“The Haunting of Bly Manor” Isn’t a Ghost Story, It’s a Lesbian Love Story — with Ghosts

“To truly love another person is to accept the work of loving them is worth the pain of losing them.”

You know that feeling, when you’ve loved being immersed in a show so much that when it ends, you feel a sense of loss? Like getting ripped out of a dream you were enjoying, or coming back from vacation? Or I guess, more accurately, when you’ve been having a really good conversation and/or cry with friends and then it’s time to go home. That’s how I felt when I finished The Haunting of Bly Manor. Like I wasn’t ready to leave it. But I do think the pain of losing it was worth the work of loving it. Especially considering the only work required was pressing play on Netflix. And keeping alert for the secrets lurking in the shadows.

I won’t lie, I was nervous about Bly Manor, because The Haunting of Hill House is one of my favorite seasons of television of all time. How could any of these characters live up to a lesbian empath? Sequel movies are rarely as good as the originals, and my only other experience I could think to compare it to — same creators, same general concept, different story — was American Horror Story, and while some (like Coven and Hotel) were solid, no other seasons ever came close to being as good as the first, including the second. And some seasons are downright bad.

But I should have known better; writer Mike Flanagan has proven trustworthy far more often than Ryan Murphy has. It was unfair to use that metric. So while it took me a hot second to adjust to all the Crains having European accents and whatever midwestern (??) sound was coming out of sweet Nellie’s mouth, by the end of the first episode Victoria Pedretti was Dani to me, and I was excited to watch her go on this creepy adventure.

The story follows a similar format to Hill House in that to paint it with broad strokes, you can say it’s a story about a haunted house and its inhabitants new and old. We meet the current residents through Dani, as she’s been hired by Uncle Henry to be a live-in nanny for the youngest Wingraves, Miles and Flora. Uncle Henry doesn’t live at the manor, but they do have three adults with them: the housekeeper Hannah, the chef Owen, and Jamie, the resident lesbian, and the gayest gardener to ever garden.

The season does what Mike Flannagan and his team does best: takes a ghost story and seamlessly weaves a love story into it. The first season’s love story was between the Crain family, but this one is the found family created in the elegant kitchen at Bly Manor. It’s never just spooks for spook sake, though there are plenty of things that go bump in the night (and sometimes in the day, which is extra unsettling). And yet, the biggest villain on the entire show is an entitled cis white straight man. The heroes are two au pairs, two young women from different timelines who care deeply about their charges. There are mysteries within mysteries but it never feels too bogged down for me. Every twirl of the music box ballerina, every click of the lock, every turn of the screw puts another puzzle piece into place and makes the picture a bit clearer.

ADVERTISEMENT

Also, did I mention that Jamie the gardener is gay gay gay? A keen gay eye would be able to tell she’s a lesbian by the way she talks and sits and looks, and I would have said she was gay even if the show never did, but it does. It sure does.

Hopefully by now if you haven’t watched the season yet, I’ve convinced you. If not, feel free to keep reading, but I must warn you, we’re passing the point of no return. The rest of this review will be full of HARDCORE SPOILERS right down to the very last frame of the season. So now’s your chance to bookmark this, go watch all nine episodes, and then come back.

You’ve been warned.

No seriously, be careful. The night is dark and full of spoilers.

Okay hi, now that we’re alone, can i just say: AHHHH!!!!!!

I had decided Jamie was gay from the moment I laid eyes on her. That was never a question for me. Between her general posture, as mentioned, and knowing Mike Flanagan isn’t afraid of a little queerness (see: his bisexual wife Kate Siegel’s lesbian empath Theo Crain in Hill House) but I kind of assumed she’d just slip that she was a lesbian into conversation, or at some point she’d mention an ex-girlfriend, or that Kate Siegel would stroll in as her current girlfriend…maybe both because of ghosty shit.

I was so, so wrong.

In episode four, we learn about Dani’s backstory. About how she was engaged to a man she didn’t love because he was her best friend and it was the ’80s and that felt like a safer choice than looking too closely at the lesbian feelings lurking in every corner, including but not limited to at the fitting for her wedding dress. Before she could go through with the wedding, she broke things off with her fiancé, but during their fight, he got hit by a car and died.

The image of him haunts her, in every mirror she looks into, and when she starts to realize that those feelings that she thinks got her fiancé killed are starting to creep back up as her heart flutters every time Jamie calls her “Poppins” she sees him more and more.

dani and jamie kiss

This scene haunts me but in a good way.

