“The Fall of the House of Usher” Meets Tragedy With a Comms Plan

Welcome back to my episodic daily coverage of The Fall of the House of Usher, where we’re talking all about these queer, heightened takes on classic Edgar Allan Poe horror stories. You’re reading a recap of The Fall of the House of Usher episode three. You can catch up on past recaps and feel free to hop into the comments with any thoughts or observations.


Episode three of The Fall of the House of Usher pulls its title from the Poe short story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” often cited as the first documented instance of detective fiction. Two characters in the series are named for characters in the 1841 story, published in the mid-19th century Philadelphia-based publication Graham’s Magazine, of which Poe was an editor for a period of time. C. Auguste Dupin is the central detective of the story (though the word “detective” did not exist yet), and Auggie in the series is loosely based on him, though he doesn’t solve murders and instead has made it his life’s work to bring down Fortunato Pharmaceuticals. Kate Seigel’s Camille L’Espanaye also takes her name from the story, and this is her death episode. In the story, Camille is a little girl who is murdered along with her mother, Madame L’Espanaye. Her mother’s body is found behind the house, and Camille’s body is found strangled to death and stuffed up a chimney. In the end, it turns out they were killed by an orangutan abused by his owner.

So, it’s fitting that in this episode a chimpanzee murders an Usher sibling after suffering in the medical trials of an experimental Fortunato device. What’s perhaps a bit surprising is that it’s not Vic who’s murdered by a vengeful chimp. After all, she’s the one who, as we learn in the episode, has been swapping out dead animals for live ones, opening and sealing their chests even though they did not receive surgeries to make it look like they survived those fatal surgeries. The dead ones, meanwhile, she chops up and disposes of, carrying them out in pieces. Or, at least, those are the rumors in the lab.

But it’s not Vic who dies in this episode, but rather Camille. I like that small twist, because while Vic might be more directly responsible for the suffering of the animals, Camille’s hands are just as dirty, particularly because she’s the one tasked with cleaning up the Usher’s dirt over and over again. It’s her job, which as we know, is also her entire life.

Before we get into any of that, we start with the aftermath of Prospero’s death. Pym somehow gets access to the crime scene before anyone else and finds Prospero’s masked body. He retrieves his phone, doing some pre-emptive cleanup. As he’s walking out, a hand grabs his leg. Against all odds, there’s a survivor of the Prospero Plague.

In the house, Roderick over-explains how the toxic material came to be in those water tanks to Auggie, going through a series of details about how Furtunato was trying to illegally hide their own mess. The point of all this information is not to repent for the sins of Fortunato but rather to lament his dead son’s lack of interest in the family business. Had he been more involved, he would have never hooked into those water tanks. I think the real lesson is actually not to hide a bunch of toxic waste in water tanks to avoid EPA fines and other consequences, but sure Roderick.

Auggie’s stuck on a strange detail from the evening’s events: the wait staff. They all left the building right before the flesh-burning rain. How did they know? We know it’s because Verna convinced them to leave, likely through supernatural means. Madeline thinks it’s a conspiracy, an orchestrated attack on the family. Pym tells her 78 are dead and counting, and her first thought is of dipping stock prices. It’s probably her second and third thought, too. Pym suggests they go with the story that it was someone else’s party. There were plenty of felons there they can pin it on. Perry was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. He wants PR evil queen Camille off of this, doesn’t think the family should touch something so close to the family. Roderick looks closer at his son’s burned, lifeless body projected on the screen in front of him and doesn’t seem at all horrified. Merely…disappointed? Angry? He went on and on about how he didn’t want to be like his own father in episode one, saying the gates were always open for his children. What he meant was that his wallet was open. And that isn’t real love or care.

Frederick rushes to the hospital, because the sole survivor of the party was indeed Morella, who has suffered burns over most of her body. He barely reacts to the news his brother is dead, and he wonders what Morella could have possibly been doing at the same party.

