The fifth episode of The Curse (Showtime/A24) titled “It’s A Good Day” starts with another day of filming, this time of the Juniper Lane couple, Lucinda (Nikki Dixon) and Dennis (Eric Peterson). Dougie (Benny Safdie) is visibly over and done trying to make lemonade with Whitney’s (Emma Stone) backseat directing, and the fugazi yet positive vibe immediately gives way to frustration, so we get apt foreshadowing in the very first scene. We also get a taste of what may be behind the voyeuristic moments when Whitney’s told off by cameraman Remi (Oscar Avila) “as a joke” and boom operator Jose (D.J. Arvizo) is accused of listening in on her getting Asher (Nathan Fielder) to obtain couple’s signatures on a contract so duplicitous, even Janus would be jealous.
The contentious Pueblo lease agreement negotiations are enough to make anybody sweat, but this Juniper Lane abode has that covered with inefficient cooling. To me, the use of Whitney’s houses as a metaphor for the couple themselves is still exceptional, cinematic storytelling. The internal elements clash while externally, the mess calls attention to itself by trying so hard to fit in. Whit’s houses are like an extension of her, which isn’t a compliment. It’s why she takes umbrage with buyers changing anything inside. I would even argue the structures themselves are monuments to past trauma.
Speaking of, another side of Whit is unceremoniously unveiled when dad Paul (Corbin Bernsen) and mom Elizabeth (Constance Shulman) show up to filming unannounced. It’s a smart and believable move because when nothing’s going right, the last thing anybody wants is a reminder of the source. Whitney’s febrile outburst about the land she was “promised” by her parents legit took me aback and the air of unironic entitlement concerning a whole community only highlighted how threadbare her cloak of philanthropy is. I’m not ashamed to admit, that when her day is further derailed, I was legitimately giddy. It’s as if the universe was giving her a complimentary class on diplomacy but instead of proving her parents wrong by handling her shit like a boss bitch, she crumbles under the weight of her cowardice.
I’m happy to report, she’s no better than her husband in lacking a vertebrae, especially with Fernando (Christopher D. Calderon). I love that the fantasy continues to erode before her very eyes when she notices her star barista still packing heat, a surreal image that exists rent-free in my brain. Whitney’s ignorance is truly bliss for me. It’s like a damn narcotic when she hands over her credit card to pave over future incidents of theft because it’s the most myopic I’ve seen her yet. I want her to succeed, but only time will tell.
Money does seem to have a big presence in the show, so I’m beginning to think it could be the curse. Whitney grew up with no need to worry about it and judging by Asher’s constant state of anxiety about it, he’s most likely used to not having it. Something’s lining up with his former employment and how hard he doubles down and keeps hitting in situations that could easily sink the entire city… but so far, I’m only getting intimations of what fireworks may be in store.
If the two pompous poltroons want to see any tangible results, they gotta get their beautifully manicured hands dirty by being just fucking good people, but Benny and Nathan have done a great job of reminding them they’ve nothing to warrant or legitimize their presence in Española. One such reality check comes in the form of Cara Durand (Nizhonniya Luxi Austin). Able to see through Whitney’s bullshit, her being called on only has the artist passive-aggressively calling out her fraudulent friend.
The Siegels are not welcome and I’m not mad at the show for knocking the deluded duo down a peg here and there; it’s when their truest selves show. I’m also not mad at Cara and Dougie for potentially having chemistry. Their alliance could add some explosive moments to the pretty decent trash fire currently underway.
Whitney just becomes further unglued when she sees the opportunity to use people on the street as “avatars” (re: tokens) for her houses as if this were an effing Sims game. The dialogue hits so real because it rawly encapsulates her: the candy-coated outside belying the evil within. I would assuredly earmark this as an eye-opening moment.
To be fair, had I any doubt of it being so, the scene gives the audience a glaring clue to the show’s conspiratorial tone in the way it’s being presented. It’s the first time we see someone not affiliated with the show in the direct shot and the first time a person breaks the fourth wall by acknowledging the camera. I’m sure naysayers would deride this as just another ‘arthouse’ moment A24 fans can collectively nut to, but to me, it’s an inspired decision. The thing is, even though it’s detail kind of hard to miss, it’s just a taste. The inscrutability of the show hasn’t waned for me, especially with Asher and Whitney becoming more apparent, so why not just let it ride?
Asher for some reason didn’t feel as weighty in this episode, but his lying then yelling at Dennis and Lucinda, going behind his wife’s back and against her wishes for a sale, and mistaking her comment for a self-deprecating joke gave me new insights. Nathan does a great job of exemplifying someone with a total lack of regard for himself, or the only person in the world he wants to please. He also made me believe that he’s genuinely trying to wipe out some karmic debt with Questa Lane.
The dude’s far from exceptional, but at least he doesn’t have as much of a god complex as Whitney does. This temerity is deliciously checked when she must compromise when Asher nabs a buyer in Mark Rose (Dean Cain), someone whose surface ideals her branding doesn’t align with. Whitney takes this as a crushing blow rather than a chance to grow and therein lies the magic of these two titans of tantrums.
They operate with the grace of a bike with a flat. Even their wins are losses because they’re not united. Still, despite some untoward moments of theirs, I’m pushing for reformation, for recovery. That latter is a theme I’m beginning to notice in Asher. Comedically, recovery is an Achilles’ heel but let me find out it extends out into former addiction as well. It would bring even more grit to the character.
At first, I wasn’t completely blown away by this episode. However, as of this writing, I believe the 53 minutes and change did what it set out to do in introducing new problems that determine which way the wind will blow for the remainder of the season while giving us some vague answers through choice camera shots. These elements make it enough of a high-wire act for any director, but Nathan Fielder made sure these elements made it to the finish in what, pacing-wise, felt more like a slurry than a storm. Sure, if you know and love Fielder’s idiosyncratic brand of humor, the sentiment isn’t one of derision but more of observation. I would say for a mid-season episode, the alchemic talent it takes to mix the cantankerously contentious Whit, the hilariously thirsty fill-in Pascal (Alexander Gibson), and the leaden atmosphere of Mark’s arrival isn’t going unnoticed. Sure, the pacing seemed slightly soporific, but it was far from static. I just hope we’ve not seen the last of Mark Rose, as the albatross around Whitney’s neck was set up as too much of a fucking snack not to have been dreamt up by some ancient god of mischief.
Lastly, the closing shot of the malevolent married couple, worlds apart, snuggled under Cara’s violent artwork assuredly lets me know that everything’s far from copacetic, so the show surely delivers on hitting that last beat so right.