Sommerleigh Pollonais, Horror Head Writer
While Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher has been adapted numerous times, it’s never been handled quite like this. Mike Flanagan has quickly become one of the most prolific horror directors of the modern era, delivering scares and stories with a style that is all his own.
Masterfully choosing to use the 1839 short story as the main thread, Mike Flanagan shows off his impressive skills by delivering multiple Edgar Allan Poe stories, each tale representing a different character as they pay for not only their sins, but the sins of their father Roderick Usher, superbly portrayed by Bruce Greenwood (Doctor Sleep, Star Trek reboot). Fans of Flanagan’s shows and movies will know of his penchant for utilising the same actors repeatedly, which is why many of the people he’s worked with (including his wife Kate Siegel) are cast here as well. Greenwood was previously seen in Gerald’s Game alongside Carla Gugino, who’s also cast here as the mysterious Verna. There are a few newcomers though to the Flanagan family, with Carl Lumbly as district attorney Auguste Dupin who’s eager to bring down the Usher clan. Roderick’s wickedly smart sister Madeline is played by Mary McDonnell and, arguably the most famous of them all, Mark Hamill as the unstoppable force, the fixer to end all fixers, the family’s lawyer and closest ally Arthur Pym, infamously known to most as the Pym Reaper.
This series was a massive undertaking as adapting so many of Poe’s works was never going to be easy. The reviews are polarising to say the least and while I am very much a fan of Mike Flanagan, I’m not one to yell “Perfection!” when it comes to everything he does. That said, I absolutely loved this series and figured the best way to break it down would be to rank my favourite episodes. So, without further ado, a house-sized SPOILER ALERT and a promise to keep it short and sweet, here are The Fall of the House of Usher Episodes Ranked:
#8 A Midnight Dreary (Episode 1)
Usually, the first episode of a series is the one that carries the weight of grabbing the audience’s interest. But while A Midnight Dreary does a solid job of introducing us to the Usher clan, it barely scratches the surface of what’s to come. It is still a slow start leads to an unexpected conclusion and hints to bigger and better things on the horizon.
#7 The Pit and the Pendulum (Episode 7)
If I had decided to put this list in order of most deserving of death, The Pit and the Pendulum would’ve ranked much higher.
Sadly, as much as I enjoyed Henry Thomas in Flanagan’s previous series, I found his character Frederick Usher to be the most uninteresting of all the siblings. I might go as far as to say he was poorly cast as the spoilt, bordering-on bratty man-child. Thomas seems a bit too “soft” for the part. But I will say Carla Gugino as the mysterious Verna (an anagram for Raven in case you missed that) seeming to enjoy Thomas’ demise the most and Ruth Codd as Roderick’s wife Juno finally telling him to go to hell were highlights of the episode.
#6 Goldbug (Episode 6)
I know I said I’m not ranking death scenes but boy was this one memorable! It’s funny how Roderick’s legitimate children turned out to be the worst of the bunch and, like her brother Frederick, Tamerlane Usher was a horrible individual who never saw beyond her own desires. A wannabe Gwenyth Paltrow, Tamerlane never sleeps as she works tirelessly to launch a lifestyle-based company called Goldbug, but her lack of sleep and a certain supernatural entity named Verna catches up with her, bringing her dreams tumbling down like so many shards of glass.
If ever there was an argument for why you should never have a giant mirror over your bed, Goldbug is it. All the flowers to actress Samantha Sloyan too as she’s so good in the role, I did feel an inkling of sympathy for Tamerlane at times, especially in the scene where she speaks with Juno. Helluva a performance Miss Sloyan.
#5 The Masque of the Red Death (Episode 2)
This was the one! This was the episode that made me sit up straight and pay all the attention to The Fall of the House of Usher. Where do I start!
How about the flashback of a younger Roderick (Zack Gilford) and Madeline (Willa Fitzgerald) as we see them lay the foundations for their eventual rise to power. Fitzgerald especially is a wonder as the younger Madeline, not just because she nails the dialogue but it’s just uncanny how both she and Mary McDonnell match each other’s affectations and speech patterns, making it seem like it’s the same person playing both roles!
Roderick’s youngest Prospero “Perry” Usher’s journey towards self-destruction, predictable as it was, still managed to shock me to my core. And his conversation with Verna is a great example of why hearing someone and listening to what they’re saying are two very different things. When that little voice in your head tells you to “Go”, you should really go!
