When The Haunting of Hill House was released in 2018, many discussed the exploration of grief and how every single of the Crain children represented a stage of the grieving process. By showcasing each stage by the way of each child, the show was able to explore the trauma that they all had suffered and how each of them handled it years later. It was brilliant and helped craft a series that even two years later, upon multiple rewatches, different layers can be found within it. With the release of the second season, many will look at it expecting to watch Hill House all over again. But the truth is, Bly Manor is the exact opposite of Hill House. The show outright says it by the end.
(And this is where I warn you about spoilers for the season. Come in at your own peril. Good, let’s continue.)
This isn’t a ghost story, it’s a love story. I had the chance to watch it early and discuss it with others who had the same chance as me. Like many, we compared it to Hill House but once we stopped, we found ourselves in front of a show that does something special, that goes against the grain of what we all expected. Once you realize that this is a love story, once you see how each inhabitant of Bly connects to one another, it becomes something entirely different. And to quote Flora: “That is perfectly splendid”.
But you see, while Bly Manor is a love story, death is at the center of everything. Each of the inhabitants of Bly walks the hall of the Manor with emotional baggage that they can’t seem to let go. Mike Flanagan lets us embark on this nine-hour long journey and through those nine hours, we get to explore characters that we fall in love with just like we did with Hill House. We all walk around with some sort of trauma, some more than others. But the thing is, most of us try to never confront it, living with it in shame and hoping that it never catches up to us. It’s unhealthy and frankly something we should all avoid doing, but somehow most of us do. If we decide to avoid our trauma, Bly Manor forces it humans to face them. How so? Mostly with ghosts. But the ghosts are just a front, a way to let us in and show us how broken these humans are.
Hill House was scary, throwing us into a world where children were traumatized by ghosts that at any turn were ready to kill them. It destroyed their lives and years later, their trauma defined who they were. It wasn’t until they got the chance to go back following an unthinkable tragedy that they were able to heal. It explored the idea of family and how each of them can save each other. After all, none of them would have survived the Red Room if Nell hadn’t saved them.
Bly Manor is still about love and loss but it deals with death in a different way. If Hill House was about remembering those we lost, Bly Manor is about forgetting them. How in time we all grow and forget the ones we all loved. The ghosts that walk the halls of Hill House and Bly Manor could not be more different. The ghosts of Hill House had names, faces, identity. Bly Manor’s are the opposite, forgotten souls wandering around the halls, waiting for death to come and collect them.
What makes Bly Manor scary is the reality that someday we will become just like them. One day we will die and everyone who knows us will also be dead. We will be nothing more than a name on a stone. You can’t count on the past, we think we have everything trapped in our memories, but memories fade. Everything and everyone fades with time. That might be the central idea of the show. Everyone might fade away and be forgotten but at the same time, we shouldn’t stop living because of that idea. Bly Manor’s love story is proof of that. Loving another person is also to accept that loving them is worth the pain of losing them.
But love can’t always save you. Love can also destroy you. It destroyed Dani before Bly. She was slowly disappearing in a relationship that wasn’t right for her. Putting herself last to please the one she loved. And when she finally admits her truth, she finds herself rewarded by death. A death she can’t escape, running to the other side of the world to try and forget. She’s so haunted by the idea that she essentially killed him, that she literally can not look at herself in the mirror. And once she finally lets herself love again and be loved, her trauma follows her. Her ghost will never leave her alone, every time she looks at a mirror, every time she lets Jamie love her, her guilt follows her around. It isn’t until she finally invites another ghost inside her that she finally lets go of her past. But her trauma is simply replaced by another, one that kills her slowly.
Dani’s love might have saved Flora but in the end, it dooms her. She sacrifices herself for her. Her love for Flora is her ultimate doom. Just like Viola (The Lady of the Lake), the love for a daughter is what keeps her alive but at what price? She isn’t herself anymore, she tries to be and for years she was able to do it, with the love of someone who protected her and showed her who she could be. But the truth is that the moment that Dani took someone else trauma into herself, she lost herself. The way Bly Manor does that is by changing the colour of her eyes. The moment The Lady of the Lake is welcomed by Dani, the colour of her eyes changes. No amount of love can stop her ultimate death, she is destined to return to Bly and become The Lady of the Lake. Because the truth is that love can’t save you all the time. Sometimes, our ghosts catch up to us.
When, she finally goes, finally stop delaying the inevitable because of how scared she is of destroying the one person she loves, Dani puts love before herself once again. When Jamie returns to Bly, to try and be with Dani in death, she finds herself in the lake screaming those words she heard so long ago, praying for Dani to take her. But Dani will never do that. For Dani, love and ownership are total opposites, they cannot live together. She is not Peter Quint, she will never be Peter Quint. She will not kill the one she loves to get one more second with her. She might be trapped but will not bring Jamie down with her. Because unlike Viola and Peter she will do everything in her power to protect the one she loves and will not bring anyone down with her. If she has to be alone and forgotten forever, she is okay with that.
Love is all around us, love can save us but also can destroy us. The thing is, love is a lot of work. Working for it is the thing we all need to do. Working to be the best we can. Love is not easy and shouldn’t be easy. Bly Manor proves that, creates the greatest love story within a ghost story. Because isn’t that what love is? Delaying the inevitable that one day we will end up alone and forgotten, wandering souls marching the halls of a house we have no recollection of. But maybe, love is having that one person, that one person who never forgets you. That one person who even decades after you leave, will look at water in a sink hoping to see your reflection, sleep with the door cracked open and a chair facing it. Love is work but sometimes it’s worth all the trauma and suffering.
Because in the end, it’s you, it’s me, it’s us.