The Haunting of Bly Manor hit Netflix last week, which means it’s officially open season on spoilers for Mike Flanagan’s second instalment in his Haunting anthology series. We’ve gathered some of the best tidbits and insights from the cast and crew, but please only read on if you’ve watched the whole series.
As we knew previously, Bly Manor takes most of its inspiration from Henry James’ novella The Turn of the Screw. But it also draws from James’ short stories; look closely and you’ll see that every episode is named for a James story, which Vanity Fair points out as part of a helpful rundown of how each James tale compares to its corresponding episode.
Of particular interest is “The Romance of Certain Old Clothes,” which is the eighth of nine episodes and explains the origins of malevolent ghost Viola (played by The Haunting of Hill House’s Kate Segal), who tracks soggy footprints into the mansion at regular intervals. It is a close adaptation of the James story. As Vanity Fair explains: “It tells the tale of two sisters who fall in love with the same man. One is sick (but has a wardrobe to die for), and the other eventually gets the man (but literally dies for the clothes).” Yep. Other episodes are not quite so literal, but in case where you were wondering where that sudden black-and-white episode set hundreds of years in the past came from, there’s your answer.
This becomes important to Bly Manor’s main story when Dani (Hill House’s Victoria Pedretti) rescues her young charge Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) from being drowned by inviting Viola’s spirit into her body; years later, when Viola begins to awaken violent urges in Dani, the former au pair returns to Bly Manor to drown herself and quiet the ghost. “It’s very sad and tragic that Dani feels this need to take on the burden of the Lady of the Lake. But she really made that impulsive decision,” Pedretti said in an interview with Bustle. “She takes responsibility for that by returning herself to the lake.”
That same lake also claims the au pair who worked at Bly before Dani: Rebecca Jessel, played by Tahirah Sharif. Rebecca dies when she allows her dead boyfriend, Peter Quint (Hill House’s Oliver Jackson-Cohen) — who’s been killed by Viola — to possess her, not realising he’ll take the opportunity to drown her so she’ll also be dead and they can be together forever. “The moment she realises what happened, and the way in which she died, and what [Peter had] done, is the moment she breaks away,” Sharif explained to Bustle. “Because she’s absolutely horrified by the fact that someone who says that they love her could do something like this.” In later episodes, we see ghost Rebecca side with Dani over Peter, and her actions help her save Flora in the end.
The biggest shock in Bly Manor might just be the reveal that housekeeper Hannah Grose (T’Nia Miller) is actually a ghost. Deep into the season, we see Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth), who’s possessed by Peter, shove her into a well on the property moments before Dani arrives for her first day of work. “She’s so multilayered. She has this very stiff thing going on, keeping it together,” Miller said of her character in an interview with Elle. “But actually, she’s like a swan, seemingly gliding through life. She is in denial. She’s so scared of upsetting the status quo. She’s so scared of being vulnerable or being left and not being liked and not being loved.” (Miller also confessed that she didn’t see the twist coming for her own character until she read it in the script: “I was like, Oh, shit, I’m dead.”)
Hannah is unique among Bly Manor’s other ghosts because she doesn’t realise she’s dead for quite a while after it happens. This helps keep the truth from the audience because her refusal to embrace the truth enables her to change her clothes and touch living people in the way that Rebecca and Peter can’t. “Similarly to Hannah, I think all of us sometimes we’re in denial of what we’re going [through],” Miller told Comicsbeat. “We push emotions down and push things away because we don’t want to face them. And Hannah was doing that all along, until she has no choice but to face the biggest demon, the biggest ghost, which is herself.”
Another twist in Bly Manor is the reveal in the finale that the narrator — played by Hill House’s Carla Gugino — is an older version of Jamie (Amelia Eve), the groundskeeper who falls in love with Dani, and that the wedding where she’s telling the story that propels the series is Flora’s. It’s years later, and neither Flora nor Miles can remember their ghostly experiences at Bly. “Wanting them to have the lessons that were learned as a result of what happened without having to go through it again and to feel that pain again,” Eve told Comicsbeat, explaining why she thought Jamie would choose to tell that story in that moment. “I think by turning it into this fiction instead and dropping it in gently, they’re able to still learn the lessons that were learned through this real struggle that they experienced without bombing these kids out and like sending them on a downward spiral and them turning into the Hill House kids.”
Speaking of Hill House, for everyone who’s complaining that Bly Manor isn’t nearly as scary as its predecessor, Pedretti told Bustle she personally doesn’t think it’s supposed to be: “It’s not [scarier than Hill House]. I find it almost somewhat fairytale-like.”
The Haunting of Bly Manor is on Netflix now.