In some Fortunato board room where I’m sure they conduct most of their family meetings, the other Usher siblings have gathered with Madeline to grieve. Just kidding. They’ve gathered to talk strategy. Camille says this makes everything worse, speaking from the PR side of things. Vic scoffs at her lack of emotion, calls her a “fucking cunt,” but I don’t exactly see Vic shedding a tear either. The only person who seems genuinely upset is Leo, who says through tears that no one deserves to die like that. You’ll recall last episode when he actually gave Perry a sweet pep talk about how he should realize his own value more.

All the siblings wants to know how Camille couldn’t have known about the party. Knowing things is her whole thing. Camille is just as confused, but she snaps into action. People will talk, the hospital will leak information, and somebody will notice Morella Usher doesn’t have skin anymore. Camille, naturally, does not like Pym’s plan to keep her off of this, so Madeline gives her the opportunity to pitch her comms plan, and she does so beautifully — in an evil genius sort of way. She wants a full media blitz pushing Prospero as a saint. They’ll slap his face on some of Fortunato’s charity efforts, the whole reason those efforts exist in the first place, according to Camille. She calls him “America’s fallen prince,” a little nod toward the Poe story Prospero hails from, in which Prince Prospero throws a party amid a plague with fellow nobles.

This is why people hate us, Vic says.

No, this is why we have a multi-billion dollar company, Camille corrects her.

If only an experimental heartmesh could give any of these people an actual heart.

Back at the hospital, Lenore arrives, and we see through her eyes Roderick and Frederick fighting in the distance. Roderick wants Freddie to expedite the demolition of the building where Prospero died. Frederick cites the EPA and permits and other red tape, but Roderick doesn’t care about red tape. He’s used to being able to just slash his way through it. In fact, if Freddie had just “let the Jersey boys” demo the building in the first place, none of this would have happened, Roderick says through bared teeth. He says this is all Frederick’s fault.

In her office, Camille watches on the news how her comms plan is all coming together. She watches as Auggie says in a media interview that nearly 50,000 have died from overdosing on Fortunato painkillers. The reporter then backs Auggie into a corner, asking if he’s saying Prospero’s death was deserved. Camille is thrilled by all this, tells her assistants to send Auggie an edible arrangement.

Camille's assistants in The Fall of the House of Usher saying "Do you actually want to send an edible arrangement? I can't tell.

Camille saying "Toby, damn it, everybody knows that edible arrangements"

Camille in The Fall of the House of Usher saying "are what you send to people you hate. So yes."

I agree! Please don’t ever send me an edible arrangement!

Tina says they’re really sorry for her loss, but Camille isn’t at all upset about Perry’s death. No one is really.

So when Alessandra tells Vic she wants to get her out of town so she can grieve, Vic seems confused, too. While Alessandra is in surgery, Vic runs into none other than our dear Verna, posing as a flustered patient. This really is Carla Gugino’s episode; we get to see her take on so many different roles as Verna shapeshifts and interrupts the Ushers’ lives. Vic identifies this version of Verna as a perfect candidate for human trials, which we know the heartmesh is nowhere close to ready for, but Vic goes rogue behind Alessandra’s back anyway.

Leo, perhaps the only sibling at all affected by Prospero’s death, dissociates while playing video games. Camille arrives to prep him for his interviews as part of her comms plan, but he has just taken an edible. She wants one, too, so the two end up having a little brother-sister drug-and-wine-fueled bonding time. Siegel and Rahul Kohli are so funny in this scene, as Julius grows increasingly worried, Camille expresses how much she likes him, and Leo sinks deeper into his grief pit. Camille laments the fact that they’re called the bastards and says she met Roderick when she was 20. Leo met him at 18. Perry learned Roderick was his father at 16, and Camille says it likely fucked him up to be let into that world that young. Leo tries to say he stayed out of the family business by making video games instead of working in pharmaceuticals, prompting this Camille monologue:

“You don’t make video games. You give money to people who make video games. But you don’t make shit. Um, like, Froderick is this Roderick Usher cover band and he’s playing the hits but it’s sort of off key, and Tammy is basically just Goop with, like, a big golden bug sticker on it. And it’s not even her face that’s on the product, it’s BILLT, the fucking fitness clown, and then Vic’s heartmesh isn’t even her heartmesh. It’s the surgeon’s heartmesh, that’s why she’s fucking the surgeon. And you’re like this amazing, I don’t know, like Xbox Gatsby. And I just spin. Dad decided that I belong in a room of smoke and mirrors, and I’m like a ceiling fan, and I spin and I spin and I spin and I don’t go anywhere. Ushers don’t make stuff. None of us.”

Camille Usher looking distressed in The Fall of the House of Usher.

She’s right, of course. She’s perhaps the only member of the family who understands they’re all frauds and fakers, not innovators, not people saving the world like Roderick believes. They’re just a rich family throwing their money wherever they think it might turn into more money.

Leo is throwing a party, and Camille decides to go home. A woman arriving for Leo’s grief rager (he’s “aiming for total blackout”) brings something called “monty,” a drug Leo is thrilled to receive.

Jumping forward to the house, Roderick tells Auggie death was new to his children. They’d never had to face it. Roderick starts saying “when life gives you lemons,” and Auggie finishes it for him, but no, Roderick had something else in mind. He delivers an absurd but also bleakly funny monologue that’s basically just Capitalism 101, all about lemons. How to turn lemons into immense wealth. As simple and over-the-top as the monologue is, it really is exactly how billionaires think. Capitalism really just is this silly lemon monologue.

Auggie asks Roderick if he knows what monty is. He doesn’t. It’s a street-engineered derivative of Ligodone, and it was in Perry’s system when he died, something the original coroner’s report left out. It’s what Leo’s getting high on in the wake of Perry’s death, too. Roderick feels gloved hands on his shoulders, and we see a bloodied phantom version of Camille looming over him. (I wonder if “monty” is meant to be a reference to “The Cask of Amontillado.”)

Roderick gets up and starts rambling about when he was young, when he assumed the company would act ethically with his pitch. When Camille’s ghost sharply interrupts him, he throws his glass at her, promptly scaring Auggie, who likely just thinks this is a manifestation of Roderick’s vascular dementia. But Roderick calmly pours himself more of the absurdly expensive booze in a new glass. He tries to explain to Auggie he is just as much a victim of Ligodone as anyone else, which is a stretch to say the least, but I do think a man like Roderick might equate his own business struggles to the literally pain and addiction of millions. “It was never my drug,” he says.

“This is my drug,” a younger Roderick then says as we cut to flashback. He’s furious, because Griswold bought the pharmaceutical company where Metzer, who did invent Ligdone, works, an idea that was included in Roderick’s original pitch. (Metzer might be a reference to the Poe short story “Metzengerstein: A Tale in Imitation of the German.”) Griswold then delivers a monologue about how Metzer doesn’t actually own Ligodone and Roderick doesn’t have any real power here. “An idea is nothing; an idea is a far that your brain makes,” he says. He offers Roderick a $500 finders fee and further soliloquies about how this is just the start for Roderick, how he should play the long game of earning trust and power from him.

Back at home, Roderick celebrates his pay raise with Annabel, says he got a 15% raise, moved up the floors, and got a $500 bonus. You can tell he isn’t really all that enthused. He had bigger dreams. Annabel is thrilled. They’ll finally be able to fix the air conditioning and get medicine for Freddie, who has apparently been sick for three months. Madeline is less thrilled. She asks Roderick if he remembers the Muldoons, a foster family they were first placed with after their mother died. They were abusive and just collecting the checks they got for fostering kids. Roderick tried to accuse them outright, came charging in at them much like he charged in on Griswold’s office. All it got him was locked in the closet. Madeline, on the other hand, made herself their favorite, playing the long game of exposing and punishing them. She wants Roderick to do the same to Gris, who she says will brick him into the closet brick by brick. She says Roderick needs to convince Gris to hand him the trowel. And then stab him with it. Listen, I recently watched the horror film Sissy for the first time, so being stabbed with a trowel brings a VERY specific image to mind!!!! Regardless, it sounds like someone’s getting sealed into a wall, which indeed occurs in Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” and also has been Flanagan fodder before. A body was found sealed into a wall in The Haunting of Hill House.

