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The Curse Review: “Down and Dirty” Digs Beyond the Soil and Into the Bedrock

Episode 8 of the A24 x Showtime series continues to knit threads so tightly, they might as well be denim.

Posture vs. posturing. | Photo: Anna Kooris | A24 | Paramount+ with SHOWTIME

The eighth episode of A24 x Showtime’s The Curse opens with a bunch of teens en route to a robbery. No masks, no straps. They simply saunter into Iosheka Jeans and make out like bandits as the driver of the group chats up Enola (Rosie B. Molina) taking careful stock of what’s being pilfered. I love that Whitney busted open her storefront window to the public without even lifting a brick.

Shotgun-wielding Fernando (Christopher Calderon) confronting the real criminals, the Siegels, is wonderful for a few reasons. The camera angle with Fernando situated in the middle of literal black-and-white walls is stark symbolism. Fernando calling both cancerous is a joyous moment. The irony of Whitney (Emma Stone) explaining her de-escalation process going from 0-60 between Asher (Nathan Fielder) and Fernando in 3 seconds is too perfect before the concerned citizen is asked to leave. Nathan’s paper tiger act though is a sight to behold.

However, what immediately follows is probably one of my favorite Emma moments when her paucity for empathy is put front and center. Her outburst when Asher shows a modicum of sympathy for Fernando and his mother. It’s so venomous that you could nearly see it secreting from her teeth. It’s also our first massive tonal shift in the nearly hour-long episode. I’m super amused when even Asher stands mouth agape.

I’m all for the Ash-man getting a hotfoot when Dougie (Benny Safdie) lays down a damn inquisition in confessionals. He easily gets Asher to paint an unflattering self-portrait through coerced dialogue. This will pay off in a very satisfying way later on. For now, Dougie’s simply there to make Asher look bad, and his interrogation-like tactics turn to an outright roast when he brings Asher’s romantic past and predilection for cuckoldry into the picture. This would’ve been prime time for comedy on Asher’s part! Sadly, we don’t get that.

Their dynamic is something I was hooked on in this episode. The rage, hurt, and betrayal on Asher’s face is remarkable, vowing to never tell Dougie anything ever again, but he agrees to make it up to him by taking him out for dinner. No paragon of society by any feasible stretch, Asher is not; he’s still a human being with feelings, and his behavior of taking pity on his bully is very hard to watch.

Sure, Dougie was ignored by Asher at every turn, but Ash reminded Dougie that when they were kids and he was homesick, Dougie and his crew would always “include” him in their pranks. If Asher was always the butt of the joke, that’s just straight denial and very hard to hear. It is the dank reality of the situation though. He tolerates the dude’s puerile behavior because, without Whitney, who else does he have?

Yes, Dougie’s barrage of bullying doesn’t end with the day’s interviews. It doesn’t end with the full plate of chicken as a gag. It doesn’t even end with the gay porn rags bought for him at the gas station or him teasing him with full spreads of throbbing gristle in the car. It ends in the one place it shouldn’t and the first place it started: with Nala.

Though contrastingly quieter, Whitney’s plot with Cara (Nizhonniya Luxi Austin) and her perspicacious friend Brett (Brett Mooswa) provide some well-needed levity to an increasingly stifling atmosphere, never outshining the dread of being in the gorgeous house of a military contractor, Vivi (Antonio Weiss). After bothering Brett and Marjorie (Elizabeth Katz Sperlich) for footage, it’s down to the big guns: Cara.

Dougie wanting Nala (Hikmah Warsame) to curse him to prove it’s bunk is concerning, yes. You’re freaking out a child with a strange request, looking, well, like Dougie. It shows an unbridled lack of concern for the child and a blatant selfishness, sure. What’s even more concerning is his breaking down in front of the child. He’s truly tormented and just needs answers, raising more questions in me on a personal level.

While nobody is without smudges on their record in life, is desiring some semblance of tranquility considered the ultimate sin? If not, are there degrees to which each individual deserves that which he seeks, inner peace? Does asshole Dougie deserve less inner peace than chicken Asher? Are their sins both not mortally egregious?

Dougie doesn’t need to pay for something already in him. He’s plagued by guilt and denial. That curse is just labeled the “human condition”. Still, he skirts the line with drinking and driving, which is a conscious decision to endanger others. I guess it only makes sense that in their stop to replace a Fire Alarm battery, Asher only endangers the house on Questa Lane with Dougie’s infernal presence.

Something interesting happens, however, when they both enter the house of Abshir (Barkhad Abdi). Not only is there a noticeable shift in tone, but also for a fraction of a second, the camera glitches. I at first thought it may have just been my internet, but it’s embedded into the episode as if a presence there is making itself known. Despite Dougie’s horrid haranguing of Nala, I’m glad he’s finally calling Asher out on his character; however,  the sharp tenebrific turn the show takes when Dougie says his last words of the episode has me second-guessing some shit. Fucking chef’s kiss.

Whitney’s tonal shift comes after a brief flirtation with a coquettish Kundalini community member who offers Whitney most likely an eyeful in the bathroom. Whatever it was, she emerged beaming, taking her confidence into the filmed chat with Cara, arrogantly placing herself as Cara’s contemporary, feeding her lines shamelessly as if they were the grapes that Kundalini creep offered her moments earlier.

Seeing Cara regurgitate Whitney’s puffery back to her as if some verbal snowballing is sick in its own right. Real talk though. Money may talk, but when it’s 20k, it screams. The scene also mirrors Dougie coercing Asher in the interview beautifully. Whitney shines in usurping herself, however, when after hearing Cara’s explanation of her very personal tee-pee piece, she reenacts it in real-time, leaving her high and dry once the camera’s cut. She “ate the turkey” once more, and took a piece of Cara unapologetically. It’s heartbreaking to watch because it’s as if Cara just had her art stolen and reappropriated. Something sacred has been taken with zero compunction. It’s just straight evil, and I can’t stop thinking about it.

Directed by Nathan Fielder with a story from Nathan, Benny, and Carrie Kemper, the antepenultimate episode in a 10-run season once again sets up the major shit show that will be the final two, and does it successfully. From the big, vibrant “Welcome to Española” mural in the cold open to details like Dougie offering to pay Nala a 20 spot for the curse (reversing the order? coming full circle?), to even more genius character insights into Dougie, to a Bob Dylan needle drop at the end, this episode came to play.

The shots are all gorgeously composed throughout, especially in Vivi’s house, from the interior to the exterior. We do get more shots from outside the edifice peeking in, but these are not shaky. Something tells me though the B-roll camera guy is simply there as a distraction. I mean the show is all about veneers; would be be such a stretch?

The tonal shifts and metaphors were just right. “Down and Dirty” is a reference to how Asher never does the heavy lifting. Ever. And it’s true. He’s a shitbag that way. He is trying in his way, but is it even fucking enough at this point? Dougie’s hands will never be clean, so he doesn’t need to worry about getting them dirty. Whitney’s beginning to dig in, doing what needs to be done, however disgusting, for success. That’s 2 against 1 and something though the odds aren’t great, I’m pulling through for him to do the right thing, even if it’s too late.

The episode was the heaviest one yet to me. Dougie’s incorrigible as ever, Whitney’s just a hair under scorched-earth mode, and though Asher’s pushing back, I’m not sure if he’s setting himself up for success. The long shot as the credits roll is a thing of beauty, with garbage men literally “taking out the trash.” It’s a great button to remind us there’s a finger just above it.

5/5 Stars.

Addendum: Nathan making the valiant effort to spit Dead Prez was something I didn’t know I needed, but I sure am grateful for it.

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