DISCLAIMER: This recap of The Fall of the House of Usher Season 1 Episode 1, “A Midnight Dreary,” contains spoilers. Proceed at your peril. 

“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary…” 

How fitting that this episode is named after the opening line from Edgar Allan Poe‘s “The Raven.” Mike Flanagan‘s latest horror creation is here. Folks, it doesn’t disappoint. Flanagan delivers a solid series premiere that lays the groundwork for a macabre mystery that pays homage to multiple Poe works. Everything from the juicy dialogue to the performances and the haunting horror elements of what’s to come gel together beautifully. I’m excited to see where this narrative takes us. 

On a separate note, I really dig The Newton Brothers’ score. It reminds me of Murray Gold’s music during Steven Moffat‘s Doctor Who era. Specific, I know. 

Ready to delve into “A Midnight Dreary”? Let’s get to it. 

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We open with a funeral. Roderick Usher (Bruce Greenwood), Madeline Usher (Mary McDonnell), Arthur Pym (Mark Hamill), Juno (Ruth Codd) and Lenore (Kyliegh Curran) are the only ones attending the service. We see the coffins for three Usher kids, Frederick (Henry Thomas), Victorine (T’Nia Miller) and Tamerlane (Samantha Sloyan), sitting onstage as the preacher recites text. During the funeral, Roderick looks up at the balcony, where Verna (Carla Gugino) stands. She boasts a black, raven-esque mask. Lenore, who doesn’t notice what her grandfather sees, asks him what’s wrong. 

We see flashes of the six Usher kids’ deaths in a split second. After the service, Roderick steps out to a bevy of paparazzi, snapping photos of the Usher patriarch in his grief. Next, we see news clippings featuring each Usher, advertising their deaths and the dates they transpired. One man informs C. Auguste Dupin (Carl Lumbly) that Roderick called. Surprisingly, he wants to talk to Dupin. 

Prospero, Camille, Napoleon, Bill-T and Tamerlane sit at a dining room table while looking at their father in The Fall of the House of Usher Season 1 Episode 1, "A Midnight Dreary."

(L to R) Sauriyan Sapkota as Prospero Usher, Kate Siegel as Camille L’Espanaye, Rahul Kohli as Napoleon Usher, Matt Biedel as Bill-T Wilson, Samantha Sloyan as Tamerlane Usher, Mark Hamill as Arthur Pym in Season 1 Episode 1, “A Midnight Dreary,” of The Fall of the House of Usher. Cr. Eike Schroter/Netflix © 2023

That evening, Dupin takes a taxi to Roderick’s childhood home, which has seen better days. Roderick offers Dupin cognac. We learn their relationship goes back decades. Dupin has spent his career trying valiantly to topple the Usher empire. After beginning the recording, Roderick confesses to all 73 charges brought against Fortunato Pharmaceuticals. He also wants to tell Dupin about how his kids really died. 

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Roderick claims they must start at the beginning. We flash back to 1953, wherein Eliza (Annabeth Gish), Roderick and Madeline’s mother, watches them play as children. Eliza was a secretary for Fortunato Pharmaceuticals’ CEO, William Longfellow (Robert Longstreet). She warned Madeline and Roderick to steer clear of Longfellow’s home. (It’s later heavily implied that Longfellow is their biological father.) Naturally, the two kids disobey their mother. Roderick cuts his ankle while trying to hop over Longfellow’s fence. 

Next, Longfellow scolds both children. Eliza arrives and apologizes for their trespassing. Years later, in 1962, we see teenage Roderick and Madeline pouring over textbooks. Eliza, now bedridden, rings a bell for them to tend to her. She’s very sick but refuses to see a doctor. Instead, Eliza leans significantly on her faith. Madeline and Roderick knock on Longfellow’s door, hoping he could help them persuade Eliza to seek medical care. Unfortunately, he rudely gives them the boot. 

Roderick Usher sits in an armchair while looking focused in The Fall of the House of Usher Season 1 Episode 1, "A Midnight Dreary."

