The Fall of the House of Usher: The Raven
October 23, 2023 8:01 AM - Season 1, Episode 8 - Subscribe

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

"But until Verna actually laid out the terms, I hadn’t fully processed the allegorical field The Fall of the House of Usher is playing on. “Let the next generation foot the bill,” she says. They happily accept, and at that moment, Roderick and Madeline become stand-ins for an entire generation that hoarded wealth, wreaked environmental and political havoc on the world, and stuck the next generation with the consequences."—from Scott Meslow's four-star recap for Vulture

"[T]he episode builds to not one, not two, not three, but four separate climaxes, toward which the whole series had obviously been building: the murder of Rufus Griswold via burial alive a la “The Cask of Amontillado”; Lenore’s death, tied somehow to “The Raven,” after which the episode is named; the deal with the Devil that got them into this mess in the first place; and the final reckoning for the Usher twins, based on the story that gives the show its name. It’s an awful lot."—from Sean T. Collins' recap for Decider

"That’s right — Verna is an anagram for raven. The two words contain all of the same letters, just in a different order."—from Raven (lol) Brunner's explainer for Decider, for which she must have been paid by the word, and more power to her
posted by bcwinters (24 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Sometimes, the series seemed to just name check Poe (was Griswold's costume an allusion to Hop-Frog?), as if writing a Lovecraft pastiche by tossing in the odd "Cthulhu ftagn! Iä! Iä!" but ignoring the cosmic horror of it all.

But this episode felt genuinely more like Poe than the rest of the series. Of course it ends in a graveyard and the quiet contemplation of mortality. Lenore, of course, was doomed by her name alone: "the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore." I'm actually glad that the Raven took her. Lenore's passing made death meaningful, rather than the punchline of a grisly horror story.

And I wonder about Verna. Did she actually do anything in these stories, really? Weren't the Ushers responsible for their own dissolution? Perhaps Verna's role was not that of a devil, but that of a winged angel, whose role was simply to bear witness.
posted by SPrintF at 8:26 AM on October 23, 2023 [4 favorites]

Griswold's costume is a reference to The Cask Of Amontillado more than Hop-Frog - the main action of the story takes place during carnival and Fortunato wears motley with a cap and bells. I have a link to the text somewhere in here... just a bit further back...
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 8:46 AM on October 23, 2023 [10 favorites]

I'm glad we finally heard the terms of the deal. "No criminal prosecution", ey? So, you decide to play the rest of the game with the invulnerability cheat switched on, and then have the gall to claim expertise in the game?

This brings the "lemon speech" in sharp relief. As many pointed out, it makes no sense and now I think it was never meant to - that Rod and Maddie honestly DON'T know how to build and run an empire because they did so with the cheat codes turned on and any stupid move they made was rewarded anyway. For all their big talk, they fundamentally just don't know what they're doing.
posted by Mogur at 9:21 AM on October 23, 2023 [3 favorites]

"Did the deal actually change anything?" is a pretty good question; one that can be tucked away on a bookshelf next to volumes I-IV of "how binding should an agreement you make while you're drunk and believe the other party is delusional be?".

In a show that telegraphs everything as literally as this one does, I was still blindsided by the hilarious ad-hoc at-home mummification sequence. I guess I'd been reading all the Egyptian stuff they'd been dropping in all season as allegorical. Welp! Also: you're supposed to pull out the brains with the hook. It's right fucking there! How badly are you half-assing this, Roderick? Are you drunk? Oh, right, you're super drunk.

Loved the shitty AI reveal, which kind of filled in the remaining gaps of the "Madeline is not actually a genius, she just really wants to be" through-line. Her machine consciousness system was never going to work, and Roderick was probably the only person who believed it would. Roderick wasn't an evil genius; he was just bulletproof. The twins wanted us all to believe that they were big people, but it turned out at the end that they really were small.

The cast was uniformly great. So glad they dropped Langella.
posted by phooky at 10:41 AM on October 23, 2023 [7 favorites]

And, uh, hey, buddy? That bust of Pallas? It's on the mantel, not over the door. The mantelpiece is over the fireplace. Oh, you're going to recite The Raven. Okay, Roddy. Not the whole thing, I trust. So you'll probably skip that bit. Or adapt it? Or maybe OH NO YOU DID NOT. YOU DID NOT JUST FACE A FIREPLACE AND TALK ABOUT A BUST OF PALLAS ABOVE YOUR CHAMBER DOOR. UNLESS YOU ARE HARRY FUCKING POTTER YOUR FIREPLACE IS NOT YOUR CHAMBER DOOR.

I was literally alone in a room yelling about this
posted by phooky at 10:47 AM on October 23, 2023 [11 favorites]

Per Carla Gugino, Verna is something of a neutral entity:
According to Gugino, however, they’re not making a deal with the devil. “Poe never really believed in God and the devil per se. She’s not even evil,” she clarified. To her, Verna is simply just an executor of fate and karma.

