The Fall of the House of Usher – Another Mike Flanagan Masterpiece

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| October 18, 2023

Alright, so… I put this article on the to-do list back in September, and it had the same exact title you are seeing now. Did I regret giving this title away so freely? Absolutely not. Mike Flanagan is a fucking genius, and no one will ever convince me otherwise. Yes, I am biased with Flanagan because, so far, I have literally loved all of his works. If you are not aware, I wrote two articles – one about Midnight Mass and one about his overall work. I praised him in those, and it will not change here either, as I firmly believe he has created my favorite series. 

Let’s talk about The Fall of the House of Usher. Heavy spoilers ahead. 

At the family table
At the family table

Other than having an obsession with Mr. Flanagan and the incredible footprint he leaves behind, I absolutely adore all of the work of Edgar Allan Poe. The Fall of the House of Usher is one of his many brilliant works, and Mike Flanagan not only placed it into today’s society but brilliantly expanded on it. Of course, it wasn’t the only work of Poe’s that waves back at us, but we will get into that later. 

We have Roderick Usher (Bruce Greenwood) and Madeline Usher (Mary McDonnell), brother and sister, twins. They are the catalysts of the entire story about the Ushers. Coming from unfortunate beginnings with a heavily religious mother who doesn’t seek any doctor’s help even at the height of her pain, sends the twins on a mission. Madeline wants to get what is rightfully theirs – William Longfellow (Robert Longstreet), their mom’s boss, was their father, but it was all an office affair while William had a wife at home.

Roderick, on the other hand, after witnessing their mother’s suffering, wants to find a cure for pain. Their goals end up being the same, as the company owned by their father could produce that miracle medicine. They are determined and won’t stop at anything, no matter how many people they hurt along the way. So, after the boss is killed (and an amazing performance by Michael Trucco), who took over the company after the dad’s murder, they end up meeting The Raven (Carla Gugino) and making a deal with her. 

They just want to change the world after all, and the mysterious woman is offering them everything that is needed for success. Roderick easily sells the souls of his children and his entire bloodline just to get what he wants. Although the deal is only revealed at the end of the series, it was mesmerizing to see how they both said yes without hesitating. Of course, the question comes up if they would have done it the same way if they’d believed Gugino’s character from the beginning, but it is heavily implied that their selfishness and greed knew no boundaries. 

Roderick Usher (Bruce Greenwood)
Roderick Usher (Bruce Greenwood)

That is the long story short version of the events. We get to meet Roderick’s children, aka the souls who have been sacrificed before their birth for the greater good, and we get to witness all of it. The Raven, the demon, or death, however you’d like to interpret her, cooks up some awful ways for them to die. But it’s not about the gore and shock value; all of it comes from symbolism. Every child of the Usher family is a symbol. And let me tell you: it is brilliant.

Frederick Usher’s (Henry Thomas) name comes from Poe’s Metzengerstein: A Tale in Imitation of the German. In that story, Frederick is the last remaining member of the Metzengerstein family. They are in a feud with the Berlifitzing family and after the Berlifitzing’s stable goes up in flames killing their leader everyone is blaming Frederick. Obviously. To make things worse, he even takes ownership of a horse that belonged to the other family and becomes obsessed with it. On one of their rides, the horse takes him to his castle, which is on fire, and kills him instantly. In parallel, Frederick Usher is the last remaining child of Roderick. He becomes obsessed with his own wife, who got burnt by acid in the very first episode; he gets addicted to cocaine and ends up dying in the building he was supposed to get demolished at the very beginning. See? 

I’ll give you more! 

Tamerlane Usher’s (Samantha Sloyan) name comes from Poe’s Tamerlane poem. In the poem, the conqueror – Tamerlane – chases after power while completely ignoring the love he has for a woman. In the series, Tamerlane uses her love, Bill (Matt Biedel), for her personal gain and chases him away after getting jealous. 

