“The Fall of the House of Usher”: Money Can’t Buy You Immortality

Welcome back to episodic Autostraddle coverage of The Fall of the House of Usher! Every day, I’ll be recapping an episode of the Netflix horror series from Mike Flanagan until we get through all eight, touching on the many Edgar Allan Poe references and more. To catch up, you can read the first recap and/or Valerie Anne’s broader review of the full series. You’re now reading the recap for The Fall of the House of Usher episode two: “The Masque of the Red Death.”

After the first episode setting everything up, we’re now in the main stretch of The Fall of the House of Usher episodes, which each hinge on a different Usher’s siblings death, that fatal moment themed around a particular Poe tale. In the case of episode two, we’re dealing with “The Masque of the Red Death.” If you haven’t read the 1842 short story, it’s a favorite Poe of mine. The story’s simple really: A violent plague called the Red Death breaks out, and Prince Prospero and a massive group of fellow nobles hole up in an abbey and throw a masquerade, wishing to evade death and quite literally partying at the end of the world. Their wanton sense of self-preservation and foolish belief they can escape death is shattered when a masked and mysterious stranger arrives at the party and turns out to be the Red Death itself. Prospero dies suddenly after an interaction with the mystery partygoer, and when the other partiers look under the mask and robe of the interloper, there’s nothing inside. Like gods, they thought themselves above an indiscriminating plague. But here the inevitably of death is, dancing with them at their silly little party.

It’s a fantastic story in terms of all the gothic themes and motifs Poe loves best, but it’s also such a wondrous example of how atmospheric horror can work on the page. There’s horror for every sense. Seven rooms at the masquerade are all decorated with a single monotone color. The seventh is all black and glows in a light the color of “deep blood.” Poe’s use of color on the page brings to mind Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria, a movie defined by its use of color to bolster horror. Poe uses sound to great effect in this one, too: At the masquerade, a giant clock chimes every hour on the hour, and when it does, a silence and stillness falls over the crowd, everyone ceasing to talk and dance, the orchestra pausing, too. When it stops chiming, the party resumes.

The Fall of the House of Usher draws much inspiration from this original story and heightens it. The ego and complete lack of fear for consequences of the ultra-wealthy is on grand display here, in our tragic little tale of Prospero Usher, who likely does think of himself a prince even though he’s mostly just a punchline in the mouths of most of his siblings.

First, the episode begins in 1979. Malcolm Goodwin plays a younger C. August “Auggie” Dupin. He’s a junior fraud investigator, but he has a habit of impersonating cops to do his own rogue detective work on a case he has become obsessed with. Multiple graves containing deceased people who all participated in the same drug trial have been exhumed. He gets in trouble with his racist and belittling supervisor for doing this work, prompting a monologue in which he laments basically all of the corrupt systems the U.S. is built on, which is to say all of the systems the U.S. is built on. He says we’ve let the demons run amok. His supervisor asks, full of condescension, what Auggie would say if he could sit down with those demons, what would he finally say that could do anything?

Cut to: Auggie across from a great demon, Roderick Usher, CEO and overlord of massive pharmaceutical company Fortunato. Was it ever going to be enough? Auggie asks. He talks about the Fortunato golden drug Ligodone, how it’s used by everyone from soccer moms with headaches to accountants with carpal tunnel to kids with sports injuries, pitched as an extra strength Tylenol. But it has led to opioid addiction, heroin use, and death for so many. Roderick interrupts with the old argument beloved by pharma demons: He can’t be held responsible if people abuse Ligodone. Also, do you know how much his wife takes?

Wasn’t she a heroin addict before she met you? Auggie throws back.

As hinted at in the first episode, Juno’s marriage to Roderick is inseparable from Ligodone, from the promise of perfect pain management Roderick likely thinks he’s a god of.

Auggie wants to know if there was ever going to be enough money, enough power to satisfy Roderick and make him stop plundering the world. Of course there wasn’t. Roderick, and all the Ushers really, are fueled by wealth as if they were vampires and it was blood. And indeed, they’ll spill blood to get it.

Roderick deflects the question by saying he wants to tell Auggie the truth of what happened to Perry, Prospero, the first of his children to die. All the while, a figure looms just over Auggie’s shoulder, unbeknownst to him.

