Friday, October 13, 2023

REVIEW: 'The Fall of the House of Usher' - Verna Collects on the Deal She Made with Roderick and Madeline in 'The Raven'

Netflix's The Fall of the House of Usher - Episode 1.08 "The Raven"

In 1980, Roderick and Madeline seize a chance to cement their fortune - for a price. Decades later, the remaining Ushers reckon with the consequences.

"The Raven" was written by Mike Flanagan & Kiele Sanchez and directed by Michael Fimognari

Roderick and Madeline came into this world together. They were always destined to leave it together too. They loved and trusted each other more than anyone else in the world. They relied on that bond long before they made the fateful deal with Verna. Afterwards, they didn't even know if it was real or not. Subconsciously, they understood the price they would have to pay to maintain decades of power and influence atop Fortunato Pharmaceuticals. Even when they started reckoning with the ramifications, it took awhile for them to recognize the true gravity of the situation. They put the pieces together that all of Roderick's children died after meeting Verna. It simply wasn't a rational thought. They couldn't warn the children to avoid her no matter what. Time was running out. This fate was unavoidable because of that decision all those years ago. It's only in the finale that the true context of that bargain is revealed.

It was always known that Roderick and Madeline signed some kind of deal that made them invulnerable from ever being held accountable for their actions. Their children would never want for anything. Roderick already had children when he met Verna. Frederick and Tamerlane would always suffer the consequences. Despite their doubts, Madeline took action to never have children. That was never something she desired. With this added context, it gave her one less thing to lose. She would remain steadfast in her development of an algorithm to unlock the mystery of immortality. In fact, it's a waste how limited the overall narrative was by focusing on the deaths of the Usher family instead of Madeline facing off with Verna to obtain what she clearly has. Madeline was always looking for a loophole to exploit. She rose to the top because she manipulated the system to her advantage. Roderick was often along for the ride. He was the face. She was the genius. She made so much possible. Yet so much was ultimately framed around Roderick's telling of events.

The narrative grew quite tedious as it went along. The pattern was quickly developed and followed through to its inevitable conclusion. All six of Roderick's children had to die. They were each given a spotlight episode before their inevitable deaths. It was never personal as Verna pointed out to each of them. And yet, she actively had the choice of whether they would suffer. The most visceral of the deaths was the first with Prospero and his orgy of influential people suffering from chemical burns. Each murder was stylized in such a way that truly drew the viewer's eye in to witness the horror. They each spiraled and felt like they were losing their minds. That revealed how depraved and deplorable each of them was before this action was taken. Lenore had to become the only good one in the family. She sought a better future. That made it more painful when she too had to die. The entire bloodline had to end. It was more than the subsequent generation after Roderick. Everything his children produced were included in the bargain. Lenore made a difference. She was simply given less time to live up to her full potential.

Roderick and Madeline changed the world. They achieved that dream as it was broadly defined when they first stepped into Verna's bar. The promise of what they were selling was nothing more than a lie. They always knew it as well. Roderick built his fortune and power on the pain and suffering of others. It wasn't personal to him. In fact, he was proud of the miraculous creations of his endeavors. That's why he married Juno. She reforms the company after everyone else is gone. It's all so incredibly impersonal. Roderick proclaims that as a trait that each of his children inherited. He offered them money. That corrupted their souls. As such, they were incapable of ever forming any true or general connections. They all struggled with intimacy and vulnerability. That's the lasting legacy on this family based on Roderick's actions. However, the pain extends far beyond that. The show doesn't do a great job at reckoning with that. Yes, it details the immorality of making this deal with the devil. One's personal ego can inflict so much pain onto others. The examination of that concept basically remained the same throughout the overall season.

The performances were excellent as they always are in Mike Flanagan's productions. Several themes are common amongst them too. They explore life and death in lyrical and poetic ways. Roderick is even described as a poet. He feels emotions much more viscerally. Madeline stands in contrast. She is the mathematician always coldly calculating the proper next move. In the past, they gained Auguste's trust only to deceive him during the deposition. That proved their value and worth to Rufus Griswold. It was then easy to kill him and rise the ranks to achieve the power they so richly believed they deserved. They enacted their plan and executed it before roaming the streets for a bar to create a more convincing alibi. No one ever came questioning their story. No one ever found Rufus buried in the walls of the company. The expansion was successful. Roderick and Madeline guided the company into the future. They made billions. They had more money than they could ever spend in their lifetimes. It still wasn't enough. All that they lost along the way was painfully obvious when death was so near. Without the pressure of this moment, they never would have made those realizations. They never would have confessed to all the horrors that were done. Roderick is compelled to share his testimony. It doesn't matter. Madeline understands that impulse. She is betrayed by her brother. Yet they are destined to die together just like how everything started with their mother overcoming death to exact her revenge on their father.

It was annoying when the narrative expanded Verna's reach to apply to other examples of transformational villainy in the world. The allegory of this specific story was already apparent given the role the Sackler family played in the rise of the opioid crisis. That's apparent for anyone willing to explore those parallels. It also makes it painfully obvious that everyone would take Verna up on her offer. Roderick and Madeline are just two examples. That lends power when she engages with Lenore and Arthur. Verna knows what the future holds. Despite that, she still offers people these opportunities to change their fates. Lenore's death is allowed to be peaceful and painless. It comes with the clarity of what will be done in her name. That legacy lives on. People fight to rectify all the misery caused by this family. The people are gone. Only one is held accountable. Arthur resigns himself to that fate. He didn't know about the supernatural forces always protecting the family. He was good at his job. He never let any amount of enjoyment enter his world. He never wanted collateral to bargain for his life. Verna respects that. Countless lives are still lost. A reason to be hopeful exists. The piece as a whole offers a depressing worldview where the consequences of one action quickly grow beyond the reach of one individual. Roderick and Madeline didn't know what to believe until it was too late. They enjoyed the excesses of life until time ran out. They achieved some dreams. They changed the world. That still wasn't enough. Nor was it beneficial to share every detail of what defined them. Instead, the only justice Auguste received was clarity in accepting the happiness of being with his family. That's good enough despite the visceral carnage apparent throughout this series.