The outcome of The Fall of the House of Usher was never really a mystery, and not just because its ending is already revealed in the title. Right from the start, the show was filled with an air of fatalism. Its horror and tragedy stemmed from the unsettling realization that the destinies of characters who hadn’t even come into existence yet were predetermined by a pact made by Roderick and Madeline many years prior to the events depicted in the series.
In the concluding episode of the series, crucial information regarding the pact with the devil is revealed. As Roderick and Madeline find themselves in the bar on the fateful New Year’s Eve, Verna presents them with an enticing proposition. They are offered the opportunity to attain unlimited wealth and influence throughout their lives, free from any legal repercussions. However, this extraordinary privilege comes with a single condition: upon their demise, the Usher bloodline must cease to exist.
We were already aware of that information, of course; we have just spent the previous seven episodes witnessing the unfortunate and gruesomely comical deaths of Roderick’s children. (Madeline, wisely, opted for an intrauterine device. However, it wasn’t until Verna explicitly outlined the terms that I fully comprehended the symbolic significance of The Fall of the House of Usher. “Let the next generation bear the burden,” she declares. They readily accept, and in that moment, Roderick and Madeline become representatives of an entire generation that accumulated wealth, caused significant environmental and political turmoil in the world, and passed on the consequences to the succeeding generation. Ultimately, House of Usher’s true objective is to send a message to the Baby Boomers (which this millennial commentator found quite gratifying).
It is intriguing that this particular moment occurs subsequent to Roderick and Madeline executing their significant moves. Initially, they deceive Dupin, and subsequently, they carry out a calculated power move by imprisoning Rufus Griswold at a construction site and constructing a brick wall over him. This gesture pays homage to Poe’s spine-chilling tale, “The Cask of Amontillado,” which happens to be my personal favorite.
One may ponder: Did Verna take any action? The groundwork for Roderick and Madeline’s triumph was set long before she approached them. Throughout history, there are numerous accounts of affluent and influential individuals evading legal repercussions without the assistance of a mystical raven (although Verna does disclose that she made a pact with another individual of similar nature, assuring him that he could even shoot someone in the midst of Fifth Avenue without facing any consequences).
Regardless of the truth surrounding the exact nature of her intervention, there are consequences to be faced. Roderick and Verna find themselves tragically affected by the situation, especially when it involves the exceptional and ethereal maiden known as Lenore, as named by the angels. When Verna arrives to claim her latest victim, she displays an unusual tenderness and kindness towards Lenore. In a surprising gesture, Verna even imparts the knowledge that Lenore’s mother will continue to make a significant impact by assisting millions through a charitable organization established in her memory. This serves as a direct criticism of the life Roderick led, which ultimately led to the deaths of millions. However, despite this seemingly compassionate interaction, Verna concludes by swiftly ending Lenore’s life with a gentle tap to the forehead.
And this brings us back to the present moment, where Roderick and Dupin are engaged in the final act of a long-lasting drama. Roderick discloses that the frequent messages he received from “Lenore” were simply generated by Madeline’s artificial intelligence, producing various iterations of the word “nevermore. As for Madeline herself, she is confined in the basement, although it is safe to assume she would prefer not to be there. Roderick had drugged her, removed her eyes, and replaced them with sapphires—an unsettling and sinister act. In a swift turn of events, Madeline rushes up the stairs and strangles Roderick, completing a task that their mother had initiated half a century earlier. Shortly thereafter, the actual House of Usher succumbs to the storm, effectively putting an end to the family’s existence.
In a previous part of the episode, Dupin expressed uncertainty about determining an appropriate consequence for Roderick’s sins, but mentioned that he would recognize it when he encountered it. The question arises as to how a single consequence can adequately address the magnitude of the crime, which involved inflicting immense suffering and death upon the world. It remains unclear whether the House of Usher provides a definitive answer to this query. Notably, Madeline, without any remorse, meets her demise, while Roderick’s losses, though significant, pale in comparison to the extensive harm he inflicted upon the world.
Perhaps, ultimately, the most satisfying form of retribution is to lead a fulfilling life. As the tale of House of Usher reaches its conclusion, Fortunato’s destructive legacy has been dismantled. The previously inscrutable wealth of the Usher family has been redirected towards aiding others rather than causing harm. Meanwhile, Dupin bids a final farewell to the Ushers, knowing that he is leaving them behind for good. Standing before Roderick’s gravestone, he declares, “I am returning to my husband, my children, and their children. Do you realize that I am the wealthiest man in the world?” Who could possibly dispute his claim?
Bumps in the Night
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The reunion between Morrie and Juno remains unseen, and it escapes my memory whether they exchanged any words on-screen. However, it is noteworthy that both Morrie and Juno experienced a recovery period of precisely three years. The concept of these two individuals coming together after such a prolonged duration and raising a toast to their resilience in enduring the torment inflicted by the Usher men holds an appeal.
I am slightly disappointed that we never had a separate episode dedicated to Arthur Pym. At the very least, I would appreciate a clearer explanation for his unwavering commitment to Roderick. However, I suppose that is what The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym is meant to address.
Another perplexing enigma that seems destined to remain unresolved revolves around Verna’s bar. If indeed the bar was merely an illusion, one cannot help but wonder about the identities of the other individuals present at the New Year’s Eve celebration.
It appears that Annabel’s critique has managed to affect Madeline, as she chooses to incorporate Annabel’s final assessment, “You are so small,” onto Rufus’s tombstone, indicating that it had a profound impact on her.
Roderick asserts that he bears the closest resemblance to Tamerlane due to his tendency to delegate intimacy to others. This statement strongly implies his familiarity with the intricacies of her personal preferences in the bedroom. Such peculiar dynamics within their family unit are certainly noteworthy.
Roderick’s decision to embrace the cessation of his bloodline, despite already having two children, is quite remarkable in its coldness.
In its ethical dilemmas, the television show boldly critiques its own existence: Verna suggests that if we were to halt production on all films and TV shows for just one year and redirect the funds towards combatting issues such as starvation, poverty, and disease, these problems would be effectively resolved.
Verna’s offerings on each Usher’s grave were thoughtfully chosen: a mask for Prospero, a smartphone for Camille, the missing Gucci cat collar for Napoleon, the heart device prototype for Victorine, a Goldbug pin for Tamerlane, drugs for Frederick, sapphires for Madeline, a cognac glass for Roderick, and most notably, the only instance where Verna bestows something of herself without any conditions – a raven feather for Lenore.
Indeed, the Pentagon allocates approximately $84 million annually for Viagra.
“Uh-mon-tuh-luh-doo.” Rufus got what he deserved.
Verna wrapped up this tale with a final rendition of Poe’s “Spirits of the Dead,” so I’ll follow suit.
That concludes The Fall of the House of Usher, as well as Mike Flanagan’s tenure in crafting eerie limited series for Netflix since his move to Amazon roughly a year ago. To all my fellow Flanagan fans: How do you rank House of Usher in comparison to Hill House, Bly Manor, Midnight Mass, and the unfortunately short-lived Midnight Club? Share your thoughts in the comments below.