Mike Flanagan has built a small empire at Netflix. Consistently using a troupe of actors that slip in and out of his projects. The Fall of the House of Usher is his most ambitious work to date. Drawing from his stock of performers and bringing nearly all of Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous work to the screen in a massive tapestry of gothic horror for the modern age.

The series transforms the gloriously purple prose of Mr. Poe and splatters all his excesses onto the screen by one of our most excessive horror creators working today. There is an inherent thrill while watching Usher for anyone that even has passing familiarity with America’s most acclaimed horror writer as the stories, characters, and themes of Poe’s central works are woven into this contemporary story of the greed that comes with excessive wealth.

Flanagan drops the audience into the middle of this story as we see Roderick Usher (Bruce Greenwood) sitting alone in a nearly empty cathedral as he buries the last three of his six children. Within moments, the audience knows that death will permeate every frame of this experience. More than death though, it is fate that the show is truly wrestling with because almost immediately, we are drawn back into the past. The story weaves different timelines together with ease as we witness Roderick giving what feels like an apologia to his cursed life to Auguste Dupin (Carl Lumbly). The two men sit in the house of Roderick’s youth, now decrepit and seemingly only standing in defiance.

The two have an immediate animosity towards each other but amongst that hate you sense a deep and complicated history that will slowly reveal itself. Roderick has brought Dupin to confess, in a way, for his responsibilities in his children’s death. Dupin knows how these children died but over the course of the series, this conversation will lay out the tragedies and foibles of this family. The Ushers are wealthy built beyond measure since Roderick amassed his fortune by peddling an Oxycodone knock off Ligodone. Roderick and his children, played by an exceptional array of Flanagan regulars, Rahul Kohli, Henry Thomas, Kate Siegel, Samantha Sloyan, T’Nia Miller, Sauriyan Sapkota, are all aware that their family fortune is on millions of deaths from their prized drug.

Each episode after the first follows a separate child in their final days, grappling with a spurned approval from their father and a desire to build something independent from the family empire at Fortunato Pharmaceuticals. Our sympathy for the kids grows more complicated with each episode. Yes, they are all morally bankrupt, captured in a world of excess and greed that doesn’t even give them the opportunity to enjoy their extravagant wealth, but they are also still their father’s children. The two eldest children from Roderick’s first wife and seemingly his only love, certainly hold their father’s favor in a way that the four children out of wedlock don’t.

The deaths in this series feel straight from a Final Destination film instead of something akin to Flanagan’s other work. That inevitability to each of the children’s fate does make them inherently more human. By the time the final child dies, there is an understandable paranoia running through the family that is mined for rich depth. When one of the children dies, they are told what their life would’ve been if their father never got rich and this adds one of the more subtle critiques of just how insidious wealth can be.

While much of the action is in modern day, there are flashes to the young Roderick (Zach Gilford), his sister Madeline (played by Mary McDonnell in modern day and Willa Fitzgerald in flashback), and Roderick’s first wife and only love Annabel Lee (Katie Parker). These flashbacks are intertwined with the story of the young Dupin (Malcolm Goodwin) trying to take down Fortunato Pharmaceuticals with a young and hungry new employee, Roderick Usher. These moments in the past are nearly devoid of horror. They are truly just the table setting for the universe and in doing so, establish a world where the true monsters that should keep us up at night are the ruthless corporations and their servile employees.

Part of the magic of this series is the casting. Flanagan has been a director that flies in the face of typical casting decisions. Here, he fleshes out the world with his stock company and builds the Usher family with a rich blend of cultures and backgrounds. He has long cast on skill and appropriateness for the role. This means his tent of actors is diverse in every aspect. The true standout of this cast to me is the eternally handsome Bruce Greenwood. His soft but powerful presence hangs over every moment of this series. The other standout is Carla Gugino as Verna, anagram fans could have some fun with that one. To divulge almost anything of her character would be a disservice to the viewer, but she is given the chance to change her persona in nearly every episode. The other stand outs are Mark Hamill as an enigmatic fixer of sorts for the Usher family and Carl Lumbly as the thoughtful and passionate foil to Roderick. Truly though, this is a pitch perfect cast with every performance being perfectly calibrated for the overall effect.

The Fall of the House of Usher ranks with the very finest of Flanagan’s work. It sits neatly atop his projects with Midnight Mass as his most mature and thought-provoking projects yet. It is also his angriest work to date. Tackling both corporate and personal greed without remorse. Even as the entire Usher family is erased, it is no toll considering the millions that Roderick’s drug has taken the life of. The parallels to the Sackler family are overt and it seems that the other big inspiration outside of Poe, is HBO’s masterpiece, Succession. Just like that show, there is an empathy in the inevitable with these people. Whatever good qualities they might have had, this life has so thoroughly erased those pieces of their humanity that it is easy to view all these characters as the villains of their own story. Hell, they don’t even seem to enjoy the piles upon piles of money that they sit on.

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