The cold opening of the penultimate episode of The Curse starts mysteriously with a POV shot from a vehicle. After observing Whitney (Emma Stone) leaving her house and walking to work and passing her, we are a passenger to its gorgeous long take while the sick synths score the way as this mystery driver navigates the road, until we pull up to Iosheka jeans, filming in progress.
Though Pascal (Alexander Adrian Gibson) and his girlfriend Janice (Aliyah Lee) are unknowingly being staged in a lascivious position, HGTV Head Martha (GiGi Erneta) is happy with how Dougie (Benny Safdie) is producing it thus far. For all we know, she’s seeing it from one angle. Keep that word in mind.
Martha suggesting Asher and Whitney run through Pascal and Janice’s gag is a great understated full-circle moment. It harks back to when Whitney first wanted to stage antics between them in a more genteel manner, with Whitney not being able to work her way out of a sweater. However, that ship has sailed, and something tells me we’ll be all the worse for it in the best way possible.
I ain’t even mad at Dougie for playing by Martha’s rules, excluding some of Whitney’s more personal diatribes against Asher. It appears her show is crumbling before it even hits the air, including the firing of a PA because they passive-aggressively (it’s coming full circle, I can feel it) left a note on her windshield. For someone trying to outrun their past, the truth coming to Whitney’s storefront couldn’t be more poetically just, which brings us to her meeting with Phoebe (Lejend Yazzie), the driver whose uncle was evicted by her parents.
A few things stand out about this scene. It’s filmed from outside the edifice, as if we’re prying in. There’s also a sudden shift in Phoebe’s demeanor after she gets maudlin. She says everyone will get to see the real Whitney when the show comes out. We all know Phoebe ain’t holding her breath for Whit to help.
I think my theory might be right and the whole crew, constantly overlooked, are the real ones who orchestrate how this show will ultimately be seen. I think the trio are on the chopping block. It would make so much sense that Whitney and Asher’s biggest blind spot is the very community they’re trying to infiltrate.
Before shooting, Whitney suggests she and Asher go bowling before dinner with Martha, only taking him aback. My guess is she wants to put him in a situation where he’ll try to act tough. The only tough element is bearing witness to Asher hijacking Whitney’s “answer clock” only to get no response as to whether she loves him. The sick feeling I get from the emotional hijacking will be all too gloriously usurped by the credits roll.
When Bill (David DaLao) enters the frame, Asher’s tough guy side comes out… but I couldn’t be more disappointed. Copping a sanctimonious attitude and using his wife as a “shield” by “protecting” her is peak cringe. What isn’t is the acting. Just, phenomenal. The episode goes hard in the paint. The only thing more cringe-worthy than Asher’s flash of feigned toughness is his using the moment as a mental lubricant as he cranks it later that night as a shocked Whitney overhears him. He berates the figment of Bill and forces him to fuck the prize that is his wife, injecting a bit of psycho-sexuality into the whole of it all, reminiscent to me of earlier David Lynch work.
I mean, he had to release that tension somewhere from the dinner they had with Martha earlier. Martha wants sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows, while Whitney knows there are many angles to a story. It doesn’t look like the Queen is getting her way. Martha even suggests maybe starting a family for curb appeal, making it the second instance of childbearing mentioned. I feel this is by design.
Now mid-episode, we have Whitney stepping into more figurative shit when she pays the ‘rents a visit at her old stomping grounds, the Bookends buildings, and nothing about this gives me comfort. Paul (Corbin Bernsen) reminding his daughter that she’s cut from the same cloth as them doesn’t give me comfort. Elizabeth (Constance Shulman) being on board with destroying Native artifacts to erase litigation doesn’t give me comfort. Her not being comfortable with Whitney playing “dress up” with the Star of David around her neck does not give me comfort. Paul reminding his wife that Yogi Bhajan tried to have sex with her does not give me comfort. The only thing that gives me immense comfort is that the writing is still immaculate. Everything said in that scene is a full-circle moment, right down to Whitney’s evictions from Española going straight to Bookends.
The discomfort is only further amped up when Whitney and Asher arrive at Dougie’s to see the new cuts of Green Queen. I will first say that from the graphics to the musical cues, how it was shot, and everything in between, the new product perfectly imitates a makeover show. The glossed-over look in Whitney’s eyes and the hurt in Asher’s throat when all is revealed leaves enough tension in the room to choke a snake. Even Asher swallowing an emotional response almost appears reptilian.
The immediate reaction of Whitney over her vainglory and Asher over his portrayal. Whitney said a lot of hurtful but truthful things. Granted, she nearly disavows the marriage on her account of Asher being too much of a “stan”, but she doesn’t deserve what’s coming next, which is Asher’s counter-apology and emotional terrorism. The updated cut might as well have been a Viagra for him.
The very visceral moment of revelation has tinges on Tom Wilkinson’s hauntingly brilliant moment of clarity monologue in Mann’s Michael Clayton. The thing that’s most uncomfortable though is that unlike Tom’s character, who is self-aware of his sins, Asher is virtually flagellating himself to emotionally hijack his wife once again, even more vicious than their interaction in the coffee shop.
He becomes that amorphous, vacuous black hole Whitney believes he is before their very eyes. Emma’s sheer horror of being emotionally hijacked even more intensely is equally as haunting as Nathan letting the demon take the wheel as if almost being possessed. Hurt people hurt people. Whitney’s cornered, and we can’t do anything about it. They just keep swallowing each other whole, the essence of ouroboros. It does, however, mean the real Green Queen is a go. Asher finally found his spark in this figurative funeral pyre under construction, Green Queen. It’s just so fucking unsettling how much he doesn’t listen. Bravo. The acting is bone chilling.
Nathan Fielder is once again in the director’s chair, and I couldn’t be happier. From the mysterious opening shot to the very last quivering moment of Asher, madly “awakened” by revelation, this episode was the meatiest yet, all in just under an hour. We get more moments of tension and buildup to a big fat payoff.
The only thing that slightly stood out of place for me was Whitney going to the masseuse and getting Cara (Nizhonniya Austin). Was the beat supposed to linger on how it killed an artist’s soul? Was it supposed to linger on how much of a chickenshit Whitney is when it comes to confrontation as Asher, which is why she cancels and overtips? I’m not marking against it though because I believe it’s just another element fomenting.
I would say somewhere toward the middle of the episode, one particular name sprang to mind: Cassavetes. It felt like a massive pressure lifted off my brain as if it was some damn splinter in it. Benny and Nathan’s work has hit that gritty vibe that somehow feels like home with the casting. The casting has been off the charts throughout the season, and the writing and directing only bolster the performances of the fresh faces before us.
The episode is called “Young Hearts” as a reference to the chorus in the Rod Steward bowling alley needle drop “Young Turks”, which is a good choice for what amounts to more than just a feel-good montage of Whitney and Asher letting loose amid their stressful lives… it’s a visual metaphor. It’s a place where the word “strike” is a good thing and it’s a game all built around rebirth. Over and over. It’s a place that sets Whitney and Asher up through true connection only to knock them down, later. It’s what this series does so well with its characters.
Let’s see if the finale goes for the 7-10 split.
Addendum: Nathan displaying his bowling prowess is something I didn’t know I needed.