died there prisoner on the grounds, also shows how the personality of the living can bring to bear on the rules of their afterlife. Hannah’s denial of her own death not only made her continuously visible to the living, but also ‘dream’ different outfits and accessories, creating the illusion that she was still one of them.
In truth, Hannah Grose died on the day that Dani arrived at Bly. Minutes before Flora brought the new au pair to meet Mrs Grose, Hannah was pushed into a well by a possessed Miles, broke her neck, and died. The person who greets Dani and takes her inside the house is Hannah’s ghost, who then lives alongside Dani, Jamie, Owen and the children for a week or more after her death, not accepting that she too is caught in Bly’s peculiar “glue trap”. Incidentally, Mrs Grose may have the same name as the illiterate, exposition-tool housekeeper from Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, but she’s an entirely new take on the character.
The Altar of the Dead
Hannah’s denial lays the ground for The Haunting of Bly Manor’s strongest installment by far, episode 5 ‘The Altar of the Dead.’ In it, ghost-Hannah slips from year to year and memory to memory, not cognisant of her murder. Her subconscious gives her a series of clues to prod her to the realisation that she’s no longer alive, but Hannah, played with beautiful sensitivity by T’Nia Miller (recently seen in Russell T. Davies’ Years and Years), refuses to accept it and fails to grasp the significance of the repeated motifs and phrases connected to her final moments of life.
Phrases such as “Honestly, Hannah,” which were the last words she heard spoken before being pushed into the well and dying. They were spoken by her killer, 10-year-old Miles possessed by the ghost of Peter Quint. In episode 5, we hear the words spoken by Peter on four occasions: after seeing Hannah spying on him and Rebecca in the children’s schoolroom (“Honestly, Hannah. You should give the vacuum a rest.”), a possessed-by-Peter Miles says them while walking away after Hannah berates him for smoking, ghost-Peter says them once again when she sees him standing with Miles by the well, (“Honestly, Hannah, do you ever get tired of being such a bore?”), before Miles finally repeats them as he pushes Hannah to her death.
The repetition appears to be Hannah’s subconscious reminding her of what’s happened, just the same as the distinctive crack she keeps seeing on walls around the estate. Appearing in the kitchen, in the chapel, and in Bly’s closed-down wing, the crack is the final image Hannah sees before death, hence its recurrence in the days immediately afterwards as her mind tries to nudge her towards accepting what’s happened.
“Live a little”
There are other hints too. Listen carefully to episode 5’s dialogue and the number of references to life, living and being alive are almost comically frequent in light of what we come to learn about Hannah. Sitting next to Owen (iZombie‘s Rahul Kohli) at the bonfire, Hannah is told that “any of us could die at any moment” and implores her to come with him to Paris. When she mockingly asks what she’d do in Paris, he tells her “eat croissants, drink good wine… live.” Earlier, in one of the many iterations of Owen’s job interview scene, he (therefore: she) says he’s “learning a lot about being alive.” After Peter Quint chastises her for spying on him, he tells Hannah to “live a little.”
In the chapel, Rebecca (therefore: Hannah) says she’s never felt “so alive”, and is told “there’s a difference between feeling good and feeling alive.” After Hannah’s marriage breaks up, Charlotte offers her the housekeeper role as a live-in position, offering her the chance to stay at Bly “forever” if she needs to. Again in the chapel, Charlotte tells Hannah she lit a candle for her (in truth for her cheating husband Sam) and it’s remarked on that remembrance candles aren’t lit for the living.
On a second watch, the dramatic irony is overwhelming. Even the characters can see it. When Hannah tells Peter-Miles off for smoking, she asks him “Do you want to die a horrible, choking death?” and Peter-Miles laughs, because thanks to Viola, that’s exactly how he did die. And, while this may simply be period texture, when Dani leaves a ‘tucked-away’ Flora sleeping in bed and walks into the kitchen, Owen is midway through trying to convince Hannah to go with him to a Patrick Swayze concert. Now, can you really bring up Swayze in the context of an alive person/dead person romance and not expect viewers’ minds to think of 1990’s Ghost? (Yeah, maybe you can. I’ll give you that one.)
