Hey so I wrote a little thing about The Curse but I must warn you that it's full of spoilers and whatnot so that's your warning.
First off, plugging some stuff that I'm involved with:
My friends and I over at Power Goth Recordings did a little work to release the new album by Flesh Tape. I love this record and I'm sure you will, too. The RIYL that I've given everyone at this point is Archers of Loaf, Hotline TNT, and Sonic Youth, but people I trust compare it to a lot of other Merge/Sub Pop-adjacent music of the '90s. Anyway they're calling it The First Great Record of 2024. Start your year off right, listen to Flesh Tape
Secondly, I'm DJing at Hi-Dive on Saturday night before and between bands. It's $12 before the show, $15 day of. Doors are at 8, don't be too late. The playlist is looking like fun, danceable rock and/or roll. New/old, I don't care. Bangers only. Come buy drinks and listen to good bands. The Club Is Open.
FINALLY: Last week, Luke O'Neil from the illustrious WELCOME TO HELL WORLD reached out and asked if I'd like to share my five favorite Jason Molina songs, and when Luke asks you to do that, you do it. I had no idea I'd be among such great company. A lot of people found this blog/newsletter through a piece I wrote about Jason Molina and sobriety last year, so I assume those same people would want to read what a bunch of incredible writers have to say about Molina as well. You can read that here:
Anyway, let's talk The Curse. If you didn't watch it, this is your final warning that there are spoilers ahead. Cherry Tomato Boys, let's ride.
When I watched it last week, I thought it would be impossible for me to explain the finale of The Curse. Paramount/Showtime/A24’s new Emma Stone/Nathan Fielder/Benny Safdie project combines the worlds of high-budget filmmaking, reality television, and indie artistry into one wild ride of a show, and the finale was the wildest and most unexpected part of all of it. For weeks, I heard critics with advance screeners say things like, “You won’t guess where this is going,” or some variation of it.
And they’re right. There’s absolutely no way I could’ve guessed it. Nobody could, and the fact that people are accepting it as a thing they could not explain and aren’t looking to explain, that’s a beautiful thing. That’s a ray of light in a bleak world where imagination in media is less and less creative, where the average person may have exposure to the CinemaSins mentality or some other snark. The Curse exposes the audience to contemporary fantasy without making it clear that it’s fantasy through a wink through the fourth wall, either in an act of faith in its audience or an understanding that the people who wouldn’t accept it turned the show off six episodes ago.
In A Serious Man, the Coen brothers’ 2009 masterpiece about a man whose life falls apart, the father of a student asks teacher and main character Larry Gopnik to “Accept the mystery.” The movie ends with a tornado barreling towards its characters. There’s no segue, there’s no Chekovian mention of a tornado in the first 15 minutes, it just happens. What happens after that? The screen goes black. The credits roll. “Accept the mystery.”
The earth has been around for 4.543 billion years. You and I live in the time of Explainers, the answer to millions of search engine queries. The high count of pageviews or impressions, marketing analytics that provide numbers to an agency so they can bill customers at a higher price, is driven by people. We see things and we ask the all-knowing internet what it means before we ask what it means to us. Search for a new movie and the first suggested results will include “(X) ending explained,” sometimes even before showtimes.
The end of The Curse isn’t ambiguous, it’s pretty clear-cut. Asher was plucked from the earth and his frozen body is now in space. He died. Whitney had her baby. Dougie mourns the loss of his friend, blaming himself not only for not listening, but for cursing Asher at the end of e8. Nobody else seems to be all too shaken up about it. Onlookers think it’s all for TV because Asher and Whitney filmed the rest of their show in town, and all of the weirdness around Española can be attributed to the TV show. Why wouldn’t this be another TV thing?
In the final episode of The Curse, nothing has gone according to plan. Whitney and Asher can only watch as Rachael Ray and Vincent Pastore flirt with each other over meatballs and pay no mind to the guests calling in remotely from their passive house in Española. Ray asks cynical questions to Whitney about the home, the way the prospective buyers in E5 did. Whitney and Asher cannot replace Ray with a fake buyer as they once did, so they sit stumped. Whitney suggests a shower timer to save water and energy, which Ray concedes that she “Might be down with.” Ray thanks Whitney and Asher and calls them “The Green Queens,” embarrassing them by not getting the name right and emasculating Asher in the process. Ray and Pastore go back to the meatballs and joke about cheating on their spouses with each other, but the camera doesn’t cut off from Whitney and Asher. They don’t say their goodbyes. They’re staring at the action as they’re boxed out from the attention.
