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Photo: HBO / Additional design: Tina Tiller
Photo: HBO / Additional design: Tina Tiller

Pop CultureJanuary 26, 2024

Is this the most batshit finale in television history? 

Photo: HBO / Additional design: Tina Tiller
Photo: HBO / Additional design: Tina Tiller

In one hundred million years, no one could have predicted the ending of The Curse, writes Alex Casey. But what did it meeean?

Spoiler warning: the following story contain mega, major, enormous, unparalleled, truly unbelievable spoilers for The Curse. You have been warned. 

It’s 26 minutes and 45 seconds into the finale of The Curse where the series goes entirely topsy turvy. Actually, that sounds too cute, too much like a nursery rhyme. It’s 26 minutes and 45 seconds into the finale of The Curse where the series gleefully shreds the entire fabric of its own universe. It’s 26 minutes and 45 seconds into the finale of The Curse where the series proudly jumps the shark and, quite literally, yeets itself into another stratosphere.

Final spoiler warning: if you have any interest in watching The Curse at all, close this tab now. What we wouldn’t give to go back and watch it again without knowing what was about to happen. 

To use boring old words to capture the jaw-dropping turn of events honestly feels like trying to knit with jelly, but allow me to try and recap. The sequence begins with a heavily pregnant Whitney Siegel (Emma Stone) waking to her alarm. So far, so normal, until the camera pans up to reveal that her husband Asher (Nathan Fielder) is asleep on the ceiling. “Why are you up there?” murmurs Whitney, both her and the audience wondering if we are in a dream sequence. 

For the next half hour, that dream proves to be a living nightmare that wouldn’t, as one colleague put it, appear out of place in a Paul Jennings book. A terrified Asher scrambles across the ceiling as if from the Evil Dead franchise, every attempt to get himself down thwarted by an unseen force causing him to “fall up”. Whitney, naturally stressed, goes into labour as Asher finally makes it outside, only for the force to pull him further upward into a nearby tree. 

Is it a bird, is it a plane? No, it’s Nathan Fielder (Photo: Supplied)

As Whitney leaves her airborne husband to go to the hospital, the fire department arrives, along with his hapless associate Dougie, to try and get him down from the tree. “I cant, I will fly away,” Asher shrieks. “I feel like gravity is like pulling me upwards.” Dougie and the firefighters think he’s just having some kind of extreme panic attack at the prospect of becoming a father. Eventually, the fire department chainsaws the tree branch he is wrapped around.

Everyone, apart from the audience, is shocked as the branch plummets to the ground and Asher hurtles into the sky. 

The episode ends with Whitney having an emergency C-section. Their newborn baby is yanked, feet first, into our world, while Asher is being yanked, feet first, out of it. As the baby lets out his first cry, his father is seen silent, frozen and floating, in the outer reaches of space. 

For the nine episodes prior, The Curse had contained endless horrors, but nothing like this. Written and created by Nathan Fielder (Nathan For You, The Rehearsal) and Benny Safdie (Uncut Gems, Good Time) the excruciating series had followed the unbearable do-gooding couple Whitney and Asher as they worked to “transform” the low socioeconomic town of Española into an eco-haven filled with their horrible mirrored “passive homes” for a crappy HGTV reality show. 

Their awful mirrored homes are just the start of the ugly reflections contained within The Curse. Confronting everything from the trauma of colonisation, to performative white activism, to the uneasy dynamics of the art world, to capitalism in the climate crisis, to the artifice of making television itself, it is a dense and often uncomfortable journey. And, in the days that have followed the finale, the entire internet is in ribbons trying to figure out how and why the hell that journey ended the way it did. 

One of the most simple and obvious theories is that this was all the work of the titular curse. In episode one, Asher has a curse put on him by a young girl selling drinks in a carpark after he tries to go backsies on the $100 bill he gave her on-camera. She later says it’s just a TikTok thing, and only wished to ruin his dinner, but the stink of bad luck throughout the season suggested the curse might have been slightly more powerful. Powerful enough to launch a man to space? Perhaps. 

Another theory is that Asher’s ejection is emblematic of the couple’s disintegrating relationship. In the episode prior, after watching a particularly brutal cut of their reality show, in which Whitney repeatedly admonishes him in her interviews, Asher made an impassioned promise to his wife about what he would do if she didn’t want him anymore. “I’d be gone, and you wouldn’t have to say it,” he says, beet red and on the cusp of tears, “I would feel it, and I would disappear.” 

Asher and Whitney smile for the cameras (Photo: Supplied)

So Asher could have cursed himself in that moment, but other theories suggest the finale could also be about his reincarnation as… the baby. Asher was infantilised throughout the series, whether it was more obliquely in his everyday incompetence, or when he quite literally said aloud “Wah! Wah! Baby cry cry. Nappy nappy time.” This piece has a great close reading of all the other symbols of reincarnation, from the towel umbilical cord to the upside-down keyring. 

But, after thinking about this episode every day for a week in the shower, my favourite working theory is that the bonkers finale is actually about the curse of making television itself. Fielder in particular has long been obsessed with the construction of television, from his faux business makeover show Nathan For You to the Kaufmanesque meta mindfuck The Rehearsal, and all season long The Curse has been showing us how truly devious the medium is. 

Whether it was in the camera lingering behind fences, gates and doorways, the ever-present mic packs on the talent, or the constant back-and-forth with “the network” about the show within the show, The Curse is as much about television as it is anything else. The finale even opens with a pitch perfect simulacrum of Rachael Ray, where Whitney and Asher bomb their promotional appearance following a meatball-hawking Vincent Pastore from The Sopranos (aka peak TV). 

The Curse, a television show about television (Photo: Supplied)

Even when Asher is left clinging to a branch for his life, Dougie sends up a drone and insists a firefighter put a mic pack on him, in case they need the footage for the show. “This better not be some stunt for your TV show,” the fireman mutters. Later, after a group of bemused residents have just witnessed a man hurtle skyward towards his imminent death, one of them points out “that’s the guy from HGTV”. “So it’s for TV?” another replies. “I think so,” he shrugs back. 

Some critics have seen it as a massive cop-out, but for a TV show so complex, so strange, so utterly galaxy brained, maybe the only logical way to end it was to travel beyond the galaxy itself. The night before his presumed death, Asher stumbled his way through a sentiment about Mel Brooks, The Producers and the holocaust. “Art is about, um, really art is about, um, I mean… sometimes you have to go to extreme lengths to make your point, is what I’m saying.” 

The poor guy just didn’t know quite how extreme those lengths would be. 

The full season of The Curse is available to stream now on Neon

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