We cut to an aerial shot of Perry waking up in the aftermath of an orgy. His two friends/cronies/lovers Jenny (Molly C. Quinn) and Faraj (JayR Tinaco) are in the kitchen, smashing up pills (Ligodone?) with a butt plug to snort. Prospero wants to know if someone touched his eggs. Jenny and Faraj laugh off his question, but then Prospero’s got a fork to Faraj’s throat, threatening to push it through just enough so he can’t pull it out but it also won’t kill him right away. They were the eggs of black headed gulls, you see, very rare, very expensive. Extremely stupid rich person shit. Prospero’s violence is so extreme it’s horrific and humorous in equal measure. Especially because the eggs were simply in the drawer he hadn’t checked yet.

Jenny and Faraj move on from this outburst swiftly enough to make me think they’re used to this from Prospero. They all lament the fact his dad didn’t go for the nightclub pitch, and Prospero explains the family ritual of Roderick giving each of his children — once their paternity is indeed confirmed by a test — a nest egg investment. But they have to pitch him on their business idea, and he has to like it. Prospero thinks maybe this is a good thing. He doesn’t want to be under his father’s thumb. He thinks the investment money is more trick than treat. Never mind the fact that it was likely daddy’s money that paid for those gull eggs.

They’re interrupted by Prospero getting a text from DICKWAD, aka Frederick. None of the Usher siblings seem to like each other very much, but within the dysfunction group there are more specific, more dysfunctional rivalries, like that between Camille and Vic and seemingly between Perry and Freddie, both representing two different sides of the same coin of immense privilege and a relentless thirst for power. Freddie is more wormy in his approach, super cringe in how he sucks up to Juno and Roderick, ridiculed as “Frauderick” by his siblings. He works at Fortunato, is desperate to be a carbon copy of his dad but lacks the charisma and confidence. Perry? Well, Perry is Gucci Caligula. He’d rather not work at all and simply reap all the benefits of his station, fucking, partying, and laughing in the face of death, all the while wondering why no one in the family respects him. Even in a family as wealthy and depraved as the Ushers, it’s possible to be the black sheep.

Gucci Caligula is the perfect nickname/insult thrown at Prospero by Frederick after Prospero crashes the big important meeting he was supposed to shadow Freddie for but slept through due to orgy business. He rolls in late and says he got hit by a truck — no need to come up with a better excuse when you’re a rich bastard prince. The meeting is over a series of condemned former Fortunato facilities that environmental groups have found in violation of all sorts of codes. The buildings are brimming with toxic chemicals. Prospero says all the wrong things, so Frederick takes him out of the board room and says Fortunato is sticking to a simple, vague, and canned line about how it’s committed to the environment. As Frederick delivers this lie of a line to Prospero, Pym says it in unison, making it clear he’s the one who scripted it in the first place. It’s all a sham, of course, Frederick dutifully playing the part to please daddy. Of course no Usher gives a shit about the environment.

Prospero, in fact, doesn’t seem to give a shit about the toxins guaranteed to be at any of these former Fortunato facilities. He promptly ignores anything said in that board room and heads to one of the buildings with Jenny and Faraj. He wants to throw a party. Or as he calls it: an anonymous debauchery social event. It’s basically just a pop-up club, as Jenny points out, but no, Prospero has huge ambitions. Everyone will receive a digital invite that self-destructs after a few minutes; to be invited you have to be on the very exclusive list; it costs $10k for a membership and then another $5k at the door. Prospero wants to make a quick million. No, scratch that, make it $20k for membership. There are few things that surprise me about rich people anymore, but I have to ask: DO EXTREMELY WEALTHY PEOPLE PAY THAT MUCH TO PARTY????????

Jenny asks if there’s a theme, and Prospero says it isn’t prom, that sex and drugs are the theme. He’s really not beating around the bush about this just being a hedonistic fuck fest for the superrich. It is, indeed, easy to see the throughline between Poe’s original setup of a bunch of nobles reveling while a plague rages outside and this epicurean warehouse party full of people who have never considered consequences in their lives, who will drop $20k+ on the wispy promise of vice and spice. Rich people really are quite boring and predictable.

It’ll be a masquerade, Prospero decides. As they’re walking away, he sees a woman in red on the roof. Death herself? I think it’s safe to say our ol gal Verna is up to something.