#4 The Tell-Tale Heart (Episode 5)
Pride, Greed, Envy, Lust and now Wrath. The Usher families excel at making selfish decisions and nowhere was that more obvious than with Victorine Usher (T’Nia Miller). The surgeon in the family, you would think she would be the most caring but Victorine’s need to be favoured by her father, but her failed attempts at creating a better pacemaker and her selfish refusal to let go of her girlfriend Ali when she discovers all of the lies Victorine has been covering up leads to her losing her temper and destroying all she had built in one well-placed hit to the back of the head.
A top five Poe story for me, The Tell-Tale Heart fits perfectly into the overall narrative as a vehicle for how guilt can eat away at your very sanity. It’s also one of the gnarlier episodes of the bunch and the reveal as to what happened to poor Ali is one you’re not soon to forget.
Love the added touch of the machine’s clicking noises continuing into the credits. It’s little touches like these that speak volumes on how well Flanagan understands horror.
#3 The Black Cat (Episode 4)
While there are hints of dark humour throughout the series, The Black Cat is the funniest of all the episodes here. Or maybe I just have a really messed up sense of humour.
While he’s obviously as spoiled as his other siblings (I would say his sin is Sloth) and while he’s nowhere as innocent as poor Lenore whose only crime was being born into this den of monsters, Leo Usher is a character I didn’t think deserved such a cruel (albeit funny) demise.
Leo, who does drugs the way most people drink water, accidentally kills his boyfriend’s cat, and goes to a shelter to adopt a look-alike with the hope Julius won’t notice. This particular cat though isn’t just any ordinary feline (it’s Verna in disguise), and it proceeds to make Leo’s life a literal living hell, leading to him accidentally taking a short dive off a very high and very long ledge. The joke is on poor Leo though. Pluto never died as he shows up in the final scene, his “death” apparently just Verna laying the groundwork for Leo’s exit. Final Destination’s version of Death has nothing on this lady!
#2 Murder in the Rue-Morgue (Episode 3)
Actress Kate Siegel might have a leg-up when it comes to being cast in a Mike Flanagan adaptation, but no one can argue she doesn’t always bring her A-game. Portraying Camille L’Espanaye, one of Roderick’s illegitimate kids, Camille is the public relations head of the family company Fortunato. Sharp-tongued and ruthless when it comes to seeking out dirt on competitors and family alike, Camille takes it upon herself to prove Victorine is the informant betraying the family by sneaking into the lab where she keeps the chimpanzees being experimented on. Apes are not cute people and if Jordan Peele’s Nope and this episode doesn’t get that point across, I don’t know what will!
Carla Gugino’s Verna is at her most disturbingly chilling here and while the CGI chimps do rob the moment a bit of its impact, the outcome will most definitely stay with you.
#1 The Raven (Episode 8)
Chock-full of stand-out moments (I must’ve replayed the Verna/Lenore scene half a dozen times), haunting visuals and perfectly delivered monologues inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s works, The Raven was the perfect cap to a series of episodes that just kept getting better and better.
I think what I loved most of all about this episode and the series as a whole was it never felt like Flanagan was trying to retread the ground already explored in The Haunting of Hill House or Bly Manor. While those shows were deeply emotional and dramatic, this one plays out like the darkest of comedies. It’s almost gleeful as it deals with the inevitable fates of the (mostly) horrible people that make up this twisted family. The sadness, the regret, the guilt is all undercut by an unapologetic sense of justice met by Verna.
Wickedly delightful is the best way I can describe it and The Raven, arguably the most dialogue-heavy episode of them all, was worth the wait as it is one of the best adaptations of The Fall of the House of Usher Poe fans could ever have hoped for. And I can’t wait to see what Mike Flanagan comes up with next.
So that’s my ranking. What are your top three episodes? And you can check out more Mike Flangan-related articles below:
Sommerleigh of the House Pollonais. First of Her Name. Sushi Lover, Queen of Horror Movies, Comic Books and Binge-Watching Netflix. Mother of two beautiful black cats named Vader and Kylo. I think eating Popcorn at the movies should be mandatory, PS4 makes the best games ever, and I’ll be talking about movies until the zombie apocalypse comes. Double Tap Baby! Read More