Mike Flanagan's latest Netflix show "The Fall of the House of Usher" is about a powerful family.
Each of the Ushers die gruesome deaths, and a character named Verna haunts them all.
Spoilers ahead for "The Fall of the House of Usher."
Netflix's "The Fall of the House of Usher" is a spooky must-watch just in time for Halloween. But the beauty of the show is that, just like creator Mike Flanagan's other projects for the streamer, it works on multiple levels.
On the surface, it's about a family — headed by patriarch Roderick Usher (Bruce Greenwood) and his twin sister, Madeline (Mary McDonnell) — and their greed. It's a parable of what the relentless pursuit of money and power might do to a group of people. It's also a story about the opioid epidemic, centered on karmic retribution against the family dynasty behind the fictional Fortunato Pharmaceutical company. But it's also an intricate web of Edgar Allan Poe references, from the character names, to the nature of their deaths.
Flanagan doesn't directly adapt Poe's work here, but he borrows widely from it and puts his own twist on things. One of his most clever references is the character Verna, played by Carla Gugino. Verna is the most enigmatic character in "Usher," and her true nature is never spelled out for viewers.
Here's everything you need to know about Verna and what she represents.
Carla Gugino, one of Mike Flanagan's frequent collaborators, plays the mysterious Verna
Gugino's Verna, an anagram for "raven," is introduced moments into the first episode, though viewers don't realize who she is at first. Roderick sees her, looking down at him and wearing a raven mask, at the joint funeral for Victorine (T'Nia Miller), Tammy (Samantha Sloyan), and Frederick (Henry Thomas), the last of his six children to die gruesome deaths. Throughout all eight episodes, she haunts Roderick, Madeline, and Roderick's children in the lead-ups to their deaths.
It's not just Verna's raven mask in that opening scene — raven imagery is a recurring theme throughout the series. There's a raven statue inside Verna's bar, where a younger Madeline and Roderick first encountered her on December 31, 1979 and made a deal for vast wealth and power in their lifetimes in exchange for the "deferred payment" of their bloodline being wiped out right before the two of them die. There's a raven painted in front of the dilapidated building where Verna's bar appeared to be when Madeline and Roderick exit.
Actual ravens also show up at key moments, like when Roderick collapses onto the sidewalk after the kids' funeral, when Roderick is grieving Lenore's death, and in the closing moments of the finale, when Dupin leaves Roderick's grave.
It's not subtle or accidental. When pitching the role to Gugino, Flanagan asked her to play a character inspired by Poe's "The Raven." Between that and all the raven imagery it'd be easy enough to assume that Verna is a raven. But it's not quite that simple.
Verna may look like a human woman, but she's not a human woman (or a bird!)
The show never makes explicit what Verna truly is, but we know what she's not.
While Verna certainly looks like an ordinary human woman (except when she's shape-shifting into a murderous ape, or a troublesome black cat), she's not. Verna says as much to Madeline in their confrontation in the old Usher house in episode seven, "The Pit and the Pendulum," when Madeline tries to convince Verna to change the terms of the deal:
Madeline: Everything has a price. Every negotiation's a point of entry. Every deal is simply an expression of will. Mutual will. We can sort this. Woman to woman. Verna: I'm not a woman.
While Verna clearly isn't an ordinary human, it's not as clear what supernatural entity she is. She clearly has supernatural powers: she revives Roderick when he overdoses on Ligodone; she resurrects herself when Madeline snaps her neck and when Arthur Pym (Mark Hamill) drugs her and wraps her in plastic; she dissipates into smoke. She can even seemingly control minds, like when she tells the innocent waitstaff to leave the orgy Prospero (Sauriyan Sapkota) organized before toxic chemicals rain down on half-naked partygoers.
She has the ability to see the future, telling Lenore (Kyliegh Curran) what will become of her mother, Morella (Crystal Balint), after Lenore's death. She can also glimpse alternate realities, informing Madeline that Roderick would have been a poet and telling Frederick that he would have been a dentist in "the other life" (presumably the reality that would've taken shape had Roderick and Madeline not made their deal with Verna back in 1980).
But she doesn't seem to be a witch, or merely a shape-shifter.
Much of what Verna says in conversation with the Ushers indicates that she's an ancient creature. She talks about how in the "ancient world" the deal she makes with Madeline and Roderick — a conversation she says is taking place "outside of time and space" — would be sealed with blood or spit. In the present day, she reminisces about "when you adorable little things" — early humans — "started building cities."
Verna also calls Madeline one of her "favorites," indicating she's made deals with — and later wrought vengeance on — other power-hungry humans time and time again. That's also hinted at in the photographs that Arthur Pym digs up of an unaging Verna throughout the decades cavorting with prominent, wealthy, controversial figures like Donald Trump, John D. Rockefeller, and Mark Zuckerberg.
Verna is something much more profound than a witch, a shape-shifter, or a bird.
Is Verna the devil? Not quite
In cast quotes provided by Netflix, Gugino described Verna as "the executor of fate or the executor of karma." Importantly, Verna isn't an indiscriminate killer or monster who attacks people just for the fun of it. According to Gugino, Verna isn't the devil, and isn't even necessarily a villain at all.
"Poe never really believed in God and the devil per se. She's not even evil," Gugino told Netflix's publication Tudum.
Verna's actions, and her various monologues to the Ushers immediately before they each die, also underscore that she's only targeting people in accordance with what she "must" do. She introduces herself to Roderick's youngest son, Prospero, at his masquerade party/orgy as "consequence."
In the deal she makes with Madeline and Roderick in the early hours of January 1, 1980, she clearly lays out the terms, and they accept them. There's no trickery or villainy involved. And Verna, to her credit, expresses deep remorse that she must kill Lenore, the only innocent member of the Usher family, and grants the teenager a painless death.
In the end, Verna is neutral — she's just karmic retribution made flesh, coming to collect when the bill is due.
Read the original article on Insider