Warning: This article contains spoilers for The Fall of the House of Usher (2023).
The first episode of Netflix’s The Fall of the House of Usher sets up a few mysteries that the series doesn’t solve until its eighth and final installment. The first is, of course, why Verna (Carla Gugino) even chose to orchestrate the deaths of all of the Usher children. It’s also unclear initially why Lenore (Kyliegh Curran) is constantly texting her grandfather, Roderick (Bruce Greenwood), during his conversation with C. Auguste Dupin (Carl Lumbly). Lastly, there’s the nature of the mysterious “confession” that Roderick has promised Dupin. After all, what could a man so blatantly unscrupulous possibly have to confess?
The Fall of the House of Usher’s finale, fortunately, answers all of these questions. Early on, the episode flashes back in time to finally reveal what happened the night that Roderick and his sister, Madeline (played in her youth by Willa Fitzgerald), first crossed paths with Verna. As anyone who has read Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado may have guessed, it’s revealed that the two used Fortunato Pharmaceuticals’ 1980 New Year’s Eve party as a way to lure Roderick’s boss, Rufus Griswold (Michael Trucco), into the company’s basement. The two then drugged Rufus and sealed him alive behind a brick wall in order to complete their takeover of Fortunato. (The twinkling Roderick has heard throughout the series and the jester that’s haunted him are both callbacks to the costume Rufus was wearing the night he was killed.)
In order to cover up their crime, Roderick and Madeline went to the closest bar they could find: Verna’s. Once there, she offered them a deal: She’d ensure their unlimited success if they agreed to defer their “payment” for her supernatural protection to the next generation of Ushers. Without much hesitation, Roderick and Madeline agreed. The deaths of his children are, in other words, the outcome of a deal that he himself willingly made decades prior because he believed they’d be better off living short lives of luxury than ever knowing what it’s like to struggle financially. That same New Year’s Eve night, Verna promised that Roderick’s children wouldn’t die until his own time came, which is why it was his own fatal diagnosis that commenced the start of his kids’ deaths.
In its opening third, The Fall of the House of Usher episode 8 additionally reveals that not only was it Roderick’s selfishness that broke up his marriage to Annabel Lee (Katie Parker), but that he later used his wealth to lure their kids away from her. It’s implied that she killed herself after losing the love and attention of her children — the very same ones Roderick had already condemned to die by that point. His adult children aren’t the only people that Verna has to kill as part of her deal with Roderick and Madeline, either.
In one of The Fall of the House of Usher’s most moving scenes, Verna pays a visit to Lenore, tells her about the positive impact her life will ultimately have on the world, expresses her sincere regret over the nature of their conversation, and then painlessly kills her. It’s not, therefore, Lenore that has been texting Roderick throughout the Netflix series, but the AI bot version of her that she’d innocently begun to develop with her aunt, Mary McDonnell’s older Madeline.
Following Lenore’s death, Verna begins to torment Roderick with visions of her body, all while revealing her true form as a shapeshifting Raven (Verna is an anagram for “Raven”). She shows him the staggering number of people that his and Fortunato Pharmaceuticals’ drugs have killed and orders him to confess his crimes to Auguste Dupin. Before he does, however, he reveals one more surprising secret: Prior to Auguste’s arrival at their meeting, Roderick reunited with Madeline and poisoned her in order to ensure that their debt with Verna would be fully settled by the end of the night.
Roderick then cut out Madeline’s eyes and replaced them with sapphires in order to send her into the afterlife like the Egyptian queens of old. Unfortunately, just like the Usher siblings failed to do with their mother years prior, Roderick didn’t double-check to make sure that Madeline was truly dead before he locked her in her own sarcophagus. As a result, the creaking and pounding that Auguste previously heard coming from the basement was, it turns out, the efforts of a still-alive Madeline trying to break free.
And break free she does. Roderick’s sister comes stumbling up the stairs, blue sapphires where her eyes used to be, and promptly strangles him to death while their childhood home collapses on top of them. The moment brings the Usher family’s story full circle — ending with a reflection of the moment when Roderick and Madeline watched their barely-living mother strangle their uncaring father to death in front of their eyes.
Carl Lumbly’s Auguste, thankfully, manages to make it out of the Usher household alive. Before Roderick dies, he finally gives Auguste the confession he’d promised him hours earlier, too. In the moments before Madeline’s escape, Roderick tells Auguste that deep down he knew the deal he and Madeline had made with Verna was real. “I knew I would climb to the top of the tower on a pile of corpses,” he says. “We told them it was about soothing the world’s pain. That’s the biggest lie we told. You can’t eliminate pain.”
“There’s no such thing as a painkiller. Imagine if we’d put that on the bottle?” Roderick muses. “I bet I still could have sold it.”
In its closing moments, the Fall of the House of Usher finale reveals that Roderick’s wife, Juno (Ruth Codd), inherited everything after his death, dissolved Fortunato Pharmaceuticals, and transformed it into a drug rehabilitation foundation. Verna, meanwhile, takes a moment to pay a final visit to the Usher family’s graves, placing symbolic items atop each tombstone (ex. A phone for Camille, a whiskey glass for Roderick). It’s a darkly funny conclusion and one that further drives home The Fall of the House of Usher’s core themes.
When they were alive, the Ushers (Lenore excluded) saw life as a series of deals to be made. Roderick and Madeline, in particular, were fine with dooming the next generation if it meant immediate luxury for them. In the end, though, all the Ushers’ greed leaves them with is death and a few things. It’s hard to imagine a fate worse than that.
The Fall of the House of Usher is streaming now on Netflix.
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