Recap: The Curse (S1, Ep2) — Tense Second Episode Sheds More Light on Whitney’s Motivations
What's wrong with Whitney Siegel (Emma Stone)? Last week's outstanding premiere of The Curse focused more on her equally neurotic husband Asher (Nathan Fielder), but there's a fairly even split of screen time this time around. Whitney has been presented as a perpetually grinning image-soother to Asher's bumbling, insecure personality, but in "Pressure's Looking Good So Far," we see that she's just as self-conscious as her husband.
As the Siegels wait for Pueblo artist Cara Durand (Nizhonniya Austin) at a restaurant, Whitney occupies herself with their Instagram page and deletes any negative comments. There's a particular amount that compare the mirror-covered houses built for her HGTV show to artist Doug Aitken's Mirage. It's not an unfair comparison, but there's a difference when looking at Mirage's themes, something Whitney herself calls attention to. Mirage reflects nature, but Whitney's house rejects it—while she's waiting outside it, a bird slams into its reflective wall and dies, and it's apparently not the first. Mirage is devoid of superficial possessions and a narrative, and so this silently indicates the true purpose of both the house and Whitney—to be glitzy and false.
This facetiousness only grows when she and Asher go to Cara's gallery. In her first scene of the episode, she invites the governor of a nearby Pueblo community to the opening, where he voices distaste for the romanticization of "the idea of an Indian." Whitney asserts that Cara's work shares a similar sentiment while of course missing the point—both Cara and the governor are a quantity to her. The prideful beam on Whitney's face when he thanks her for her help says it all, and her desperation to "get" Cara's works at the gallery and explain them to others reinforces the approval she wants regarding her image.
Asher has a much sillier and more awkward plot this time around. He needs to get incriminating evidence on his former employer—a corrupt casino—to a reporter that will otherwise release an embarrassing interview, so he accomplishes this with a lot of Gatorade. The casino scenes in this episode are equally eerie and funny—the score and directing make it work, as the former is hypnotic and the latter is intrusive. Seeing Asher ramble about how he wants more credit for the ideas that enable gambling addicts certainly doesn't make him more likable.
Him springing Whitney's previously private pregnancy (more on that in a bit) on his friend to weasel his way into the office makes him even less so, and there's an odd lack of tension as he downloads the footage while waiting for the guy to come back. It's an anti-heist, if anything—executed via the most pathetic methods possible to save the ass of someone who isn't going to learn a thing when it's over.
Speaking of people who don't learn anything, we get more insight into the Siegels's producer Dougie (Benny Safdie), and maybe it would've been better if we didn't. Dougie's date is masterfully written and presented, and we open in the middle of a conversation where we slowly gain insight into how awful (and just a little pitiable) this man is. He goes on and on about how the one time he got in a car accident, he was just barely over the legal alcohol limit and he could've beaten the breathalyzer if he took it at the police station—and only near the end do we realize he's talking about the crash that killed his wife. "I already have no responsibility, you know?" he tells his date.
My only major complaint with "Pressure" is how it doesn't really progress the story or even the themes of the show until the very end. The premiere wasn't just funny and well directed, it told a story and established ideas that felt well-communicated. A lot of "Pressure" comes off as really fantastic filler, and while I was hoping for more to happen, the ending makes up for a lot of my complaints.
Whitney's pregnancy looms over the episode from the very first shot of her positive test accompanied by a blaring score. The scene where she tells Asher is easily the most uncomfortable in the series so far (one of the first things out of his mouth is "You still love me, right?"), and the final five minutes—where the couple learns that the pregnancy has gone ectopic, halting the baby's growth and making the pregnancy unviable—is a close second.
Whitney immediately starts talking about the layout of their new house after they get the news, while all Asher can focus on is if she still loves him. The curse that he lied about undoing in the premiere is visibly weighing on him as he talks, and the ambiguity the episode ends on regarding where the Siegels will go from here is great.
Ultimately, "Pressure" is about whether or not the major characters of The Curse can ever learn anything. (They can't.) Dougie breathalyzing himself while driving (along with being hysterically funny) could show that he learned his lesson, but the fact that he jumps through so many hoops to explain how he technically wasn't in the wrong shows that he hasn't. And Whitney spends the entirety of the episode not learning, from the way she uses the Indigenous people around her for her public image to the design of her houses to her misunderstanding of Cara's art. When she sits in on Cara's interactive piece—Cara gives the participant a slice of turkey and shrieks in agony when they eat it—Cara asks "why did you do that?"
Whitney can't think of an answer to the question, and maybe that's the key to understanding The Curse. It's not in what the characters can comprehend. It's in what they can't.
This episode of The Curse is now available to stream on Paramount+ and Showtime.
Sam Layton is a Chicago suburb native that's trying his best to make a career out of his (probably unhealthy) habit of watching too much television. When he's not working as the Third Coast Review's current sole TV reviewer, he's making his way through college or, shockingly, watching too much television.