In case you missed the byline, hello, it’s me, Valerie Anne! Kayla has been writing your wonderful daily recaps of Mike Flanagan’s latest venture, but today, I’m taking the reins. You’re reading the recap for The Fall of the House of Usher episode seven, “The Pit and the Pendulum.”
If you, unlike me, noticed the title of this episode when it first started, you might have picked up on the story alluded to by the omens throughout… I’ll admit I didn’t catch them all on my first watch, but upon second viewing they had me clapping giddily at the cleverness. The shot this episode opens on is one such omen: a young Frederick is mesmerized by a black cat clock whose tail is swinging back and forth, back and forth.
Other than this bit of foreshadowing, this scene features Roderick and Auggie practicing for the upcoming deposition and their plan to take down Fortunato. Annabel is worried, but she trusts Auggie and she believes Frederick when he says they’re doing the right thing, so she tells them to give ’em hell.
When she leaves, Roderick and Auggie comment on how lucky they are to have patient partners. Roderick says “She puts up with a lot,” and Auggie replies, “So does he.” There’s a moment where Roderick smiles a smile of understanding, as if this is the first time he’s learning this news, but he takes it in stride, to his credit. And they just get back to work, going over the plan again.
In the present day, Auggie seems to be remembering this scene and says he always wondered what it was about Roderick that made Auggie trust him, and he’s realizing now it was Annabel Lee. Surely if a woman as good as her could love Roderick, there was something worth taking a risk for in him. Roderick recites more of the poem Annabel Lee, but Auggie doesn’t want to hear it. In fact, knowing that Annabel Lee left him was one of the small joys he took away from their whole ordeal.
Auggie calls Annabel Lee the only good Usher, but Roderick corrects him there, calling Lenore “the best of us” and describing her as all the good parts of Annabel, without the broken heart.
We flash back to just after Tamerlane died, and Roderick is in a tizzy about it. He had so much security set up, and yet his last remaining daughter, his second child, is dead. And that’s not the end of the bad news; Arthur Pym tells him that the board is about to vote him out. He then delivers yet another omen and calls Frederick the “swing vote.”
Frederick, meanwhile, has decorated his wife’s room with hundreds of photos from their wedding day. Whole photos, zoomed in photos, absolutely batshit stuff.
He drugs Morella by putting Victorine’s nightshade paralytic into her IV and monologues at her like a comic book villain, sniffling too much from his cocaine addiction and ranting about how he fell in love with her the moment they met because of her smile. He is absolutely unraveling at the first sight of something maybe not going his way, demanding to know where her wedding ring is, which he knows she can’t answer because of the state he’s put her in. To add insult to injury, when he gets a call to go meet with his father, he calls back to her, “Don’t move.” Pure evil.
When he gets to dear old dad’s office, Frederick gets a Talking To about the building Prospero died in not being demolished yet. He explains that he’s the swing vote and that he has to stand up to the board, that Roderick is counting on him.
Frederick goes back to his wife, fully frantic now, desperate to hold onto his father’s favor. He continues drugging and monologuing at his wife, doing more and more coke, calling “the Jersey Boys” (I imagine probably not the cast of the Broadway musical) to schedule the demolition for that very night, saying he’ll be there.
Before he leaves, he commits one last atrocity, all while saying his father taught him to be “sufficiently brutal” to “establish authority.” Frederick takes pliers and pulls some of Morella’s teeth, ruining the smile he fell in love with. He says he’ll look for her wedding ring in the building before they demolish it, and threatens her, saying if she ever takes it off again, he’ll weld it to her finger.
He gets another phone call, and Morella watches him in unmoving horror as he gathers up the rest of his coke, threatens to pull the Jersey Boys’ teeth out with pliers (now that he has a knack for it) and storms off. They don’t really linger on Morella outside of this moment, but her wide, teary eyes reminded me that she has been living in an absolute nightmare. Held hostage, drugged, and tortured by her own husband, the father of her child, the perfect Lenore. And why? Is she being punished for going to a sex party and almost stepping out on her husband, or for getting involved with the Ushers at all? Or is she just a victim of the Ushers, drawn in by the shiny light of fame and fortune and ultimately consumed by the razor sharp teeth hidden behind the fake glow? Is she just a ladybug caught in a spider’s web?
Before Frederick leaves the house, Lenore stops him to show him some research she has been doing about a burn unit her mother could go to. Lenore doesn’t believe that her father has specialists coming in, and she knows that their house isn’t the best place for Morella to heal. She gets more and more upset and Frederick snaps at her, yelling at her to drop it and to stay away from her mother while he’s gone.
Of course, as soon as he’s gone, Lenore heads straight to her mother’s room, only to find that the door is locked.
In the decrepit old Usher house, Auggie hears more banging around in the basement and asks Roderick again if they should go check on Madeline. At the same time, Roderick gets another text from Lenore that he ignores. All this is a little too much and Auggie starts to leave, because he doesn’t want to be a pawn in Roderick’s game. Roderick tries to draw him back by promising him that, by the end of their story, he’ll have confessed to murder. More than one, in fact. As Auggie starts to argue, the grandfather clock chimes, and we get yet another omen as the camera lingers on the clock’s pendulum swinging.