Our gorgeous heartmesh wifes Alessandra and Vic are operating on a chimpanzee who does not seem like she’s going to make it. Vic tries to give her adrenaline to restart her heart despite Alessandra’s protests, but the animal dies anyway. Even if she had lived, the data would have been poisoned, Alessandra points out. Using the adrenaline as an intervention would have ruined it. It’s clear here — and from Vic’s defense of the use of an experimental paralytic powder last episode — that Vic doesn’t care as much about doing things by the book as her wife. Alessandra says the last thing they should be thinking about is human trials, and then we cut to Vic sitting across from Roderick, downplaying any of the trials’ failures and agreeing to an impossible timeline for human trials. The Fall of the House of Usher is not subtle or coy about where Vic’s true priorities are: She doesn’t want to make the heartmesh to save lives; she wants to make the heartmesh to satisfy Roderick and to feed her own ego. It’s all part of that blood this family craves.

Alessandra and Vic in the lab, wearing orange scrubs

Prospero goes to Leo seeking drugs for his masquerade, and Leo says he can’t supply an entire rave, leading to a funny exchange about fellow Netflix series Narcos. The way Flanagan incorporates pop culture into his horror stories reminds me of Stephen King, but it can admittedly be a little cringe when it’s Netflix references specifically. Prospero lets us in on some more family dynamics here. It’s always harder for the bastards, he insists. The bastards being him, Camille, Vic, and Leo. Frederick and Tamerlane were the only children from Roderick’s first marriage to Annabel Lee, who we’ll meet later in this episode. It’s hard enough for the bastards, but it’s harder for Prospero, for some reason. Could it be because you literally don’t even PRETEND to work, buddy?

He’s hoping printing seven figures out of thin air with this party will earn him some respect in the family. Because indeed the only currency in the Usher family is, well, currency. Leo says Prospero is better than a dealer, smarter than a DJ. He wants him to realize that. But for now, yeah, he’ll connect him with a couple dealers and also give him some Viagra. Rahul Kohli’s delivery of “of course I have Viagra” is so good. This series really is quite funny. It’s more acidic and gruesome than other Flanagan series, and that with its mordant comedy edge makes it way less earnest than something like Bly Manor, a series I thought got weaker the more earnest it got (which I know others disagree with!).

In her office, Camille watches Tamerlane’s husband’s channel BILLT Nation before switching over to coverage of the trial. A whistleblower is giving testimony about Fortunato-backed clinics running a pill mill. Her assistants Toby (Igby Rigney) and Tina (Aya Furukawa) come in, and she asks how their day was, which is her way of actually asking for them to report on the work they’ve been doing for her. She sips out of a #1 Boss mug, which is already funny here but will become even more so (and more fucked up) soon. She has Toby pull files on Juno and Vic from a comically large filing cabinet where it’s clear she has files on her entire family. Her assistants have had difficulty identifying the informant, and Camille isn’t surprised by that. “The Ushers aren’t idiots,” she says. “Except Perry.” Damn, I know she doesn’t know he’s going to die this episode, but this family really is ruthless.

Camille Usher holding a mug that says #1 boss in The Fall of the House of Usher

“Man, what did she do to you?” Toby wonders when Camille pivots her ire toward Vic. Kate Siegel’s line reading of “I’m sorry what was that?” is so icy and funny. She’s really nailing this characterization, and it’s fun to watch her play this kind of role. We get the snark of Theo Crain times a million and without any of the balancing softness/vulnerability. The characters of The Fall of the House of Usher are indeed almost like caricatures, but it works. Camille tells Toby and Tina she needs them before dinner. We’ll soon know what this means.

Prospero, Jenny, and Faraj are at the site of the party, a bunch of workers getting it ready for showtime. Prospero pulls up the invitation on his phone, and it’s of a massive red mask. He says he wants the sprinklers to come on during the party. The orgy starts when the sprinklers come on. I know I keep saying “cringe” in this recap, but Jenny’s “wet ass party” interlude is indeed cringe!!!!