Leo wakes up from his bender looking rough…especially because his face has blood on it? He doesn’t notice anything is off until after he takes a huge swig of orange juice straight out the bottle and places it back in the fridge. It’s smeared with blood. He looks down and sees blood all over himself, but he can’t identify any actual cuts or injuries on himself. Tellingly, his first assumption is he did something to Julius, so in horror he goes to his bedroom. But Julius is just sleeping peacefully. That’s when Leo realizes he killed Pluto, Julius’ beloved cat. Yikes! I think it’s safe to safe between this and the cheating that Leo wins the worst boyfriend award. He obsessively starts cleaning up the scene of the crime so that when Julius does eventually wake up, he can easily play it off like nothing happened. He overdoes it, in fact, making eggs for Julius, who is surprised he’s up this early. When he wonders where the cat is, Leo suggests maybe he got outside. Again…worst boyfriend award.

Over at Fortunato, Pym presents his findings from the crime scene of Perry’s death to Madeline and Roderick and says there was just one unidentified woman. Verna, of course. Madeline hopes they’ll learn more when Morella wakes up.

And wake up she does. Lenore goes to visit her mom, who upon waking up starts trying to tear off all her bandages, likely in shock. It’s quite upsetting!

At home, Camille simply wants to starfish while her assistants fuck her, but her assistants have an announcement to make: They are in love with each other and do not wish to have a sexual relationship with Camille anymore, which made them feel weird in the first place. Camille reminds them they signed NDAs and consent forms, and they correctly say that yeah, that was weird in the first place, too. Siegel’s line readings throughout this scene are so good and funny, Camille’s anger simmering. She pays them a lot to satisfy her specific and unique lifestyle. She thinks they should know better than to fall for the chemical seduction of “being in love.” Tina, it turns out, is not named Tina at all but rather Beth. Camille just thinks “Toby and Tina” sounds funny. Camille also throws the fact that she paid off Tina-Beth’s student debt last month. We all know that didn’t actually cost Camille anything. We all know this is only further proof of what Tina-Beth and Toby are saying, which is that Camille’s expectations of her assistants are fucked up.

Camille in The Fall of the House of Usher saying "I don't give a shit, Beth!"

She Venmos them their severance, because they’re absolutely fired after this. But she still wants to know if they found anything on Vic. Toby (IS THAT EVEN HIS NAME?) gives her a key to the lab and says to deal with it herself. I’m glad these two are getting out of here. I wouldn’t want them to be collateral damage like Faraj and Jenny were.

A slight wrench is also thrown in Tamerlane’s sex plans when the usual sex worker doesn’t show up and is instead replaced by none other than Verna! She calls herself Candy and says she works with the other girl and has been prepped on what she needs to do. Tamerlane is hesitant at first but clearly eager to get off, so she invites Candy in. Candy-Verna settles quite nicely into the role, even making reference to having a hard day because of Perry, which throws Bill at first, but when he looks at Tamerlane, she gives her approval. This is working for her, Candy’s easy performance as her. Her hand slides between her legs.

Camille arrives at the RUE lab, and Verna’s here, too, this time playing the role of security guard. She attempts to say Camille can’t access the secured room holding the animals, but Camille of course plays the DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM? card. Verna lets her in.

Inside, the animals are clearly distressed. They have sewn up chests, and they beat on the bars of the cells they’re contained to. As Camille is collecting her evidence, security guard Verna wanders in. She starts monologuing about how the first recorded history of testing on animals goes all the way back to ancient Greece. She says more than a hundred million animals are used for testing in a year, and even though medical research using chimpanzees was banned in 2015, exceptions are made, especially if a significant donation is given as a gesture toward chimpanzee preservation, something that would undoubtedly be easy for a company the size of Fortunato to do. Humans can’t make something without making something else suffer. “I love how deliciously, pointlessly mean you lot can be,” Verna says.