Because of that, it was crucial to portray Verna as a neutral character. “Verna is offering each of these people the most honest conversation they will ever have in their lives. She doesn’t really care if they’re good, they’re bad, they’re this, they’re that,” she said. In order to intently engage with her character with no attachment, Gugino reflected on her past experiences working with Brazilian shamans. “The amazing thing when you see that kind of shape-shifting is that there’s an embodiment of something that can seem super radical or super intense, but what it comes back to always is this neutrality,” she explained.
That's way more interesting to me than Verna being some kind of demon. Like she's an embodiment of karma and consequences, and she just wants to see what happens. She's playing around with these people, offering them what they want and seeing what they do with it. I do find Verna's morality interesting, such as it is. (Not sure if it even can be called that, or if it's just her whims.) Like, she clearly does have lines, lines that Frederick crossed with his cruelty, and she clearly understands what the "good" choice is in any given situation. She even tries to help or at least leave space for the Usher kids to make the good choice before she kills them! Like, I think she was actually trying to help Tamerlane achieve some peace before the end, in terms of her reconciling with Bill and leaving their relationship in a better place, Tamerlane was just too fucked up to realize it or take Verna up on it. So I think there's some kindness there, which is an interesting contrast to how, uh, gory and excessive the consequences end up being for these people.

Re if she actually did anything for the Ushers with the deal, I feel like she probably did way less than Roderick and Madeline might assume she did. Like, I'm guessing Verna put her finger on the scale to ensure Roderick and Madeline weren't implicated in Griswold's disappearance/death, but after that, it was mostly money and power doing what money and power do.

I do think the Ushers were ultimately responsible for their own dissolution: Verna only offered them an opportunity. She also offered them a choice: they could have used their deal for good or at least not outright evil, there was nothing stopping them from doing that, but instead they went full capitalist monster. Verna clearly has some insight into the paths not taken, because she mentions the alternate lives some of them could have lived: Roderick the poor but happy poet, Frederick a good dentist, how the people Madeline could have been "broke" Verna's "heart."
posted by yasaman at 11:10 AM on October 23, 2023 [9 favorites]

That scene with all the bodies the Sackler-Ushers are responsible for was absolutely chilling.
posted by Gyre,Gimble,Wabe, Esq. at 11:19 AM on October 23, 2023 [5 favorites]

That's way more interesting to me than Verna being some kind of demon.

Agreed. I know you're not necessarily saying this response to how the Decider reviewer characterizes it, but he seems to have decided (cough) a few episodes ago that Verna was the devil despite it not being really said so in the text, and one recent recap was basically him arguing with a strawman on how the devil's actions are constrained or permitted based on his own interpretations of what the devil is that he's bringing in from outside sources. It was silly enough that I'm not bothering to read this recap to find out what he thinks is "a lot".
posted by LionIndex at 12:18 PM on October 23, 2023 [1 favorite]

I assumed she was a reaper of some sort, not the devil. Humans gotta depart the earth somehow, she just made her job more interesting for herself.
posted by Gyre,Gimble,Wabe, Esq. at 12:31 PM on October 23, 2023 [1 favorite]

I saw somewhere pointing out that in her conversation with Pym she mentions "coming topside" when he saw her previously, which might imply that she's one of the gods living in the hollow earth.
posted by LionIndex at 1:21 PM on October 23, 2023 [6 favorites]

Yep in her convo with Pym (in which she makes him an offer that he declines) she talks about what he saw at Ultima Thule. She's one of those beings who lives "outside of time." This explains the photos of her going back over 100 years as well some of her comments about observing human beings in centuries past.
posted by miss-lapin at 1:40 PM on October 23, 2023 [3 favorites]

Verna also describes the bar where they make the deal as "outside of space and time". It feels like somebody got a little Lovecraft peanut butter in my Poe chocolate, but I'll allow it.

This thread is also making realize that the only Poe I've never read is The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. I'm going to have to rectify that!
posted by phooky at 2:42 PM on October 23, 2023 [4 favorites]

I can see where being outside of space and time might feel lovecraftian, but Ultima Thule being outside of time and space is referenced in the Poe poem Dream-Land

“I have reached these lands but newly
From an ultimate dim Thule —
From a wild weird clime that lieth, sublime
Out of SPACE — out of TIME.”

He wrote that in 1844, decades before Lovecraft was born.
posted by miss-lapin at 3:24 PM on October 23, 2023 [16 favorites]

For all that the cast was universally great - and they surely were - I got a little thrill whenever Mark Hamill was on screen. For me he was first among equals.

The rain of bodies was such a good concept it made me wish they blew a LOT more money on the CGI but on my tv it came through a little blurry. It could have been as great of an opportunity for visual horror as Perry's party was.