Bruce Greenwood as Roderick Usher in Season 1 Episode 1, “A Midnight Dreary,” of The Fall of the House of Usher. Cr. Eike Schroter/Netflix © 2023

Later, Eliza dies. The siblings decide to bury her in the backyard. One stormy night, Roderick points something terrifying out to his sister. Eliza’s casket is empty, and it appears she crawled out of the ground. While standing in their dark kitchen, Madeline warns Roderick that Eliza is standing behind him. She lunges for him, grabbing him by the throat and lifting him off the floor. She looks half-decayed. Madeline tearfully persuades Eliza to put Roderick down. Eliza storms onto Longfellow’s property and chokes the life out of him. After he dies, she seemingly perishes again, collapsing beside his corpse as Longfellow’s wife screams. 

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We return to Roderick and Dupin in the present. Roddy tells Dupin that his mother stands behind him. Dupin refuses to turn around, although we see a figure looming in the darkness who moves off-screen. Creepy. Roderick explains how he’s the antithesis of his father. His philosophy? If you’re an Usher, the gates are open. Roderick had six kids from five women who were all bona fide Ushers. Next, the conversation turns to Dupin’s eloquent opening remarks amid the trial against the Ushers. We flash back to two weeks ago, wherein Roderick and Madeline are joined by Frederick, Tamerlane, Victorine, Napoleon (Rahul Kohli), Camille (Kate Siegel) and Prospero (Sauriyan Sapkota).

We also see Frederick’s wife, Morella (Crystal Balint), and his daughter, Lenore, sitting behind them. Meanwhile, Roderick’s wife, Juno, and Victorine’s wife, Alessandra (Paola Núñez), are also present. Pym sits before the judge, defending the Ushers. However, during Dupin’s opening statement, Pym seemingly ignores him in favor of a crossword puzzle. That’s because he knows the Ushers will prevail. They’re untouchable, just like pretty much anyone with power. Dupin mentions Ligodone, a highly addictive Fortunato drug that has killed thousands of people. 

Madeline Usher and Arthur Pym stand on a sidewalk on an overcast day while looking shocked in The Fall of the House of Usher Season 1 Episode 1, "A Midnight Dreary."

(L to R) Mary McDonnell as Madeline Usher, Mark Hamill as Arthur Pym in Season 1 Episode 1, “A Midnight Dreary,” of The Fall of the House of Usher. Cr. Eike Schroter/Netflix © 2023

Then, Dupin reveals he has someone from the Usher’s inner circle, an informant, who’s agreed to testify during the trial. That gets Pym’s attention. He and Dupin approach the bench, wherein he persuades the judge to forbid the informant from testifying. Dupin agrees to drop it. Hmm. After the trial closes for the day, Roderick declares they’re having a family meeting that night — spouses included. 

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Later, Frederick bowls while lamenting about the mysterious informant. Who is it? Could he discover this person’s identity and win over Daddy Roderick’s approval? Morella bakes a cake that doesn’t look like cake while Lenore listens in. Meanwhile, Tamerlane complains about “Froderick” (Freddie tries to be Roderick Jr.) but doesn’t believe he’s the snitch. Tamerlane and Freddie seem to think Perry (Prospero) is the culprit. Tamerlane’s husband, Bill-T (Matt Biedel), supports her regardless. He wonders if she should pause the “launch” until this legal business is resolved. 

Meanwhile, Alessandra (a doctor) and Victorine perform surgery on a chimpanzee. They place some kind of device on its heart. After a seemingly successful procedure, Alessandra and Victorine discuss the impending family dinner and the upcoming trials for this heart device. Here’s hoping Daddy R. doesn’t pull funding. At the same time, Napoleon (also called Leo) is on the phone with his boyfriend, Julius (Daniel Jun), while playing a video game. Leo claims Julius doesn’t need to attend the family dinner. Julius reveals he’s almost home. Leo orders the woman giving him a blow job to hide on the balcony for a spell. Uh-oh. 

