Episode 10 of The Curse (A24/Showtime) begins with a celebrity cameo: Rachael Ray. Say what you will about her, I’m as big a sucker for a good guest spot as anybody else is. Not all are created equal. Some are met with confusion, others, derision, but I’m a fan when the celebrities play jerkier versions of themselves and this did not disappoint. Outside of giving Whitney (Emma Stone) and Asher (Nathan Fielder) some guff on their passive homes, the eponymous talk show host sidesteps the interview for more screen time cooking with in-studio guest Vincent Pastore. Two celebrity cameos in one cold open? Fuck it, it’s the finale, go hard in the paint.
Rachael could give a shit and I can easily see why Whitney’s not satisfied with her current situation. With a kid and a second season on the way, they’re only on streaming and it’s killing her, especially with Cara being hailed for quitting art. The concept of re-traumatizing isn’t clicking, so her resorting to jocose mockery is a great character trait, repugnant as it is. But the “gift” Asher gives to her straight took the air out of the room for me. His generosity displayed, complete with the model of Questa Lane isn’t exactly what it seems.
I’ve felt that he was at least somewhat genuine in the work on that house. I expected it all to work out. The righteous have their place in this world of Benny and Nathan’s, but if there was one episode I was banking on Asher to change to come in clutch, it would have been the finale. Damn.
Instead, his allowing Whitney to take part in presenting Abshir his house feels a little like the re-packaging of his efforts to use as a gift and the physical token of the model is more like a reminder of what Asher did for her, not what they did for Abshir. It’s a selfish gift, but I’m not mad at it because it’s good character writing.
The model itself right next to the Challah on the table is a perfect visual. The couple don’t respect their community, they eat ‘em up. Whitney ain’t feeling it, but her painted smile belies the real story underneath. I found her to be more scared than pleased, as I see this move on Asher’s part to be his most duplicitous yet. It also marks our first big tonal shift 17 minutes in.
Abshir (Barkhad Abdi) doesn’t seem initially impressed with the reveal. Even though they promise to pay property taxes, his giving them nothing in terms of a reaction is rather satisfying. I mean Asher reveals to Whit he recorded the interaction so she could perversely relieve it later. I’m super glad Abshir cannot be fleeced, no matter how hard they try.
With the contractions getting to Whitney, passive is no longer a viable way of living. They not only have introduced less efficient modernity to their home by way of a unit to monitor pressure inside and out of the baby’s room but have also introduced a massive tonal shift when Asher sings to the baby that night, asserting there is a “little him” inside Whitney. Ugh. That just gave me the chills.
It certainly gives Whitney pause, Emma’s face saying it all, quite possibly the most disturbed she’d been the entire season. The acting shows terror in bringing a baby into this world with a goddamn child as his father. Nearly halfway in, we take a turn all my weeks of conjecture and theorizing couldn’t have prepared me for.
Asher stuck to the ceiling. You read that right. Asher’s not able to climb down, even with the door and window in the house opened and even trying to Whit as a literal ladder (rather fitting), it just goes from “what?” to “huh?”. Asher pinioned to the ceiling is disorienting in a way I haven’t felt since watching the Inception hallway fight, but even more of a head trip is watching the intrepid Whitney crawling around the house, craftily providing a visual counterbalance.
The series has been fueled by parallels, metaphors, and symbolism, so I’m glad to see the octane is far from running dry. This includes Whitney being ordered by Asher to stay down instead of standing on her own two feet to help him. Despite the incredulous nature of the situation, the emotional gravity was enough to keep the whole set piece very much grounded. It’s ironically airtight through and through.
Whit’s doula Moses (Elliot Berlin) tries to wrangle Asher down, but fails, landing Asher in a tree. The doula does provide some levity in the levitation situation by reciting “This is normal” as if this isn’t the most batshit thing ever. I also took the mantra as the creators addressing us, the audience. It’s as if they are saying, “Crazy, right? Look, you’ve been riding with us so far on this long strange trip, so let’s keep it poppin’,” resulting in Dougie (Benny Safdie) showing up, along with the cameras and the Española FD. Before you know it, Ashman’s rocketing towards the cosmos. Wait, what?
Interstitial cuts of Whitney in the OR combined with Asher rising from the earth are stellar. Yes, I said it. She ultimately comes out on the other side of her Caesarean section, meeting her baby for the first time. Whit being awash with relief and happiness as if a lassitude’s been lifted is some of the finest acting I’ve ever seen Emma Stone do. She slays, taking such a detestable character and imbuing her with such brilliant flashes of humanity, that you can’t help but give her a pass on being human. And don’t think for a second I missed the parallel between Whit’s baby and grown baby Asher being “lifted”. Was he the Curse the whole time?
Directed by Nathan Fielder, we get some wild turns in this finale. The latter half felt rather Lynchian, complete with [whooshing]. We get more hints dropped that something is afoot with the HGTV crew, we get phenomenal acting from both Emma and Nathan, we get more full-circle moments and parallels, and we get visual metaphors with some very artful camera work. This includes a shot where Whitney looks more opaque than Asher through Abshir’s window, and a few longer tracking shots through the hospital and town before ending back up at the Siegel house and ultimately cutting to black.
I’ve heard Tom Scharpling of Best Show fame talk about screening The Curse in advance, albeit according to Benny Safdie, without the final touches put into place. This was 3 episodes in and Tom had stated that you wouldn’t see the ending coming from any amount of miles away. From that point on, I made it a priority to have my gimlet-eyed on each episode and oh boy was I thrown for a loop. I thought the couple’s whole situation would have gone up like a tinderbox, not just go up.
I harbor no enmity towards Nathan or Benny for challenging me as a viewer. This show was always comfortable taking risks from the very start which is why it felt familiar yet so alien. I don’t even know where to begin with what I just watched because all of the lingering unanswered questions were so brutally sidestepped to make way for something way more tantalizing (not unlike Rachael with the couple).
The finale was called “Green Queen” for a reason. In the ignominious interview with Rachel, they are addressed as “Queens”, plural. There can only be room for one. It still left me stunned and with so much grist for the question mill. So many more arose in this episode. Was that person in Abshir’s home a possible crew member? How was Freckle aware of the child’s gender? What will be the result of Whitney refusing the dream catcher? Why was Dougie so distraught? Could it have something to do with him cursing Ashman? Was he beamed up?
A literal translation of the Curse being lifted is too strong for me to ignore. Up until this point, every single action wove a taut tapestry of consequence, so I’m fine with some threads being left loose to tie up a major one.
The appeal to The Curse is its constant and clever use of misdirection. “Green Queen” literally slingshots that device into the stratosphere, resulting in something that will lead to many discussions among fans. It’s a strong ending to a series that doesn’t exactly need a second season if its creators let it stand on its own, much like Whitney is left doing.
Addendum: Vincent Pastore’s cooking and crooning is something I didn’t know I needed.