The following recap contains spoilers for The Curse S1E4, “Under the Big Tree” (written by Nathan Fielder & Benny Safdie and directed by David Zellner & Nathan Zellner)
The Curse S1E4 begins with Dougie (Benny Safdie) waking up in his car to his phone going off. He dismisses it, but then it rings again and it turns out it’s Martha (GiGi Erneta) from HGTV. Fliplanthropy is a go! But just as Dougie expresses his gratitude and begins to say she won’t be disappointed, his phone dies.
Thus begins a protracted opening scene filled with discomfort and intrigue as we try to figure out what Dougie is up to. He seems disoriented, but has a note to self written on his hand: “under the big tree.” I quickly began to infer that he was looking for his car keys under a tree (for some reason), but he doesn’t know what tree he put them under, and there are also two cars besides his own in this field where he parked. Both are unoccupied.
What in the world was Dougie doing last night?
He goes to the wrong tree, sees a scorpion that he curses at, and finds what seems to be a fractured piece of a clay pot of some kind, which he’s fascinated by. But that’s not what he was looking for.
He ultimately finds three car keys buried under the smallest tree around (because he’s a genius, he tells himself). Each of the two that are not his own is wrapped in a note with a name and a time, which doesn’t really dispel the overall mystery. Neither does the scene later in the episode that comes closest to providing an explanation, if you think about it.
Dougie arrives to Kalvin’s (Ethan Woodall) house after the appointed time, but the bigger problem is that Kalvin’s mom (Kathryn Price Garson) does not at all buy the story that he’s some kind of Uber messenger. Kalvin is very much a teenager, and she wants to know what happened.
I have to believe that the basics of what comes out in this scene are true: Dougie bought beer for Kalvin and his friend but took their keys to keep them from driving drunk. He insists to Kalvin’s mom that she’s lucky he was the one to buy them beer for this reason, which… OK, but then did the three all get drunk together out in the field? If not, how did the cars all get there? If so, how did Kalvin and Wyatt get back home? There’s some aspect to this plan that we have to fill in for ourselves. The notes are a part of it, but Kalvin seems to have expected Dougie to be returning his car itself, and not just the key.
I don’t know what the plan was supposed to be, but I think Dougie forgot it. There aren’t real indications of the trio partying out there in the woods, but there are indications that Dougie got wasted enough (on something) to have lost time. So we’re left not knowing exactly what happened.
We don’t see Dougie returning Wyatt’s key to him, either. Should we presume that this went smoothly, or that after the hassle of being confronted by Kalvin’s mom, he just decided not to bother?
Towards the end of “Under the Big Tree,” we see Dougie in his car, looking at the fragment of clay he took from the ground, and the music is ominous. I haven’t said nearly enough about the music in The Curse to this point, and its tendency to make us feel suspense and dread even as what’s occurring is relatively banal. It’s great, but I also usually get why it’s hitting the note it’s hitting more than I did in Dougie’s last scene of S1E4.
This guy is not happy. He has a tortured soul, but he wants to pretend he doesn’t. He suffers in denial over his role in his wife’s death. I get all that. But what does this ceramic shard have to do with anything?
Dougie tells Asher (Nathan Fielder) that he himself was cursed (though he doesn’t know by whom) after Asher relays the story of how Nala (Hikmah Warsame) said her tiny-curse was to remove the chicken from Asher’s pasta, with the detail that his penne was indeed missing its chicken. Dougie cuts off this conversation, though, so we don’t really know what he’s thinking about the role of a curse in Melanie’s death beyond this being a clear representation of the extent to which he is in denial about it.
He does, though, point Asher to a bit of static that can be heard on the tape of Nala cursing him, and though Asher wants to dismiss this as mere interference given the distance over which the audio was being recorded, after Dougie leaves we see Asher watching the footage over and over again.