Prospero Usher (Sauriyan Sapkota) is the first to die, and it beautifully translates the story of The Masque of the Red Death. In Poe’s short story, Prospero hides in his abbey to hide from a plague (The Red Death) and throws a Masquerade. The Red Death – of course – arrives, killing Prospero immediately and the entire party, too. In this interpretation, our sad little soul throws a party at one of the family’s old buildings that still contains hazardous chemicals, and he hooks it all up to the pipeline – believing it to be water. When the sprinkle fest starts, they all get their skin burnt off and die an awful death.  

The Masque of the Red Death
The Masque of the Red Death

Napoleon Usher (Rahul Kohli) is a bit of an outsider on this list. While his name is based upon a character in Poe’s The Spectacles, the two stories are otherwise not intertwined. Napoleon is an addict, and after thinking that he killed his boyfriend’s cat, he gets another from a shelter. The cat – however – is not a friendly little furry friend, and after driving Napoleon completely mad, it tricks him into literally jumping to his death, only for us to see that the original cat is alive and well.

Victorine Lafourcade (T’Nia Miller) is the child who wants to please the parents the most. All her work is basically her way of proving that she is worthy of her father’s love. However, in her search for approval, a fight with her beloved ends up in murder and memory loss. Victorine is haunted by a sound that only she seems to hear, and once she realizes what she has done to her lover, she ends up taking her own life. Now, her name is from Poe’s The Premature Burial, where a woman becomes terrified by the concept of getting buried alive. If you have seen the series, the connection is clear. Victorine is working on a device that can detect any heart problems and solve them without needing surgery. After accidentally killing her partner (Paola Núñez), she puts the device in her heart to try and keep her alive – even though it is already too late. The sound she keeps hearing is the sound of the device ticking in the woman’s open chest. 

Camille L’Espanaye (Kate Siegel) is the head of the PR firm. She is very good at her job. After thinking that Victorine is up to no good, she starts investigating her sister’s very questionable test on Chimpanzees. In Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue, Camille and her mother get brutally murdered by a rogue orangutan. In here? The chimpanzee is pumped up with adrenaline. Camille arrives at the wrong time.

I can’t say this enough: Amazing work from Flanagan integrating all these Poe stories so well. Of course, I left out two very important characters. Lenore (Kyliegh Curran) and Annabel Lee (Katie Parker) are the only two good people in the House of Usher. Edgar Allan Poe’s two most famous poems are about these ladies. Both The Raven and Annabel Lee are about the death of beautiful women, which Poe called “the most poetical topic in the world.” 

Mark Hamill as Arthur Pym
Mark Hamill as Arthur Pym

I loved this series so much. Everything in it was so well-balanced, and I will even say that the horror elements were the best. They never felt unnecessary or too much. Flanagan doesn’t try to be disgusting just for shock value. He often cuts away from the more disturbing death scenes, giving them even more room to breathe. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t have enjoyed watching Kate Siegel being mauled by a chimpanzee. We do get to see Tamerlane’s death, and it is so beautifully shot, exactly like poetry. Everyone was perfect in their role, and it was good to see so many familiar faces Flanagan brought along again and the new additions. Mark Hamill specifically; I love that man deeply, so it was just pure joy watching him on my screen, and he was fantastic. The biggest highlight was Carla Gugino, who was just PERFECT for the role of The Raven. Every move, every different interpretation and trick was masterfully handled by her. 

What is the meaning of the series, one might ask? Well, while Flanagan loves the topic of grief, in this case, it’s all about greed and how the hunger for power is the death of any kind of love or family. It’s a very sad tale but eye-opening at the same time. We get to see how Roderick literally could have had the same success and EVEN happiness as we see Annabel Lee (the first wife) tried to guide him towards the right way. But to no avail. Roderick and Madeleine sealed their fate without ever thinking about it. With their bloodline gone, all they achieved got erased as well. So, instead of realizing all the happiness that could have surrounded them, they went after the thing that meant nothing: fortune and power. 

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One comment on “The Fall of the House of Usher – Another Mike Flanagan Masterpiece”

  1. LOVED this series! Thank you for the explanation of the symbolism, as I am not as well-versed in Poe’s works. Amazing!

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