This story contains major spoilers for the tenth episode of The Curse.
To say whether The Curse stuck the landing on its debut season seems almost irrelevant, considering where things have ended up. Last week’s conclusion of its 10-episode run suggests that all along, co-creators Nathan Fielder, Benny Safdie and their indispensable co-conspirator Emma Stone were not interested in arriving somewhere grounded and resolute so much as blasting themselves out of a cannon and seeing how far out of bounds they could go. Pretty out there, it turns out. The Fielder-directed finale, “Green Queen,” decisively dislodges the show from reality and slingshots it to a rarified corner of television; already it has drawn lofty comparisons to Twin Peaks: The Return for its plunge into surrealism and metaphysics. David Lynch’s 18-hour avant-garde opus may not be an entirely apt bar, but The Curse is certainly audacious, original, and unsettling in ways few series seem equipped for (even fewer since the recent endings of shows like Atlanta, Barry, and Reservation Dogs, all of which explored various themes of The Curse with comparably daring formal approaches), and it represents a towering career zenith for each of its three key players.
For better and for worse, The Curse ultimately bucked all expectations. What initially seemed like it might be a slow-burning horror story about whiteness and gentrification eventually sidelined those themes (and unfortunately, the supporting Black and Native characters’ storylines) to foreground the marital and moral peril of the Siegels, culminating in a supernatural parable on the eternal. The finale jumps nine months ahead of where Episode 9 left off: Asher and Whitney have wrapped the first season of their HGTV show (renamed from Fliplanthropy to Green Queen), which judging from their flatlined reception on Rachael Ray Show, hasn’t made the splash they hoped. Whitney is on the verge of giving birth, and the couple is nesting: they decide to install air conditioning in their passive home, on the condition that they can hide the thermostat. Cara’s (Nizhonniya Austin) storyline is resolved off-camera and parsed through a few expository lines of dialogue about her leaving the art world.
There’s no mention of the titular curse on Asher that set things into motion in Episode 1, nor any other threats that had been insistently looming over the Siegels throughout the season, such as Whitney’s shady family history or her disgruntled and armed former employee Fernando (Christopher D. Calderon). The Siegels button up their ordeal with Abshir (Barkhad Abdi) and his family by agreeing—at Asher’s suggestion, with veiled reluctance from Whitney—to gift him the deed to the Questa Lane house they’ve been renting to him, no strings attached. As ever, they thirst for a reaction that will flatter their saintly self-image when they show up to deliver the news to Abshir, but his unaffected, pragmatic acceptance disallows them the gratification. For the first 27 minutes of the episode, it appears things have panned out successfully (but unsatisfyingly) for the Siegels. The next day, they are challenged by forces far greater than property taxes or Rachael Ray: when Asher wakes up stuck on the ceiling of their passive home, wedged between the rafters as if by reverse gravity, their story suddenly swells to a cosmological scale.
The subsequent half-hour is an eye-widening feat of performance and filmmaking that evokes magical realism and comparative religion, and is the most ballsy and bizarre televisual exploit since Fielder’s last undertaking, 2022’s The Rehearsal. Asher, terrified, maneuvers his way out of the house, only to find the problem persists, and that he’s in even more danger without a ceiling to prevent him from hurtling up through the stratosphere—which is exactly what happens when a well-meaning first responder cuts the tree limb he’s clinging to. At the very same moment that Whitney gives birth to their son at the hospital, Asher dies in the vacuum of space. The image of Asher floating gently above the earth in a fetal position, replicating the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey, makes an obvious connection to the newborn infant whose life has begun as Asher’s has ended. (“There’s a little me inside you,” Asher says to Whit before they go to sleep that night. See also: Asher is extracted from the house, headfirst, by Whitney’s doula.)
Reincarnation is predominantly associated with Eastern religions, but the concept of rebirth also exists within many Native American cosmologies as well as certain sects of Judaism. All three bear significance in The Curse: the show is set in proximity to Native communities of the Southwest, while its protagonists (and co-creators Safdie and Fielder themselves) are Jewish, and the season also indirectly references Hinduism by incorporating devotional songs from Alice Coltrane’s Turiya Sings, including the finale-closing “Jai Ramachandra”. These belief systems share congruous notions about the afterlife, particularly the idea of a spiritual continuum; the idea that death is not a cessation, but a continuation of life. Many Native cultures, including Puebloan tribes, don’t recognize a place of eternal spiritual punishment (i.e. the Christian concept of hell), nor does Jewish tradition; instead, there is an orientation toward leading a noble and harmonious life on earth. In Kabbalistic tradition, the doctrine of mitzvot—the sacred duties one is expected to fulfill as a Jew—is underpinned by the notion that if one doesn’t manage to fulfill their responsibilities in one lifetime, they will continually return until they do.
While the Siegels are fixing up Abshir’s house earlier in the season, Whitney remarks to Asher that they’re doing a “mishegoss,” she says, mistakenly using a Yiddish word that signifies senselessness. “You mean mitzvah,” Ash corrects her. Her misfire, of course, is ultimately more accurate. The mitzvah of showing compassion and righteousness to those in need—tzedakah, which also means “justice”—is one they fumble at every opportunity, as their vain obsession with being perceived as altruistic prevents them from ever genuinely performing a selfless act. For Asher to be reborn to Whitney as an infant would mean, among other things, another lifetime of opportunities for them to make more principled choices—or perhaps another lifetime of suffering the same moral plague. Benny Safdie’s Dougie, meanwhile, ends up weeping on the ground, lamenting the choices he’s made.
Notably, this is not the first of Fielder’s projects to conclude with a skyward ascent. In the final shot of “Finding Frances,” the feature-length series finale of Nathan For You, the camera pulls back—mounted on a drone, it soars up and away—revealing a God’s-eye view of Fielder’s documentary crew in formation around him and his subject. The closing shot of “Green Queen” feels decidedly similar, but in this case the implied conceit is a cosmic one; a gesture towards a karmic structure. A parallel image incidentally unfolds in the closing shot of the Safdie Brothers’ Uncut Gems (which, like The Curse, also centers on an ethically-impaired Jewish man who traffics in superstition) after a character dies—the camera moves from an omniscient overhead view and slowly pushes in for an impossible closeup inside of the body, swirling and abstracting until it morphs into an infinite, starry galaxy. The synchronicity of such profoundly cosmological images is hard to ignore.
The spiritual fate of the Siegels is open to interpretation. Is eternity an opportunity, or a punishment? It depends. Marion Woodman writes about rebirth in The Pregnant Virgin: A Process of Psychological Transformation:
“Many people are being dragged toward wholeness in their daily lives [but] they cannot make sense of what is happening to them. They are being presented with the possibility of rebirth into a different life. Through failures, symptoms, inferiority feelings and overwhelming problems, they are being prodded to renounce life attachments that have become redundant… But because they do not understand, people cling to the familiar, refuse to make the necessary sacrifices, resist their own growth. Unable to give up their habitual lives, they are unable to receive new life… Without an understanding of myth or religion, without an understanding of the relationship between destruction and creation, death and rebirth, the individual suffers the mysteries of life as meaningless mayhem—alone.”
For some, to be reborn connotes a blessing, but for others—those impounded by cheap insecurities like Whitney’s and Asher’s, maybe—a curse.
Originally Appeared on GQ