The tertiary episode of The Curse (Showtime/A24) titled “Questa Lane” comes in hot with Asher (Nathan Fielder) at an auction to bid for a lot, Questa Lane. For a piece of land that doesn’t even have water rights, outbids a few at $62,500 for the win. It’s very telling and chilling that the only people in the room are old and white. Whitney (Emma Stone) adds to the discomfort when she reveals that her hubby went over their limit by over 20 stacks. I think it’s a perfect setup because nothing seems like it’s done without purpose, so this just feels like a figurative rattlesnake lurking, waiting to strike. It also gave me pause. Is Asher a former gambling addict? Is that why he knows what drives one and how to capitalize on it? It feels slimy, but it’s making sense to me.
The couple watching the result of a focus group at the request of Dougie (Benny Safdie) immediately becomes uncomfortable. The scene preys on all of our insecurities when actual criticism comes into the picture. Nobody likes Asher. They find him dryer than the plot of land he just purchased and not easy on the eyes. More of the group skirt the likability of Whitney to dunk on Asher and the couple’s mission statement. Even with them praising Whitney (save for one member on the inefficiency of her houses), this had me squirming and the married couple trying to justify themselves to… themselves just makes it harder to watch.
We actually find Nala (Hikmah Warsame), the black girl that Asher denied the hundred dollars, in school, upset due to a class pet dying. The ostracization is succinctly felt and her bad day gets worse when later, Asher shows up, frightening both her and her sister Hani (Dahabo Ahmed). Gee, Ash, you don’t think knocking on their door like the fucking cops and drilling out their deadbolt wasn’t enough of a hint to beat it? Nope. The dude’s only objective is to cleanse himself karmically with a simple, uninspired act. Goddamn rat (with all due apologies to the rodent community).
The inevitable police being involved ends up as predictable as I’d thought it would be, but this isn’t a bad thing. He’s white, the cop is white, and even with the officer’s audible disdain when Asher proves his innocence by identifying himself as one-half of the ‘mirror house’ couple, Asher’s still a white landowner. The family is considered squatting in the eyes of the law, but instead of kicking them out, Asher sees this as an inspired moment, only to take a patented steaming shit on it when bragging about it to his wife.
Though initially impressed with her Focus Group Sweetheart, good on Whitney for calling into question his previous story (ahem, lie) and for being more uneasy when he then doubles down on the tall tale. This is why you don’t fabricate to increase your self-worth and I adore that Whitney isn’t . Like Howard in Uncut Gems, his greatest strength and ultimate Achilles’ heel is his tunnel vision, fueled by deception. No wonder Whitney doesn’t let him inside of her.
His impudence is only compounded when he harangues the gynecologist about time frames for intercourse… not minutes after his own wife had the physical embodiment of hope inside of her. It’s wonderful symbolism. Asher’s becoming more and more the living embodiment of that ‘dead weight.’ Nathan Fielder plays a mayfly so fucking well when it comes to not giving a fuck about anybody but himself, I can easily say with aplomb, “fuck this guy.” The scene balances the scales nicely when she ignores Asher for the doctor’s story about his vacation, complete with a few laughs (which Asher wasn’t able to provide the focus group with).
Asher’s assholery doesn’t stop there, oh no. He blows off Dougie’s extended hand for friendship. Bearing witness to the rejection on Dougie’s end is just painful. To see somebody sob is never a comforting experience (unless you’re that person) and greasy as Dougie may be, he’s still a human being. The beat itself has a very voyeuristic tone to it, as, like with the focus group footage and Whitney’s doctor visit, we’re at times still viewing this through window panes or surreptitiously from above. Dougie’s breaking down doesn’t feel like something we should be in the presence of and I love it.
Things thankfully don’t let up when Whitney gets a hard dose of reality (TV) when Whitney sees that their paid sponsor Barrier Coffee only stayed open for the production, prompting her to fumble through an apology to Fernando for selling him a paper-thin dream. It beautifully mirrors what all these ‘feel good’ home makeover shows try very hard to keep behind the curtains. Sure, Fernando came from the prison system, but the wonderful land of Oz this ain’t.
They continue on to the home of Nala, Hani, and their father, Abshir (Barkhad Abdi). The way the couple is written is fabulous, Whitney especially. It does, however, take the deft nuance of Emma Stone to spin those words in the script into a stellar performance. Her character Whitney is so desperate for validation from those she’s trying to help that her nauseating assumptions of people who aren’t white actually come off at face value as harmless, though the implications are toxic. I’m still convinced that her curse may be white guilt and to harness the dichotomy of harming through helping is a goddamn skill that Emma holds in spades.
Asher, on the other hand, is a different kind of jackhammer in the family’s household. He calls to attention how much he’s doing for the family but keeps to a whisper only to his wife what he’s not willing to spend on the impoverished trio. Unfortunately for the family, Whitney’s not backing up her words in ink, heaven forbid either of them is actually all in on charity and kindness. That’s good though. As the audience, we want some change, but not all of it or else it’s a damn snooze-fest. Kudos to Nathan and Benny for keeping this so far very entertaining.
We also find out what Nala’s curse was. Inspired by a TikTok trend, the “tiny-curse” angle (which is just an inconsequential jinx) now gives the series an air of mystery and horror. Sure, it was just something to affect Asher’s dinner that night, but his hearing it was enough to instill the fear of god in him. The funny thing is that he’s still skeptical. He doesn’t want to believe that an unseen force higher than him can dispense justice. As much as I want you to be better, never change, Asher. For the benefit of this series, never change.
The episode doesn’t let up, even when the day winds down and it’s night in their lovely abode. Whitney and Asher end up in an explosive fight that all started with a stupid sweater Whitney’s having trouble getting off, though it’s not about to sweater to me but rather what it means to both of them. It’s a great visual metaphor for their relationship with him pulling and her resisting.
Once off, a tender and genuine moment of victory is shared between the two only to be cheapened by Whitney when she wants to replicate it for internet clout. At first, I was feeling a bit sick with the show slapping me back to reality in that whatever true companionship they have for one another has one foot out the door and they’d soon chop that leg off and stay miserable than do something about it.
They ostensibly aren’t on the same page for the staged video or even this ‘tiny curse’, ultimately resulting in scurrilous accusations towards Ash of bigotry, which sends the scene to the heights of cringe when it’s an all-out screaming match. The past is dug up (ew) and the airspace grows intoxicatingly noxious when his cries for validation from his “nasty” (sound familiar) are only met with years of bottled anger spilling out of her mouth, all of which are being recorded.
We end the episode with Fernando (Christopher D. Calderon) setting up a watch right in front of the closed Barrier Coffee shop with nothing but a chair and a rifle. The frame of his face, a face of hope and determination is very striking. My guy did say the freaks come out at night. I hope in the next episode we get to see yet another world of seediness when Española is bathed in moonlight.
If a 10-episode season is treated like a three-act structure, that would mean this would roughly be the start of the second act, which is where the meat is. We’ve seen the bubble, bubble. The cauldron’s been properly stirred in this episode. Hopefully, for the next five episodes, we’ll see some delicious toil and trouble.