There’s a problem with the sprinklers though, and the water in general. A maintenance guy recommends serving bottled water behind the bar, to which Prospero dismisses saying everyone will be drinking Dom anyway. (Again, boring and predictable!) There’s no water pressure for the sprinklers either. But Prospero remembers seeing water tanks on the roof, so he says they’ll hook into them just like setting up a hot tub. Sure! I’m sure you know all about water system mechanics, little prince! As he’s coming up with this idea, he begins to say: “Whoever has the gold makes the—”

He’s cut off as we cut to Roderick and Auggie in the house. Auggie wants to know what Roderick was going to say, and Roderick says it was just an old joke he used to tell the kids, something from a comic called The Wizard of Id, a real daily newspaper comic strip about a medieval kingdom that started in 1964 and still runs today. As Roderick begins talking about the comic, the figure looming behind Auggie slowly and steadily walks toward Roderick, but we can’t see his face. “Whoever has the gold makes the—” Roderick is interrupted by a thunder clap and by the disfigured face of the phantom right in front of his face. It’s an effective jumpscare, even as it’s easy to anticipate.

Roderick asks Auggie if he has ever heard of CADASIL, cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy with subcortical infarcts and leukoencephalopathy. It’s a disorder that sharply affects the brain, causing migraines, strokes, impacting thinking and spatial reasoning and memory. It can even cause hallucinations, Roderick says. Suddenly, we know why Roderick is so adamant about needing Vic to test the heartmesh on humans. He needs it himself. This moment also suggests that Roderick might be rationalizing the appearance of his dead family members as hallucinations rather than spectral presences.

Roderick now introduces us to a new character, Rufus Griswold, who he calls “the original gangsta” (cringe! rich people are simply cringe!). “All of this really starts there, in that office of Rufus Griswold,” Roderick says, and okay dude, how many false beginnings is this story going to have! You already said it all started in your own house back when you and Madeline were young and your mother worked for Longfellow! Now we’re going to a different starting point? But also, I don’t think this is simply chalked up to Roderick’s old man circular storytelling methods. I think it’s a striking example of just how invested men like this are in their own self-mythology. He wants this all to seem like some great epic origin story. How Roderick Usher came to be. A classic rags to riches. It absolves him of some of the conscious decisions he made to get where he is. It makes it all seem like fate. And he can shift the blame onto other bad men, too. Men like Longfellow and Griswold.

Griswold is played by Michael Trucco (another Battlestar Galactica alum!). Like Longfellow, Rufus Griswold is named for one of Poe’s rivals: Rufus Wilmot Griswold, a critic, editor, and poet himself. Some details of this rivalry, just because I find it so petty and funny: Griswold included Poe’s poems in an anthology he put together, but Poe published a critique of the anthology. Griswold also replaced Poe as the editor of a magazine and was offered a much higher salary. Even when Poe DIED, Griswold published a scathing obituary?! These 19th century poets and their drama!

Griswold in The Fall of the House of Usher sure is a piece of work. He’s giving Mad Men but worse. The Wizard of Id comic whose punchline we keep not hearing is hanging outside his office. Finally, we do get the punchline, even though it was easy to guess. Remember the golden rule: Whoever owns the gold makes the rules. It’s an apt adage for the series.

Young Roderick (the version played by Zach Gilford) has a pitch for Griswold, who reluctantly hears him out. He pitches Ligodone, a reformulated opioid he claims has no side effects and is non-addictive. (Lol, there’s no such thing as a drug without side effects but okay. I mean, we know this whole pitch is an obfuscation of the truth.) Roderick gathers confidence as the pitch goes on, claiming Ligodone is about pain erasure. “We all, all of us, know pain. It’s the great equalizer,” he soliloquies. When he’s done, Griswold cuts him down by asking where in the building he works, in the mail room is it? He’s still cleaning up a drug trial gone sour (the one Auggie is investigating), so he isn’t as interested in all the messy science and experimentation of drugs right now and prefers medical devices. Roderick’s tone changes from one about the grandeur of erasing pain to one of sheer numbers and business. He says the numbers will be huge. He brings it back to an emotional place by saying he watched his mother suffer from daily pain at the end of her life. “You’ll make billions, but that’s not why you do it,” Roderick says.

It’s possible he believes the words coming out of his mouth. He hasn’t yet been as poisoned by wealth as he’ll come to be. But it’s still clear his pursuit is not geared toward saving lives or even honoring his mother, even if he desperately wants that to be the myth. He’s trying to claw his way out of something. He and Madeline have seemingly always had a desire for the power their biological father wielded and never let them into. I’d say they’re suffering from more daddy issues than mommy ones.

