Thursday, October 12, 2023

REVIEW: 'The Fall of the House of Usher' - Roderick Usher Invites Auguste to Record His Confession in 'A Midnight Dreary'

Netflix's The Fall of the House of Usher - Episode 1.01 "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.

"A Midnight Dreary" was written by Mike Flanagan and directed by Mike Flanagan

Roderick Usher would do anything for his family. His twin sister Madeline would kill anyone who betrays the family. They have accumulated great power and influence together. Their lives have always been forged together. They've been inseparable. But now, a great tragedy has befallen them. It's more than an Assistant District Attorney indicting the entire family for using their pharmaceutical company to defraud the country. It's more than the insinuation that Auguste has an informant willing to share every unsavory detail of the crimes the family has committed. Instead, all six of Roderick's children die within two weeks of each other. They have to be buried in joint funerals. It's only upon that tragedy that Roderick is willing to share the truth of his life story.

Roderick and Madeline have always evaded being held accountable for their actions. Their lives changed in the last hours of 1979. However, the story travels through many different time periods. It's all being detailed to Auguste by Roderick in the present. Auguste sees this confession as just the latest scheme Roderick is employing to avoid accountability. Madeline has willfully chosen not to engage. For Roderick though, it's a moment of catharsis as he gets to release all that has defined who he is. He can only start at the beginning. His life has always had mysterious forces surrounding it. His mother seemingly rose from the dead to kill her abusive boss and the father of her children. The scandal was covered up in the name of preserving the dignity of all involved. Roderick and Madeline witnessed it all. They still remained horrified by the many terrors that were laid out for them afterwards.

Eliza was a deeply religious woman. She saw pain and suffering as a way to feel closer to God. It's the only way in which anyone can find meaning. She never wavered. She never had any doubts. She refused to be treated once she fell ill. Her children were left helpless. They didn't know what to do. They were horrified by the prospect that they ultimately buried their mother in the backyard. She fought her way out of the makeshift coffin to enact one last piece of vengeance. That's what she needed to do. She couldn't die until that moment of revenge against Mr. Longfellow. Her children didn't understand. They just knew they had to always stay away from his house. He shunned them. He never wanted them in proximity to his life because that would only topple the carefully constructed palace of pleasure he made. His actions eventually caught up to him. No one can escape the fate they righteously deserve. Roderick took a powerful lesson from that. He and Madeline still made a deal that has now seemingly cost them everything.

Of course, the show doesn't spell out exactly what happened when they met Verna at a bar on New Year's Eve in 1979. It's teased that the location exists outside of time and space. Roderick and Madeline are running from something. They need to present as if nothing tragic and compromising has just happened. Instead, they enter this new reality. One where their fortunes are about to shift significantly. They built their lives on what they did. Even Auguste vaguely knows that the expansive reach of their company begins on this precise date. It's shrouded in mystery. Roderick is now willing to share the truth. He doesn't know if Auguste will even believe him. Roderick remains haunted. He sees Verna. She plagues him as if knowing that it's time to collect a toil he isn't willing to pay. It's inevitable. As such, he can't focus on the hunt to expose the informant within the family. Everyone is intensely focused on that possibility of betrayal. Meanwhile, Roderick eventually arrives at a place where confessing everything to Auguste may be the only way to resolve all that his life amounted to.

A lot of this storytelling is introductory. Roderick is the head of an eccentric family where many of his children have specific roles that require further exploration. Frederick is viewed as the heir apparent because he is the eldest son. The interests of his family are coddled and appreciated more than the other siblings. That's because of the extended focus on the bond between Roderick and his granddaughter, Lenore. She's wise beyond her years. Plus, she's the only one left to comfort him even when he sees a terrifying sight at the funeral. Of course, he still ignores her calls while in the midst of his confession. That remains the priority despite his words of support for his family. That too defines what this clan has always been to one another. Roderick expects each of his children to make their first million dollars on their own. And yet, he has the resources to make their dreams a reality once he actually views their business proposals as practical. Prospero can't just foolishly believe slapping his name on a nightclub will immediately make it a luxurious and elevated brand. Madeline is upfront about that but Roderick actually shuts the proposal down.

Roderick and Madeline work as a team lording over this family. However, Roderick is making the confession on his own. Madeline hasn't reached that point of desperation. She is probably struggling as well. Her path was different though. Roderick built this family. She encouraged it. She conformed to it. She didn't have any children of her own. Her story may be shared in more detail in the future. That would be a welcome development. Every member of this family is liable in Auguste's eyes. He sees Roderick making this epic confession where he accepts all the blame. He taught his children how to function within this family. He created an insular environment where pleasing him and Madeline was the only way to survive. No one is truly a member of the family until they sign a non-disclosure agreement from Arthur Pym. That's just common practice. It doesn't create healthy bonds. Instead, it forever pitted these siblings against each other until no one was left. That's the heartbreaking conclusion. It's not the end though. Roderick and Madeline are still alive. Time is running out. He at least needs his story to be told. That still may not be good enough given the immense harm he's inflicted on so many people. They were punished so this family could thrive. It's not right. Auguste won't fall into any of the tricks to get him to respond with sympathy for what this family has gone through since the trial started. The two foes square off. However, they approach this conflict from completely different realities of what's truly at stake in the outcome.