This article contains spoilers for Netflix’s The Fall of the House of Usher.
Horror auteur Mike Flanagan is known for working with many of the same actors across his suite of spooky TV and film projects. Naturally, the writer/director’s latest for Netflix, the Edgar Allan Poe-inspired The Fall of the House of Usher, features quite a few familiar faces.
By our count, more than 20 actors from previous Flanagan projects also appear in Usher, including: Bruce Greenwood (Gerald’s Game), Samantha Sloyan (Midnight Mass, The Midnight Club), and Flanagan’s wife and long-time collaborator Kate Siegel (The Haunting of Hill House, The Haunting of Bly Manor). In addition to all the recurring players in Mike Flanagan’s acting troupe, however, there’s one Flana-newbie who outshines (pun intended) them all in The Fall of the House of Usher: Mark Hamill.
The Luke Skywalker actor is given one of the meatiest roles in The Fall of the House of Usher and he knows just what to do with it. While his character, Arthur Pym, shares a name and rough backstory with a Poe creation from the novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, Hamill looks elsewhere for inspiration in crafting the Usher family’s powerful lawyer. Putting it simply: Arthur Pym is a fixer. He’s paid a lot of money to fix the Ushers’ messes through any means necessary. Oftentimes this means defending their Fortunato pharmaceutical company’s dangerous opioid “ligodone” in court, but it can also mean getting his hands dirty – metaphorically and literally.
From Winston Wolf (Harvey Keitel) in Pulp Fiction to Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) in Breaking Bad to Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) in Scandal, fixers are a common character archetype in all sorts of storytelling enterprises and for good reason. Fixers not only fulfill a narrative useful role by “fixing” other characters’ problems but are just inherently entertaining in their own right. Sometimes ruthless competency is thrilling to behold. And Hamill’s Arthur Pym is nothing if not ruthlessly competent.
Both Flanagan’s conception of the character and Hamill’s depiction lean in to the cartoonish nature of a high-level corporate fixer. Arthur Pym makes no effort to hide that he’s a bad guy. The voice that Hamill adopts for Pym is a gruff, disinterested growl, which complements his most frequent accessory: a literal black hat. Pym even carries around a crossword puzzle with him to important events as if his whole vibe didn’t already make perfectly clear that he was disinterested in hearing what others had to say.
Arthur Pym is a very “big” character with little room for nuance. And that’s what makes Hamill such a perfect fit to play him. Few actors in the modern era understand what goes into creating a “big” character like Mark Hamill does. After portraying the literal scion of the Light Side in Luke Skywalker, and the perfect icon of mustache-twirling villainy in The Joker, Hamill understands better than most how to leave subtlety at the door in his performances. What’s particularly great about Pym, though, is that Hamill is still able to squeeze one small moment of something resembling humanity out of the stereotypical fixer before shuffling offscreen.
The Fall of the House of Usher‘s finale features a scene in which the Ushers’ devil of choice, Pym, meets the actual devil (or at least a lesser demon), Verna (Cara Gugino). After attempting to kill Verna only to see her effortlessly transport herself out of the trap, Pym immediately comes to terms with the fact that he’s in the presence of real evil and drops his tough guy act. Pym and Verna have a surprisingly civil conversation, in which Verna does what devils do: she offers Pym a deal. Usher daughter Camille L’Espanaye (Siegel) kept a file of blackmail on Pym. Verna can make that go away for a price.
Surprisingly, Pym becomes the first and only character in The Fall of the House of Usher to respectfully turn down one of Verna’s infernal offers. Sure enough, he’s arrested by the end of the series and becomes the fall guy for the Ushers’ many crimes but it’s clear that he avoided the real punishment that Verna certainly had in store for him.
Throughout it all, Hamill is so good at depicting both the confidence of a man who believes he’s holding all the cards and the humility of a man who realizes he’s actually holding jack shit. Hamill even gets to sneak a Trump joke in there (“Is his tab coming due anytime soon? Even I have my limits.”), which must have been fun for the outspokenly liberal actor.
With no disrespect intended to the other actors in Flanagan’s Usher crew, it’s clear that Hamill understood the series’ pulpy assignment better than anyone else. Perhaps that’s why Flanagan has tapped him to star alongside Tom Hiddleston in his next project, The Life of Chuck.
All eight episodes of The Fall of the House of Usher are available to stream on Netflix now.