Roderick returns home to Madeline, his wife Annabel, and a crying baby and little boy playing on the floor. The children are Tamerlane and Frederick, and Madeline seems thrilled to be spending time with Annabel and the kids…jk. Again, Willa Fitzgerald is perfectly cast in this stoney, caustic role. Madeline, we learn, is a tech wiz. She writes algorithms and has grand ideas of future technology, what computers and artificial intelligence might be able to do. “Hell, an algorithm could write movies and TV shows,” she muses, a meta and timely comment given the current state of AI and the arts. “Not well,” Roderick interjects. And Annabel agrees: Can an algorithm write a poem the way Roderick does? Yes, that’s right, this younger, not-yet-corrupted entirely version of Roderick writes poetry. He recites a poem at the table, and it’s lines from Poe’s “Annabel Lee,” the last complete poem he wrote. Poe sure did love to write about beautiful dead women, and this is another instance of that recurring motif. Madeline’s grossed out reactions to Roderick’s poetry are quite humorous.

Young Madeline in The Fall of the House of Usher looks serious at a kitchen table

Madeline says she quit her job because it was a boys club, and Annabel sweetly says money doesn’t matter because they have each other, their family is happy and healthy, and isn’t that enough? Roderick and Madeline’s silence here suggests it isn’t for them. Again, they want to claw out of this life they have. Madeline is looking toward immortality. That’s the promise of artificial intelligence to her.

We jump forward in time to present-day Madeline with Lenore. Madeline is still on her AI beat, and she has had Lenore answer a series of 10,000 questions and journal every day for four months. Using this and all of Lenore’s digital data, she wants to create an AI approximation of Lenore, a virtual version of her. Madeline’s obsession with immortality has only grown. She’s using her grandniece to experiment with digitizing whole lives. Poe often wrote stories trying to grapple with the soul, with what it really means to be alive, to be human. If he were alive today, he’d surely write a short story about AI gone rogue, about the digital self killing the actual self (literally, as he was often literal about these narratives). Madeline opens up a package she has had delivered straight from Egypt, and it contains a brain hook. She says it’ll be an excellent addition to her immortality a collection, a collection undoubtedly full of stolen artifacts from decimated cultures. The thing about wealthy, powerful people’s pursuit of immortality is that they’re often willing to end other lives and histories to get there. Madeline’s pursuit of immortality is really just the reckless pursuit of self-preservation. Her story in this episode, too, echoes the themes of “The Masque of the Red Death.”

Pym enters, and Madeline tells Lenore to go visit her grandfather while she has a chat with the Pym Reaper, who reports Perry’s spending has been down in recent months. Madeline wonders if the feds still pay in cash. Truly everyone has their money on Prospero being the informant.

In the office next door, Lenore walks in on Juno in Roderick’s lap. After a funny exchange where Lenore hesitantly calls Juno grandma, Roderick leaves to get pizza for his “two favorite women,” and Lenore asks Juno how she and Roderick met. Juno was in a car accident that resulted in the amputation of her leg and intense pain that was treated with an unprecedented high dose of Ligodone. Roderick was sent to meet her, likely as a publicity stunt to show the strength of Ligodone, and told her he invented the pills. Juno said she was so grateful, she could just blow him, which she accidentally lets slip to Lenore. It’s awkward and funny, sure, but it’s also so depressing, especially in the context of her addiction. Roderick uses Juno as a shield to “prove” Ligodone is safe and non-addictive, but that’s very clearly not the case. Everything about Ligodone, about Roderick’s life is built on a foundation of lies and manipulation.

Prospero shows up at the doorstop of Frederick’s house, perhaps with the original intention of throwing his millions-making party in his face. He pivots, instead, when Morella opens the door. He invites her to the party, pitches her on it in an absurdly over-the-top monologue about the perfect dick or perfect pussy in her mouth. Morella is appalled. “How dare you, I’m your brother’s wife,” she says. “Yeah, and that’s pretty fucking hot,” Prospero responds, unmasked in his expressions of lust and deviance. He gives her a burner phone, says he goes through them like Kleenex, with the passcode 666999. It’s easy to dismiss him as a child, but his childlike behaviors actually make him scarier. He’s a child with unlimited access to money and zero sense of boundaries or rules.