It’s the most uncomfortable part in the series, if I had to pick one. The show hints at Asher’s cuckold fantasies from E1 to E9, where they’re spelled out in full, but when you’re sitting in the corner in front of everyone on national television, it’s no longer a fantasy. Cuckoldry (at least “cuck”) is common-place in vulgarity today, somewhat surprisingly. Often metaphorical, to be in the chair is to watch as others uhhh get along with each other famously, I’ll say. You may be in the corner watching, but the fantasy gives you power as the person in the chair. You’re into it. You’ve consented to the action.
The Curse often warps the distinct line between fantasy and reality, consent and non-consent, who’s in the chair and who’s in the bed. Waivers are signed by real people to appear on the show and then their reality is distorted when it doesn’t fit the reality the production team wants to portray. In a power play, Whitney hands her credit card to the girl working at the jeans store and says, “Use my card for any items that are stolen, do not call the cops.” Whitney’s liberal fantasy is that whenever someone steals a pair of jeans, it will happen infrequently. The reality is that she ends up with a balance of $14,000 on her card in a matter of days. This fantasy is further shattered when Asher decides to give Abshir the home that Abshir and the girls live in, to keep. As Whitney presents the new homeowner with beautiful pottery made by indigenous artists, the way that Asher does on The Green Queen, the two are shocked that Abshir isn’t reacting. He wants to know if they’ll pay the property taxes for the rest of the year. He asks if he can keep the money if he should sell the house. Abshir does not jump up and down. There are no tears of joy. Dougie isn’t there to blow menthol in his eyes.
On the topic of Dougie, for most of the show, he flirts with Whitney and his direction makes Asher out to be a guy who is floating around as his wife builds homes and stars in hit television series. In E6, while shooting at a firehouse, Dougie asks the firefighters to flirt with Whitney in front of Asher. The firefighter Dougie wants to do the most flirting is married, but Dougie pressures him until the guy gives in. While filming an interview in E8, Dougie takes his directorial power to a new level and corners Asher, in front of the entire crew, to air out Asher’s cuckold fantasies. But if Dougie is aware of Asher’s fantasies, has Dougie’s intention this entire time to be to embarrass Asher so that Asher can live out his dreams? Is Dougie a good friend?
Wanting to live in a fantasy isn’t necessarily a bad thing, which is something that The Curse emphasizes a few times. Passive homes are real but getting everyone to live in a passive house is a pipe dream. Getting a tv show made about your life is a tough goal but it’s not impossible. We live and labor and we love inside fantasies. We tell ourselves stories in order to live, as Didion said, and we dream about things not bound by the harsh reality of the world because if we didn’t, what use is our imagination?
In the 19th century, Eastern European Jews faced extreme poverty at the hands of several factors, leaving 40% of their population unemployed. The unemployed men who seemed to mill about with no purpose were called Luftmenschen. The literal translation of that Yiddish? Floating men. Today, that word is used to describe someone who is an idealist, who has their head in the clouds. The Luftmensch is a man who lives in a fantasy.
In A Serious Man (2009), Larry Gopnik, fraught by the death of the man that his wife is leaving him for, seeks religious advice. The rabbi, in response, tells him the story of a local dentist who discovers the words “Help. Save me.” carved into a patient’s teeth. The carving is in perfect Hebrew. The patient is not Jewish. It keeps the dentist up at night for days. The dentist asks the rabbi what it means and the rabbi says, “The teeth? We don’t know. A sign from Hashem? Don’t know. Helping others? Couldn’t hurt.”
When The Curse ends, nothing is solved. The problems still remain. Asher is banished to the chair while staring down at the world. Why did this happen to him? Not sure. Sometimes bad stuff happens to people. Was this Dougie’s curse from the end of E8? Was this the manifestation of Asher’s “if I ever felt like you wanted me to go away, I’d go” speech? No idea.
There’s no explanation that would do The Curse justice. I can tell you what happened, but I can’t tell you why. There’s a sudden fantastic break in reality that changes everything and nothing. The show was always fictional, but it seemed real. It could have been real. It wasn’t, but we could believe its premise and its events because up until the last 40 minutes of the series, there’s nothing to suggest otherwise. The truth is that reality tends to hit us when we least expect it and this finale warps that by slapping us with fantasy when we least expect it. I can't explain this ending, neither can you, and that's what makes it so good.
Thanks for reading. Regularly scheduled programming resumes on Friday.