Netflix’s new horror series brings accountability to the rich and privileged.
When you make a deal with the devil—or some form of karma and comeuppance—you’re eventually going to have to pay up; it’s a lesson the Usher family, one of immense wealth and power, learns the hard way on The Fall of the House of Usher.
Warning – this post contains spoilers!
Drawing inspiration from the Edgar Allen Poe’s story of the same name (in which a man gets an invite to visit the childhood home of his ailing friend)—and giving them a modern and deeply twisted upgrade—the limited series tells the story of the rise and fall, quite literally, of the Usher family helmed by Bruce Greenberg’s Roderick Usher and his sister/co-conspirator Madeline (Mary McDonnell). For The Resident fans, it’s an absolute treat to see Greenberg tackle this complex role, seemingly playing mind games with longtime nemesis (and, in a surprising turn of events, a former “friend” of sorts) C. Auguste Dupin (Carl Lumbly) as he promises a confession on his death bed. Throughout, it’s not entirely clear what angle Roderick is playing at, or if the man spiraling into a maddening state is serious about providing the promised confession of why he’s responsible for the death of all 6 of his heirs (with hallucinations of his ghost children haunting him not helping the case in the slightest), as Dupin—who has been fooled by Roderick once before—remains suspicious throughout.
The series revolves around Roderick’s account of his life, with flashbacks to the ’70s, ’80s, and the weeks leading up to the Usher’s gruesome deaths, providing context throughout, though the puzzle pieces don’t really begin to fit until the eighth and final episode, which finally paints a full picture of what exactly it is that Roderick and Madeline did on NYE 1980 that sealed their fate–and that of all the Ushers to come.
As someone who despises horror films and shows, I was very skeptical about pressing play, but I was happy that much of the series—aside from a few strategically placed jump scares (the jester in the limousine should not have been as terrifying as it was)—it was more of a psychological thriller sprinkled with disturbing and gory scenes that upped the scare factor.
Verna (Carla Gugino), an anagram of raven, a shady and suspicious character that exists outside of time and space (in an exploration of the metaphysical identities) and seems to show up at every turn to torment and torture her subjects, is the key to everything. We see her reign holy hell on all of the Usher children—Roderick’s “OG” kids, Tamerlane and Frederick—along with all the illegitimate children, considered the “bastards” of the family. When Verna sets her sights on the Usher bloodline, she’s actually quite annoyed that she has to define what consists of a bloodline because it includes anyone carrying the Usher name, even poor Lenore, Roderick’s granddaughter, and the only decent one of the lot.
It’s never made clear what Verna is—witch, evil spirit, the devil, or death herself—but it’s understood that she’s a manifestation of the idea that you get what’s coming to you in the end. And in this case, everyone had it coming, not just because of a deal that was struck up decades ago, but because they were terrible people who weren’t doing humanity any favors. It’s just surprising that Roderick and Madeline don’t recognize her earlier, nor do they understand what’s happening to them immediately after the children start dying. You’d think you’d remember striking up such a deal regardless of how much you drank that night.
The whole series focuses on the death of the Usher bloodline, as mentioned before, with each episode showcasing their demise, one by one. By the end of the week, Roderick is burying all of his children, who seemingly died in order from youngest to oldest, and in ways that appear to be tragic accidents or suicide. At times, it almost feels like their madness isn’t external; Verna is simply bringing to light their inner thoughts and subconscious feelings about themselves, projecting the guilt and hatred they feel.
Prospero’s (Sauriyan Sapkota) death happens at his sex rave when the tanks he tapped for water turn out to be acid that rains down on the guests and burns them alive. Verna made sure to play a role in getting anyone that didn’t “deserve” to be there out, though she doesn’t manage to convince Frederick’s wife, Morrie (Crystal Balint), to exit in time, leading her to suffer severe burns across her whole body as the sole survivor of the tragic event.
Camille’s (Kate Siegel) death comes as she breaks into Rue Morgue to dig up dirt on her half-sister/sworn enemy, Victorine, as she believes she’s the FBI’s informant and a traitor to the family. She knows that Victorine is using unethical methods in her animal trials—and she wants to prove it, but she has a run-in with Verna instead before the aggressive monkeys break free from their cages and make a meal out of her.
Napoleon (Rahul Kohli) begins to lose his mind next after seeing visions/hallucinations after a drugged-out episode. He assumes he killed his boyfriend’s cat, so he finds a pet store to replace the animal. Verna is the owner—by absolutely no coincidence—and she gives him an identical black cat that ends up terrorizing him and forcing him to lose his mind as he slowly destroys the apartment while searching for the feline, before jumping to his death off the balcony.
Victorine (T’Nia Miller) goes next, and her death may just be the most disturbing, as she begins to completely lose it while convincing an innocent woman to sign up for a trial that’s absolutely not ready for the human stages. Her girlfriend and partner, Ali Ruiz, refuses to perform the surgery once she gets wind of it—and it eventually leads to a blowout fight. She threatens to expose everything, and in a moment of anger, Victorine throws a bookend at her, killing her in the process. Due to the shock, Victorine forgets that it happened and her mental health continues to decline as she hears a magnetic clicking sound through the rest of the day. When Roderick visits her, he ends up locating the sound, along with Ali’s mutilated body as Victorine installed the heart contraption she created on her dead girlfriend. She then spirals out of control in front of her father and stabs herself. It’s unhinged, but also incredible acting from Miller!
Tamerlane (Samantha Sloyan) also begins to spiral when she becomes convinced that her husband is seeing one of the hookers she previously hired for their intimate moments. As she begins to see Candy/Verna at her major presentation, she loses it and appears unhinged. When she gets to her apartment later that evening, she continues to see the hallucination of her imposter, using a fireplace rod to “attack” her reflection, piercing the glass mirror above her bed in the process and landing on the very pointy shards.
