Article Content Warning: Spoilers for The Haunting of Bly Manor, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Torchwood, The 100, Supernatural, and The Magicians
A grand countryside manor full of ominous paintings and an off-limit wing. An American au pair haunted by her demons. Two young children who are kind and sweet one moment and chillingly cold the next. An angry spirit who rises each night from a lake and makes her rounds through the manor.
Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Bly Manor, the anthology series follow-up to the popular The Haunting of Hill House, may have all the makings for a classic ghost story, but don’t be mistaken—it’s actually a love story.
Indeed, The Haunting of Bly Manor depicts a gorgeous queer love story that inevitably ends in tragedy in line with the dreaded “bury your gays” trope. This recurring story quite literally features queer characters being killed off, often at the expense of heterosexual characters, and far too often when depicted in happy romantic relationships.
The Haunting of Bly Manor’s decision to sacrifice one-half of a quickly beloved lesbian relationship is an obvious use of “bury your gays.” Still, unlike many other genre television shows with queer relationships or storylines, Bly Manor also manages to subvert the trope.
The Haunting of Bly Manor begins at a wedding rehearsal dinner in Northern California in 2007 where an aging guest begins to narrate a ghostly tale to the enrapt wedding party.
In 1987, Danielle Clayton takes up a position as an au pair to wealthy lawyer Henry Wingrave’s niece and nephew and arrives at Bly Manor in the British countryside. Plagued by hallucinations of her dead fiancé and the odd behavior of the children, Dani falls for reclusive and jaded gardener Jamie.
In the final episode of Bly Manor, the lady of the lake, once named Viola but now driven having lost herself over time, attempts to drown one of the children in the lake, but Dani saves her charge’s life by inviting Viola into herself to take residence in her body.
Eventually, Dani and Jamie decide to travel and explore the world together in the time that Dani has left before Viola consumes her whole, promising each other “one day at a time.” They move to Vermont and open a flower store called Leafling, time passing slowly but surely.
Their peace is not to last, however. Several years later, Dani begins to see the first signs of Viola in reflections, and both women know their happiness is coming to an end. Finally, Dani proposes to Jamie, and the two live their remaining time together as wives, eventually getting a civil union in 2000 when it becomes legal for gay couples.
Not much later, however, the lady in the lake overwhelms Dani. After waking up choking her wife, Dani chooses to make the ultimate sacrifice and travels all the way back to Bly where she drowns herself in the lake. Jamie attempts to save Dani, but to no avail—her body is drowned, her spirit lingering to keep Viola from the material world.
Jamie spends the rest of her life a widow, grieving her wife, and The Haunting of Bly Manor comes full-circle when she is revealed to be the narrator at the rehearsal dinner.
Clearly, Bly Manor makes good use of “bury your gays,” haunting Dani when she is happy with Jamie and driving her to drown herself to protect her wife and the rest of the Bly Manor staff. It is also far from the only genre show to have buried their gay characters in the last twenty years. In fact, the supernatural drama Buffy the Vampire Slayer killed Tara Maclay, one-half of a popular lesbian relationship, in a 2002 episode right after Tara and her girlfriend Willow Rosenburg reaffirm their love for each other. Tara is shot through the heart, sending Willow immediately spiralling on a dark rampage to slaughter the attackers.
A decade later, queer sci-fi show (and Doctor Who spinoff) Torchwood featured bisexual alien-hunter Ianto Jones dying in the arms of his immortal lover—and main protagonist—Captain Jack Harkness in its third season. Though the season was critically-acclaimed, Ianto’s death ignited a furor among loyal fans, who felt betrayed as the season had just begun to explore the pair as a romantic couple.
In 2016, in yet another science fiction drama, The 100 revealed main character Clarke Griffin’s bisexuality through a relationship with enemy leader Lexa. The ship—deemed “Clexa” by its fans—became increasingly popular on Tumblr, and when Lexa is killed by a bullet meant for Clarke the morning after they consummate their relationship, many queer fans felt gutted, especially with the frequency that the “bury your gays” trope had been being used in recent years. Lexa’s death brought up emotionally-charged discussion around the trope, with fans starting campaigns to raise donations for queer charity The Trevor Project. Ultimately, the beloved character was brought back for the series finale.
