There’s just something about bonfires in the fall. Sitting around a crackling fire in the chilly autumn air as you and your closest friends swap stories. Or, you can use the blaze as a chance to air grievances and release yourself from the damned spirits that have been haunting you. You know, just normal fall activities.
In Episode 4 of “The Haunting of Bly Manor,” that’s exactly what goes down – and thank goodness, because the venting session and the flashbacks that accompany it finally deliver some much-needed answer as to what is actually going down at Bly.
Before we dive into all that, though, let’s take it back to the start of the episode where we learn some more vital information via a flashback to Dani’s past. It turns out, the shadowy figure who’s been haunting her all this time is Edmund (Robby Attal), her ex-fiancé and childhood best friend. As we know from Episode 3 and her chemistry with Jamie, however, Dani falls somewhere on the LGBTQ spectrum, and this series of flashbacks heavily implies that she’s actually a lesbian. We see Dani and Edmund together through the years and it’s clear there is love between them, but as we later see the couple preparing for their wedding, it’s also clear that Dani is most definitely not into it. Still, she presses onward burying her true feelings and putting on a fake smile for Edmund and his family.
Episode director Liam Gavin juxtaposes this repressed past version of Dani with her current state, cutting to the present day and picking up right where we left off with Dani and Jamie together. It’s a few days later and the two are preparing to attend Owen’s mother’s funeral, but Dani is still shaken from the trauma of a recent funeral in her own past. Jamie comforts her by turning on her natural charm, and suddenly the scene isn’t so somber, but instead flirty and sweet. At Owen and Jamie’s insistence Dani decides to stay home from the funeral and enjoy a day of relaxation, but that rarely happens at Bly.
Dani wanders the grounds and ends up finding Flora in the graveyard near the chapel – not at all creepy. The little girl explains she’s doing “grave rubbings,” which basically just involve placing a piece of paper over a tombstone and rubbing chalk on it to copy over the engravings. Flora offers to make one for Dani and the camera lingers on the grave of choice, one Viola Lloyd. Who knows whether or not that will mean anything later on, but as we know, everything Mike Flanagan does has an intention. Inside the chapel, Mrs. Grose has also opted not to attend the funeral. Instead, she’s mourning in her own way, lighting a candle for those she has lost. Voiceover from The Storyteller kicks in as Dani lights a candle of her own, sharing that instead of doing it out of remembrance, she was lighting it to atone for not remember the people she has lost .
Back inside, the crew is hard at work preparing Owen’s favorite dinner for his arrival back at Bly, but while washing her hands Dani is ambushed by another flash of Edmund in the window reflection. The startling appearance causes her to once again panic, so she steps out of the kitchen to gather herself. She doesn’t have long to worry about Edmund, though, because outside the window now is Peter Quint. Dani tracks him along the side of the house watching through the glass before racing to the front door, grabbing a fireplace poker and flinging open the door ready to attack. Only… it’s not Quint. It’s just a somber and now terrified Owen returning from the funeral.
Things settle down and everyone gathers around the table to dig in to the shepherd’s pie. Despite his favorite dish, Owen is still justifiably put out, so young Flora takes it upon herself to enlighten him on how to handle grief. “You’re not dying, you know,” she says, before explaining that after her parents died, she felt so sad she thought she was going to die, too. What if, she wondered, she too had died, but was still walking around and talking with people and nobody else knew? “It only felt like dying because, actually, I was still alive. You have to be to feel that way,” she explains. But then, after mourning for so long, Flora says she learned a secret that took all of her sorrow away: “Dead doesn’t mean gone.”
On the surface level, this sounds like a sincere, uplifting message from a young and optimistic child who has recently suffered extreme loss. It truly feels like Flora’s message is genuine, and it’s clear she does care for Owen. Yet, that final part, “dead doesn’t always mean gone” sounds a bit of an alarm. To most people, that would likely mean a person’s memory lives on with them, or something figurative like that, but by this point we know that message is all too literal at Bly. Lord and Lady Wingrave ghosts have basically just been confirmed.
Whatever sort of sympathetic moment that was occurring – either sincere or ominous – is quickly overshadowed by an angry outburst from Miles. Classic. The young boy says he believes he should get a glass of wine with dinner, but when the adults agree against it, he slams his fist on the table demanding one. After all, Peter Quint let him do it. Dani is not having it and immediately sends both Miles and Flora to their rooms.
While Dani is watching the children get ready for bed, the door to Flora’s dollhouse creaks open of its own accord. The au pair notices the eerie movement and heads over to investigate, and the camera pans over all of the dolls in their respective locations, until Dani picks up a man. Not so fast. Flora busts Dani snooping and chastises her, telling her not to move any of her dolls because she has a “very particular” set up.
Oh, and it turns out the doll she lifted was Peter Quint… what a coincidence. This revelation prompts Dani to interrogate the kids about the man. Have they seen him? Do they let him into the house? What’s the deal? Flora doesn’t deny seeing him around, but she tells Dani “that’s not how it works” when it comes to letting him in the house. While Flora is explaining, though, it seems like someone or something is influencing how much she reveals, and Dani catches her looking at something behind her – a pattern she’s noticed on multiple occasions. It’s obvious there’s something up, but Flora strongly denies anything out of the ordinary.
