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Hear Us Out: Bly Manor Gives Us the Year's Most Haunting Hour of TV

Episode 8 of Mike Flanagan's The Haunting of Hill House follow-up taps another Henry James ghost story to give Bly Manor a vicious backstory.

by | October 14, 2020 | Comments

The stand-out episode of Netflix’s latest horror hit The Haunting of Bly Manor draws inspiration from a Henry James short story that, according to series creator Mike Flanagan, had not previously been adapted.

A follow-up to The Haunting of Hill House, the new series explores several tragic love stories as it follows American au pair Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti), who accepts a job in England looking after orphaned siblings Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) and Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) while supernatural phenomena swirl around her. If the scenario sounds familiar, the season was primarily inspired by James’ much-adapted classic novella The Turn of the Screw.

But other works by the iconic author add to the story layers that unfold at Bly.


THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR (L to R) CATHERINE PARKER and KATE SIEGEL

(Photo by EIKE SCHROTER/NETFLIX © 2020)

Episode 8 takes the same name as the previously overlooked James tale, “The Romance of Certain Old Clothes,” and acts mostly as a standalone episode that detours to the 18th century to reveal the origin of Bly Manor’s ghost story. Flanagan called it “more aggressive and vicious than anything else Henry James ever wrote,” during a virtual press conference for the series.

Unlike his work with Hill House, Flanagan made a concerted effort to remove himself as the sole creative force behind every episode of Bly Manor. But for the season’s penultimate episode of, he admits he did everything in his power to be on set every day.

“I was never more anxious to get to set just to sit at the monitor and watch than I was during episode 8, because it was so cool. It was the kind of episode I just wanted to see as a fan,” Flanagan said.

“The Romance of Certain Old Clothes” is a brooding gothic romance and tragic love song to the genre, with visual storytelling to make fans of classic horror cinema rejoice. The episode is the most haunting hour of TV you’ll see this year. Here’s why.


SPOILER ALERT: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS DETAILS ABOUT EPISODE 8 OF THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR. STOP HERE IF YOU HAVE NOT WATCHED THE EPISODE.


It Gives a Heartbreaking Backstory to Bly Manor’s Curse

THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR - KATE SIEGEL

(Photo by EIKE SCHROTER/NETFLIX © 2020)

Flanagan said he had planned to explore the origins of Hill House’s hauntings, but that production didn’t have the budget or time to see its backstory brought to life. After the series’ remarkable reception on Netflix, however, Flanagan clearly had more flexibility for his next The Haunting series.

Episode 8 throws us way back in time to recount the lives of Viola (Kate Siegel) and Perdita (Katie Parker), sisters left with an uncertain future in the manor after their father passes away. Practical Viola marries her distant cousin Arthur, heir to the manor (since it was illegal for women to inherit property).

A true romance blossoms between the two, and soon their daughter Isabel is born. But, as with most gothic romances, the story takes a tragic turn, and Viola falls ill with tuberculosis. While Viola is locked away in a room, coughing up blood, romance between Arthur and Perdita develops and tensions rise between the sisters. One day, it all comes to a head, and Perdita murders Viola in her bed.


THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR (L to R) CATHERINE PARKER and KATE SIEGEL

(Photo by EIKE SCHROTER/NETFLIX © 2020)

Perdita marries Arthur, of course, and the two raise Isabel, but financial struggles leave the couple’s relationship strained. Perdita wants to sell Viola’s fine jewelry and clothes that are locked away in a chest in the attic, but Arthur refuses. He made a promise to Viola that Isabel would receive those treasures once she was of age. But Perdita goes against his wishes and opens the truck, and Viola’s enraged spirit chokes her sister to death.

After Arthur finds Perdita dead, he deduces that the trunk is cursed and throws it into the lake, before taking Isabel and moving far away from Bly Manor. The sisters’ ghosts remain stuck to the property, however, to form the haunting foundation that the rest of the season’s unfortunate events are built upon.


Like Episode 6 of The Haunting of Hill House, This One Is a Standout

The Haunting of Hill House (Netflix)

(Photo by Steve Dietl/Netflix (The Haunting of Hill House))

“The Romance of Certain Old Clothes” holds just as much importance to the Haunting franchise as Hill House‘s sixth episode, “Two Storms,” did two years ago.

