Once The Haunting of Bly’s Mansion the narrator (Carla Gugino) has finished her long scary story, a listener approaches her with some modifications.
“I liked your story,” she says. “But I think you configured it wrong. You said it was a ghost story. It is not. It’s a love story.
It’s a moment that reads like a nod from creator Mike Flanagan to fans of his first horror anthology episode, 2018. The Haunting of Hill House. This series used Shirley Jackson’s novel as a springboard to explore family grief, aided by a healthy dose of Gothic horror – it takes place in a spooky mansion and is filled to the brim with ghostly manifestations of trauma.
While these Gothic elements are equally present in Manor of Bly, fans of the original season might be surprised to find that scares are widely traded for romantic melodrama. Here, Flanagan is much more interested in using genre to illustrate how the specter of a lost love is something that often hangs over you for life. But the most welcome surprise is how the series’ central romance between Victoria Pedretti’s Dani and Amelia Eve’s Jamie successfully brings lesbian goth romance to mainstream television.
Loosely inspired by various tales of Henry James, in particular The turn of the screw– the show mainly follows Dani, a young American who takes a job as a housekeeper for two childless children in an English mansion with more than a few skeletons in her closet. As if the thought of a woman crossing the ocean and willing to give up years of her life for spooky children weren’t enough clue, an ominous phone call to her mother and the shining-eyed ghost lying around her reflection make it clear that Dani is fleeing from something.
Episode four reveals that the spirit that haunts her is not just a representation of pain, but of her guilt and the repression of her sexuality. A flashback informs us that shortly before Manor of Bly begins, Dani was engaged to her childhood best friend Edmund (Roby Attal).
On the surface, a scene where she listens to her fiance tenderly describe her proposal to the couple’s engagement party is much lighter than the rest. Manor of Bly– the setting is not a dreary estate, but a sunny suburban house full of smiling faces. The only person who doesn’t seem happy? Dani herself, who offers only a stiff, forced smile.
She’s drawn into a mix of wedding planning activities, but there’s a feeling these things are happening. at her rather than for her.
Given the easy flirtations we’ve seen her strike up with Bly Manor’s sardonic gardener Jamie, it becomes clear that while she may want this marriage, Dani is a locked-in lesbian.
“I just thought I was selfish,” she tearfully told Edmund. “That I could just hold on, and eventually I would feel what I was supposed to do.”
Their argument accidentally costs him his life, turning him into the specter that has haunted Dani ever since.
While coming out stories have saturated queer media as it becomes more mainstream, there are still few stories about the terrors of forced heterosexuality. For many queer people, it’s ultimately the fear of hurting our friends and families that keeps us in the closet. If people around us easily slip into righteous relationships, why disturb their perception of us when we could possibly feel what they are feeling?
It’s a subject that’s even rarer in horror, where queer characters have often been cast as “the other,” threatening the good guys of a story as much as a stereotypical monster would.
Fortunately, Manor of Bly does not include mundane scenes of Dani having to explain her sexuality to children or begging other residents of the house to accept her. The only person she has to make peace with is herself, and the supernatural elements only reinforce that.
Edmund’s ghost appears for the last time as Dani kisses Jamie for the first time; the moment she fully admits her feelings and throws Edmund’s old glasses on the fire, he disappears altogether.
The show’s focus on Dani and Jamie is particularly subversive given the way lesbians in classic Gothic stories like Rebecca and Daughter of Dracula have historically been described as possessive predators.
Manor of Bly embarks on the gothic obsession through the relationship between the former children’s housekeeper, Rebecca Jessel (Tahirah Sharif), and the family’s sneaky valet, Peter (Oliver Jackson-Cohen).
“I don’t think it should be possible. I mean, they’re really opposites. Love and property.“
The couple quickly fall in love, and when Peter becomes a ghost trapped on the grounds of the mansion, he desperately seeks to keep Jessel with him. He ends up convincing her to allow him to temporarily own his body so that they can leave Bly together, but when she wakes up, Jessel finds her body drowned in the lake of the estate. She is doomed to stay there like a ghost forever, with a man more interested in coveting her than meeting her on an equal footing.
“I don’t think it should be possible,” Dani told herself after Jamie told her about the unfortunate romance. “I mean, they’re really opposites. Love and property. “
Her perspective is reinforced in the series finale, which highlights the need to remember the people we’ve lost with an ending that is as heartbreaking as it is cathartic.
In the first 10 minutes of the episode, Dani allows the vengeful main ghost of the house, Viola, to enter her body. He effectively breaks the curse trapping the ghosts in Bly, allowing Dani and Jamie to start a new life together.
Still, Dani can sense Viola’s spirit, and it’s only a matter of time before he takes full control of her body. Even so, the couple spend nearly a decade together, as indicated by a painfully sweet domestic montage with a flower shop and engagement rings buried in the ground. Then Dani sees Viola’s reflection in the water and wakes up one night to find her hand around Jamie’s throat.
It would be easy to take over from Peter and let Viola take over, drowning them both in the Hereafter forever. But Dani knows the difference between love and possession, and Jamie wakes up to find that his partner has drowned in Bly.
While Dani’s tragic fate may be a classic example of the infamous ‘bury your gays’ trope on another show, every romance Manor of Bly is recognized as a loss. After all, it’s a show that opens with the words: “To truly love another person is to accept that the job of loving them is worth losing.”
This feeling takes on new meaning when we finally learn that the narrator is an older Jamie, who still sleeps with an unlocked door and watches the bathwater in the hopes of seeing Dani’s ghost.
In Manor of Blythe last moments of, his wish is unknowingly granted. Jamie’s gray hair briefly turns brown again, as Dani’s hand – the ring still intact – appears on his shoulder. It’s bittersweet, but after decades of queer people painted as monstrous ‘others’, Flanagan’s choice to center a lesbian couple in her ghostly yet deeply human romance seems right.
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