That the curse is still on his mind is evident when he visits the Somali family to deliver Abshir (Barkhad Abdi) some food that he doesn’t want or need, along with some supplements Whitney (Emma Stone) thinks might help his neck issue. Maybe they will, I don’t know, but I don’t get the impression that these people are very interested in eating beet chips, and Whitney’s attempts to help are going too far. When she visits the chiropractor later, it’s pretty clear that she’s paying for an appointment for Abshir, and, again, that might be helpful to him, but at the same time it’s weirdly intrusive and kind of condescending to foist these things on him without talking to him about it first. But, I digress.
It’s clear that Asher’s mind is still on the curse as he starts talking to Nala about tiny-curse TikToks he watched, even though she isn’t really into talking about it. This leads Abshir to take him aside and ask him to stop talking about curses around his daughters because he had to work really hard to get Nala off of this whole thing. Where he’s from—Minnesota—they don’t mess around with that kind of stuff, not from superstition but because if you get an idea in your head it can become very real.
That strikes me as almost a thesis statement for this series. The curse isn’t real—curses aren’t real—but we can be affected by them anyway. Paranoia is a force in our lives. It takes many forms and can lead to dark places.
Vic (Alexander Poncio), who bought one of the passive homes the Siegels have sold in Española, is convinced that someone has been stealing his packages. Maybe he’s right about that and Whitney’s too quick to presume he’s being kind of racist, but the more interesting point is that he is being kind of racist and paranoid even if there has been actual theft. He’s harassing all of the neighbors about it, as though they’re all equally suspect.
In contrast, Whitney’s glasses are perhaps a bit too rose-colored, as she freaks out about Fernando (Christopher D. Calderon) holstering a gun as he works security for the shopping complex. The guy who is from the neighborhood thinks a gun is called for, but she thinks she knows better.
Whitney and Vic are making the same mistake in opposite directions, painting with too broad a brush because they’re not able to grasp the finer-grained distinctions the locals are able to make.
Vic replaced his induction range with a gas stove because he likes stir fry, which means the house no longer qualifies as a passive one. Whitney’s so upset about that she wants to put something in future contracts, which Asher doesn’t think they can do (and he’s probably right), so they agree to be more discerning about who they sell homes to.
In the meantime, Vic has simply placed the induction oven out for the trash, so Asher takes Freckle (Edward Martinez) to retrieve it. They wait for Vic to leave, and then Asher doesn’t want to be seen on his security camera, so he makes Freckle try to load the oven alone. He fails, and it falls to the side of the road. He wants to at least put it back by the trash, which probably would have been a good idea, but Asher insists they just leave it and speed out of there.
This is all very stupid on Asher’s part for multiple reasons. First, if he’d simply talked to Vic about it, all indications are that Vic would have been fine with him taking the oven that he’d set out for garbage pickup. I don’t know that for sure, of course. Maybe Vic would have demanded some money because he’s a special kind of prick, but even then it probably would have been a decent deal compared to the cost of the oven.
But, instead, Asher tries to take it without Vic knowing. He doesn’t want to be seen on the surveillance camera, but he is perfectly willing to let Freckle be seen on the same, which is pretty bone-headed given that Vic has been complaining about someone stealing his packages. Surely he’ll see Freckle and jump to thinking that this guy stole his Alienware computer, too.
The biggest mistake Asher makes, though, is that he seems to have done this without talking to Whitney about it. That chicken is bound to come home to roost.
I suggested last week that Whitney was concerned with how the focus group had responded to Asher, and we get confirmation of that here in “Under the Big Tree.” Thankfully, she doesn’t post their argument to social media, as I thought she might, but she does suggest that Asher go to a comedy class so he can feel more comfortable on camera.
Episode 4 ends with him at that class. The instructor, Jeff (Doug Montoya), asks everyone to try to make the group laugh without talking, and Asher’s response to this exemplifies his anxious mode of being in the world. Beyond his own attempt, which is clearly over-thought, it’s worth noting that he doesn’t laugh at anyone else’s. He’s immediately in his head, thinking about how to navigate this social situation, and that’s his problem in general.
See you next week.