This episode doesn’t come with all the bells and whistles that made “Two Storms” such a milestone — you won’t find any 18-minute-long tracking shots here and that episode focused on the generational trauma that permeated the Crain family, both in their present and in their past. It was a poignant exploration of grief that relied on some dazzling camera work and blocking to tie everything together.


THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR'S MARTIN MCCREADIE

(Photo by EIKE SCHROTER/NETFLIX © 2020)

Bly Manor is a different beast — at its core, even more of a ghost story than Hill House’s exploration of family trauma. Carla Gugino‘s narrator figures prominently in this episode, and her comforting diction, along with the detailed set dressing, intricate costume design, and the guidance of up-and-coming director Axelle Carolyn — who Flanagan calls “a student of black-and-white horror cinema” — “The Romance of Certain Old Clothes” delivers the context that connects the past and present of the series.

“Everybody was always looking at episode 8 as our chance to do what we love the most,” Flanagan admits. “It’s what made us want to do The Haunting and to look back at [director] Robert Wise and [director of The InnocentsJack Clayton. These incredibly influential movies from the early ’60s, which were done so perfectly, they’ve rendered it pointless to try to do a faithful feature adaptation of these texts. So it was one of those episodes, much like episode 6 in season 1, that we were preparing for and building up to the entire time. We shot it last.”


Kate Siegel’s Lady of the Lake Is the Terrifying Key to Bly Manor’s Mysteries

THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR

(Photo by Netflix)

The episode’s timeline charges forward once Viola dies, showing the manor succumbing to decay and plague victims taking shelter under its roof. Throughout, Viola’s ghost is anchored to that chest underwater, her afterlife focused on reunification with her daughter.

Viola emerges from the water nightly to roam the grounds, eventually losing her face as the memory of who she was fades. When she disappears entirely, the monstrous Lady of the Lake emerges. The faceless being we see earlier in the season kills without remorse, taking out anyone who gets in her path as she makes her way up to the manor’s bedroom, looking for young Isabel.


AMELIE SMITH and BENJAMIN EVAN AINSWORTH in THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR

(Photo by EIKE SCHROTER/NETFLIX © 2020)

The phrase “It’s you. It’s me. It’s us.” is repeated throughout the season, acting as a binding incantation between partners. Peter Quint (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) put Rebecca Jessel (Tahirah Sharif) under his spell with these words, they’re spoken lovingly by Viola to her baby girl during happier times, we hear it recited to Miles and Flora when Quint and Jessel possess the children’s bodies and concoct a plan to free themselves from Bly, and the phrase is used in this episode’s final moments by Dani, who breaks Viola’s deadlocked focus on taking young Flora down to her underwater prison. Instead of murdering the young girl, as she has done to countless others before her, the faceless monster accepts Dani’s invitation and proceeds to tuck herself away in the deep recesses of the au pair’s soul.

Leave it to Dani, the season’s young surrogate mother figure, to finally catch the attention of this vengeful spirit and break her from this cycle. In turn, every soul trapped at Bly — from the unknowing Hannah Grose (T’Nia Miller) to the damaged Mr. Quint and his naive lover Ms. Jessel — are finally set free.


Episode 8’s Horror Is Profoundly Human

HENRY THOMAS in THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR

(Photo by EIKE SCHROTER/NETFLIX © 2020)

Perdita and Arthur’s betrayal of Viola mirrors that of the Wingrave infidelity a century later. Henry’s (Henry Thomas) romance with his brother’s wife Charlotte ultimately led to the married couple’s death; that fact and the secret that young Flora is actually his biological daughter ravages the estranged uncle over time.

Henry’s grief and remorse ultimately fracture his sanity into two extreme personalities: one sniveling and inconsolable, and the other dangerously cruel.

He heals and finds redemption, however, when he finally answers the call to take personal responsibility for the children.


VICTORIA PEDRETTI in THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR

(Photo by EIKE SCHROTER/NETFLIX)

And Viola is finally free of the manor. As she bides her time in the body and mind of Dani Clayton, a change of scenery offers Bly Manor reprieve from the vengeful Lady of the Lake — unless or until she wakes.

“Romance of Certain Old Clothes” provides a compelling explanation for Bly Manor’s haunting. It is a story of great love and even greater loss and gives the ghastly Lady of the Lake a human face.

The Haunting of Bly Manor is now streaming on Netflix.


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