All of the Ushers, it seems, have rather specific desires and proclivities when it comes to sex and pleasure. In the next scene, we learn Tamerlane and her husband Bill regularly hire sex workers to act out dates with Bill. Tamerlane is very specific in her direction of the woman who arrives, who it’s clear they’ve hired before. She comments she likes this wig better than the last. The color is better. The color, it should be noted, is the same color as Tamerlane’s hair. Tamerlane comments she got the clothes right, too. It does seem like Tamerlane wants these women to look like her, to perform as her with Bill. She instructs them to have a romantic dinner, to give it an anniversary feel. The bedroom stuff will come later, she says. She sits in a chair and watches. It’s even more specific than a cuck kink; it’s coupled with a doppelganger kink, too. Tamerlane gets off on watching these other women become her.

Camille is at home watching BILLT Nation, which she promptly shuts off when Toby and Tina arrive. They head straight to the bedroom, and it seems pretty obvious what’s happening here. Camille sifts through photos of RUE, the medical facilities where Vic and Alessandra have been conducting their experiments. She remarks to Toby and Tina that it used to be called Roderick Usher Experimental, but Roderick took his name off of it, obviously because nefarious practices were being used. Now, it’s just RUE. But the family has jokingly called it RUE Zoo or RUE Morgue (“The Murders in the Rue Morgue” is the short story Camille and Auggie’s names both come from). A medical experimentation facility full of death…classic comedy for the Usher fam!

Camille joins Toby and Tina in the bedroom. They’re undressed and sprawled out in an overly staged fashion. It’s clear this is a regular ritual. Remember last episode when the assistants asked if they’d be needed later. This is what they were talking about. To be Camille’s assistant apparently means to be in a sexual arrangement with her. Yeah, sure, #1 Boss indeed. In Tamerlane’s situation, the power dynamics, consent, etc. are all clear. In Camille’s situation, there’s a gross and obvious abuse of power. Regardless, all of the Usher’s sexual desires are mirrored by the ways they move through the world: Tamerlane’s Gold-Bug wellness brand is all about perfection that can be purchased. Camille’s a control freak who’s obsessed with work and who has zero boundaries, collecting files on her family, collapsing any lines between work and personal relationships.

Camille enters the bedroom where Toby and Tina are on the bed

And Prospero prefers debauchery and unbridled extravagance. Exclusivity. He feels gatekept from his own family, so he’s horny for gatekeeping, developing an intentionally wildly exclusive party where the whole point is one’s status.

At home, Lenore is making a ship in a bottle with Frederick at the family’s casual in-home cocktail bar. They name the ship the Grampus, another reference to the whaling ship from Poe’s novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. Morella hurries out the door, claiming to be going to a ladies night with her friends.

She’s really going to PROSPERO, the one-night event hosted by Prospero in an abandoned Fortunato facility where SURELY NOTHING WILL GO WRONG. Everyone must put all their belongings in a locker upon arrival. No phones, cameras, or wallets allowed inside. Music thrums. There is, disappointingly, no haunting clock. But regardless, the same sort of sonically and visually immersive horror experience Poe renders so impressively on the page of the short story is channeled by these sequences at the party, where the television medium is able to bring those details even more to life. Prospero spots Morella and goes to her, tells her to find the guys in the red glow sticks because they’ve got the top shelf drugs. There are 12 bedrooms to try out, too, a heightening of the seven rooms in the short story. The Fall of the House of the Usher ramps up the excess. And it’s funny just how tacky the entire event is! All the resources and money in the world and THIS is the party you throw? It’s shallow surface-level spectacle. It’s a sex party that doesn’t seem erotic so much as try-hard.

Upstairs, Prospero, Faraj, and Jenny watch security footage of the party and the bedrooms, where people are busy hooking up. Prospero says the real money is in the footage, in the leverage they now have over so many famous and powerful people, namely Frederick. Prospero says he’ll own his brother now that he has Morella on tape at the party. They all drop acid together, and the party keeps going.

Downstairs, Prospero watches a woman in a skull mask and red hooded cape enter. He follows her, but she keeps evading him. Poor Morella is awkwardly dancing in a corner and steps toward Prospero, but he ignores her, still in pursuit of the mystery guest. It’s unfortunately very embarrassing for Morella. Listen, I don’t think she’s necessarily a good person, but I do think she might be the only person I want to actually have a good time at this stupid party.

