Abuse is Horror Teaser Post

Hello, and welcome back to Horror. I’m going camping today, and haven’t finished a full blog post in advance of Friday’s regular posting schedule! To keep the content flowing in this new project, I am going to post a teaser, some stream of consciousness notes I wrote after watching the second to last episode of The Haunting of Bly Manor. It probably won’t make a ton of sense if you haven’t watched it, but maybe it will? Spoiler alerts for that show as well. If you haven’t watched it… it’s gay, watch it. Then get back to me.

*Content/trigger note for discussion of intimate partner abuse, child sexual abuse

Someone doesn’t have to be a monster to be an abuser. They just have to want something, and not care how they get it.

(Carmen Maria Machado, paraphrased)[1]

            The Haunting of Bly Manor is about so many elements of trauma and being a human – survivor guilt, being closeted (figuratively and literally), self-blame for tragedy, denial, adultery, secrets, childhood sexual abuse, and abuse, generally. It is the abuse generally I am thinking of now, and that I want to discuss in this post.

            Peter Quint is a slippery character. We see his pain, especially in Episode 7, and we see the way his pain creates an excuse for him to harm others. A major element of the show is repetition – seeing things from other character’s perspectives, and characters being forced to relive memories, good and bad, when they are “tucked away” through a ghost taking over their body, or when they are pulled back into memory as a ghost.

            Most characters – the children and Rebecca, namely – get to experience multiple different memories. Peter Quint only goes back to one: when his mother appears at his door, out of prison or an institution and asking for money. He is irate at first, being pulled away from “something important”, and gradually, as it happens again and again, he breaks down.

            Finally, he confronts his mother, or himself showing up manifesting as the memory of his mother. He asks himself, why this memory, and not the memories of his childhood, in the night, when his father did what he did those nights? The abuse is not named but it is present. He asks himself/his mother why she let it happen. How could she know what had happened and let it happen? How could she let other children spend the night? And finally, he blames her for his death. Whether it is because he stole the money in part for her or because he felt he had to run to America to escape this childhood trauma, it is not revealed.

            Peter Quint is wallowing in his pain. When he visits Rebecca as a ghost, they lament not being together, and still he seems only to use her to try to escape Bly Manor. When he realizes that will not work – she runs to the gate at the end of the drive, only to have him repelled out of her body – he hatches another plan.

            He says they will be together, as equals. Instead, when he enters her body with her permission to meld, he tucks her away in a memory that sickens her – when he forces her to undress and wear a fur coat, then take pictures of her – and, inside of her skin, he wades into the lake.

            She wakes up, back in herself, just at the moment of drowning. She doesn’t want to die. She is also forced to experience the pain of drowning- why couldn’t he have taken that pain for her?

            When she finds him again, now as a ghost herself, she is beside herself. You said equals. You left me. He responds, I had to, I had to. Later, when he takes over the boy’s body without warning him, because they were letting Dani free, he says, I had to, I had to.

            Watching him crying, convincing the siblings to give up their lives to let Rebecca and himself live through them (no one in the writer’s room was concerned about the incest implication? Or was it purposeful, reenacting that trauma again and again through the life of another?[2]), this is what struck me: Peter Quint does not care how he accomplishes what he feels he needs to accomplish. He is lonely, forced to relieve one of his most painful memories: so he murders the only person he claims to love. He wants to be free, and he wants his prize of a woman beside him: so he lies to children, tells them he can help them be with their parents, pain-free, forever.

            Peter Quint isn’t a monster. He is traumatized, in denial of his own deep pain, and he does not care how he gets what he wants.

[1] In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado is an incredible, beautiful, haunting book about abuse in a queer relationship written using horror tropes. I recommend it so highly, but with a caveat: as a survivor of a queer relationship with abusive dynamics, it was both affirming and triggering. But ultimately it was healing to read another who has gone through similar things as me written so tenderly, and in a language I understand: horror.

[2] I noted as well that Peter was essentially forcing himself into a young boy, just as his father did to him. He had told the child he would only use his body with prior consent – and then he goes ahead and does it without the prior consent – because “he had to.”

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