[Warning: The following contains spoilers for The Haunting of Bly Manor. Read at your own risk!]
For the second season of his Netflix horror anthology series The Haunting, Mike Flanagan dives into the realms of gothic romance. The Haunting of Bly Manor is a love story as much as it is a ghost story, so it seems fitting that the ending is rife with heartbreak — particularly when it comes to the fate of its spirited protagonist, Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti).
When she realizes the oldest ghost at Bly, the Lady in the Lake, Viola (Kate Siegel), is about to drown Dani's young ward Flora (Amelie Smith) in the season finale, Dani says the one thing that will get Viola to release the child — she invites Viola into herself, repeating the mantra the former Lady of Bly first said to her infant daughter in the 1600s: "It's you. It's me. It's us." As a result, Dani is able to save Flora, but it ultimately comes at the cost of her own life, though it takes a while for Viola to claim Dani fully.
Victoria Pedretti Sees Hope in Dani's Ending
For years after that night, Dani lives happily with Jamie (Amelia Eve), until she begins losing herself to Viola piece by piece. And after Viola's spirit almost causes Dani to harm Jamie, Dani realizes the situation has become too dangerous and secretly returns to Bly, where she drowns herself. As a result, Dani fully merges with Viola and becomes the new Lady in the Lake, trapping her soul in this watery limbo forever. Victoria Pedretti told TV Guide that this fate, while tragic, doesn't mean Dani's spirit will never find a sense of peace.
"I think we can maybe have hope that in her job as a caretaker and a protector of the manor, that it can actually be quite a good thing, or a positive position that she's found herself living in for eternity. Because she certainly found a lot of fulfillment, I think, in being a caretaker and a protector in her living life," Pedretti explained.
The season's final shot — of Dani's hand resting on the shoulder of an older Jamie (now played by Carla Gugino) in a flashforward to 2007 — also gives hope that even death hasn't been able to keep Dani from her great love. But whether that hand belongs to Dani's literal ghost or just symbolizes Jamie's belief that she always carries pieces of Dani with her is open to interpretation.
Actress Amelia Eve, who plays the younger Jamie, shared her own take on the heart wrenching final shot: "It's essentially a manifestation of Jamie's belief that Dani is with her. But also, I think there's a part of me that believes it's really there and that it's Dani reaching out to Jamie now that she's had this purge and has been able to revisit everything that's happened. ... Jamie's revisiting of [what happened at Bly] allows Dani to come back to her in that moment, and I think that is a physical manifestation of that feeling of having her back."
The Young Actors Are 'Quite Sad' the Children Forgot Bly
While not as emotionally devastating as Dani's fate — or the fates of Hannah Grose (T'Nia Miller) or Rebecca Jessel (Tahirah Sharif), both of whom are killed by the ghost of Peter Quint (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) — we'd be lying to say our hearts didn't also ache a little when we learned that the Wingrave children, Miles (Benjamin Ainsworth) and Flora, grow up to forget everything that happened at Bly. While their paranormal memory repression undoubtedly means that the children grow up without the emotional baggage of their childhood trauma, Benjamin Ainsworth pointed out how sad it is that, as a result, they forget Hannah entirely, as well as everything she and Dani did to protect Miles and Flora.
"I think it's a good thing that they forgot the ghosts, the scary ones, but it is quite sad forgetting those really nice people who helped them along the way," Ainsworth said.
His on-screen sister agreed. "I think that it's good because the life when they're older would be very different if they knew what happened when they were younger," Amelie Smith added. "But it's quite sad because everyone was so nice to them when they were little."
But while we're despondent on behalf of the children's caretakers (particularly Hannah), the dedicated housekeeper would likely have preferred things this way, since forgetting the ghastly events at Bly help give Miles and Flora an unburdened future, and she was willing to do anything for their happiness and safety. As T'Nia Miller explained, the main reason Hannah is able to cling to her life and routine at Bly after her murder is that she's determined to continue helping the two young souls under her protection.
"She promised their mother, Charlotte … that she would take care of them. And I think when you make a promise to a child it carries such weight. And that was very true for Hannah," Miller explained. So when the children's uncle, Henry Wingrave (Henry Thomas), finally overcomes his own demons and returns to Bly in Episode 9, Miller said Hannah can find peace in knowing they are going to be in good care once she passes into the afterlife. "It's almost like when Henry comes back, it's like, 'I can go now. I can go now. They're gonna be safe, their uncle's now back at home.' … So she needs to be there for the children and there's something really beautiful in that and also tragic in the sacrifice of self," noted the actress.
Oliver Jackson-Cohen Appreciates the Honesty in Peter and Jessel's 'Brutal' Love Story
When Flanagan first approached Oliver Jackson-Cohen about Bly Manor, the showrunner offered him either the role of the groundskeeper or the valet. The actor said he found himself drawn toward Peter, the valet, but he didn't want him to be a one-dimensional villain.
"I said very early on, it's very important if we are going to do the villain, that he not just be that one note. Because it's incredibly kind of boring and it's been done before," Jackson-Cohen said. "We're all inherently complicated and we're all flawed, some more than others. And I love the way that they handled Peter in the show and Jessel, that love story. Because it's brutal but I feel like it's very honest, which hopefully people at home feel that way too."
Though there's little beauty to be found in Peter and Rebecca's toxic romance, which sees Peter kill Rebecca and then make her work with him on grooming the children to become their host bodies, Pedretti said it was important that the show humanize Peter to reflect the nuanced realities of abusive relationships.
"Peter is Rebecca's partner, but he's also abusing her. But she's seeing the humanity," said Pedretti. "So to represent him as just this villain, we're not really seeing fully what these kind of people present that allows this relationship to continue."
Of course, none of this is to say that Peter's actions are in any way justified. Ainsworth said he thought Peter's apology before his spirit passes on is "a bit too late" for Miles to accept. "I don't think he ever forgave Peter for what he did because he was basically taking his life away, in a sense," Ainsworth said, adding that Miles isn't even sure whether he was still tucked away in a dream or back in real life when Peter tells the boy "I'm so sorry."
Amelia Eve Says the Bittersweet Ending Is Open to Interpretation
By the time The Haunting of Bly Manor ends, the characters aren't the only ones who are uncertain about what they are seeing. The reveal in Episode 9 that Jamie is the narrator of this story — and, more importantly, that she is an unreliable narrator, changing details to obscure the truth of the tale from the grown-up Miles and Flora — puts viewers in a similarly uncertain situation. The audience is no longer able to trust the truth of the tale. How much is fabricated remains unknown, but the ambiguity opens up a whole new arena of questions, including whether the haunted manor Flora eventually gets married in is the same one she once lived in as a child. This may seem like a stretch, especially given that the wedding takes place in California, but it would explain why the older Jamie is sleeping in a chair in front of the door — because she is hoping to be in the path of the Lady of the Lake's nightly walk.
"I love that as an idea. I had never considered that," Eve admitted. "I think it's that she always leaves a door open in the metaphysical sense and in the literal sense as well. I think she always tries to make sure there's a way for Dani to contact her, if ever she will. Hence the water that she leaves running. So that would be pretty cool if Bly Manor was there. But I don't think it is. I think it's a manor in the U.K. somewhere where it actually happened. But in my opinion! It's totally open to interpretation."
The Haunting of Bly Manor is available on Netflix.