The Haunting of Bly Manor is the second installment of The Haunting Netflix franchise, which is based off of the Shirley Jackson book The Haunting of Hill House. The two series are created in the tradition of gothic horror and focus on the inner demons of the human psyche. Bly Manor attempts to create a varied story that centers around compassion, love, and great loss.
Honestly, this show will break your heart in so many ways. But it also has glimmering moments that fill the viewer with hope for all of those that are involved—and it even holds a retrospective mirror up to those who watch. While the queer relationships in the show have been met with lukewarm reception, there still remains the the persistent need for queer stories that are complex and not easy to digest.
For queer people and trans people, our lives hang in a constant state of balance. Having to deal with an existence where your life is ultimately politicized and criminalized means that every waking moment is an act of resistance.
The call for more positive representation of queer people should come as no surprise as the relationships that exist within the show are not the stuff of fairytales. While the LGBTQA community deserve fairy tales—it would be remiss of us to decline exploration of the bittersweet feelings and stories that exist within our communities and relationships. I don’t resent calls for rose colored storylines, but I also enjoy stories that suss out the gritty ins and outs of what it means to be queer and it means to love. Queer tropes like the sacrifiial lamb and martyrdom seem to occur in Bly Manor’s storyline and deserve to be called out. Despite this I aim to look upon the universal themes of human suffering that include the ultimate villain in the story— the brevity of our time here on earth and how you choose to live it. For queer people and trans people, our lives hang in a constant state of balance. Having to deal with an existence where your life is ultimately politicized and criminalized means that every waking moment is an act of resistance.
Spoiler warning: This article contains spoilers for The Haunting of Bly Manor from here on! If you haven’t seen the series yet, bookmark this page and come back!
At the opening of Bly Manor, Dani (Victoria Pedretti) doesn’t know what is coming for her. Young and bright eyed, we are introduced to her as the main protagonist of Jamie’s (Carla Gugino) opening story. Jamie was Dani’s partner and clearly has survived the ordeal that she welcomes the viewer to hear.
Though we haven’t the slightest clue about Dani, it is clear that her story harbors something tragic. The universe seems to shine upon her when she takes up a position with Mr. Wingrave (Henry Thomas), a lawyer who had been searching for an au pair for his orphaned niece and nephew. While she was not the first choice, she succeeded in tapping into Mr. Wingrave’s own anxiety about finding a suitable au pair, securing the job for herself. She is well received by the rest of the Bly Manor crew, including a younger Jamie (Amelia Eve)—her future lover and catalyst for healing from her traumatic past.
Her tragic past is revealed when we see that Dani had once been engaged to a childhood sweetheart before she came to England, but began to feel conflicted about her identity, particularly after almost kissing her wedding dress seamstress. The all too familiar fear that arises when one is questioning, is “What will my family think?” For anyone who has ever come to terms with questioning their sexuality, this is a make or break moment.
While her mother is none too privy to the idea of traditional marriage’ (just heterosexuality, martinis and promoscuity), as a child Dani internalizes the harmful heteronormative fairy tale that was unattainable to her as she grows up. As an adult, Dani decides that she cannot go through with the wedding and must put herself first, breaking up with her fiance. Tragically, he is killed the night that she breaks off the engagement. Watching her best friend get hit by a truck destroys Dani. And even worse—she finds herself haunted by his ghostly presence whenever she looks into a mirror. Whether his apparition is truly there or not, his appearance could be seen as a metaphor for Dani’s guilt for honoring who she truly is the night he was killed. Sometimes “coming out” to your friends and family can feel a bit like dying; particularly if your family refuses to acknowledge who you are as a person. In a way, breaking up with Edmund represented the death Dani also felt when she realized who she was. She had taken the first step towards becoming herself but the celebration was cut short when Edmund was killed. Talk about upstaging!
Then comes the night when Jamie and Dani realize that there is more to their ‘friendship’ than they previously thought. When they lean into kiss Dani is terrified as Edmund appears creepily in the background. Jamie believes Dani when Dani confides in her about her past but has no solution to her problem. Jamie assures Dani that it’s okay and that perhaps, their kiss wasn’t a mistake. This particular scene brings Dani to face her inner demons and to confront the ghost of Edmund so that she may embark on the resurrection she was meant to have that night he died.
As she works as the children’s au pair, Dani realizes there is more to Bly Manner than meets the eye. As it turns out, love and betrayal are infused into the household—and secrets keep anyone who lives there from ever being able to leave. Through Dani’s story, the show explores how we sometimes do want to have the families we crave; however, what we want may not be what we were taught families look like. Dani’s particular situation entails the destruction of the preconceived notions of what love is and what it can be.
Though Dani and Jamie knew that Dani alone would have to deal with the Lady, they still decided to love each other as if each day could be the last.
Though she undoubtedly loved Edmund, she was not in love with him in a direct heteronormative fashion. Perhaps it wasn’t even about his gender, but about the person that he was and how she wasn’t sure if she could actually commit. All of the different stages of love could apply but with the sudden tragedy after her confession, all understanding and healing was off of the table. Dani carried around the guilt in her heart and also regarded her newfound understanding of her sexual identity as the cause of his death. In truth, had he not died, she would not have experienced the love and healing she experienced with Jamie.
Sacrifice is a main theme of Bly Manor and Dani pays the ultimate sacrifice to save those she loves most. While I had hoped that Jamie and Dani could live happily ever after in their plant shop, Dani decides to ensure that the Lady of the Lake cannot harm anyone, ever again. Her demise also reminds us that when we make the choice to hide who we truly are, we can get wrapped up within our own restrictions and misery. Though Dani and Jamie knew that Dani alone would have to deal with the Lady, they still decided to love each other as if each day could be the last. It is a grave error to hide behind our traumatic pasts and to run away from our demons and we must be brave enough to love in the face of adversity. It is the only way that we can attempt to truly heal and maybe live a fulfilling life. For those fleeting moments before Jamie’s story ends, Dani feels the love and acceptance she had been staving off for so long.
Perfect endings don’t exist, but Dani and Jamie’s relationship is an important example of queer representation. The bittersweet fate between Dani and Jamie reminds me of some of my triumphant loves that have helped me heal from my past trauma and my struggles with my own bisexuality. This is not to say that we all must find a mythical soulmate in order to conquer our own demons, but in this particular case Jamie served as a helpful reminder to Dani that love conquers fear. Watching them carry on their lives with the constant threat of life’s fragility, while using a ghost to represent the danger of falling completely in love with each other is genius.
The consistent threat to most queer relationships is discrimination but here it is only because Dani throws herself into the fire once more that the children can live a full life. What a perfect metaphor for intergenerational queer resilience. In my mind, LGBTQA activists constantly strive to build a world where children can grow up to fully embrace who they are and love who they choose. So perhaps, this is a fairy tale ending—just one that is nuanced and bittersweet.
In the end, I liked Bly Manor because of its efforts to display the ugliness and beauty of growth and self actualization. It is not an easy road but as our LGBTQA foreparents have shown us, resilience and courage will guide us to the ultimate goal—experiencing true love in all of its forms, whether terrifyingly dark or gorgeously golden.
The Haunting of Bly Manor is available to stream on Netflix.