You, Me, Us: The hauntingly beautiful, heartbreaking “The Haunting of Bly Manor” is more than a love story…and so much more than a ghost story.
Horror maestro Mike Flanagan’s first installation of The Haunting anthology, The Haunting of Hill House, centered around a family bound by tragedy and how said tragedy informed their ability to love one another. The latest in the series, The Haunting of Bly Manor, explores similar themes and more through the lens of found family, where love is a choice more than a blood bond. The concept of “choice” in matters of the heart is a central theme in this adaptation of Henry James’ famous ghost stories.
The Haunting of Bly Manor is every bit as haunting as its predecessor, though bolder and more effective in its exploration of love and possession – and the ghosts that are born, trapped, and exorcised as a result.
When an adult Flora Wingrave (Christie Burke) responds to an older Jamie’s (Carla Gugino) retelling of her time at Bly, she says, “I think you set it up wrong just in the beginning. You said it was a ghost story. It isn’t. It’s a love story.” She’s right … but she’s also wrong.
The Haunting of Bly Manor isn’t just a love story; it’s several love stories stitched into the fabrics of romantic love, familial love, platonic love, and possession disguised as love.
While it would be a thrilling, albeit time-consuming task to explore every love story featured in the series, the romantic relationships are the ones that most deeply affected by the central themes of love and possession.
The budding romance between Owen (Rahul Kohli) and Hannah (T’Nia Miller) that never got the chance to bloom and the moonflower romance between Jamie (Amelia Eve) and Dani (Victoria Pedretti) are perfectly juxtaposed against the bindweeds of Peter Quint (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), who wrapped himself around the roots of Rebecca Jessel (Tahirah Sharif) when she was too blinded by his flowery petals to recognize that his grip was tightening just below the surface. Peter peppered Rebecca with gestures and empty promises, the very tools of manipulation he used countless times in life and business. His affections for the governess were tainted by bouts of jealousy and percolating violence that would ultimately lead to her demise.
Peter never loved Rebecca; he mistook love for the desire to own someone — to consume them, to possess them, to get them to bend to his will.
We learn of his underhandedness early on, when he tells a young Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) that life is all about figuring out what keys are needed to unlock specific doors and discovering the best way to open others up and manipulate them. Everything Peter did, he did with an undercurrent of personal gain. In his afterlife, Peter graduates from figuratively weaseling his way into someone’s head and heart to inserting himself within them until they became just a shadow of themselves.
Peter didn’t haunt Bly Manor; he used it as a hunting ground.
He used its gravity well to possess and trap those he wished to keep near, like Rebecca.
Peter abuses Miles and Flora’s (Amelie Bea Smith) love and trust for him, too, convincing them to consent to a permanent possession — one cemented by a simple phrase: You. Me. Us. But there is no “us”. Only one is left standing. It’s more than a possession, it’s a spiritual proprietorship.
Owen and Hannah’s love never got the chance to become anything more than lingering hugs and knowing smiles, but its purity eclipsed the love of Peter and Rebecca. Their love was built upon the foundation of friendship, trust, and terrible puns. Where Peter wanted Rebecca to sacrifice herself to stay with him as a spirit in Bly Manor, Owen wanted nothing more than to sweep Hannah off to explore the world, to see Paris, to liberate her from a life caring for others more than herself.
Even when Hannah, aware of her mortality, was tucked away inside of her memory of Owen, his likeness told her she wasn’t selfish enough to keep them there forever. Owen and Hannah’s love defied possession because the act of loving requires one to accept the inevitability of letting go. They release one another in life and death, knowing that dead doesn’t mean gone — and that has to be enough… for now.
The central and arguably most heart-wrenching love (and ghost) story of The Haunting of Bly Manor is between the courageous au pair Dani and the tender, cheeky gardener Jamie.
Their relationship transcends even the love/possession binary. Dani’s love for Jamie exorcises the ghost of her past, Edmund (Roby Attal), a specter who possessively stalks her through reflections and mirrors. While Edmund’s ghost may be just that to Dani, a mirror of her internalized guilt, the love she and Jamie have for one another cleanses her conscience and brings forth a sense of peace, at least for a little while. This love had the power to exorcise ghosts, while giving birth to others in an equal give and take.
Remember when I said that Jamie and Dani’s love was a moonflower romance? It bloomed most beautifully in the darkness, which is eventually what settled in over the gardener and the au pair. When Bly Manor’s most possessive ghost, the Lady of the Lake, claimed ownership of Flora, Dani had to utter those three little words to save the little girl: You. Me. Us.
The ghost accepted Dani’s invitation to possess her, to ride as a passenger within Dani for many years until she was ready to once again express her undying rage and return to the bottom of the lake. This is when Dani and Jamie made another choice.
They chose each other, despite their impending expiration date. That’s what love is. It gives you a choice. To choose your family, to choose your partner, and when the time is ready, the choice to let go, and to remember.
That’s just what they did. Jamie and Dani got nearly a decade together before the Lady of the Lake breached the surface to call Dani home. And she chose to let go, because staying would bring harm to Jamie. For all the pain she felt, Jamie knew the time had come. She returned to Bly Manor to sacrifice herself for love like Dani had, to trade her soul for Dani’s with those three little words. You. Me. Us. Only, they wouldn’t work this time, because Dani had always known the difference between love and ownership, and Jamie was never hers to own, only hers to love.
That’s the heart of these love stories that are intertwined with ghost stories.
Love is knowing what, and when, to sacrifice for others. Possession is waiting and wanting others to sacrifice for you. Possession is the absence and the illusion of choice. Love is the act of forsaking the notion of possession, while surrendering to a world full of ghosts — all that’s left of our love when it’s laid to rest.
And so, Dani and Jamie’s love became a haunting. They had no choice in falling in love, but they always had the choice to stay, to leave, to haunt, and to remember.
Where Peter’s love felt like the demand of: Give me the keys and I will come and go as I please, Jamie’s love whispered tenderly, “I’ll leave the door open should you choose to come back to me.” And that is what makes all the difference.