Oh my god, is Dani OK?! We have to check in on her immediately, right? Or, we can spend an entire episode in the past learning the history of the Lady of the Lake while Dani’s breath slowly fades away in her iron grasp. That’s also an option.
Instead of continuing forward and sharing what comes next for our impaired au pair, Episode 8 once again turns back the clock in the season’s big, artistic endeavor: a black and white episode.
Set in the mid-17th century, we meet Viola (Kate Siegel) and Perdita (Katie Parker), two sisters who originally inhabited Bly Manor. After the death of their father, the women were in dire need of husbands in order to maintain possession of their lifelong home. As a result, the two are paraded around to potential suitors looking to capitalize on their wealth, until a distant cousin falls for Perdita. As the elder sister, though, Viola sweeps in and steals Arthur for herself, securing Bly for years to come. The couple welcome a daughter, but not long after Viola comes down with “the lung” – an almost certain death sentence.
Now, it’s only a matter of time until Viola’s demise, which a doctor predicts will come within months. Until then, she’s forced to quarantine away from her family, slowly fading away. In preparation for her death, the family invites a priest to come and help save Viola’s soul, however the woman refuses to embrace any sort of spirituality, claiming she will not go. Like that, months turn into years, and suddenly five have gone by with Viola trapped away while Perdita and Arthur raise young Isabelle without her mother.
One evening, Viola leaves her confinement and catches Perdita and Arthur sharing a romantic dance. Worried that her sister is replacing her as a mother and wife, Viola’s pettiness goes to the next level when she locks away all of her finest jewelry and clothing to keep Perdita away from it and ensure it is passed on to Isabelle. This doesn’t sit well with Perdita, and after years of jealousy, the younger sister exacts her revenge, strangling Viola in her sleep under the guise of putting her out of her misery.
After his wife’s passing, Arthur follows her wishes and locks away the trunk filled with her prized possessions in the attic. As a young man, though, he’s expected to remarry, but instead of finding a new partner, he marries Perdita. Um, I know we saw this coming, but still weird. Isabelle, on the other hand, refuses to treat Perdita as her mother. As the years pass and the family’s financial woes continue to grow, Perdita believes the solution is locked away above their heads. Arthur refuses to sell his late wife’s valuables, but Perdita takes matters into her own hands.
One night in the attic, she unlocks the chest and searches through the luxurious fabrics, but even in death Viola will not let her sister deceive her. In a truly great jump scare, the elder sister’s rotting hands emerge from a dress and strangle Perdita, reuniting the sisters once more.
At this point, the story returns to that fateful night when Viola was killed at the hands of her sister. But once the air left her lungs, Viola never left her bedroom. She was trapped – confined to the same four walls that contained her in life, too. Over and over again Viola awakened to find herself stuck, until at last she learned to accept her fate, realizing that she was in fact dead. This repetition was a dream, a construct confining her to the trunk of riches, until one day her daughter would open it and free her memory.
The days drag on until at long last someone finally opens it – but as we know, it was not Isabelle. Perdita’s betrayal and death inadvertently freed Viola’s spirit to wander the grounds of Bly, only she’d be doing it on her own. Following Perdita’s death, Arthur and Isabelle sold the manor and moved away, dumping Viola’s treasure trunk in the lake as one last precaution to rid them of any evil. This abandonment turned Viola into a monster, making the stubborn woman even more committed to resisting the afterlife. Instead, Viola’s determination to remain created its own gravity, if you will, trapping not only her, but all the others who died at Bly and dooming them to wander the property forever.
Every so often, Viola’s spirit would arise from the depths of the lake and make its way back into her old home, having forgotten her family was long gone. But each trip into the house served as a reminder of her isolation and only resulted in more pain. Over the years, her pull grew stronger and her longing more desperate, until Viola accumulated a body count of victims damned to remain at Bly alongside her. All the while, as time passed and her memory faded, so too did her face, until it was entirely featureless.
Now, knowing the complete history of the terrifying Lady of the Lake, the episode once again returns to Dani and Flora in the midst of there escape. That is, until Dani finds herself back in Viola’s icy death grip.
Maybe next episode we’ll finally learn Dani’s fate.
- OK, let’s get one thing straight: I’m so glad we finally learned the history of Bly and the mysterious Lady of the Lake, however, I’m not entirely thrilled with the way it came about. It most definitely needed an entire episode to unfold, and I was a fan of the black and white twist, just not the timing of it all. As Dani gasps for air in Viola’s clutches, I need to know whether she’s going to make it out alive! Instead, we’re taken out of the moment and centuries into the past to explore a different story. For all my “Stranger Things” fans out there, it really reminded me of Episode 7 in Season 2, when we break away from Hawkins at the height of the action for Eleven’s solo adventure in Pittsburgh.
- With all that being said, I was thrilled to see Kate Siegel return after her standout turn as Theo in “Hill House.” She does an excellent job bringing Viola to life – and death – and it only makes me wish she’d been a full-time player this time around. Well, there’s always hope for the next “Haunting.”
- Now that we know a bit more about the history of Viola and Bly, we know who the other ghosts seen around the grounds have been, like the plague doctor who lurks behind Dani in the very first episode. What’s most heartbreaking, though, is the fate of the faceless child, who was snatched out of bed and killed by Viola after she mistook him for her own daughter.
- We also learned that it’s not just Viola’s victims who are trapped at Bly. The Lady of the Lake’s “gravity” is so strong, that even those like Miss Jessel or Ms. Grose who die from other causes (aka Peter Quint) are doomed to remain, too.
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.