The series ends after nine episodes in grand fashion. It isn’t as scary as I hoped it would be, but it is an excellent ghost story that carries a huge emotional impact.
I have finished the series. It was a nine episode show, and that was perfect for this story. Anymore would have felt superfluous. The series concludes the stories of Dani, and the Wingrave children. It also concludes the haunting of the house itself. It wraps up everything in a way that really leaves a devastating impact. These last three episodes are actually the least scary of the whole series, but the series isn’t diminished for that. It has a story to tell and doesn’t fall for easy jump scares and trips into dark cellars. It has its ghost stories to tell and those stories can be scary in very different ways.
We’re diving in to an episode by episode review here, spoilers will be dropped. I’m not going to censor myself in because plot points must be discussed in order to fully engage with the themes of the story. Spielers ahead! Cruise on down to the final paragraph for a spoiler free summation.
Episode seven tells us what’s been going on plot wise. It reveals the shrouded intentions of Peter Quint and Ms. Jessel. These two were madly in love and died on the grounds of Bly Manor. They are trapped there with all the other ghosts who have died there. Quint thinks he found a way out by possessing Miles and Flora. Then they will be able to escape using their bodies. That’s why Miles behaves like a grown man so often, he’s literally being possessed by one. It makes Miles’ performance so much more impressive. He takes on the mannerisms and persona of a completely different person and does so impeccably. This of course leaves a problem for Dani who wants to protect these kids no matter the cost, but how can you fight a ghost? This is what I’ve been waiting for. The previous three episodes were mostly backstory. After three episodes of telling what how everyone got there and what they all thought about it, I was wondering if we were ever going to get back to the story proper. And as if they heard my complaint, they gave us this episode. They got us back into the story and gave us a lot of forward progress. Overall an intense episode, but not necessarily a scary one. Even though it does end with a big shock.
Episode eight picks up with that big shock and then plunges us right back into backstory time. This was deeply frustrating. The plot was finally kicking into gear, and we get an entire episode that is just the history of the house and how all these ghosts ended up there in the first place. This is actually a fascinating and excellent ghost story in its own right. It tells of the Willoughby sisters who first owned Bly Manor. Viola, the older sister ruled over the estate until she became very ill. For years she fought off death, until a series of tragic events caused her spirit to wind up at the bottom of the lake on the property. Now at night she wanders forth from the lake stalks the halls of Bly Manor angry and alone. This is the woman that we’ve seen throughout the series. This is the one of whom the children are so afraid. She is the cause of all this. It’s a great ghost story in its own right, but again it kills the momentum of the story. The episode literally ends exactly where it began except now we have just received a big info dump. It’s like they wanted to hurry to answer every question in one big episode and just inserted it here. It’s necessary, it’s important, but it kills the momentum pretty badly.
Major spoilers coming up. Nothing held back.
Finally, episode nine, the final episode. Dani tries to rescue the children and in doing so frees all the ghosts of Bly Manor. She does this by taking on the ghost of Viola and carrying that curse within her. She allows Viola to possess her so that the children can live free. This happens at the halfway point in the episode. The rest of the episode is about Dani’s life living with this curse. She creates a life for herself with Jamie the gardener. It’s actually a really sweet love story that has played out over the whole series. It is a story that is unconventional, but really had me rooting for them. This is where the show hits us in the emotions. Dani lives her life knowing that the curse will claim her sooner or later. She feels herself slipping away until finally she returns to Bly and is gone. Jamie spends the rest of her life hoping to somehow see Dani again, leaving the door cracked open just slightly hoping the ghost of Dani will come walking through. It’s heartbreaking to see.
A major theme of the series is forgetting. The ghosts at Bly forget who they are over the years. Memories of their real lives and their identities wear away over time. Owen, the cook’s, mother developed dementia and he took care of her while she slipped away. Dani after taking on the curse feels her own identity slipping away. It’s a terribly sad thing and the series uses ghosts as a metaphor to deal with the grief of losing someone in that way. This is a hallmark of Flanagan’s work. Ghosts are never just specters in the night. They are always a metaphor for something bigger, something everyone can relate to. Owen at one point in the series laments the passing of his mother. He says that in the end she lost her past, and she couldn’t count on having a tomorrow, so she had to live everyday knowing all she had for sure was that one day. This series is asking us all to live as if we only for sure have that one day.
This series was not the scariest horror show I’ve seen, but it left me deeply affected. My heart is still heavy after finishing it. It is rich in metaphor and meaning, richer than most tv shows I’ve seen. Like its predecessor The Haunting of Hill House there is so much more going on than just ghosts. This is a show with something to say. It is clumsy at times and loses itself in backstory, but in the end it finds its footing enough and really tells a compelling story. I would definitely recommend Bly Manor. It’s spooky, meaningful and short enough to be enjoyed easily. It is currently streaming on Netflix.
It is my cup of tea. A-