Prospero finally catches up to the stranger, who is sprawled on a bed in one of the bedrooms. “Who are you?” he asks, and she takes off her mask. It’s Verna, of course. She tells him this is her kind of party. I love the entire exchange that follows:

Verna: Tell me, and don’t lie. Is it everything you wanted it to be?
Prospero: Not yet. Almost.
Verna: Nearly realized in the sweetest. It’s better, I promise, in the moment just before than in the moment after. That is the truth of this world. But you did it. And it’s everything you imagined. And there’s still time.
Prospero: To what?
Verna: To stop it. Things like this, all things in fact, have consequences.
Prospero: Not this. That’s the whole point. You didn’t read the invite?
Verna: There are always consequences. Take you, for instance. Someone, a long time ago, made a little decision, then another, then a big one, then one of absolutely no importance. And then by and by, you were born. On that day, you were the consequence of a harmless choice made by someone in a moment where you didn’t even exist. And that choice defined your whole life. You are consequence, Perry. And tonight, you are consequential.

Verna in lingerie on a bed slinking up to Prospero in a robe

The red light thrown across Verna and Prospero with the black accents of their outfits evokes that black/scarlet contrast used by Poe for the seventh room in the story. The color contrast evokes both sex and horror.

Verna says she loves the bad boys, because they’ve always loved her. The night is young, Prospero reasons, they can still have fun together. He isn’t picking up anything she’s putting down, and it’s not the drugs. It’s his inability to acknowledge consequences, to realize that perhaps throwing an exclusive fuckfest in a building full of toxic chemicals was maybe not the wisest idea. And he’s doing all of it for the stupidest reason: because his father rejected his business idea.

Hastily thrown events for the rich and famous with dangerous consequences are a part of our real world. Think of Fyre Fest or, more recently, Burning Man. The people who orchestrate these events will blow through regulations and requirements just to appease the wealthy clientele they attract. There might be a little supernatural intervention happening here, but regardless, the party was ill-advised from the start, and a sex party without any regard for safety is bound to go off the rails.

Back in the main room, we see as Verna whispers in the staff’s ears. They all start to exit. She advises Morella in a whisper to leave as well, and it’s unclear if she does, though she does notice the strangeness of the security and bar staff leaving the room. All the while, “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails plays. Netflix really does have the best needledrops.

It’s time. Prospero wants the sprinklers to start. Faraj pulls the lever, and the rain falls in slow motion, Prospero opening his arms to it like he’s welcoming an ascendance. But the second the water hits and we leave slow motion, an ugly, grating nightmare unleashes. People scream and flail, the chemical-riddled water burning their flesh. Talk about a horror soundscape. This one is ear-splitting. The power goes out, and the sprinklers cut off, but it’s too late. Half-burned bodies lay in piles on the floor, twitching, close to death but not quite all the way there yet. Verna enters, masked and caped again. She stands over Prospero.

“You beautiful boy,” she says, leaning down to kiss what’s left of his mouth. She places the mask over his face, and we smash-cut to the title card.

Prospero’s death feels fated for a number of reasons. It’s clear there’s some sort of deal with the devil premise afoot, and we already know all of Roderick’s children are going to die one by one. So I wonder what exactly Verna meant about there still being time to stop it. Perhaps there wasn’t anything he could have done to save himself but expressing any regret about the party or acceptance of consequences could have at least spared the lives of others. I guess it can’t be said he didn’t die the way he loved to live: surrounded by people he barely knows, drugs, and fucking. Verna has a twisted sense of humor, perhaps. All the best devils do.

Money can buy you a lot of things, but the arrogance of wealth is its own curse. Prospero only sees opportunity in those water tanks, not the poison they contain.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 843 articles for us.


  1. I kept thinking to myself watching the shots of Prospero’s party like…this feels like a lame party! I have been to better parties than this party and I am not paying 25000 to get into the party! Rich people are boring as hell. The horror of this one really cut to the bone, I had to look away for the last little bit of the episode but I don’t feel sorry. Also…not checking the water before the hookup?? I feel conflicted about Perry because he was clearly foolish but also the scene where he was watching who was at the party made me think there was much more calculation than met the eye. Knowing the short story this is based on made me appreciate it all the more tho. Thanks for the recap as always!

  2. Great recap! I completely agree, I wanted Morella to at least have a good time, it was so bad for her even if the sprinklers had just been fine. The HORROR of the rain sequence though…incredible

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