The Haunting of Bly Manor‘s eighth episode was a standout of the season. Titled “The Romance of Certain Old Clothes,” it’s named after the Henry James story of the same name and finally answers all possible questions viewers had about the insidious Lady in the Lake.
In a new behind-the-scenes video, Bly Manor show runner Mike Flanagan and Lady in the Lake actress Kate Siegel explain everything you need to know about the creation of the eighth episode of the spooky Netflix series.
[Spoiler alert: Spoilers ahead for The Haunting of Bly Manor].
Who is the Lady in the Lake?
The Lady in the Lake is responsible for all of the ghosts trapped at Bly Manor. While au pair Rebecca Jessel’s death implied she could be the Lady in the Lake (she drowned in the lake on the grounds of Bly), “The Romance of Certain Old Clothes” reveals that the faceless woman is actually Viola Willoughby, an English noblewoman who ran the estate in the 1700s.
Viola (played by The Haunting of Hill House alum Kate Siegel) and her sister, Perdita (played by Catherine Parke), are left to keep the manor afloat following the death of their father. To ensure Bly’s future, Viola married the wealthy Arthur Floyd, but Viola wasn’t the typical 1700s wife. She ran the ship at Bly, to her sister’s chagrin but her husband’s delight, and the couple eventually welcomed a daughter, Isabelle. When Isabelle was young, Viola contracted “the lung,” a deadly disease that manifested as a horrible cough and required the young mother to quarantine from her family (talk about a prescient storyline).
How did Viola Willoughby die?
When she first was presumed to die, a priest tried to read Viola her last rites, but she refused.
“God should know better, she is as he made her,” Perdita said. “She says she will not go, she will not.”
Perdita was right. By sheer force of will, Viola lived on for several more years, but had to spend it quarantined in Bly with only brief and distant interactions with her family. Perdita developed feelings for Arthur, and Viola could tell, and that on top of Viola’s cruel fate developed an intense resentment between the sisters. Perdita eventually killed Viola, and she was just as determined to remain at Bly in death as she was in life.
Following more heartbreak and betrayal, Viola’s spirit refuses to pass on. Her ghost lives in the lake and spends every day for hundreds of years mindlessly sleeping, waking, and walking through the manor, killing anyone who crosses her path. As a result, anyone who dies at Bly (whether or not at the hands of the Lady in the Lake) is trapped in Viola’s gravity well, unable to find eternal rest.
Why was there a black-and-white episode in ‘The Haunting of Bly Manor?’
Up until the final moments when the Viola and the 1980s timelines converge, the entire episode is shot in black-and-white. Flanagan said the stylistic choice wasn’t just because of the time period it was set in.
“That we would shoot it all in black and white happened very early in the process,” he said. “The idea was to completely pull us out of the established aesthetic. Every frame of it is so carefully considered to take maximum advantage of that beautiful, candle-lit gothic black and white horror aesthetic.” So not only is the black-and-white filming fitting for the time period, but it also pays homage to the gothic horror genre.
Flanagan added that Episode 8 contains the answer to every single question about the series, much like The Haunting of Hill House Episode 6. He also noted that using The Romance of Certain Old Clothes James story (in addition to The Turn of the Screw, The Innocents, and The Jolly Corner) made the season all the more terrifying.
“There’s a lot of misdirection when it comes to the Lady in the Lake,” he said. “Fans of The Turn of the Screw and The Innocents will immediately assume the Lady in the Lake is Ms. Jessel. So when the idea hit in the writers room that we could actually assign that to a whole new character, choosing Viola…just made all the sense in the world. We wanted to have yet another familiar face thrown in at the most unexpected time.”
As Flanagan closed out the video, “These echoes of the decisions we make in our lives and how they can touch people hundreds of years later, that’s something that I find haunting.”
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