November 17, 2023

The Fall of the House of Usher (2023)

L to R: Carla Gugino, Rahul Kohli, Henry Thomas, Samantha Sloyan, Sauriyan Sapkota, T'Nia Miller, Katie Siegel,
Bruce Greenwood, and Mary McDonnell.
Sorry for the lateness; I actually watched this as soon as it dropped, then rewatched it, then rewatched again, then spent weeks watching reaction videos on YouTube. Because I am that obsessed.

Needless to remind you all, spoilers ahead.

The Fall of the House of Usher is famed writer and director Mike Flanagan's last work with Netflix. Some people are calling the success of the show bittersweet, but not me. After Netflix decided to cancel The Midnight Club, I was actually comforted to know he was shopping for more reliable streamers. And since we all know Netflix is gonna stay Netflixing, it suddenly made sense to me why Flanagan's projects were usually one and done--a movie, a miniseries--'cause Lord knows we cannot trust those people.

Edgar Allan Poe fans will recognize the title right off the bat, but if you haven't seen the series, please be advised that the show is inspired by the names of his characters, and the titles and themes of his works. It is not a direct adaptation of his stories. In fact, the House of Usher is a modern-day family based on the real-life Sackler family who are widely dubbed the "most evil family in America". Thus, House of Usher is not really a scary show because you spend every episode rooting for (most of) them to die. And die they do, not just in physically horrific ways, but psychologically. I thought it was absolutely brilliant.

Thanks to my obsession with Poe in my teen years, and having recently watched Netflix's Painkiller, I was instantly up to speed with where the story was going. Our gory tale begins with patriarch Roderick Usher burying the last three of his six children (the other three having died the week earlier). But unlike with the first funeral, only his remaining family--twin sister Madeline and granddaughter Lenore--and the family attorney Arthur Pym (a.k.a. the Pym Reaper) are present. We later find out the ghost of his dead first wife is also in attendance, as two the of the children were hers.

See, Roderick had six children with five mothers, and Flanagan decided to bring back some of his favorite actors from his previous works. Naturally, the Usher family ends up looking quite diverse (see picture above), because that's what happens when your dad is a promiscuous, jet-setting billionaire who can't be bothered to wrap it up.

The usual demographic was upset with all the diversity, calling it "unrealistic" and "woke"--the usual song--but fans of the Flanaverse understood that this is their last hurrah with Netflix, so of course, they're gonna go out together.

I liked how we're introduced to the Usher siblings from oldest to youngest, and then watch them die from youngest to oldest (took me a couple watches to catch that). The oldest two, Frederick ("Frauderick") and Tamerlane, are the "legitimate" children, borne of Roderick's late wife Annabel Lee. The last four--Victorine, Napoleon ("Leo"), Camille, and Prospero ("Perry")--are not-so-fondly dubbed as the Bastards. Roderick loves his children equally, in that he didn't raise any of them to adulthood, doesn't do family dinners, and never picks up their calls.

I also liked how the Usher children are color-coded--their clothes, apartments, cars, etc.--and as their death nears, their assigned color intensifies, permeating the entire screen. Of course, I didn't catch that one on my own. The YouTube reactors did.

The Usher siblings are also predominantly queer, which didn't even register to me until the usual demographic took issue, and I finally noticed that oh yeah, they're hella queer. In fact, I think only Frauderick was coded as straight. I didn't see this as queerbait or pandering or anything of the like, because growing statistical and anecdotal evidence shows that most human beings are queer (hello, yours truly). What keeps them from openly being so are the usual obstacles--friends, family, community, laws of the land. The Ushers, however, are shielded from consequences, both by virtue of their sheer wealth and influence...and the fact their father and Aunt Madeline once made a deal with the Raven to avoid consequences in general.

Oh, yes.

Carla Gugino gives a profound performance as Verna (anagram of "Raven"), an immortal, shapeshifting entity who effortlessly changes accents. On New Year's Eve in 1979, the Usher twins, Roderick and Madeline, happen upon her bar where she offers them a deal: they get to be billionaires running a vast corporate empire with no consequences, but their bloodline ends with them. She literally states,"...the next generation foots the bill." Roderick, the impulsive twin, agrees immediately, as though he's forgotten all about his two small children back home with his wife. Madeline, the smarter twin, is hesitant but ultimately agrees, as the deal is invalid unless they're both onboard. After a life of abusive childhoods and poverty, it seems like a good deal at the time.

Viewers will note, however, that in the decades to come, Madeline never has children of her own.

There's some debate about who or what Verna really, since it's never clarified in the show. However, fans of Poe will remember that he used ravens as symbols and emissaries of Death, so it's safe to assume Verna is some form of Death, seeing as her deals are literally paid with death.

There's also some debate as to whether or not Roderick and Madeline knew the deal was real. When they leave the bar, it vanishes behind them. And years after these two idiots make a deal with Death (seriously, Madeline, I expected better from you), they're suddenly "shocked" that people are dying. The twins claim they didn't know, that they were drunk and high, that they were distracted by the fact they'd murdered someone earlier that night. They even claim they forgot all about Verna. I rolled my eyes at this because they knew. The moment Verna returns to their lives they recognize her instantly. They suddenly remember ALL the details of that night instantly. Madeline even goes right back to where the bar was. So I say they knew, which makes Roderick all the more despicable because he just kept right on having children.

And here enters the tragic tale of his granddaughter Lenore. The daughter of Frauderick and Morella, Lenore Usher is a teenager who somehow grew up to be a decent human being despite her whole entire family being trash. In fact, Lenore is so different from her family, that some fans (myself included), hoped she wasn't really an Usher. In Episode 2, Morella Usher is shown perfectly willing to cheat on her husband (with Perry, of all people), so the writers could have gone in that direction. Not only would it have been a hilarious twist (that made perfect sense), it would've spared so many fans the heartache.

But with Lenore's death, we get three important things. First, we get proof that Verna isn't evil; she lets Lenore know that her bravery will save millions of lives and that she takes no pleasure in ending the young girl's life. Two, Bruce Greenwood's performance as Roderick Usher when he finds Lenore's body. He's magnificent throughout the series, but even more so the way he quotes "The Raven" in a voiceover while mourning his granddaughter on screen. And three, we see why Verna interacts with the Usher siblings before claiming their lives. It's not just torture, it's a test. See, if each and every single one of them wasn't a great big ball of shit, they could've died peacefully in their beds like Lenore.

Suffice to say, The Fall of the House of Usher is my new favorite series, such that I watch almost every YouTube reaction I can find. Ergo, I want to give a big shout-out to my favorite TFOTHOU reactor, Syntell. He teamed up with the Geekish Network to do the reactions and they are very, very funny. They're also finished, so you don't have to wait for additional videos.

I only recently stumbled across 97Til; their channel is quite new. They had me cracking up with their reactions, especially when they first heard the Ushers were being hit with seventy-three charges. They're just getting started, so it'll be some days before they finish the whole series (they're not waiting weeks between episodes).

Last but not least, shout-out to Mike Flanagan and his stellar cast for yet another masterpiece. I'm really looking forward to see what they'll do once they find a home on a streaming service that doesn't cancel shows at the drop of a hat.

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