Netflix’s The Haunting of Bly Manor
Ep8: “The Romance of Certain Old Clothes”
Directed by Axelle Carolyn
Written by Leah Fong
* For a recap & review of “The Two Faces, Part Two,” click here.
* For a recap & review of the finale “The Beast in the Jungle,” click here.
Dani’s trying to get Flora to flee Bly Manor with her when the faceless woman snatches the au pair by the neck, pulling her up the long driveway. The Storyteller proceeds to explain that towards the “middle of the 17th century” there was a widowed man, Mr. Willoughby, with two daughters Viola (Kate Siegel) and Perdita (Katie Parker). The old man died and this left the two daughters without a man to take control of his estate. At that time, women had “no present, no future” without being tied to a man. This meant the daughters would have to fend for themselves against suitors attempting to take everything they had at Bly.
The two women would turn to Arthur Lloyd (Martin McCreadie), a distant cousin to them. When he came to Bly, he was entertained by Perdita while Viola kept her distance. Perdita had begun to feel a connection with Arthur. That is, before her sister arrived, captivating the cousin’s attention. Viola wanted to “maintain her ladyship” over the manor. And so she was the one who wound up marrying Arthur. It was more a “strategic union,” at least on Viola’s part anyway.
After the couple were married, Viola started to wander the mansion at night, restless for the first time in her life. She also started to see that her marriage could be tender, not just a transaction in the name of wealth. She seemed to develop genuine feelings for Arthur. Eventually, they had a child. Viola told her newborn baby girl Isabel: “It is us.” Familiar words, no?
Well the changes of time would come to destroy all the beauty that grew within Bly Manor. At first, it was a look between Perdita and Arthur. Then it was Viola’s cough, the tickle in her lungs. A plague doctor came to check Viola for signs of the illness, assuring it wasn’t, in fact, plague. He determined Viola had “the lung“— this is about the time when tuberculosis became a more widely known condition, so it may be she contracted TB. This meant she had to be separated from the family in a room of her own, even separated from her child.
Things got so grim the vicar returned to deliver last rites. This didn’t sit right with Viola. “I do not go,” she said. Arthur urged his wife to treat her soul with the words of the Lord, however, Perdita resisted that and told her sister to fight. Though that doesn’t mean everything at Bly Manor would turn out to be good and happy for everybody. While Viola was ill and clinging to life her sister and husband were getting much closer. Sadly the ill wife and mother only got worse, and her anger towards Perdita erupted.
Viola wandered the halls singing “O Willow Waly” to herself. She longed to be with her husband, to dance with him; to lay in bed with her daughter and fall asleep. But she was getting no better, and she continued to accuse her sister of wanting to take on the position of the “lady of Bly Manor.” Perdita did get a bit nasty herself, albeit only truthful, really.
One day, Viola had all her beautiful clothes from before she was ill brought to her room. She covered them in rose petals. She wanted them to be an inheritance for Isabel when she’s older, charging Arthur to keep the key to the trunk full of clothing. She knew she was not long for death. Arthur was also busy with work, taking him further and further away from home.
This left Perdita alone with her ill sister. She eventually thought of mercy, but it was a lie. She put her hand over Viola’s mouth and murdered her sister. And that was the end of the illness at Bly Manor. Of course we know that wasn’t the end of the horror. Before that, Arthur would become a bachelor, expected to marry once again. Naturally he and Perdita had eyes for another, later getting married in private right above the tomb where Viola rested for eternity.
Much time passed and Perdita couldn’t have a child of her own. Neither would Isabel see her as a mother. And even Bly Manor itself seemed to start feeling hostile towards the new Mrs. Lloyd. When finances for the family got dire this led Perdita to push Arthur to use all that gorgeous clothing in the trunk upstairs, to sell it and use the money to fix things. Arthur refused, not willing to go against the promise he made to Viola. It’s not enough Perdita killed her sister, she wants to literally expunge the memory of Viola from that place by getting rid of those few precious material items.
So Perdita went and found the key herself.
But when she opened the trunk, dead hands popped out to choke her.
Arthur found Perdita dead on the floor by the trunk.
We go back to the night when Viola was murdered by her sister. She woke in clothes covered with rose petals. She got out of bed and tries to leave the room but the door wouldn’t open. Neither could she open the windows. She stared at her reflection and she was healthy again, not sickly with disease. And then she slept.
Viola’s life became a routine existing solely within that room. Sleeping, waking, walking. One day she picked out clothes from the wardrobe, but as she looked in the mirror, her face appeared rotted away. This terrified her, so she covered the mirror, and the routine continued. It took a while, yet Viola realised she was in a construct of her own mind. She was actually in that trunk, locked away for her daughter to discover. So when Perdita was the one to open it up she faced brutal revenge at the hands of Viola.
When Viola saw Arthur’s face after discovering Perdita, she went back to her slumber. This made Arthur a widower once more, so he and Isabel were off to move somewhere else. Viola was happy, no matter where they’d go, because it’d be her and the family alone. This was shattered after the superstitious Arthur, along with Isabel, tossed that trunk to “the swampy depths” of the lake next to Bly. Viola, like old clothes, was tossed away.
Viola slept more. And she walked, all around the mansion. But the loneliness of the place was too much, so she made the lake her “new manor.” She continued waking, walking, and forgetting what’d happened until reaching the bed upstairs where she would discover, each time, her daughter was gone. She didn’t notice a decade had passed and the plague in the nearby village had made Bly Manor into a quarantine for those with “the coughing death.” All she wanted was to find her daughter, killing people in her way who’d then become spiritual fixture in the manor, too. She’d go on forgetting, waking, walking, killing.
Soon, she would forget her own face— her very self.
She’d even forgot who it was she was looking for, to the point she found a child in the bed once and assumed it was who she’d been seeking, carrying the child back into the lake with her. She and the other ghosts of Bly Manor would fade and fade, until they all lost themselves, their identities, their faces. And Perdita, she’s the woman in the attic we first saw with Flora. And thus, Viola is the faceless woman who took Quint and dragged him into the lake. Just like she’s about to do with Dani.
This is now my favourite episode of Bly Manor. They’ve really leaned into the sinister atmosphere of James’s Turn of the Screw. I do love the emotion and sentimentality, the genuine humanness of Flanagan & Co.’s work. I’ve just been dying for things to get really grim and macabre. Yes, I’m sick. But they’ve delivered here, big time. Props to Kate Siegel! Legend.