The Lady in the Lake is a crucial element of Mike Flanagan’s Netflix original series, The Haunting of Bly Manor. She is the central villain of the story who traps every ghost that came after on the Bly Manor grounds. But what if her story was all a lie?
Bly Manor episode 8, “The Romance of Certain Old Clothes”, deviates from the core story to tell hers. The Lady in the Lake, previously known as Viola, was the original lady of the manor. She got sick and died at a young age, but her spirit remained on the grounds. Her sister quickly married her husband, which enraged her. From that moment on, she became a vengeful spirit, tormenting anyone who resided on the grounds for centuries and occasionally taking them with her by force to a watery grave. However, the torture ended with Bly Manor‘s heroine Dani (Victoria Pedretti), who figured out a way to stop her once and for all.
Reddit user u/ChrisHaze theorizes the entire story of the Lady in the Lake was made up by Jamie, the gardener at Bly and Dani’s partner. She was deeply in love with Dani and couldn’t bear to see her struggle, so the story was meant to help her cope. Let’s take a look at how the theory stacks up, and whether or not it’s plausible based on other key elements of the series.
Mental health and emotional trauma play a large role in The Haunting of Bly Manor. Before the events of the show, Dani struggled with her sexuality. Once she worked up the courage to tell her fiancé and childhood best friend that she was gay, he accidentally walked into traffic and was fatally struck by a truck. Those events traumatized Dani and stayed with her for years after the fact. A common fan theory believes that Bly Manor‘s ending never actually happened, and it was instead a metaphor for Dani’s struggle with mental health. This Reddit theory works in tandem with that one.
Bly Manor‘s final moments at a grownup Flora’s wedding do point to the fact that the story may not have happened the way that the audience saw it play out. When a wedding guest asks Jamie if she would find Bly Manor if she flew to England, Jamie informed her that she likely would find no such place by that name. Owen also looks notably different than he did in the main events of the show as well. Some believe Jamie changed the story to ensure that Miles and Flora would never remember what happened to them as children, but what if it just simply never happened at all?
The Reddit theory has one incredibly plausible element — Dani was clearly struggling with her mental health. Dani seemed happy and upbeat around most people, but as revealed to Jamie, and the audience through flashbacks, losing her fiancé and coming to terms with her sexuality was a heavy emotional burden that Dani carried for years. After the events that took place at Bly Manor, Dani was never quite the same. She found moments of peace and happiness in her 13 years with Jamie, but she was constantly paranoid that something is coming for her. She tells Jamie that feels like she’s walking through a jungle with an “angry, empty, lonely beast” watching her, waiting to take her when the time is right.
The theory perpetuates the idea that the beast inside Dani is a metaphor for mental illness — perhaps depression or extreme anxiety. It states that Jamie invented the story as a way to comfort Dani, which completely aligns with the story. When Dani tells Jamie she feels that beast inside her, Jamie asks if Dani wants company while she waits for it. That shows that Jamie’s in it for the long haul. Jamie loves her and knows Dani is struggling with something heavy, so she’ll do whatever it takes to comfort her.
According to the Reddit theory, Jamie invented the story of the Lady in the Lake to give her mental illness a name, and therefore, make it less scary. This idea was foreshadowed earlier in the series when Flora informed her mother and uncle that she saw a ghost, who is later revealed to be the doll-faced ghost. Henry told her to give the ghost a name and story to make it less scary. The stigma surrounding discussions of mental health held a larger stigma in the 1980s than they do today. That means that whatever illness Dani was dealing with likely frightened her as well. Jamie thought spinning Dani’s struggles into a story in which she defeats the Lady in the Lake, a stand-in for her illness, was the best way to help her fight it.
While the idea of Jamie inventing a story to comfort Dani while she struggles with her mental health does make sense, the theory ultimately doesn’t work. That’s because of the very nature of The Haunting series. Bly Manor and its predecessor The Haunting of Hill House both grapple with heavy emotional themes. But at their core, they are still ghost stories. Ghosts are a stand-in for emotional wounds in The Haunting series, but paranormal spirits do, in fact, exist in the universe Mike Flanagan created.
In addition to the theory clashing with the nature of the show, some of the details included are too far-fetched to be plausible. For one, the plague doctor ghost is prevalent in the Lady in the Lake’s story. He’s shown wearing a traditional beaked plague mask. The theory uses this as a method to discount the validity of the Lady in the Lake’s story, as the use of a beaked mask wouldn’t align with the time or location of the story. While that may be true, it was likely just an oversight by Bly Manor‘s writers.
The Reddit theory is a clever one, but goes too into the weeds in order to prove its point. While it’s true that the story Jamie told at Flora’s wedding likely isn’t 100 percent accurate, the Lady in the Lake most likely is, as it’s at the heart of her story. Without that anecdote, virtually all events of the show are rendered irrelevant. While Dani likely did struggle with her mental health in The Haunting of Bly Manor, the truth of the matter is that the Lady in the Lake existed. Dani defeated her and sacrificed herself in the end to save Miles, Flora, and free the other ghosts. Jamie’s story is simply her way of honoring the woman she loves. It’s an appropriately heartbreaking ending to a show about emotional trauma and loss.