Roderick says it’s Freddy, that his kids have all had a hand in these stories he’s been telling, making sure he’s getting it right. Roderick adds that he doesn’t love this turn of events, as he’s not a fan of being micromanaged. Roderick starts to say that Freddy will be showing up in all his bloody glory soon but instead he sees a young Annabel Lee walk in with a small Frederick by her side. As Roderick picks little Freddy up, a motion that looks very odd to Auggie, who can’t see what Roderick sees, Freddy’s eyes roll into the back of his head and his tiny body splits in half in Roderick’s arms. The omens are done being subtle.
We flash back again to the deposition, but it doesn’t go as planned. Instead of following the script he rehearsed with Auggie, Roderick lies, saying it’s his signature on the documents, defending Fortunato. Annabel is horrified by this turn of events, especially as she and her children watch Roderick get dragged away in handcuffs, but Madeline is pleased as punch.
Back home, Madeline tells Annabel that Roderick is the hero of Fortunato now, that they’ll be getting promotions instead of getting broke. When she notices Annabel isn’t comforted by this fact, Madeline looks at her curiously. She thought the dutiful housewife thing was an act, but she sees now that Annabel is truly… good.
As Madeline starts to leave, Annabel can only say, “You are so small, Madeline.” An insult that will haunt Madeline Usher.
Older Madeline makes her way to the old Usher house and finds Verna there. They sit in the chairs Verna says are for the boys in the future, and Madeline demands a renegotiation. When Verna denies her, Madeline threatens her in return. Verna just smiles. “There’s my Cleopatra.”
Madeline wants to sort this out, woman to woman, but Verna points out she’s not a woman at all. Getting nowhere, Madeline gets fed up, and snaps Verna’s neck. Verna waits a moment, lets Madeline sit with the choice she made, before reappearing and telling Madeline she can’t kill this problem like she has so many problems before.
Verna calls Madeline one of her favorites, saying she understands her instincts, and she likes how Madeline has never found a closed door she couldn’t smash through. When she says this, we also see a flash of Lenore busting down the door to her mother’s room and finding a bloody mess.
Verna offers Madeline clarity, saying that in another universe, one like theirs but where everyone chose a different path, Roderick would have been a poet. Broke, but what poet isn’t.
She says one of the most beautiful descriptions of poetry I’ve ever heard. “What’s a poem, after all, but a safe space for a difficult truth.”
Verna recites an abridged version of the Edgar Allen Poe poem The City in the Sea and when she’s finished, Madeline Usher finds herself alone.
When Frederick arrives at Prospero’s party building, he goes inside to look for his wife’s wedding ring, and while he’s in there, he does more coke and decides to honor the place where his baby brother died… by pissing on it. He realizes mid-stream that he feels kind of funny, then he collapses on the floor.
Verna struts up to his motionless but awake body, dressed as a demolitionist, and mocks him. She admits that she doesn’t usually get so… involved, but in his case she couldn’t resist. While he was packing up his coke to leave his wife’s room after removing her teeth, she… encouraged him to put a little of the nightshade paralytic in his little baggie of white powder. She says that he would have been a dentist, in that other universe she spoke of, which made his actions seem worse, somehow. So she borrows his voice to give the all-clear, and lies next to him as the building starts to be demolished all around him. The ceiling cracks, and beams start to fall, one getting caught on a wire just so, and it becomes a pendulum swinging back and forth, back and forth, lower and lower.
Verna gets up, saying his desperation for his father’s approval was no excuse for how he treated his wife. She leaves him lying there, the pendulum starting to cut deeper and deeper into his stomach, until eventually the whole building crumbles around him.
Wouldn’t it be nice, if this is how it went? That all men who laid a violent hand on their partners met a violent end, either within a few hours, years or decades, a victim of their own hubris. That in the end, whenever that may be, their death reflected the way they lived their lives. It felt very satisfying to me that a man who physically and emotionally abused his wife, after snorting the very powder he was using as his weapon, metaphorically and quite literally, died alone with his dick out.
After leaving her conversation with Roderick, Madeline finds her brother in a basement, facing a brick wall. Madeline tells him that Frederick is dead, that they’re the only ones left. She thinks she can somehow fix this. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure how she thinks this will help. Perhaps to convince the board to move out of pills and invest in her tech/AI business instead? Or is she trying to cheat death? That last bit could be me projecting because I watched Final Destination literally this afternoon.
Anyway, as Madeline coaxes her twin brother into taking more pills and drinking more booze, she calls him a hero, a legend, a king. She puts the empty pill bottle in her brother’s unconscious hand, and hears bells jingling from behind the wall. She pauses, and when she doesn’t hear the sound again, she leaves. She just watched her only brother die, her brother who she has been attached at the hip to her entire life, and she didn’t shed a single tear.
As soon as Madeline is gone, however, a white hand in a feathery black sleeve reaches out and traces its long black nails across Roderick’s face. He wakes up, and Verna is there standing over him. It’s not his time, not yet.