It’s not just in episode 5; there are clues throughout. When Dani meets Hannah in the chapel on the day of Owen’s mother’s funeral, Hannah explains away her absence by saying that Owen understands that funerals are for the living. Of course, due to Viola’s curse on the manor, no spirits who die there are able to pass beyond its grounds, so there’s no question of Hannah leaving to attend a funeral in the village. When Hannah revisits the memory of her telling the children to slow down and stop running or they’ll “break their bloody skulls,” can it be a coincidence that she’s speaking as somebody with a broken skull? Imagery of her death is everywhere.
Hannah’s denial is partly caused by the person who broke that skull: young Miles, whom she loves and repeatedly insists to memory-Owen is, “a good boy” though (dramatic irony klaxon) he “hasn’t exactly been himself” of late. Ignorant of Bly Manor’s ghosts (who, until Dani arrives, bringing her own ghost and trauma-related sensitivity to the afterlife with her, had only been seen by Miles and Flora), Hannah doesn’t know the deal. Until she witnesses Peter being dragged away by Viola as part of her episode five psychic travels, Hannah hadn’t seen the ghosts, despite having spent years cleaning up Viola’s muddy footprints. Hannah therefore didn’t realise that Miles was possessed by Peter, and so allowed him to lead her into the woods for the “surprise” of seeing her own dead body.
“You just need to look down, Hannah”
Why, when Peter Quint realised his situation within minutes of being murdered, did Hannah have such trouble accepting her fate? The easy answer is: because it’s a TV-show twist-reveal to provide a The Sixth Sense-style ‘aha’ moment. Character-wise, the explanation comes from what the role of Bly Manor housekeeper means to Hannah, and the show’s thematic concern with the search for peace. When Hannah’s husband left her for another woman, Bly Manor became her permanent home. When Peter cruelly threatened her with dismissal, she insisted that Bly was not just her job but her home. Jamie’s voiceover leading into episode five tells us that “The housekeeper would always find her way back to peace in her daily routine.” Hannah is happy at Bly, and tells Dani as much in the chapel. The sense of purpose and peace that Hannah found in her role at Bly was so fundamental that even death wouldn’t stop her from getting up, putting on her earrings, and going to work. That’s part of it at least.
Episode five, written by Angela LaManna and directed by Liam Gavin, is a beautiful hour of television. It’s puzzling and disorienting but with a strong mystery thread drawing us through the fog towards a solid conclusion. It’s T’Nia Miller’s detailed performance that really makes it great drama. Miller beams out Hannah’s trauma from under a thick layer of emotional restraint. On the surface, Hannah seems as controlled as her primly co-ordinated and accessorised outfits, but Miller reveals the pain and panic underneath.
The pain and panic, and the love. In one of the many replays of Hannah’s first meeting with Owen at his interview for the job of Bly chef, she girlishly recalls finding him a curious and charming man. “I looked at you and I almost forgot myself for a moment.” Hannah’s love for Owen is the reason she keeps returning to that first meeting. “I prefer it here, this one, this day, with you … I loved you Owen. I should have told you. What a life we could have had” If Bly means home for Hannah Grose, so does Owen.
Let life happen to you
Hannah’s last words are a message to Owen. While Henry Wingrave is being resuscitated in the finale, Hannah leaves his ‘figment’ with an instruction. “When he checks the well, please tell Owen I’m sorry. Tell him I love him,” she says, before being cut off mid-sentence as the spell breaks and Bly’s trapped spirits are released. “And as for the rest…” Then Hannah is gone. What would the remainder of her last words have been? We can’t know, though, in light of Owen’s taste for literary quotation (he quotes both Hamlet and Romeo & Juliet in the series), perhaps she was about to cite Rainer Maria Rilke in his Letters to a Young Poet: “And as for the rest, let life happen to you. Believe me: life is in the right, always.”
After Hannah leaves Bly for good, we learn the depth of Owen’s feelings for her. While he’s lighting a candle to Hannah in the chapel, Jamie tells us that he helped to retrieve her body and prepared it for burial, never leaving her side. His Parisian bistro is dedicated to her memory, and his speech at Flora’s rehearsal dinner has a bittersweet message that applies to so many of The Haunting of Bly Manor’s relationships, cruelly cut off before their time: Viola and her daughter Isabelle, Henry and Charlotte, Flora and Miles and their parents, Dani and Jamie, Owen and Hannah: “To truly love another person is to accept that the work of loving them is worth the pain of losing them.”
The Haunting of Bly Manor is streaming now on Netflix.