And finally, Frederick (Henry Thomas), who was convinced that his wife, Morrie, was cheating on him, attempted to get revenge on her when she was down and helpless. He got his house in order by mutilating her body and pulling out her teeth with pliers. The dude felt a slight hint of power and ran with it, so Verna had to put him in his place once and for all. She used his drug addiction against him, lacing his coke with the same nightshade agent that he was using on his wife to paralyze him. She then called the tear-down crew to start the destruction of the warehouse where Prospero dropped his acid party, which crushed Frederick on impact.
When it comes to the deaths of the Usher children, Victorine’s was the most shocking, while Frederick’s was the most deserving.
Everything keeps leading back to NYE 1980, which is when we find out that they met Verna and agreed to a deal that they would live a life of wealth, success, and luxury, and when the time came, they’d pay the price with their life—and the life of the entire Usher bloodline. Apparently, these two—who came from dirt and trauma (the first episode detailing their mother’s ailing health was especially chilling)—so they thought it was a good idea to risk everything for something.
On one hand, everyone dies at some point, so I get the appeal, but there was no need to have Roderick’s children and grandchildren pay the price. It would be a little more heartbreaking if the children were actually good people, but since they were all damaged from being pitted against each other and forced to fight for their father’s love and acceptance, it was easier to swallow.
As for Verna, she knew that Madeline and Roderick killed Rufus Griswold (Michael Trucco), the ego-driven CEO of Fortunato, by essentially burying him alive behind a wall of bricks after poisoning him with cyanide, so she knew she found the right candidates as it’s tough to make a case for their survival either. They made their bed, and they were forced to sleep in it. Nothing mattered to them more than getting to the top of the mountain—or the tower—and they did so by killing and taking what they felt was theirs, all under the guise of helping people.
They Had It Coming
No other series has ever offered such a satisfactory ending where everyone gets what they deserve, but the Fall of the House of Usher managed to deliver. Well, everyone except for Lenore (Kyliegh Curran) because she didn’t deserve to die. Verna seemed to feel the pain of Lenore’s death as well, informing the young girl that because she chose to save her mother and defy her father, she was able to save millions of lives in the future even if she couldn’t save herself.
Morrie spent years recovering and getting plenty of skin grafts, which eventually became her armor. She inherited the Fortunato fortune and immediately put it to good use by giving back to a range of charities, including ones for domestic abuse, naming it the Lenore Foundation after her late daughter.
Juno (Ruth Codd), who was shunned by the Usher children and used as a puppet by Roderick, also came on top, inheriting the company and dissolving it immediately and setting up the Phoenix Foundation in its place. And like a Phoenix, she rose from the ashes and got herself off of Ligadone completely. She truly was, as Roderick kept saying, a walking miracle, and a pillar of strength.
And Arthur Pym (Mark Hamill), who cleaned up the family’s messes and ended up in jail for the rest of his life, accepted his fate without hesitation and went to prison, even when Verna offered him a way out. He turned her down to “play out his hand,” and it was impressive that he didn’t take the bait considering that she always makes it so attractive by giving people what they really want. It makes sense considering he was a witness to the damage it did to the Ushers.
I’m the Bad Guy
Roderick may have owned up to his part in all of it, but he never truly took accountability. He was protected by Verna for much of his golden life, as the deal ensured that no one would ever be able to bring them down legally. He was wealthy in every sense of the word, but he wasn’t rich—his quest for a legacy cost him the things that mattered most, Annabel Lee (Katie Parker), the love of his life, and the mother of his two children.
Annabel Lee was there from the beginning, but she couldn’t stand around and watch Roderick turn into a man she barely recognized when he turned on Dupin as part of his plan with Madeline to get into Gris’ good graces and climb the ranks at the company. Annabel was a simple woman with simple dreams—and she was mostly horrified every time Madeline spoke up—and she didn’t want to be around to watch them see their plans through.
Roderick may have been the CEO, but it was Madeline calling all of the shots and egging him on for most of his life; they were partners in crime with Madeline the mastermind behind most of the crimes, making me wonder how his life would’ve turned out if she wasn’t around.
At the end of the day, however, it was clear that they were terrible people who justified doing terrible things for their own personal gain. They felt entitled to it since the world was so cruel to their mother growing up. They wanted revenge, and once they got it, they didn’t know when to stop, simply taking more and more, including Annabel’s kids, Tammy and Frederick. In a heartbreaking scene at their funeral, present-day Roderick, who is suffering from the same illness (CADASIL) as his late mother, hallucinates Annabel, who we learn died years prior after he took the kids from her, bribing them with money until they were shallow and broken, and she could no longer continue on without them.
Roderick’s body count was extensive—and it’s a point that was ushered home, pun intended, many times throughout the series. While reciting Poe poems, repenting for their sins, and paying the ultimate price, there was also a very bleak point that was underscored and that’s scarier than any supernatural entity: the opioid epidemic.
Roderick’s pharmaceutical company contributed to it with their mass-marketed drug, Ligadone, and the worst part is that even in their final moments, neither Roderick nor Madeline could truly take any accountability for their actions.
There’s one scene when Roderick is talking to Juno, who wants to wean off of it, about all the side effects of the drug, and it’s very obvious that he knew that his drug was addictive, despite touting it as non-addictive. Instead of owning up to his part, he ignored the facts and convinced himself otherwise, building an empire and marketing a very dangerous product as “desirable.”
Following the fall of the Usher family, the real work began as everyone who saw how much pain and suffering they caused vowed to change the world for the better.
As for Roderick and Madeline, they learned that the consequence of one harmless choice can define your whole life—but it was a little too late.
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