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If ghost stories and love stories are the same, The Haunting Of Bly Manor should be better at both

Amelia Eve and Victoria Pedretti star in The Haunting Of Bly Manor
Amelia Eve and Victoria Pedretti star in The Haunting Of Bly Manor
Screenshot: The Haunting Of Bly Manor
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“You said it was a ghost story. It isn’t. It’s a love story.”

So says the bride to our tale’s narrator when she finally comes to the story’s end. The narrator, we finally learn, is Jamie. Her monologue for the wedding party has been a long and detailed account of her life with Dani, which begins and ends with the horrors of Bly. In order to save Flora, Dani lets Viola inhabit her body, taking on the darkness of the lady in the lake and freeing the souls trapped at Bly. It’s a tidy and emotionally resonant breaking of the curse. And it happens in the first fifteen minutes of The Haunting Of Bly Manor’s finale. Poor pacing, especially in the back half of the series, plagues this scary story, which ends in such a tidy way that all the ambiguity and nuance of its early episodes flies out the window.

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Much of the rest of the monologue unfolds in montage and summary. Jamie and Owen find Hannah dead in the well. Henry returns to Bly and whisks the kids away to America, and we eventually learn that they have completely forgotten their tough times at Bly, holding onto happy memories only. So yes, that also means the bride whose party older Jamie is crashing is Flora. Miles and Owen are present, too. Older now. Free of Bly’s haunting.

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Dani doesn’t make it out of Bly as easily. Her life with Jamie in America, where they eventually get engaged, is perfectly splendid...until it’s not. Bly Manor sews horror into Dani and Jamie’s love story in tiny moments. Sometimes it’s just in reflections, like Dani’s previous haunting. Viola isn’t always a strong presence in Dani, more like a simmer of rage deep within her. But it grows stronger over time. Until eventually Dani’s got her hands on Jamie’s throat in the middle of the night. Out of love for Jamie and not wanting to hurt her, Dani returns to Bly to kill herself, taking the place of the lady in the lake and fulfilling her devastating fate.

“At some point, she’s going to take me,” Dani tells Jamie early on. And we do see a gradual deterioration of Dani, but it’s subtle. That subtlety works well, because it’s almost easy to forget Dani’s got a very angry dead woman resting dormant inside her when we’re watching her be so happy with Jamie. The moments that remind us unsettle. Dani’s so uncertain about when she could lose herself that she doesn’t think she and Jamie should plan Christmas. One day at a time. It’s difficult to be truly happy when things could be upended at any point. We watch the years pass, and that danger lurks just on the periphery.

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But there could certainly be even more of a glimpse into the beast that lives within Dani ahead of her tragic final act. The pacing and stakes lag a bit. It’s not as much of a narrative misfire as the previous episode’s tedious origin story, but it similarly lacks urgency and depth. Victoria Pedretti has given a brilliant performance throughout the series, and it’s a shame that we don’t get to see a more active struggle between Dani and Viola. I’m not saying there should have been full-on exorcism vibes, and Bly Manor has all along exercised a lot of restraint in its horror, which often works well because the horror feels more embedded in reality when it’s subtle. But the haunting is so understated in this finale that it just isn’t super effective.

To say it’s an anticlimactic ending is almost an understatement. Bly Manor’s finale races through the years, barreling toward a lovely but unsatisfying ending. Jamie sits up waiting for Dani’s ghost to return to her, as she has done for years.

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“The Beast In The Jungle” does a lot of work to develop Dani and Jamie’s romance so that it can land in its final place. I haven’t found their relationship to be all that convincing, so the fact that the story’s ending leans so heavily on it doesn’t really work for me. I do think the scenes and montages in America where we see them grow closer and older together are well acted, but they feel broad. Ghost stories and love stories both require specificity to really work, and in its ending, Bly Manor doesn’t really pull off either.

Dani’s sacrifices at the beginning of the finale and at the end do play into the show’s recurring themes, and the tragedy of her and Jamie’s relationship acts as a mirror to the tragedy of Peter and Rebecca’s relationship. Peter made Rebecca’s choice for her. But it’s Dani who chooses walking into the lake for herself, despite Jamie’s protests. Their dynamic, while doomed, is more equitable and genuinely romantic than Peter and Rebecca’s toxic dynamic. Peter and Rebecca aren’t really a part of this ending at all, though. Because of the hasty wrap-up in the first act, most of the series’ central characters don’t get any screen time in the finale. Instead, the end of the story really is all about Jamie and Dani, and the foundation of their story isn’t strong enough to hold the weight of all that Bly Manor contains.

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Jamie remarks that ghost stories and love stories are the same thing really, and that’s an interesting sentiment, to be sure. Bly Manor does complicate the idea of a haunting. Shame, guilt, personal choices, and relationships all have the power to haunt. Ghost stories and love stories often grapple with loss. But I don’t think the finale is ultimately successful in either genre. It barrels through this doomed romance that concludes the story with too much heavy-handedness and not enough depth.


Stray observations

  • Okay, Jamie and Dani making out in a floral shop is absolutely Imagine Me & You vibes.
  • “The story isn’t exactly short.” Understatement of the century from Jamie!
  • I’ve seen every episode of the series twice now, so I can confirm that rewatching is rewarding...except when it comes to the penultimate episode which I think I would advise for people to just skip?
  • I do like that the series ends on a somewhat hopeful note, but it’s also almost too corny for me, and I love corny romance! Especially corny lesbian romance.
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