If you’re a person with simmering rage directed at the Sackler family and Purdue Pharma for their alleged contributions to the opioid epidemic, chronicles like Hulu’s Dopesick and Netflix‘s Painkiller face a major stumbling block when it comes to delivering resolution: When one side of the ledger has hundreds of thousands of deaths and the other has a few settlements and some bankruptcy filings, reality can be a real bummer. No such restrictions confine Mike Flanagan in his latest spooky-season Netflix limited series. 

Half creative writing project tied to a freshman seminar on Edgar Allan Poe, half horror-filled karmic catharsis, Flanagan’s The Fall of the House of Usher is a bluntly entertaining exercise. It’s easily the most specifically topical of Flanagan’s Netflix minis, fueled by an often palpable anger. But that anger frequently gets in the way of the thematic richness that gave The Haunting of Hill House, The Haunting of Bly Manor and Midnight Mass their mournful charge. For eight hours, instead of rooting for people, you’re rooting for payback, leading to a satisfying, but surface-level experience.

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The Fall of the House of Usher


Horror fans will be raven.

Airdate: Friday, October 12 (Netflix)

Cast: Bruce Greenwood, Carla Gugino, Mary McDonnell, Carl Lumbly, Mark Hamill, Michael Trucco, T'Nia Miller, Paola Nuñez, Henry Thomas, Kyliegh Curran, Samantha Sloyan, Rahul Kohli, Kate Siegel, Sauriyan Sapkota, Zach Gilford, Willa Fitzgerald

Creator: Mike Flanagan

Twin siblings Roderick (Bruce Greenwood) and Madeline (Mary McDonnell) Usher are sitting atop the Fortunato pharmaceutical company. For decades, they’ve made billions off an opioid called Ligodone, a painkiller marketed as non-addictive, even though its actual addictive properties have led to hundreds of thousands of deaths. 

I trust you see what Flanagan, who wrote or co-wrote nearly every episode and directed much of the series, is doing there? If you don’t, key details get repeated multiple times, especially in the first couple of episodes.

While Madeline has remained childless, Roderick has an assortment of legitimate and illegitimate kids bucking for eventual control over the company, including oddly off-kilter Frederick (Henry Thomas), aspiring lifestyle guru Tamerlane (Samantha Sloyan), unscrupulous medical researcher Victorine (T’Nia Miller), PR wiz Camille (Kate Siegel), pansexual video game magnate Leo (Rahul Kohli) and enfant terrible Prospero (Sauriyan Sapkota). 

The government has struggled for years to topple the metaphorical house of Usher, led by the crusading C. Auguste Dupin (Carl Lumbly), but thanks to Usher family attorney and general fixer Arthur Pym (Mark Hamill), nothing sticks.

Dupin is about to bring his biggest case to date when the Usher children begin to die in increasingly bizarre fashion, each with ties to the mysterious Verna (Carla Gugino). All of them. We know this because we see a rush of newspaper headlines in the series’ opening minutes. It’s amusing to try to remember details from those headlines when they become relevant later, but the only essential takeaway is, “They’re all dead.”

The circumstances behind those deaths — I’d say “each more gory than the next,” but the first death is mighty gross — are explained as Dupin and Roderick converse in the literal house of Usher, with Roderick offering flashbacks and flashbacks within flashbacks to a young Roderick and Madeline (Zach Gilford and Willa Fitzgerald) and a decades-old choice that brought them wealth and tragedy.