Thinking of Verna... there are angels in both The Raven and Annabel Lee, but they don't really imply the existence of a god or of any kind of grace or general universal benevolence available to humans.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 4:19 PM on October 23, 2023 [7 favorites]

I can't decide if having Griswold not yell For the love of God! was admirable restraint, or a mistake. Either way, I enjoyed it.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 5:22 PM on October 24, 2023 [4 favorites]

I was thinking that Madeline was merged with some kind of robot down in the basement and was looking forward to that reveal. The mummification was not a very satisfying solution (if more Poe-ish). Madeline got short dramatic shrift. I would have liked to see more with her, and I don't even like Mary McDonnell.

Flanagan probably has a framed cross-stitch on his wall like, "TELLING IS SHOWING" so I guess he figures if he says 5 times that Madeline's interested in immortality then he can just jump straight from there to sapphires in the eyes (?) ok. I think if this is how it's gonna be you might as well toss out the well-actuallies and make the sapphires look prettier. If you put sapphires on my headstone when I did not give a fucking shit about Egypt in my life, that's just my dumbass brother's bullshit, well, they'd better be fucking gorgeous.

Fun to see a khopesh getting swung around at least.

"Let the next generation foot the bill" is a kind of good idea for something that could tie the episodes together and mean something more.

GrisWALLED UP AMIRITE being behind the bricks... I was almost hoping for some weirdness like it was actually Usher in there and Griswold had taken his place as the brother. It wouldn't make sense but it'd be a tweest!

Verna's utilitarianism was pretty bleh (during her spiel about the charity pay-it-forward accounting I was thinking this is like 1 degree off of pro-life shit and being delivered in a similar unendurable manner), but I think it fits this show which is like...very 14-year-old-brain. Between this and Midnight Club I was wondering if Flanagan was just writing for his kids now. And are those kids wimpy-ass Catholics.

I liked the body rain though.
posted by fleacircus at 5:52 AM on October 25, 2023 [1 favorite]

So is Annabelle Lee Verna’s twin? Because otherwise I don’t understand how it is she didn’t age a day. I was fully expecting a reveal where A. L. was just another vision of Roderick’s, but it never came.
posted by Cogito at 4:44 AM on November 2, 2023

Annabel Lee is dead. When she walks towards the coffins of her children, it reveals the back of her head. It appears she died from a self inflicted gunshot wound. That's why Roderick said she can't be there and why she hasn't aged.
posted by miss-lapin at 7:30 AM on November 2, 2023 [1 favorite]

Thank you, miss-lapin! I was totally looking for something like that, but for once this show was too subtle about it
posted by Cogito at 11:27 AM on November 2, 2023 [1 favorite]

Also, I found this series had some of the worst music supervision I can remember. "Another Brick in the Wall" for Rufus' demise felt both asinine relative to what that song is about and a profound waste of money on a series that could've used more investment elsewhere.
posted by Cogito at 11:29 AM on November 2, 2023 [1 favorite]

10 min 45 seconds into this episode she says that maybe her children died in childhood to Roderick, when she turns around you can see the exit wound in her head. I would not call it subtle but I guess next to acid drenched orgy it is.
posted by miss-lapin at 2:02 PM on November 2, 2023 [1 favorite]

I think it's less about subtlety even and more that it's inconsistent. None of the other dead people who Roderick kept seeing stayed around for long and IIRC they never spoke
posted by Cogito at 4:24 PM on November 5, 2023

I think it's less about subtlety even and more that it's inconsistent. None of the other dead people who Roderick kept seeing stayed around for long and IIRC they never spoke

On the other hand the parade of mute bodies surrounding Usher are all victims of his curse, so to speak, his bloodline doomed to die through the bargain he made in 1980. Annabel Lee's death presumably happened many years ago, not in connection to Usher's Faustian bargain but probably attributable to his cruelty and what she would have seen as the corruption and ruination of their kids.

So in my mind Annabel Lee's appearance at the funeral of her kids is fundamentally different from the other visions of the dead throughout the show. She may be just another of Usher's hallucinations, but given her different behavior and the difference circumstances and timing of her death, of all of them she's the one most likely to be a proper ghost, possibly the only genuine ghost in the whole production.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 5:23 AM on December 27, 2023 [2 favorites]

GrisWALLED UP AMIRITE being behind the bricks... I was almost hoping for some weirdness like it was actually Usher in there and Griswold had taken his place as the brother.

I was expecting the person behind the wall to be Annabel Lee until we saw the back of her head. I thought the bargain was going to be that he had had to murder Annabel Lee because she knew too much.

This was good, the bit with Lenore heartbreaking. I was kind of hoping given what was said about the mom’s proclivities, that she had cheated on Roderick before and so would survive, but of course, fate has no mercy.
posted by corb at 9:50 PM on March 19

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