The Fall of the House of Usher
From Mike Flanagan, the creator of The Haunting of Hill House and Midnight Mass, a wicked horror series based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Ruthless siblings Roderick and Madeline Usher have built Fortunato Pharmaceuticals into an empire of wealth, privilege and power. But past secrets come to light when the heirs to the Usher dynasty start dying at the hands of a mysterious woman from their youth.
A Midnight Dreary
A wealthy CEO faces a criminal investigation amid tragedy, trauma – and a supernatural threat. The Usher family learns an informant lurks among them.
The first episode does exactly what it should do with introducing the characters and the stakes, but Flanagan does things a little different by setting up that the events within the story are inevitable. I loved the flashes through time as well as the establishing shots showcasing each character and the color scheme surrounding them which enhances the overall look of the series.
Bruce Greenwood is fantastic and plays the character of Roderick with a quiet, tragic menace. Carl Lumbly delivers a fantastic counter to Greenwood as Dupin. Lumbly establishes a dogged stoicism in their scenes together and every moment with the characters establishes that the series is going to take some really twists all spearheaded by Carla Gugino’s character Verna. What I love about her character is that she is never established as evil, she seems to be the personification of something dark hanging over the Usher family. Like something collecting on a debt owed in blood.
The Masque of the Red Death
Motivated by money and revenge, Perry hosts an exclusive masque-rave that takes a twisted turn. A young Roderick pitches a revolutionary new opioid.
In the first episode it is established that all of the children of Roderick Usher will die. The rest of the episodes showcase not only older Roderick confessing to the role he played in their deaths, but also how his past deeds created the events that kill them all. This episode deals with Prospero Usher and how his desire to impress his father and get access to the funds he gives out to his siblings.
Prospero decides to throw a lavish party in order to prove that he can sustain his hedonistic enterprises and Sauritan Sapkota delivers a great performance as Properso aka Perry. The character is meant to show the greed and avarice of a directionless rich kid who only values the money he has access to while making no attempt to find value in anything other than his own needs. What makes the dynamic more interesting is that despite all his opportunities, there is a jealousy with his older brother Frederick (Henry Thomas) that will lead to tragedy.
I liked seeing that these characters are also layered and there are moments between him and his brother Napoleon (Rahul Kohli) that could have provided an escape for him, but his choices lead to his ultimate end when his party is crashed by the mysterious and darkly seductive Verna.
Murder in the Rue Morgue
In charge of the Usher’s publicity, Camille conspired to spin controversy in her family’s favor and expose the grim details of her sister’s experiments.
In the first episode it is teased that one of the Usher children has turned on the family causing Roderick and his sister Madeline (Mary McDonnell) to offer a reward to whichever sibling can discover the traitor. This competition is another great way of showcasing not only how dark these people are, but how morally bankrupt they will become. That moral bankruptcy has its roots in the past of Roderick and Madeline and how Roderick finds himself being consistently used by the CEO of Fortunato when he brings him a pitch for a new drug.
In the present, Victorine (T’Nia Miller) is working on an experimental device that she wants to begin human trials on despite objections by her girlfriend and co-worker Ali. At the same time, Camille (Kate Siegel) decides to dig up dirt on her sister not only for the prize but because she actually has a personal resentment for her. A resentment that will lead Camille to a run in with Verna that takes a violent turn.
The episode delivers great character moments for Camille and the flashback does a brilliant job of setting the stage for the dark choices the characters make as well as the Roderick/Dupin dynamic that frames each episode.
The Black Cat
Leo adopts a black cat who soon brings evil – and a mysterious woman – into his home while Roderick struggles with terrifying hallucinations.
Another episode that builds up the past story, this one sacrifices some of the scares and doesn’t really allow for the character of Napoleon (Kohli) to shine even though the episode is about his death. Kohli does a great job with the character and that made me want to see more of him, but most of the episode is about Roderick and Dupin in the past as well as Frederick’s slow descent while he suspects his wife of betraying him. I wanted to see more of Napoleon and what made him someone who seemingly deserved to die beyond accidentally killing his boyfriend’s cat.
Gugino’s Verna has more screen time in the episode and her moments with Napoleon are intense and darkly satisfying. Ultimately, both his death and the repercussions of it lack the emotional impact of the previous episodes making this the weakest episode in the series.
The Tell-Tale Heart
Victorine inches closer to testing her heart technology on a patient until tensions erupts between her and Alessandra. Dupin makes a chilling confession.
Knowing the story behind the title and how the series is based on the works of Edgar Allen Poe, I had a lot of expectations going into this episode and all of them were met with a great story and brilliant acting from T’Nia Miller. The flashback works as a great way of showing the growing amorality in Roderick fueled by his sister Madeline. The investigation into Verna is great and every time she pops up it is a glorious surprise, especially when her appearance portends the next sibling’s death.
Like Many of Flanagan’s series, this episode is the one that kicks off the descending action and Miller does that with a performance filled with paranoia and denial that comes to a head when Roderick goes to see her and discovers that bloody truth.
Pym digs up disturbing information on Verna. With her marriage on the decline, Tamerlane hosts a turbulent product launch that shatters expectations.
The main story with Tamerlane’s stress, insomnia and growing madness are brought to compelling life by Samatha Sloyan. The previous episodes did a great job of showing her dissolving marriage and sanity and the episode builds on that with her having hallucinations and losing time. At the same time, the investigation into Verna takes some interesting and entertaining turns with a great performance by Mark Hamill as the family lawyer Pym.
Verna has a more prominent role in this episode and her presence delivers great chilling moments that also showcase how powerful and mysterious she is as a character.
The Pit and the Pendulum
A furious Frederick sets out to handle unfinished business. Madeline receives an ominous message at an old haunt. Dupin grows wary of Roderick’s motives.
The next to last episode of the series fleshes out the rest of the past motivations while also showcasing the division between Roderick and Madeline that will eventually lead to their meeting with Verna and the events that follow. It also allows for the viewer to see what happened to his first marriage and what could have been. Flanagan gives the viewer the ability to almost empathize with the character of Roderick even as we see him make every wrong decision.
Frederick’s death is the true focus of the episode and Verna takes a more active role in the event. An event that has one of the best anticipation scares in the series. I love the final moments with Frederick and how Henry Thomas plays the terror his character is feeling as the end moves closer.
In 1980, Roderick and Madeline seize a chance to cement their fortune – for a price. Decades later, the remaining Ushers reckon with the consequences.
The final episode wraps up the back story with young Roderick and Madeline in peak Poe fashion. It is darkly satisfying and a brilliant contrast to their final moments in the present. It shows just how dark Roderick becomes and how sinister he can really be. Pym has a final interesting moment with Verna who makes her presence felt throughout the episode and gives the viewer a clearer insight into who she is while leaving enough mystery to keep me engaged.
Roderick’s final moments with Dupin are just as satisfying as he sees the depths of depravity the man will go to and begins to finally see the truth as everything is revealed about the Usher’s relationship with Verna and what they promised in return for their wealth and power. There is also a touching final moment for Roderick’s granddaughter Lenore who was one of the only likeable characters in the series. A moment that is peak Flanagan in both its pacing and emotion. The final moments of the episode feature some brilliant visual moments as well and stand as a testament to how Mike Flanagan can deliver screams, scares and heart as well as make you care about every character on the screen not matter how bad they are.