A similarly popular yet longer-running Tumblr ship to Clexa is Destiel—between angel Castiel and demon-hunter Dean Winchester—from fantasy drama Supernatural, which finally became canon when Castiel confesses his love for Dean right before the show’s series finale. After fifteen seasons, fans were given resolution for their ship… only moments before Castiel is dragged to hell and never seen again.
Finally, fantasy show The Magicians, similar to Bly Manor, framed its main protagonist Quentin Coldwater’s death as a heroic sacrifice against a malignant magical organization in its fourth season. Although the death was already controversial considering Quentin’s seasons-long struggle with depression, it was made worse by Quentin’s preceding revelation that he is bisexual in time loop where he falls for close friend Eliot Waugh. In fact, Quentin spends the entire season prior to his death fighting to free Eliot from the demon possessing him and even expressed a desire to pursue a relationship with Eliot.
All these examples and their use of “bury your gays” only further highlight The Haunting of Bly Manor’s subversion of the trope. In most of these examples, one half of the pair is killed after they have confessed their feelings for one another or are seeking to move forward in their relationship. Some of these deaths have been used as cheap or forced emotional ploys for viewers, and some do not even have proper resolutions.
As it seems, much of the sentiment surrounding the “bury your gays” trope stems from the lack of proper resolution for most of the aforementioned pairs. The worst aspect of the trope is the seeming confirmation of the homophobic narrative that it is not possible for queer people to have happy endings, as most of these mentioned shows killed their own queer characters that seemed on the brink of happy endings or happy relationships. This trope is further problematic considering how it reflects the very real phenomenon of queer people being killed due to homophobia.
However, here is where Bly Manor differs.
According to Screen Rant, before Dani returns to Bly Manor, she has an estimated thirteen years with her wife. While it certainly cannot have been enough time, she does have time with Jamie, unlike some of these other mentioned relationships. They are able to make happy memories, build a home, and own a business together.
Further, it feels as if Dani and Jamie have been given proper emotional investment and—eventually—a fitting resolution; but, the most important detail of Bly Manor’s subversion of the trope actually comes after Dani’s death.
In the years after, the final episode reveals that Jamie has taken to leaving the door open just a crack every night, waiting and watching for her wife to walk through the door. Briefly, it seems just the grieving of a sorrowful widow, but then the last shot of the show depicts an aged Jamie slumped asleep in a chair. From behind her, a single hand is placed tenderly on Jamie’s shoulder, the wedding band just visible.
It is a brief shot, a single moment before the show fades to black that could be missed without close attention, but it is enough to show that Jamie has not been alone for the last six years she has spent seemingly without her wife. Dani has been by her side all along. Even in death, Dani watches her wife, protects her, and cares for her.
This single shot promises viewers a happy ending for the pair, a proper resolution, the knowledge of an inevitable reunion when Jamie dies, and, unlike some of the other above-mentioned shows, it is a hopeful ending. In sharp contrast to the other shows that buried their gays, viewers actually want Jamie to die and to “be buried” as they understand it means that she will be reunited with her wife. Bly Manor embraces death for Dani and Jamie as an act of love and a happy ending, brilliantly subverting the trope’s usual use.
In Buffy and Torchwood, both Willow and Tara’s and Jack and Ianto’s relationships are cut abruptly short as they approach their happy ending. On the other hand, in The 100 and The Magicians, Clarke’s relationship with Lexa and Quentin’s relationship with Eliot end before they really ever began. Bly Manor and its subversion of “bury your gays” trope really feels remarkable for the fact that Dani’s death, and later Jamie’s, is not the end of their story but only another step towards their happiness.
And, after all the tropes and misrepresentation and poor storylines that queer viewers have been forced to endure, don’t we deserve the promise of a happy ending?