Camille and Prospero sit in a courtroom while looking focused in The Fall of the House of Usher Season 1 Episode 1, "A Midnight Dreary."

(L to R) Kate Siegel as Camille L’Espanaye, Sauriyan Sapkota as Prospero Usher in Season 1 Episode 1, “A Midnight Dreary,” of The Fall of the House of Usher. Cr. Ricardo Hubbs/Netflix © 2023

Next, we see Camille chatting with her assistants, Tina (Aya Furukawa) and Toby (Igby Rigney). Camille is a PR queen, so she tries to spin the Ushers’ legal troubles to their benefit. She orders her assistants to find the informant. Her money’s on Victorine. Camille doesn’t believe Perry is capable of keeping a secret. 

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Later that evening, Roderick’s doctor arrives for a private conversation before dinner. We aren’t privy to their chat as the doctor leaves when Perry arrives. Perry gives his dad and Aunt Madeline a proposal for an exclusive nightclub called “Prospero.” He wants his father to fund it. He can see franchise opportunities for the club, plus a way to attract A-list clientele. Roderick declines the investment opportunity. He believes the Ushers are here to change the world, not give celebs a private place to partake in debauchery. 

After Perry leaves the room, Roderick sees Verna behind the bar. It frightens him. Clearly, whatever the doctor told him wasn’t good. At dinner, Madeline and Pym present the Usher kids and their spouses with NDAs. Why? Because someone’s spilling their secrets to Dupin. Roderick also puts a bounty on his children. Just normal dad things. Whoever finds the informant gets $50 million. 

Roderick Usher speaks to his kids, who sit around a dining room table, in The Fall of the House of Usher Season 1 Episode 1, "A Midnight Dreary."

(L to R) Paola Nuñez as Dr. Alessandra Ruiz, T’Nia Miller as Victorine LaFourcade, Kyliegh Curran as Lenore Usher, Crystal Balint as Morella Usher, Henry Thomas as Frederick Usher, Bruce Greenwood as Roderick Usher, Samantha Sloyan as Tamerlane Usher, Matt Biedel as Bill-T Wilson in Season 1 Episode 1, “A Midnight Dreary,” of The Fall of the House of Usher. Cr. Eike Schroter/Netflix © 2023

Then, we see a younger Roderick (Zach Gilford) and Madeline (Willa Fitzgerald) wander into a bar on New Year’s Eve, 1979. They’re celebrating. Sure enough, Verna is behind the bar (love the stained glass designs with black cats and ravens — a nod to Poe’s works). This is their first encounter with her. We see a raven perched on the shelf behind her. Verna asks them about their New Year’s resolutions. Hopefully, 1980 will be more prosperous. In the present, Dupin mentions that night as if something significant transpired. Based on Roderick’s and Madeline’s behavior and the latter’s mention of cops, I’m not surprised. Perhaps we’ll learn more about that later. Side note: we also see a raven sitting above Roderick’s fireplace in the present. 

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We return to the funeral service. Instead of just seeing Verna behind him, Roderick also spots his six children, looking as they did after they died. Later, Roderick leaves the church, making a beeline for his vehicle. As he gets in the backseat, he spots a terrifying court jester, looking like something out of a horror movie. Roderick collapses from the shock as blood pours out of his nose. Madeline and Pym surround him instantly. Madeline orders Pym to ensure Roderick’s collapse doesn’t get out to the press and to whisk him away to the hospital in private. 

Roderick stares up at another raven perched on the metal gate surrounding the church. He mutters, “It’s time,” repeatedly. How ominous. 

Which Usher kid bites it first? My guess is Perry, Leo or Camille since their funeral service was the week before the other three. What did Roderick and Madeline do in 1979 that changed the game for Fortunato Pharmaceuticals? Only time (and more episodes) will tell. 

The Fall of the House of Usher is now streaming on Netflix

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