When Dani first takes Jamie’s hand, Jamie’s reaction is the same as mine. She is pleasantly surprised and even says, out loud to Dani, “Who the hell knew.” (I imagine finding a girlfriend when you spend all day at a creepy murder mansion with plants is a bit tricky, so when a wild lesbian appears, it’s perfectly splendid.) Dani’s visions of her fiancé grow stronger until Jamie’s beautiful monologue about moonflowers and how the best things are worth the hard work. Dani realizes she can’t be afraid anymore; her being a lesbian isn’t the reason her ex died, her gayness isn’t a scary thing. She’s found someone she can love completely, who loves her the same. And after she finally lets go of that fear, after she lets herself be loved by Jamie, Dani stops being haunted by her past.

dani and jamie kiss some more

Their HANDS in this scene.

Though there are far scarier things than emotional baggage in Bly Manor.

I won’t lie, at first I was sure there was going to be a catch. But that’s because I had wanted to avoid spoilers so I didn’t realize how many women and/or queer people were involved behind the scenes. In fact, five of the episodes are written by women and one by genderqueer writer Laurie Pennie. And it shows in the way each of these women are written, and by the way this queer love story is cared for. Plus, T’Nia Miller, who delivered a showstopping performance as Hannah Grose, is a lesbian in real life.

Because as we learn by the end, the love story between Dani and Jamie is sort of the whole point. It’s the reason the story is being told, it’s the emotional crux of the entire season. The finale is entirely about them and their love, and it’s beautiful and complicated and tragic and NEW. It’s so new. It’s not like any of the stories we’ve seen before, not really. Dani spends the first half of the season being afraid to love, being literally haunted by her fear of it, and in the end it’s what saves them all.

jamie kisses dani's hand as they lock pinkies

Ah the classic gay pinky link.

I didn’t connect to the characters as quickly in Bly Manor as I did in Hill house, so after eight episodes when I hadn’t cried at all yet, I was feeling pretty proud of myself. (We’ll unpack why “not crying when feeling emotional” is a thing I consider a victory in a future personal essay turned therapy session.) But the joke was on me when I spent the entire finale crying. Just, the whole thing. But it felt like a good cry. Dani and Jamie didn’t quite get what one would consider a typical “happy ending” but I loved it. (Plus there’s a kind of lovely metaphor for depression tucked in there that I’m too deep in a depression of my own to address at this time; check back again next year.)

Dani and Jamie don’t have a happy ending, but they have a happy middle. A happy one day at a time. A happy ever after, in a way. Then Dani’s story gets told — a gift from Jamie, because she sees how sad Dani looks when Owen tells them Flora and Miles don’t really remember the events of that summer. So Jamie tells her story to the people who lived it. And that last scene, that last frame, left me feeling shattered to bits and yet hopeful all at once.

Overall it was a well-written, beautifully acted, stunningly filmed horror series, with old ghosts and new ghosts and fun lore and a lesbian love story for the ages. I’m constantly going on about the lack of positive representation in horror, and this is exactly what I was looking for. Horror is my favorite movie genre, and TV is my favorite medium, so to have these two Haunting seasons that combine the two ALSO have characters I can connect to on a personal and queer level? It’s everything I could have hoped for and more I didn’t even know I was allowed to hope for.

Because the thing is, “positive representation” doesn’t have to mean everything is sunshine and roses all the time. Jamie and Dani were well-rounded, three-dimensional, lesbian characters with their own stories and personalities separate of each other, they had their own roles in the story and then their roles together as a duo. Not to sound cliché, but they literally found love in a hopeless place.

I know the ending of Dani and Jamie’s story isn’t a riding-off-into-the-sunset happy ending, but I would argue it’s also not an unnoticed-from-across-the-opera-house tragic ending either. Dani and Jamie’s love might have bloomed like a moonflower — just for a little while but oh so beautifully — but Jamie knows better than anyone that the pain of losing Dani was a fair price to pay for the joy of loving her. Their love was so big and so deep that it became the story she tells. And as Liv Crain once said, “When we die we turn into stories. And every time someone tells one of those stories, it’s like we’re still here for them. We’re all stories in the end.”

Just a TV-loving, Twitter-addicted nerd who loves reading, watching, and writing about stories. One part Kara Danvers, two parts Waverly Earp, a dash of Cosima and an extra helping of my own brand of weirdo.

Valerie has written 253 articles for us.

45 Comments

  1. i kind of thought something was going to happen between them from the first episode when the narrator says “the others in the room assumed they had already met, which if she were being honest, was how the au pair felt when she first saw the young woman” but i was not expecting anything near to what we got!!!

