The Haunting of Bly Manor, Netflix's hit horror series that's been occupying our houses for a month now, doesn't end well. It doesn't end well for the characters -- au pair Dani Clayton, who finds work in a haunted mansion. It doesn't end well for her love Jamie Taylor, a gardener so good she can make moonflowers bloom in time for romantic evenings in forests.
It doesn't end well for viewers enveloped in their melancholic lives. That's because ultimately The Haunting of Bly Manor lets the bad guy win. That's the real horror we need to cope with. Not the one good jump-scare that comes in episode 8, not the 134 ghosts standing in the backgrounds of dimly lit shots. Not even the terrible accents.
The Haunting of Bly Manor lets the bad guy win. Why? And how could things have been different?
Read more: The Haunting of Bly Manor ending explained, and all your questions answered
Warning: Spoilers ahead
The Lady in the Lake wins
The big bad in The Haunting of Bly Manor is the Lady in the Lake. She ultimately kills Dani, but the process is drawn out in tormenting fashion.
In a nutshell, the Lady was a woman named Viola Willoughby from the mid-17th century who lived in Bly Manor. She was murdered by her little sister Perdita, but was so strong-willed her spirit stuck around inside a chest of dresses and jewellery she'd bequeathed to her daughter.
When Perdita opens the chest, intending to sell the clothes to pay off her debts, Viola's corporeal ghost pops out of the box and strangles her to death. The chest, deemed haunted, is then dropped into the nearby lake.
For centuries, Viola's dripping ghost emerges and roams the grounds of Bly, searching for her daughter and breaking the neck of anyone who breathes in her vicinity.
The "Lady in the Lake" and her indomitable will create a "gravity well" that traps anyone who dies at Bly. As their memories fade, so do their features, turning them into faceless ghosts.
In the '80, this tragic existence becomes Dani's fate.
When the Lady scoops up Flora Wingrave, a child who could be her daughter, Dani sacrifices herself to save her.
She does so by accepting the Lady into her body. While the Lady doesn't immediately take her over, Dani's doomed to one day having to return to the lake. That's how strong Viola's will is.
With the dormant-for-now Lady sharing her body, Dani leaves Bly with Jamie and they travel to the US, create a new life, open a flower shop -- but the Lady continues to grow stronger.
Eventually, the Lady almost strangles Jamie through Dani. Catching herself just in time, Dani returns to Bly and completes her sacrifice by drowning herself in the lake. She then emerges as the new Lady in the Lake.
While Jamie grows old with the memory of Dani, the real Dani is a faceless zombie walking aimlessly around the English countryside. She has just enough hold to prevent the Lady from murdering anyone else and her presence allows her to release the rest of the ghosts from the Lady's "well".
But still -- the Lady in the Lake wins.
How it should have ended
By this point, our collective hearts have been torn to shreds. We've finished Bly Manor, yet feel empty, clamoring for any morsel of catharsis.
So how would we have been satisfied? This is a horror story, not a feel-good rom-com. The sad ending should be expected.
But showrunner Mike Flanagan's other horrors have had happy endings before.
The Haunting of Hill House ends with the surviving members of the Crain family coming to terms with each of their demons. Shirley admits to her husband she had an affair. Theo lowers her walls and opens herself up to a relationship. Steve reunites with his wife. The family fully supports Luke in his battle with addiction.
While a few of the Crains die, ultimately we're left with the hope the rest of them will live happier lives.
Gerald's Game, a Flanagan horror adaptation of a Stephen King novel on Netflix, ends similarly. Carla Gugino's character ultimately finds hope, strength and triumph in moving on from her past and present demons with assault. She survives.
But in The Haunting of Bly Manor, Jamie never gets over Dani's death. In the hotel room at older Flora's wedding reception, she fills her sink with water and keeps her door ajar in the hope Dani's ghost will find her way back to her. While Jamie feels Dani's presence with her -- you see her wake up in episode 1 touching the same shoulder Dani's ghost touches at the end of episode 9 -- they're not really together.
There are a couple of options to give Bly Manor a happier ending.
One: If the Yellow Spectacled Spectre, aka Dani's dead fiance Eddie, had been the big bad and not the Lady in the Lake. In episode 4, Dani completes a remembrance of the deceased ritual by burning Eddie's glasses in a fire pit, "throwing bones into a fire". This releases her from his spectre and allows her to move on and be in a relationship with Jamie.
Shifting this to the final episode would have made a perfectly splendid ending. We would have been left with Dani coming to terms with her guilt and allowing herself to accept a happy future with her true love.
Yet even if Eddie's spectre had been the main threat at Bly Manor and not the Lady in the Lake, The Haunting of Bly Manor is nine hourlong episodes, fitting Netflix's bloated series requirements (see: Daredevil, Jessica Jones, The Haunting of Hill House). In other words, there needs to be filler.
So let's incorporate the Lady in the Lake. A happy ending would see Dani and Jamie retrieving the haunted chest from the lake and locking it away somewhere for good, preventing the Lady from roaming the mansion and killing anyone else.
Of course, they would have to somehow learn about what happened at Bly in the past. We know Jamie does eventually gain this information, because the older version tells the story of how the Lady in the Lake came to be.
In a happy version of The Haunting of Bly Manor, Jamie and Dani find this information before Dani sacrifices herself to save Flora. They then live and grow old together.
But doesn't Dani still win?
Despite the heartbreak in The Haunting of Bly Manor's real ending, Dani does ultimately find triumph: She proves she's a heroine who tackles danger head on, saving the love of her life, her charges and the soul of anyone else who happens to pass away at Bly Manor in the future.
Plus, instead of dying on the spot, she's allowed a few years with Jamie and makes the most of them. Jamie, whose heart had calloused over thanks to her parents' abandonment, grows to love more than just her reliable plants.
The win is those few years the pair have together. It hurts that they didn't have more, but, in no small feat, Dani dies a hero and Jamie's heart is, at least for a time, fulfilled.