Spoilers for Episode 5 of The Haunting of Bly Manor, “The Altar of the Dead” below.
“You can’t count on the past,” says Owen (Rahul Kohli) at the start of Episode 5 of The Haunting of Bly Manor, discussing the recent death of her mother from dementia. “We think we’ve trapped it in our memories, but our memories are fading, or they’re wrong. Each of us could die at any time, or we could forget about our entire lives, which is like dying. We also cannot count on our future. This speech takes on much greater significance at the end of the episode, “The Altar of the Dead”. The 1-Hour Non-Linear Mind Mistress highlights Bly Manor’s housekeeper, Hannah Grose (T’Nia Miller).
There is a lot happens in this episode, which follows a disoriented Hannah through a series of rambling scenes that take place over a span of several years. These scenes appear to be flashbacks, but soon turn out to be memories – and yes, for the purposes of this episode, there is a big difference.
The job interview
This memory is the anchor of the episode, repeating itself four or five times in very different ways. This scene takes place in 1984, when Hannah interviews Owen for his position as cook at Bly Manor. It’s an actual event that has taken place, and the first time we see it, it’s pretty much how it happened. But as the episode progresses, Hannah relives increasingly distorted versions of this conversation with Owen, and it becomes clear that she is hiding in memory to avoid facing a terrible reality.
The second time we see the job interview scene, Hannah feels an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. “It’ll sound strange, but haven’t we done this already?” she asks. Owen confirms they did it, but they have to start over. When she asks why, he replies: “Tell me”. In other words, Hannah is the one in control. As they return to talking about work, Owen tries to steer the conversation to Miles, the older Wingrave, who “isn’t himself” and has become cruel and misbehaved. Hannah insists Miles is a good boy, much to Owen’s frustration.
The next time we see the job interview, it takes a dark and weird turn. Owen promises that he will not give up his post after his mother dies, because he will be stuck in “this city glue trap.” It refers to a conversation he and Hannah will be two years old in the future, about a mouse caught in a glue trap. “This bottomless icy terror, realizing that we could be stuck forever,” he said. “Does a mouse know when it’s already over?” Do we realize when the water around us is boiling, or do we sit there saying, “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.” Suddenly he yells the word “REFUSE” at Hannah, who is shaken. She runs out of the room, telling him it’s “morbid”. But she East in denial – not only about Miles’ disturbing personality change, but also about his own fate. It’s the mouse caught in the glue trap, refusing to accept that there is no escape. Which brings us to …
The crack in the wall
Several times during the episode, Hannah sees a distinctive crack appear in various walls. He always disappears. At one point, she opens a door that should lead outside, but finds it blocked – there’s a wet, cracked brick wall where the outside world should be. And as the episode reaches its devastating climax, Hannah’s final denial disappears and she realizes the truth: she is dead, deep in the well of Bly Manor. It was Miles who pushed her there, which is why her mind – in Owen’s form in the job interview – tried so hard to get her to remember the cruelty of the child. The crack in the wall is the last thing she’s ever seen, and she hides in her memories to avoid facing it.
Okay. It’s a lot. To help you solve the devastating puzzle that is “The Altar of the Dead,” here is a timeline of events we see in this episode.
Hannah discovers that her husband, Sam, is leaving her for someone else. She is devastated, but insists that he is “going through a phase” and that he will come back (no more denial). Charlotte Wingrave, her boss at Bly Manor, offers to keep Hannah’s post alive, so Hannah can sell her house and have some stability. Next time we see Hannah, she’s Bly’s housekeeper, so she’s clearly accepted Charlotte’s offer. It’s not known exactly what year this happens, but based on Miles and Flora’s appearances, it’s probably around 1983.
Hannah interviews Owen for her work at Bly Manor. He explains that he has just returned from a two-year stay in Paris and that he needs a job near his home to be able to take care of his sick mother. Hannah tells him that in addition to the Wingraves, he’ll be cooking for two children – Flora, who is five, and Miles, who is seven.
Hannah catches the Wingraves’ valet, Peter Quint, stealing jewelry from Charlotte’s vanity. He claims he simply collects jewelry for his boss, Dominic, but Hannah doesn’t buy them.
Also at some point this year, Dominic and Charlotte mysteriously die while on a trip to India.
Rebecca Jessel is hired as an au pair to Miles and Flora, to take care of them following the death of their parents. She soon begins an affair with Peter, who wants her to flee to America with him.
Before they can leave, however, Peter is killed by a ghost – The Lady of the Lake. He reappears as a ghost immediately afterwards and seems to have no memory of what happened. He soon understands this, seeing the ghost dragging his body into the lake. Peter owns Miles for the first time in this scene, yelling at the ghost to let him go.
No one, except maybe the children, seem to remember what really happened to Peter, and he is believed to be missing. Rebecca dies by suicide after she leaves.
Most of the show takes place this year, and it’s pretty much summed up by Owen in one of the final job interview rehearsals: “You’re Hannah Grose. The year is 1987, you are at Bly. Dominic is dead, Charlotte is dead. Rebecca is dead. Peter is missing, you think. Flora is 8 years old. And Miles … something is wrong with Miles. “
Miles’ behavior is getting worse and worse this year. Everyone thinks it’s because of his combined grief over his parents and Rebecca – but in fact, it’s because he’s possessed by Peter’s vengeful ghost.
One summer morning, Hannah is furious to find Miles smoking using Peter’s lighter. She tells him to leave, but he laughs at her, then runs away. When she catches up to him at the well and confronts him, Miles disdainfully tells her that she is “a boring girl” who “doesn’t know when to go off well enough on her own” – it really is Peter, expressing his frustration to Hannah.
Peter, through Miles, tells Hannah that he wishes he could leave Bly, but he can’t because he’s dead. As Hannah realizes the truth, Miles / Peter growls, “It’s a shame you had to go find us. It was going so well. Then he pushes her into the well until she dies.
Hannah stands over the well, looking at her own body. She’s a ghost now, just like Peter – but before she has time to figure out what happened. Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti) arrives for her first day on the job at Bly. What timing! Although she seems bewildered, Hannah turns in on herself and greets Dani warmly, saying, “Sorry, I was miles away!” No one has any idea that Hannah is dead, and Hannah’s denial is so powerful that she is able to forget it too – at least for a while.
A few days later, Hannah sits by the fire with Owen. It was shortly after her mother’s funeral. They talk about memory, death and dementia, and Owen invites Hannah to come to Paris with him. We saw this scene in episode 4 and Hannah said no. But when the scene plays again at the end of episode 5, she finally says yes. However, nothing changes. Owen reacts the same way he did when she said no, and leaves for the night with Jamie.
Distraught, Hannah tries to follow Owen, but he disappears into the shadows. She can’t go with him because it’s a memory. She can’t start a new life with Owen because her life is already over. And she can never leave Bly’s land because she’s dead.
No, I’m not doing well.
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