Mike Flanagan has once again accouched spooky gothic storytelling with The Haunting of Bly Manor. The next part in Flanagan’s horror series, after The Haunting of Hill House, centers on a young live-in nanny, Dani (Victoria Pedretti), who gets dragged in the supernatural events at her new home that seem connected to the young children, Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) and Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth).
Now that you’ve binged the whole season, you’re probably wondering what that vague ending meant, don’t worry; you’re not alone. We’re here to walk you through it. By the end, you can decide what to make of it – Is the ending even connected to the rest of the story? Or is the end the final turn of the screw?
Henry James’s original novel uses a frame narrative. It means a storyteller in the book sets up an entirely different story that they then proceed to narrate. The show observes this same format. Introducing us early on to an unknown woman (Carla Gugino) attending a rehearsal wedding dinner. She tells the other guests the haunting ghost story that becomes the main narrative of the series.
Throughout the series, we return to the narrator, either by voiceovers or flash-forwards, reminding us that while all of the main action is taking place in a spooky gothic mansion in 1987, the narrator describes it all from the year 2007.
When the series opens, the unidentified woman tells us that this story isn’t hers to tell but rather belongs to someone she knew. This implies she must have personally known the main character, Dani (Victoria Pedretti), the nanny who comes to stay at Bly Manor to take care of two mysterious and weird children, Miles and Flora.
From there, things get weird. Dani and the children all see the ghosts of past inhabitants of the manor, some with more evil intent than others. None of the residents and souls affiliated with Bly seem to leave after they die, so the place is a bit crowded with the supernaturals.
The second last episode of the series reveals that all of the evil that’s keeping souls attached to the estate begins with one revengeful ghost, Viola (Kate Siegel), who’s become known as the Lady of the Lake. It’s not only Viola’s curse that’s murderous but also Viola herself: She has a bad habit of killing anyone who happens to cross her path when she’s on the prowl.
In the final episode, Viola errs Flora for her own long-lost daughter and tries to take her into the lake to keep Flora’s spirit with her. (It’s not exactly clear why this moment happens when it does, since Flora’s been seeing Viola’s ghost the entire time, but that’s the magic of a convenient plot climax!)
In a last effort to save Flora’s life, Dani moves Viola’s ghost into her own body using a technique developed by another ghost, Peter. A human can allow a ghost to share their body to a greater or lesser degree.
Once Viola enters Dani’s body, her curse is immediately broken. All of the ghosts of the manor vanish, possibly free to leave the manor. This part is easy to abstain, since the narrator tells us that’s what happened while Dani is busy saving Flora.
Once things settle down, the characters go their separate ways. Dani starts a new life with her lover Jamie, the manor gardener, who moves with her to America. Owen, the chef, returns to Paris, where he opens a restaurant. The children’s distant uncle accepts his role as their caretaker. And as for the children, they can’t remember anything from their time at Bly Manor.
For five years, things are good. Dani and Jamie exchange wedding rings. It is then Dani begins to sense Viola’s ghost is taking over her body. To stop this, she returns to Bly and drowns herself in the lake. Dani is now dead. She, too, is a ghost of Bly Manor. But because her peaceful soul is now entangled with Viola’s. Viola’s spirit can no more cause harm.
Who is the Narrator?
The story could easily end, except for one simple lingering question: Who is the narrator, and why is she telling this story?
We’re given our first impression when the final episode fast-forwards to 2007. As the narrator ends her tale, the guests drive her for details: Is this story real? What about Bly Manor? She refuses to confirm or deny whether Bly Manor ever existed.
Once left alone, she and the wedding party’s bride then have a short heart-to-heart about love and loss. It’s then that the bride makes an odd remark. Guesses? Her middle name happens to be Flora.
Hold on! There’s more twist to it.
Everything comes full circle
The next thing we witness is the wedding reception. The bride performs first with her groom, then with an older gentleman. The mysterious narrator watches from a corner. We see two other people at the wedding party through her eyes. Our narrator sees a younger Owen and a 10-year-old Miles. This gathers the guests at the wedding are none other than Owen and Miles, watching his sister, “Flora,” dance with their uncle.
As for the narrator, we also get a small impression of her as she once was. It’s Jamie, the gardener and Dani’s true love.
You may be confused by this. If the people in the wedding party are the characters, why didn’t Flora recognize herself during the narration? Maybe because Flora and Miles both lost their memories of everything that happened at the manor. It seemed like she doesn’t even remember living at the manor, to begin with.
After the event, we witness Jamie going home, where she sleeps with her door open, as if expecting someone. And someone does come — the ghost of Dani, who sees Jamie in the final scene, still having her wedding ring.
This makes it clear that Jamie told the entire story to Flora. A story about love, devotion, and loss to remember both Flora’s own relationship journey as well as Jamie’s own lost love.
Still, ambiguity persisted! As Jamie tells, it remains possible that Bly Manor never existed. t Flora, Miles, and their other story analogues never lived there or experienced any ghostly activities at all. Maybe Jamie made up the entire story to cover Dani’s struggle with mental illness.
Maybe Miles and Flora endured childhood trauma of a different sort, from which their family and friends have since protected them. Or Maybe the entire story is simply a straightforward tale of love, loss, and healing, with some imaginative ghosts thrown in to liven things up. The Haunting of Bly Manor ends without filling in any of these blanks.
The Haunting of Bly Manor is streaming on Netflix and had an IMDb rating of 8/10 on IMDb and 88% on Rotten Tomatoes.