  2. What a wonderful review! Thank you for sharing it here. I, too, finished and loved the show. I actually had no idea there was a lesbian plot when I staretd watching. When we first saw Jamie, I read her as gay, but wasn’t sure if the show would go there, and was so, so glad it did! I agree that they got a happy middle, and while the end was SO sad, I did feel like it overall made sense for the vibe of the show. Overall, a representation win imo.

  3. I have so many feelings about Bly Manor. Dani was SO much like me, a former blonde teacher with that fashion sense who had a major shift in their life that made them leave teaching and then helped to raise two children as part of an extended family (Their parents are alive, but I help homeschool the eldest). Like, Dani’s fiance reminded me so much of my male best friend in high school, we were told we were dating by friends at a party and decided it made sense, I high fived and left, had panic attacks at home and turned off my phone for the next two days and then broke up with him before we ever held hands or kissed or anything, so way more condensed than Dani’s story, but he even looked like her fiance, dark curly hair and glasses, and that was the closest I ever got to a man. Add in being chronically ill and being physically disabled and deteriorating, having an uncertain future and having to take things one day at a time, and having dissociative identity disorder, the idea of having an angry spirit inside that is always with you and part of you but that you have to suppress and discourage, resonates a lot. (Most of my system is great, but one part does feel like pure rage, which I haven’t experienced in nearly a decade, but which still terrifies me.)
    Like, I swear if you just really fucked up Dani’s knees and body so she needed a wheelchair for most distances, she would be TV me.

    It’s the first time I’ve ever seen anyone I could remotely relate to get a happy ending, let alone someone SO much like me. It’s given me a vision of a possible future to hope for. Like, it’s possible for me to find true love like that and to have like a reference for what it could look like and that it wouldn’t be ugly or scary or have to deal with homophobia or discrimination. I never thought I’d see anyone so much like me on anything, let alone a huge show like this. I wish there was enough representation in media that everyone could have this feeling of being seen and recognized as valid and deserving of romance and happily ever afters…

    As someone who is frequently bedridden, usually housebound and can’t leave my block on my own? I also connected with the ghosts, especially Viola, a little too much.

    Basically, this was one of those shows where it seems so custom tailored to me that I can’t understand why anyone else would want to watch it.

  4. This week will be the first break from work I’ve had that’s lasted longer than a day since COVID began in March. What have I done with my time thus far? Coma like sleep and consume this show.

    “The Haunting of Hill House” is as good a horror series that has ever been made so I had to watch this one and I very quickly realized T’Nia Miller, a woman I first saw in an episode of “Banana” 5 years ago (good ep btw) and who I’m fairly certain I’m in love with, is on this show. No joke…I’ve caught myself audibly sighing longingly when she’s onscreen or speaks (saying that doesn’t make me uncool does it?). Needless to say, this show had me the instant she was onscreen and held me when I noticed first ep that there likely would be a thing between Dani and Jamie.

    I will say that “Hill House” was a better series in terms of twists, scares, and straight up creepiness but this was better in that it renewed my faith in lasting love and selflessness at a time when I was really starting to feel like it was fading or maybe even no longer existed.

    As always, fantastic review Valerie.

  5. My wife and I did the character quiz and she got Jaime and I got Dani. I personally think she’s the soft one and I’m the sarcastic gardener (she’s the one who cried during the finale!) but I like that we matched.

  6. Thank you for this and your review. I am still reeling from this show and their story. And I also felt deeply the parallel to depression/mental illness and the constant, internal struggle against it that many of us are often worried we may succumb to. This whole story is so beautiful. (And T’Nia Miller! Whew.)

  7. I was so disappointed that the show chose another harmful representation of lesbians as mentally ill & suicidal. Anther dead lesbian. There is not much to say beyond that.

    I wish this was a world with plentiful and various representations of lesbians, so that this show felt fair. But there’s not. So it doesn’t.

    Another dead lesbian = another show I wasted my time watching. Honestly, I am shocked this isn’t being discussed more on autostraddle?

    • I totally see where you’re coming from, BUT…in the horror genre, it’s extremely likely that multiple main characters will die, regardless of their sexuality. And for what it’s worth, in Hill House, Bly’s predecessor, the lesbian (played by noted bisexual Kate Siegel) lives!

      SPOILERS FOR HILL HOUSE UPCOMING…

      …I think in 2020 the ‘dead lesbian trope’ has officially been replaced by the ‘dead Victoria Pedretti trope’?? Poor gal can’t catch a break.

    • When I first finished watching the show, I felt exactly like you. I cried so bad my heart ached, and I hated myself for watching a show with a dead lesbian, another one, because I only want happy endings. My life is complicated enough to watch something this painful.