After tucking the kids into bed, it’s time for a few adult activities. Jamie is sent to summon Dani out into the grounds for a bonfire with Owen and Mrs. Grose. Most bonfires require s’mores, but after a funeral this one calls for multiples bottles of wine. As Dani stares into the flames, her mind drifts away and so does the story, back to the days leading up to her wedding with Edmund.
The couple is out to dinner on what Edmund explains to be a night free from the stresses of wedding planning. However, it most certainly doesn’t end up that way. As Edmund eggs her on, Dani begins to formulate excuses, saying she doesn’t want their wedding to be as extravagant as it’s currently planned, but quickly the message transforms into her resistance to even get married at all. Naturally, Edmund is taken aback by this response, and as the two move from dinner to the car outside, the emotions only get more extreme. Dani explains how she feels trapped in the relationship that doesn’t fulfill her needs, saying she loves Edmund, but not in the way he desires. It’s truly heartbreaking to hear Dani express the shame she felt at having to hide who she really is for so long, but Edmund reacts in anger and exits the vehicle.
The camera angle alone is enough to let us know what’s coming next – just as Edmund climbs out of the car, a trucks plows past and takes him with it. It turns out the blindingly bright eyes on his ghostly shadow are the car’s headlights reflecting in his glasses. Owen is rushed to the hospital, but it’s a lost cause – he’s long gone. And so begin the haunting flashes of his spirit in mirrors, windows and other reflections that have been plaguing Dani for so long.
Back by the fire, Jamie recounts the historic origins of bonfires as “bone fires,” used to honor lost loved ones, drive away evil spirits, and burn away the shadows. So, she invites those seated around fire to toss their own metaphorical bones into the flames to help illuminate their path. Mrs. Grose toasts to Rebecca Jessel, honoring her as a brilliant young woman who was punished at the hands of Peter Quint. Jamie follows her with a speech about Lord and Lady Wingrave, and uses it to praise Dani as the only person capable of restoring the lost happiness in Miles and Flora. When it’s Dani’s turn, it’s now clear there’s one person she needs to rid herself from carrying around, but instead she chooses to stay quiet, passing her turn to Owen who pays tribute to his mother.
As the fire burns on, Dani and Jamie slip away for a moment alone, and Dani comes clean about her history with Edmund and how he still haunts her today. Jamie comforts her and once again demonstrates her ability to put a smile on Dani’s face even in the darkest times. As Jamie continues to sympathize with her, Dani goes in for a kiss, to which Jamie stops to make sure she’s entirely alright with moving forward. Dani insists and the two continue, but within seconds, a flash of Edmund over Jamie’s shoulder brings things to a halt. No matter how badly Dani wants to move on, no progress will be made until she confronts her past head on. This sudden freakout justifiably turns Jamie off, and she takes a bit of offense to the reaction and ends their alone time by heading home, but she assures Dani that everything is OK.
Later that night in bed, Dani finds herself unable to sleep as she stares at Edmund’s shattered glasses that were given to her by his mother. Frustrated by her inability to move on, she grabs the frames and gets ready to take action. At the same time, Flora notices movement in her doll house and realizes Dani is out of bed, so she shouts to Miles and sounds the alarm.
The two quickly scamper downstairs and confront Dani, claiming Flora was awakened by a nightmare. As Flora scrambles to come up with some sort of explanation to stall Dani’s wandering, a ghostly figure glides across the hallway behind her. Could this be one of the things catching Flora’s attention mid-conversation? Once the coast is clear, Flora lets Dani escort her back to bed, but when Dani returns downstairs, there are once again muddy footprints from the entryway all the way upstairs. Maybe it wasn’t the children sneaking out in Episode 1 after all…
Dani decides the mess can wait until the morning, because right now she has a mission to accomplish. Back by the bonfire, it’s time to end things with Edmund once and for all. Dani tosses his glasses into the flames and summons his spirit to the fireside, settling down with a bottle of wine and conscience ready to be freed.
- Thanks to a number of events in this episode, it’s pretty much confirmed that some sort of ghosts, spirits or demons are at play here. We may not know what form they’re taking, but between Flora learning dead doesn’t mean gone, her glances over peoples’ shoulders, and the late-night creeper wandering the halls, some spooky spirits are at play. Now, it’s just time to determine who’s real and who’s already dead.
- If there’s one thing we know about Mike Flanagan, it’s that he loves his easter eggs. It was impossible to catch at the time, but now the shadow of Edmund’s first appearance back in Episode 1 seems even more tactful. If you’ll recall, Dani – and us – first see his creepy figure as a car flies by on the streets of London and nearly hits Dani. Welp. It’s a bit on the nose, considering that’s how Edmund himself went out, but it’s a nice nod looking back.
- Speaking of Edmund, we finally have some answers about who and what he is and what exactly has been haunting Dani all this time. In Episode 1 it was implied that she was running from something, and now the picture is a little more clear. Yes, his death was tragic and it’s natural for Dani to feel some sort of guilt. However, in reality, there’s nothing for her to feel guilty about considering she was simply living her truth and explaining to him who she really is. Hopefully this fireside chat will help her realize that.
- “From here on in, the shadows get deeper, the nights get longer. We’re heading into the dark and we have to hang on to each other, because we can only carry so much.” Sure, Jamie’s message around the bonfire was likely meant to be taken on surface level about the changing seasons, but it feels more like an ominous warning that things are about to be taken to a whole new level for the second half of the season.
Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Raleigh, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.