Season 1, Episode 6: ‘The Fires Burn On’
The final line of this week’s episode of “The Curse” finds Asher saying, “I’m fine, don’t worry about me.” But I am starting to worry about him. It’s not quite sympathy — Asher hasn’t done enough to deserve that. Maybe it’s something more akin to concern. After all, as he says it, his left hand is dripping with blood. It’s his own fault. He filled his palm with nails to test whether Nala has some sort of psychic powers. This is a sign of a man losing his grip with reality.
And there is another reason to feel worried for Asher: Whitney and Dougie have teamed up behind his back. Whitney’s hostility toward Dougie finally eases when she discovers that she needs him to make her show more interesting. And Dougie’s idea for making “Fliplanthropy” into something less utterly boring? Humiliate Asher on television.
From the very first episode of “The Curse,” Dougie and Whitney have had conflicting ideas about what “Fliplanthropy” should be. Whitney sees it as a brand building exercise, a chance to show how good she is, a way of assuaging her guilt over her slumlord parents’ financial support. But that doesn’t make for entertaining television. Dougie, he of the burn victim dating show, understands that.
In the first couple of moments of this week’s installment, we see what the Whitney version of “Fliplanthropy” looks like. It is incredibly dull. The term “like watching paint dry” has never been more apt: Literally, the show features a whole segment in which there’s a discussion of paint drying. Whitney finally realizes, “something feels off,” an almost painfully obvious revelation.
Dougie proposes a solution. He knows she doesn’t want to create drama around Española itself, which means they can’t discuss any of the crime or racial tension in the community. But there is a ready source of drama staring them right in the face: Whitney and Asher. Of course their marital strife is evident onscreen — in one shot, you can see her rolling her eyes at him because he has his phone in his hand while giving a gift of pottery. Why not highlight that and make their conflict the driving force of the show?
Dougie sells this to Whitney as a way to make herself more appealing, as well as a way to make the series entertaining. If the audience believes she is telling them the truth about her relationship with Asher, then they will believe she is telling them the truth about everything else. Whitney is into this plan, and she doesn’t really stop to consider the potential damage to her already fragile marriage. She even has a new idea for the title of the show: “Green Queen.” If that title refers to her, what does that make Asher? Dougie suggests: “the village idiot.” Whitney laughs. It’s so mean.
No one runs this plan by Asher as what is still known as “Fliplanthropy” continues to film at a local Española firehouse. Whitney flirts shamelessly with the firemen to make Asher jealous, but any potential for a blowup over that indiscretion goes away once Asher makes a mysterious discovery in the bathroom. After peeing — yes, once again we see a shot of his small penis — Asher finds a pile of cooked chicken on the sink, holding it up to his nose to confirm that it is indeed poultry.
He accuses Dougie of putting it there to mess with him, an accusation Dougie denies, and then goes on a crusade to find the culprit. He interrogates the firemen, trying to discern if they had any chicken in their meals recently. (They didn’t.) Then he convinces one of them to let him go through security footage. He is so preoccupied with this that he has no idea that Whitney and Dougie are conspiring to make him look like a fool on HGTV. His absent-minded stare during filming fits perfectly within the story they are creating. It doesn’t matter that he is thinking about chicken instead of Whitney.
Without a clear answer as to where that chicken came from, Asher once again suspects that Nala might be behind it. So, while doing work on her house, he starts quizzing her in an effort to determine whether she has metaphysical powers. He does this at first by hiding nails under a bucket and asking her to guess how many there are. She is puzzled by his game, but she answers nonchalantly — and correctly, three times. Clearly unnerved and tense, Asher grabs a fistful of nails and asks her to guess again. But she is too upset to guess when she sees the blood running out of his palm.
At under 40 minutes, this week’s episode is the shortest of the season yet, and it does feel more transitional than the rest. The plot moves along quickly. Even though it’s still deeply uncomfortable, it seems to linger less in each setup so as to get us faster to the episode’s unnervingly bloody end.
The show seems to be entering a new phase with this Whitney and Dougie alliance, one in which Asher will grow more and more isolated. Already, he has no one. His own wife is actively undermining him with his supposed childhood pal. He even can’t reach out to his old casino friend Bill, who ignores him in the hardware store. All he has is himself and his spinning mind, trying to figure out whether something supernatural is happening to him or it’s just a prank. Asher is often awful and off-putting, and yet, I pity him, and yes, I am worried.
Notes from Española
I’m really intrigued by the interlude featuring Abshir and the chiropractor, though I’m not sure what to fully make of it. The scene may be one of the most upsetting in “The Curse” so far, and that’s saying a lot. There’s a look of terror on Abshir’s face as his body is stretched and his bones are loudly cracked. This is supposed to be curing him of his pain, but evidently it is a deeply painful experience, and the scene is filmed in a particularly violent way. I can’t get it out of my head, especially the way it appears almost without context.
Once again, I’m left wanting more of this budding Cara-Dougie relationship, even if he won’t actually date her because she smokes. (He doesn’t want another wife dying on him.) It’s making Whitney extremely jealous.