      But after some days of thinking, I realized that I’m happy that I watched it. Jaime and Dani are soulmates, and they lived happily for many years. Yes, its really painful, but it’s a beautiful love story. Owen and Hannah didn’t get their happy ending either. When you love someone and you decide to share your life with them, you also accept the risk of losing them. The lesbian didn’t die because it’s a lesbian. She died sacrificing herself for the girl she loved the most. That’s life. As simple as that. But I understand if you don’t like it, and it’s ok.

    • i feel like what charlotte said is the truest thing — it’s a horror show, so most people are going to die, yannow? american horror story kills like 500 lesbians per season.

      but also i actually DO think we have quite a few representations of pretty, thin, femme-of-center white cis lesbians (which these two characters are) on TV. we’re nearing plentiful. there’s a lot of areas in which we still lack, but i feel like that specific demographic is not paltry these days. it’s not a feast, but it’s a solid meal.

      idk i wouldn’t want to be left out of stories like this because our characters aren’t kill-able. Black characters are also killed more often than white characters, that happened here as well, twice, but the only way they could’ve avoided that would’ve been to cast white actors, which I am glad they did not do. having those characters die was integral to the narrative. I think the lgbt fans deserve better movement was about the egregious and unnecessary deaths or where it felt like the deaths were ill-considered or not considered at all. that didn’t feel like the case here to me.

      also as a limited series, our journey with these characters ended with the finale regardless of if they lived through it or not. and they were both alive for almost the entire series!

      • Well, the paradox of Hannah’s death is, the dead one gets the most interesting part. She has to die because otherwise, T’Nia Miller wouldn’t get the best episode of the season. And she deserved it like hell.
        Unfortunately, Rebecca’s character is, indeed, very poorly written. I cringed. Sweet Jesus.
        Owen deserved an episode focused mostly on him. Probably the biggest structural flaw of the season.

    • Fucking thank you!!! I’m so tired of our own people having such little hope for our own love and lives. This article is just a picture of internalized homophobia. This is so far from a “new representation” of a lesbian love story! It was Exactly the same as every other story. Also super important to note that yet again all of the black characters die. This was NOT new. Thanks for what you said. It makes me super sad more people are not seeing this.

  8. If they get a third season I hope they use Caitlin Keirnan’s The Drowning Girl + Houses Under The Sea (The prequel novella). More lesbians! A trans love interest! Spooky fairytale paintings! Cults with ties to the Cthulhu Mythos!

    In all seriousness, the book is a really involved and intense examination of how mental illness shapes queer relationships, heavily inspired by James and Jackson’s more psychological approach to ghost fiction, but also very in tune with the way Flanagan and co have expanded and remixed that source material. It’d be a good fit.

  9. I found this review after searching “Bly Manor lesbians” on episode 6 after yelling aloud to the air “THESE LESBIANS BETTER NOT DIE” and honestly? I totally agree with your not-a-happy-ending-but-a-happy-middle assessment! Sure, they didn’t get to live together into old age, but they did have a really beautiful period of time together, and a love that literally outlasted death. I would’ve felt super cheated and angry if Dani had died before they got to really explore their relationship, but a Moonflower Relationship feels both heartwrenching and right.

    Also loved everything you wrote about Jamie being obviously and delightfully gay–I 100% felt the same way and as soon as sparks started gently flickering between her and Dani I started exclaiming “GAY?!” to myself with increasing excitement, and upon the furtive hand-hold I immediately texted my friends “THIS SHOW IS GAY!!!!!”

  10. For those of us trying to pinpoint which film “an unnoticed-from-across-the-opera-house tragic ending” reference, let us all commend Valerie for this all-too-apt summary of the final scene in *Portrait of a Lady on Fire*. If there were one more paragraph in this review, I’d want it to trace out the intertexts between Sciamma’s film (with its portrait, lesbians, and haunting singing) and *Bly* (with its portraits, lesbians, and haunting singing).

    Also, I’d want to point out that it’s more than I could’ve hoped for that the writers of *Bly* chose “The Beast in the Jungle” for the title of its last episode—and then rewrote its allegory of gay male closeting (see Sedgwick) as a lesbian story in which love can be spoken and lived.

    • wow, thank you for the beast in the jungle trivia! super interesting to think that they gave a nod to the author who wrote the original story and gave him a gay life well lived through dani and jamie. it seems so intentional it’s hard to believe they almost cast a dude in jamie’s role.

  11. i feel like this is the yanny vs laurel of shows…everybody who’s out here saying they loved it, like…did we even watch the same thing??? because i would personally like a refund for the hours of my life i will never get back…

    • Same. Very much the same. I wanted to be scared like I was for Hill House and got this instead. Some really good acting (the boy is going to go on to do amazing things) but the story was, imo, lacking and I wanted to slap the girl who *spoilers* killed herself for that dude. It also was a few episodes too long.