Camille wants this woman fired. No, she wants this woman killed. Verna asks her why she hates Vic so much. She teases Camille for cleaning up dirt for a living. Camille is pissed. But when she tries to lash out, Verna straight up monkey-jumps up onto a table, and suddenly Camille shifts from her usual tough-as-nails vibe to fear. Verna keeps talking (this episode really is full of monologues). Camille and Vid, she reasons, are actually the most alike inside. Camille just hates her because she hid it better. Hid her heartless, ruthless pursuit of glory that has nothing to do with saving lives and everything to do with power and wealth. She doesn’t think about these animals at all. Hell, as evidenced by her phone call to the patient played by Verna earlier in the episode, she doesn’t care about experimenting on humans either. She only cares about herself. Camille, too. Her PR strategy is all about preserving the Usher name, which is just a form of self-preservation, even if she doesn’t use Usher as her surname. She doesn’t bust into this lab to save the animals. She just wants to further exploit their pain.

In a horror sequence Gugino truly nails, Verna starts crying out in pain and pulls apart her shirt to reveal her chest sealed up like the animals’. Her wails begin to sound like their sounds. And she starts speaking in a manner that suggests she’s speaking as one of them. It’s all very haunting. Gugino gets to flex so many different performance skills throughout this episode, haunting in subtle and more overt ways throughout. When she starts talking as Verna again, she says Camille didn’t need to come here, that it didn’t need to happen this way, that none of this is personal just like it wasn’t for Perry. It’s clear Verna has to kill all of the siblings, and it’s clear that the manner in which she does it hinges on their own choices and actions. Verna wishes to deliver poetic justice, to punish Camille with the very thing she was trying to spin to her own advantage. When Camille lifts her phone to snap a photo, we see through its lens that Verna is a chimpanzee in this moment. She snaps the photo, and the chimp bursts forward.

The next day, RUE employees arrive and are surprised not to find the usual security guard present. When the go into the lab, they see the horrific aftermath of Camille’s death, blood smeared everywhere, a chimpanzee sitting next to her mutilated body. The chimp smiles at them. But who really was the monster here?

As sad as I am to see Siegel go this early in the series, she really is so fun throughout Camille’s death episode (deathisode?). Another Usher bites the dust. And we get some seeds planted for how other siblings might go down, too, Verna showing up in their lives ominously. As I wrote in my first recap, a lot of times it’s easy to see what’s coming on this show, but that doesn’t make it any less satisfying to watch it all go down.

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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.

13 Comments

  1. I haven’t watched it yet, but I’m betting that Vic’s death episode is the Tell-Tale Heart–something is going to go wrong with the heart mesh, and it is going to literally haunt the fuck out of her.

    Also, fun fact, when Camille says “Toby, damn it!”, it’s a reference to Toby Dammit, the ill-fated hero of Poe’s humorous short story Never Bet The Devil Your Head.

  2. Oh the lemon monologue was so good! Also the way it closes, “and then, and only then, do you make some lemonade”. But Roderick actually said to Augie that no amount would ever be enough, so that ties nicely into the idea of wealth as a moral wasteland. Roderick has done all that, and here he is with his lemonade/cognac. But is he enjoying it?

  3. Kate Siegel, Mike Flanagan’s wife who plays Camille, is bisexual. After reading the recap of Vic’s deathisode where you were so openly ecstatic about T’Nia Miller being a lesbian, I felt compelled to come back here and regard the tragic lack of excitement for a bisexual actress. Perhaps if she were married to a woman she would’ve warranted more queer applause? (TL;DR: AS being AS)

  4. I also wanted to mention that Camille’s abuse of power in forcing her assistants to have sex with her is a mirror of Roderick’s father fucking and then leaving his mother.

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