By the end of The Fall of the House of Usher’s second episode, it’s clear that Mike Flanagan isn’t just name-dropping Edgar Allan Poe’s work for fun. You couldn’t pick a more appropriate title for this one. The 1964 movie The Masque of the Red Death, based on Poe’s short story, represented one of several collaborations between Roger Corman and Vincent Price. The story focused on Death itself descending upon a decadent party of a village’s elite. And the party’s host was the amoral Prince Prospero. Following on its namesake, Episode 2 tells us how Roderick Usher’s youngest son – Prospero – meets death at his own celebration of hedonism.
The Masque of the Red Death Takes Us Back to the 1970s
Like A Midnight Dreary, The Fall of the House of Usher’s second episode, The Masque of the Red Death, divides its story across two timelines. Half of the episode takes us back to the 1970s. It’s here where we learn that Dupin has been chasing down the Ushers and Fortunato Pharmaceuticals for decades. He’s convinced that several dug up graves are linked to Fortunato drug trials. Meanwhile, the episode tells us a bit more about the Usher’s miracle pain-killer, Ligadone, a drug that Roderick insists is ‘non-addictive’ and ‘for everyone’. Unfortunately, Roderick’s sales pitch to Fotunato CEO Rufus Griswold falls on deaf hear. While Roderick’s first wife, Annabel, encourages him to move on, sister Madeline has a different idea. Instead, she urges Roderick to crush Griswold and take over the company.
It’s here where we learn that Dupin has been chasing down the Ushers and Fortunato Pharmaceuticals for decades.
Cleary, Ligadone is intended to be Flanagan’s stand-in for OxyContin. No, there’s not much in the way of subtly in the storytelling. Still good horror often tapes into very real horrors. Whether it’s a narrative thread that leads to deep thematic
The Masque of the Red Death is All About Prospero … and Hedonism at Its Worst
Next, The Masque of the Red Death offers a more thorough introduction to the young prince of the Usher’s, Prospero. Just be prepared for lots of sex in Episode 2. Straight out of the gate, we find Prospero, or Perry, laying in bed with several naked women. Still smarting from Roderick’s rejection of his pitch for a franchise of exclusive night clubs Perry latches on to a new angle. After he arrives late to a meeting about environmental concerns with Fortunato properties, Perry thinks he has a brilliant idea. That is, the youngest Usher sets up a pop-up night club in one the abandoned properties. What he organizes blends orgy scene from Eyes Wide Shut and that opening rave from Blade. But Perry proves to be more clever than his siblings may consider.
Perry’s eyes are on some big money extortion.
Specifically, Perry’s outrageous entrance fee isn’t his real hook to turn a profit. No, the youngest Usher has plenty of cameras monitoring some of world’s most elite engaging in pure debauchery. Perry’s eyes are on some big money extortion. Among his marks, Perry thinks that footage of his sister-in-law, Morella, at the party means he will own older brother, Frederick. Earlier in the episode, Perry invited Morella with a bit of passive-aggression. It’s an uncomfortable scene where Perry picks at his sister-in-law’s feelings of isolation from her own husband. Too bad Perry gets distracted when the mysterious Verna shows up dressed in … yes, red.
Prospero Meets Death Up Close and Personal
Initially Verna leads Prospero to a back room where she playfully teases and seduces him. But she has something else on her mind. Verna urges Perry to re-think his planned finale to the party – releasing sprinklers of what he believes are tanks of water from the rooftop of the building. Not surprisingly, Perry ignores the warning and lets the sprinklers loose on the rave, which still includes Morella. Yet it’s not water that rains down … the tanks were holding acid. So The Masque of the Red Death delivers some icky body horror as flesh melts. Before she disappears, Verna plants a kiss on Perry and leaves her mask over his grotesquely distorted face.
So The Masque of the Red Death delivers some icky body horror as flesh melts.
A few other interesting tidbits pop up over the episode. Though it’s brief, we get to see the odd dynamics of Tamerlane Usher’s marriage to fitness influencer, Bill T. Apparently, Tamerlane gets off on watching a sex workers – dressed like her – have a normal family dinner with her husband. In addition, we learn that Roderick has a brain abnormality, CADISIL, which may be causing his visions. Or not. It’s certainly motivating Roderick to pressure daughter Victorine to press on with unethical animal tests on her experimental heart mesh. Last but not least, we learn that Roderick met his latest wife, Juno, when she offered to give him a blowjob for ‘curing’ her addiction with Ligadone.
The Masque of the Red Death Delivers Answers, Raises More Questions
After A Midnight Dreary set the table, Episode 2 The Masque of the Red Death gets down to business. To some extent, The Fall of the House of Usher feels like anthology series with an intriguing wraparound story. Here, the aptly named Prospero, or Perry, meets a gruesome ending. It’s a gruesome death scene introducing a yucky dose of body horror to the Netflix series. On one hand, Flanagan offers up more information about Roderick Usher’s health – and his past – while teasing out some of the other Usher family clan. Yet The Masque of the Red Death dangles more mysteries. And we’ll likely have to wait until at least the penultimate episode to finally understand where Carla Gugino’s Verna fits in with the Ushers. For now, Episode 2 delivers some of the most salacious television in recent memory.