      My partner loved it, though.

  12. I was fine with the ending. Same-sex love as redeeming and good.
    Dani’s repression of her sexuality was the character flaw that got her into trouble. I took that as a warning about how you can’t really repress what you are – it always comes out, sometimes in scary ways.
    I also really loved how Victoria Pedretti played Dani – so neurotic and tense. I was uncomfortable watching her the same way I’m uncomfortable around people in real life who are that high-strung. She really captured the reality.

  13. Okay, I don’t know if this article like primed my brain or something. All I know is, I read this having seen up to episode 7. I could see where things were going with Dani and Jamie… BUT HOLY SHIT! I was not ready for that finale and I was crying the whole time. Did not need the lesbian Notebook level emotion when I’m trying to get my spook on!

    I was so beautiful and I’m still raw 12 hours later.

  14. Dang I was so disappointed. I really dislike when femme actresses butch it up for roles. It always comes across inauthentic, as it did with this show, and takes away a role a masc presenting actor could have played when there are so few roles available to them. This felt to me like they tossed in a gay story just for marketing and makes a point of why an actors gender presentation should be considered in casting (at least until casting is truly equal).

    • I’m curious which one you though “butched it up”. I mostly just thought they were dressing for the 80s. Also, I didn’t see anything related to the Dani/Jamie story in the marketing at all, but maybe I just missed it. It seemed to me on Twitter that most people were surprised to see them as the main love story of the show, so if it was just for marketing, well, they didn’t market it very well.

  15. As mad as I was to see another dead lesbian on my screen, I didn’t feel the same way I do when one is killed of for the shock effect or something similar. Since the first season had ended with a death, I expected the same here. However, I did feel like Dani’s death/sacrifice made sense to the story. I do wish there had been a way for her to live on, and I do believe that could have been accomplished while doing the horror aspect of the show justice.

    I definitely echo the comments about how the show killed 2 of the 3 people of color, especially since the 2 killed were black women murdered by a possessive white man.

    I also can’t get over how Peter didn’t get put into a harsh enough light. He literally killed the woman he ‘loves’ without consulting her, then manipulates her into trying to kill the 2 children she cares for so that they can be together. He was a greedy and jealous abuser, and the half-assed backstory about his rapist father and co-abuser/co-victim mother, can cover that up.

    • It was such a joy to see Rahul Kohli on my screen again! He is a great actor, and I’ve missed him since iZombie ended. I am so glad his character got a semi-happy ending.
      I wish that Kate Siegel had more of a role, because she was the BEST as season 1’s lesbian empath.
      If there’s a season 3 I hope to see these 2 brought back, as well as some of the other new additions to this season.

  16. I was honestly hate-watching this for the first four episodes. Those child actors gave me a so-bad-it’s-good sensation. I think they both were given a lot of responsibility and especially Miles- it’s hard to portray an adult with adult experiences and pain when you’re just a kid, so I think that was a huge ask for him as an actor.
    As soon as Hannah’s story in episode 5 came, and the story structure shifted, I was hooked and watched the rest in one night. I was sobbing at the end. I loved the whole family that was the staff at Bly Manor. Hannah was so well-acted and mystifying. This show has no right to make me cry like it did!

  17. I agree with other commenters that it is fcked up that both Black women were murdered. And that Rebecca was so flatly-drawn. Also, the non-consensual ableist “mercy killing” in episode 8 was terrible.

    Personally I enjoyed the show and was wrecked by the last episode, and, I think it’s important to note those serious issues.

    On a gay note, I learned in an interview with Victoria Pedretti that the creators were thinking of having the gardener be played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen (who played Peter Quint). Thank god they didn’t do that!!

  18. I am so blown away by all of the people upset in the comments about the deaths. Did you not know going into this that it’s a horror series? People tend to die in horror series. The alternative is to not see any queer or POC characters at all. The “bury your gays” trope comes from killing off your queer characters for shock value, or as a way of furthering a straight characters story. There was no shock value here, and literally the whole story was about them! It’s not as cut and dry as “the lesbian isn’t allowed to die”.
    As for the two black women who died, I can’t speak for poc as I am not one, but when your main adult cast has 3/6 characters poc, and 4 of them are going to die, it’s sort of bound to happen. The alternative would be to cast white actors in those roles, or always keep poc alive no matter what, which takes all of the stakes away from the roles. Going into a horror show expecting sunshine and rainbows for all minorities is a bit naive.

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!