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‘The Curse’ Season 1, Episode 2 Recap: Alone Together

There are multiple moments in the second episode of “The Curse” when the camera lingers on the desperation behind a character’s eyes. While last week’s premiere established that these people are often despicable, the follow up plunges deeper into their loneliness and sadness.

The most striking example comes when Dougie is out with a woman at a Chinese restaurant. Dougie has so far been presented as a smooth operator, a kind of central-casting jerk. He is almost a parody of a reality TV show producer, with his hunger for conflict and propensity for massaging reality to suit his purposes.

But eating opposite this woman, another facet of his persona emerges. We arrive in media res, and it takes a beat to understand that Dougie is talking about breathalyzer tests and blood alcohol levels. Slowly it becomes clear he was involved in a horrific crash, and while he says he bears no responsibility for it — he just happened to be intoxicated over the legal limit — he obviously feels guilt. Then comes the gruesome reveal: His wife was killed in the accident.

Dougie is cast in a new light, his brashness now tinged with sorrow. It’s grimly funny when he offers to drive his date home — she is reluctant, naturally — but then there’s a deadness to his gaze as he stares at the road ahead of him. His invitation seemed to imply he had learned nothing from his previous crash, a realization that has just seemed to dawn on him. When he administers a breathalyzer on himself and realizes he’s, once again, drunk behind the wheel, he pulls over and suggests they walk the mile home. He tries to spin the situation, saying he likes to walk in a new city, but it’s a tragic stroll.

It is hard to see Dougie the same after this sequence. He has no one in the world, a detail which becomes even clearer when Asher finds him at the Whistling River casino playing blackjack. Asher is surprised he is still in town — there’s nothing for him to do while they wait for the network’s response. But Dougie has nowhere else to go.

Whitney may have Asher and people she thinks are friends, but she is just as isolated. And as with Dougie, that’s at least partly her own fault. Emma Stone plays Whitney as a woman so anxious to make a good impression, she’s oblivious to how off-putting she is. She brags about her friendship with the Native artist Cara Durand (Nizhonniya Luxi Austin) to James Toledo (Gary Farmer), governor of the San Pedro Pueblo, as a way to demonstrate her Indigenous ally credibility. But when we see her actually with Cara, it is clear the fondness is one-sided.

Cara sees through Whitney’s generosity. She takes advantage of Whitney and Asher’s offer to buy her multiple meals at dinner, but it is patronizing nonetheless. Whitney is yet another white person trying to prove how sensitive she is by taking interest in a Native person and her art. And while there may be a genuineness to Whitney’s outreach — she does actually want to be educated on these subjects — she also really wants to put Cara’s name on her HGTV series.

You get the sense during Cara’s screaming installation that she is intentionally messing with all the good white people like Whitney. Whitney is unnerved by the performance — she’s not sure if she experienced it correctly, and she spirals.

Whitney later sidles up to Cara and a group of other women, smiling and nodding along, itching to participate but with nothing to say. It’s the itch that comes from wanting a pat on the head from people you think are smarter and cooler than you. Whitney wants to be considered an artist, too, but Cara doesn’t think of her as a peer. Instead Whitney is a poser, deleting Instagram comments accusing her of ripping off the artist Doug Aitken with her mirror houses.

Asher, on the other hand, has become a thief. There’s a slapstick quality to his scheme to steal information off a casino computer to give to the reporter. It involves tricking and betraying his friend and former colleague Bill (David DeLao), at one point even pouring Gatorade all over him.

There’s an unnerving parallel between Asher and Whitney’s adventures. As Whitney does all she can to ingratiate herself toward the Native American community, Asher is literally stealing from it. Despite their drastically different tactics, both are working toward the same goals: Making themselves look and feel better and increasing their chances for HGTV success.

In this way they are a team, though in others they are distant from one another. You can see the cracks in their union after Cara abruptly leaves the restaurant. Whitney first chastises Asher for clumsily asking Cara to be a consultant on their show and then slips into tears, revealing that she is emotional because she is pregnant.

Asher is overjoyed, but then his joy turns into rationalization as he wonders why she waited a day to tell him. He reassures himself: “It was so much for you. You wanted to wait. You wanted to wait to tell me, right?”

But soon the idea of this baby slips away: The pregnancy was not viable. Asher and Whitney sit in the car as the episode draws to a close, her musing on a new type of house facade — an effort to evade the plagiarism accusations — and him focused on when they are going to try to conceive again, even downloading an app to track her cycles.

“You know you can tell me anything, right?” he asks. “Of course,” she replies, but there is an emptiness in her eyes. They are in this together, but they are each also utterly alone.

  • Austin, who plays Cara, is an actual artist based in Santa Fe, just as Tessa Mentus, who plays Monica, is an actual newscaster. Nathan Fielder can’t help but blend fiction and reality at least a little.

  • These characters are frequently framed to make it seem as if we’re spying on them from behind an obstruction. It makes us, the viewers, feel like intruders, just as they are intruders in Española.

  • While “the curse” itself isn’t mentioned in this episode, are we supposed to believe Whitney’s conception troubles are a result of it? Perhaps, but I appreciate that it is left deliberately vague.

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