Spoilers for The Haunting of Bly Manor episode 9, “The Beast in the Jungle.”
If you’ve already finished bingeing The Haunting of Bly Manor then, first of all, congratulations. You are what everybody’s favorite haunted orphan, Flora, would deem “perfectly splendid.” Second, you’re probably reeling from the finale, which dealt its audience an emotional sucker punch via the conclusion of Dani and Jamie’s love story, followed by a dizzyingly twist-packed final ten minutes. Let’s discuss exactly what’s happening in that final sequence, and specifically with Carla Gugino’s mysterious character, the Storyteller.
The show opens with a voiceover from Gugino’s character, who has a Northern English accent and quotes lyrics from the song “O Willow Waly”: “We lay my love and I beneath the weeping willow /but now alone I lie and weep beside the tree.” As this voiceover takes place, we see the woman running a bath and looking at her reflection in the surface of the water. The song is significant because it was originally created for the 1961 movie The Innocents, which—just like this series—is an adaptation of Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw. But the deeper significance of the lyrics for the Storyteller, and the bathtub, won’t become clear until the finale.
The show is bookended by a sequence set the night before a wedding in 2007, at a castle somewhere in northern California. As the guests sit around a fireplace, their conversation turns to ghosts; the castle they’re in is allegedly haunted. Gugino’s character volunteers to tell a ghost story, which she warns is on the lengthy side, and for some reason everybody is totally on board with this plan, because who really needs to sleep the night before a wedding? She proceeds to tell the story, which takes us a few decades back in time, to 1980s England and the main action of the show.
As the season unfolds, and we watch Dani (Victoria Pedretti) become entangled in the mysterious hauntings of Bly Manor, the Storyteller remains present via voiceover, narrating the action every now and then. Dani develops a touching relationship with Bly Manor’s gardener, Jamie (Amelia Eve), and their love story becomes the emotional anchor of the series. And eventually—the exact moment depends on how closely you’re watching—you put two and two together. It’s not a coincidence that Gugino’s narrator has the same accent as Jamie. She is Jamie.
Knowing that it’s Jamie narrating really changes how much of the show plays. Take the memorable first non-meeting between Dani and Jamie in the kitchen, where they don’t acknowledge each other at all yet clearly notice each other. “The gardener did not even introduce herself to the new au pair,” the narrator notes. “She barely acknowledged her at all. Simply treated her as if she’d always been there. The others in the room just assumed they’d already met. Which, if she were honest, was how the au pair felt when she first saw the young woman.” We don’t question why the narrator knows this—she’s been established as a pretty omniscient narrator by this point—but knowing that Jamie is describing the moment makes her choice of words much more loaded.
Similarly, her description of how Jamie copes after losing Dani becomes truly devastating once the twist is revealed. “For the rest of her days, the gardener would gaze into reflections, hoping to see her face,” the Storyteller explains. “Her own Lady in the Lake. She’d leave a door open at night, just a crack, should she ever come back.” The final shot of the series is Jamie, now played by Gugino, doing exactly that. She gazes into the surface of the water in the bath, then leaves her door open, hoping in vain that tonight will be the night Dani comes back.
As Jamie notes at the very end of her story, she knows deep down that it’s futile. Dani won’t ever return, because now that she’s Bly Manor’s new Lady in the Lake, her memories will fade just like Viola’s, and she won’t remember Jamie at all. The only trace of who she was will be “in the memory of the woman who loved her most” … who is also the woman telling the story.
Let’s go back to the lyrics of “O Willow Waly,” the haunting song that Jamie quotes in the intro voiceover, and which recurs a few times throughout the season:
We lay my love and I beneath the weeping willow / But now alone I lie and weep beside the tree
Singing “Oh willow waly” by the tree that weeps with me / Singing “Oh willow waly” till my lover return to me
We lay my love and I beneath the weeping willow / A broken heart have I. Oh willow I die, oh willow I die
Knowing what we know now, those lyrics pretty much read like Jamie’s life story. Yes, you can send your therapy bills directly to Mike Flanagan—I most certainly am.
But it’s not an entirely tragic ending, because Jamie’s conversation with the Bride, aka Flora, makes clear she’s found a way to live with the loss of Dani. Flora has thankfully forgotten everything she experienced at Bly as a child, so she experienced Jamie’s story as though it were entirely new to her. But she’s still moved to tears afterward, and worries about losing her own husband one day.
“It will be hard, every day, and it won’t get easier,” Jamie says. “But eventually, after some time, you’ll find little moments, little pieces of your life that remind you of him. And they’ll be silly and dumb, or they’ll be sad and you’ll cry for hours. But they’ll still be a piece of him, and you’ll hold them tight. It’ll be like he’s here with you, even though he’s gone.”
They share a hug, and Flora reveals that she is, in fact, Flora. We get a bittersweet wedding montage where Jamie exchanges meaningful glances with an older Owen and Henry—and imagines them as their younger selves. It’s clear from these looks that they remember their time at Bly, so Jamie’s not entirely alone in her memories of what happened at the manor. And since the series is all about the self-destructive impulse to lock yourself away in memory to escape reality, that’s as close to a happy ending as we could ask for.
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