I went into The Haunting of Bly Manor with very few expectations of where the series would take me. With Mike Flanagan in the drivers seat and numerous actors from Hill House taking centre stage again, I knew it was set out to be another spectacular series. For me though, The Haunting of Hill House was one of the best pieces of television that I’d ever seen. So, I wasn’t sure if Bly Manor was going to be able to compete.
Oh, how naive I was.
Whilst Hill House still sits at quite an unreachable high, Bly Manor had the same qualities that made the 2018 series so addictive. Primarily, the emotional pull from its core characters.
Introducing Dani Clayton; our American au pair. Victoria Pedretti is a remarkable actress who embodied Dani’s loss and love completely. She has a way of displaying every emotion her character is feeling so whole heartedly that you can’t help but feel it with her. When she’s scared, you’re scared. When she’s hurting, you’re hurting. In the Haunting universe, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to separate her from our beloved Nell Crain. Victoria Pedretti however established this character so well from the offset that Dani Clayton was all I could see.
Dani effortlessly fit into Bly Manor and those who resided in its walls. She carried a pure warmth with her despite feeling broken and found a part of herself in Bly’s gardener Jamie. Jamie appeared to walk around with her guard up, but when Dani came onto the scene she started to unravel pieces of herself that had been locked away for years.
Within Bly Manor, there was also Hannah, who was one of the stars of the entire show. Her calm presence and love for those around her could make even the most unwelcome of guests feel welcome. Although she never had the opportunity to say it aloud, she was in love with Owen; the pun-loving chef who really acted as the glue that bound the family together. His bond with Hannah was both heartwarming and heartbreaking until the unfortunate end. Despite losing her, he continued to live out his life for Hannah and carried her with him always.
The centrepiece of the story however, that we would eventually learn was being narrated by a future Jamie, was Jamie and Dani’s love.
I thought The Haunting of Bly Manor was going to be a ghost story and I guess in some ways, it was. But the real ghosts weren’t the ghosts of children’s nightmares, they were much more terrifying than that. These were the ghosts of haunted lovers. These were ghosts that the living were practically begging to see.
As we learnt in the end, the Haunting of Bly Manor was a love story. And at the heart of that love story was Dani and Jamie. Their very first interaction didn’t even feel like their first interaction at all, as the narrator described. It was as though the two of them felt like they had already been introduced before. Or, perhaps there was simply a mutual understanding formed the second their eyes met. Either way, after that moment their connection felt quickly inevitable.
Both characters were loners in their own way yet they found solace in one another. It seemed clear through her flashbacks that Dani never loved her ex-fiancé in the way that he needed to be loved. Not because she didn’t want to, but because she simply couldn’t. The memory of him continued to haunt her, until Jamie helped her to heal.
Dani lived her life afraid to look at her reflection in fear of who else she would see. Her ghost was not one that was welcome. Jamie on the other hand ended up living most of her life desperate to see her ghost staring in her reflection.
The difference between all of the ghosts at Bly Manor was love vs possession. Dani and Jamie’s love was carefully juxtaposed between Peter and Rebecca’s in a way that didn’t become clear until the very end. In episode 3, Dani and Jamie discuss how the wrong kind of love formed around ownership can be so damaging and agree that mixing up love and possession shouldn’t be possible, because they’re opposites. But that was exactly what happened between Peter and Rebecca. They became so intertwined in each other that they could not be separate. Selfishly in death, Peter drags Rebecca down with him because he wants her there too.
Fast forward to episode 9. Dani and Jamie find themselves in a similar situation when Dani partly embodies Viola (the woman in the lake). Dani now has a brand new ghost that she knows one day will consume her so much that she’ll be lost forever. The knowledge of that would be enough to swallow up anyone, but with the help of Jamie day by day she’s able to live her life alongside the woman that she loves.
They spend many years together, growing in love, and for a moment it really feels like they might get their happy ending. But then the woman in the lake appears. The face that she’d been dreading to see is one day staring back at her. Dani bides her time, but when her demon comes to the surface one night and puts Jamie at risk, she knows what she needs to do.
Awaking to an empty bed, Jamie takes herself back to Bly Manor and without hesitation, jumps straight into the lake. Upon seeing Dani’s lifeless body, she pleads for the lady in the lake to take her too. But love is not possession, and the lady in the lake was now also Dani. And Dani could not do to Jamie what Peter did to Rebecca. She could not take the life of the woman she loved for her own selfish needs. No matter how much Jamie begged for it.
Jamie spent the rest of her life yearning for Dani to appear to her. Whilst she never saw her, that didn’t mean that she wasn’t with her.
Amelia Eve did a beautiful job of playing Jamie and the scene where she finds Dani’s body shattered me to pieces. Then, seeing her go through the years trying however she could to see her once more broke me all over again. Having Carla Gugino play future Jamie was a genius move. It cemented their story even deeper. No matter how many years passed, Jamie never stopped waiting for her lover to return.
The bond these two formed in just a few episodes was completely captivating. It felt extremely refreshing to watch two women fall in love and the topic of their sexuality not come up once. A love like that needs no explanation. Dani loved Jamie and Jamie loved Dani and that was all there was to it, the rest is just confetti.
Every aspect of The Haunting of Bly Manor was pleasantly surprising, yet this perfectly splendid love story stole the entire series.