The Curse S1E9 Recap: Paper Beats Rock

“Young Hearts”

Asher, Whitney and Martha in a row, looking pleased in The Curse S1E9, "Young Hearts"

The following recap contains spoilers for The Curse S1E9, “Young Hearts” (written by Nathan Fielder & Benny Safdie and directed by Nathan Fielder)

The Curse S1E9 sees Martha (GiGi Erneta) from HGTV coming to visit the Fliplanthropy set, and the network has some notes, as Dougie (Benny Safdie) relays to Whitney (Emma Stone). Most importantly, they’re worried about some of the things that she said in the confessional scenes they’ve filmed, which made them worry that she and Asher (Nathan Fielder) might actually split up. Dougie makes it clear that HGTV’s position is that there is no show without Asher. They want to keep things positive.

This sets off the most significant arc of “Young Hearts,” which is a ride through the dynamics of the Siegels’ relationship. Whitney flips a switch to be nicer to Asher and entices him with the prospect of bowling. The pair film a scene where Asher tries on some tight-fitting jeans, taking a note from Martha whether they’re fully aware of it or not, and a scene where Whitney playfully puts frosting on Asher’s nose, which Dougie came up with in relation to Martha’s notes.

It’s almost impossible to tell what’s real and what isn’t between Whitney and Asher. Obviously there’s some level of façade being put on when they are filming their reality show, but that doesn’t fully drop outside of its confines. It’s pretty clear that Whitney is playing the role of a loving wife, both when she and Asher go bowling and when they meet with Martha for dinner later. I’m not sure if she even knows whether she loves him, but more on that later.

The dinner with Martha goes well, as the HGTV exec says the things that Whitney wants to hear about the importance of what she’s doing, even if it becomes clear that Martha was just using “holistic” as something of a buzzword without attending to its real meaning. Dougie floats the idea of calling the show Green Queen, and Martha likes that. She immediately makes the joke about Asher being the queen’s jester, but he doesn’t seem particularly bothered by that.

Bill talks to Asher and Whitney in a bowling alley

When Whitney and Asher go bowling, they run into Bill (David DeLao), who apologizes for being weird to Asher at the hardware store. He thought that Asher was the source of the leak from the casino, but now everyone has come to believe that it was Carl.

Asher takes a beat before puffing himself up to proclaim that he was the whistleblower and that Bill should be ashamed of himself. And, sure, he is a tool, because tools fix things.

Bill calls him a snitch and gives him the finger as the Siegels walk away.

It’s not entirely clear to me whether this performance on Asher’s part does anything for Whitney, but it is clear that he behaves this way for her benefit. She’s previously said that he wouldn’t do anything good without her telling him to, so Asher is trying to show that he can stand up for the good without that kind of plying.

He believes he has successfully done that here, as evidenced by the fact that he relives the scene as he masturbates later. I hope you had captions on for this scene, or listened very closely, as everything Asher says is muffled, in line with how the scene is presented from Whitney’s perspective and she’s listening through a door.

Asher begins with a relatively straight re-enactment of his confrontation with Bill at the bowling alley but proceeds to start talking about how ugly Bill is before engaging in a fantasy about Bill having sex with Whitney. And she overhears all of this.

I’m not into kink-shaming, so I’m not going to lay into Asher on that front, but the way he speaks everything out loud is rather indiscreet, and I think Whitney is a bit disgusted. Does Asher know she’s in the other room and might hear him?

Whitney yells at her parents in an apartment

Whitney heads off to the Bookends apartment complex to confront her parents, as The Curse S1E9 carries another plot thread forward. They’ve recently evicted a man named Gordon MacIntosh, who happens to be the uncle of a driver associated with Fliplanthropy, and after she mentioned his eviction to a crewmember, he left a note on Whitney’s car accusing her of being a slumlord.

Whitney again insists that she has nothing to do with her parents’ business, but when she Googles her maiden name—Whitney Rhodes—she sees a picture of herself cutting the ribbon at the opening ceremony for Bookends Apartments. That doesn’t faze her a lot, of course—she’s strongly in denial about her connection to her own parents.

Nevertheless, she visits Paul (Corbin Bernsen) and Elizabeth (Constance Shulman) to try to convince them to give Gordon his apartment back. But, it turns out they have pretty strong opinions about the guy, who they have nicknamed The Ripper. Apparently he removed and sold all of the appliances from the apartment—twice!—so they are completely unmoved by Whitney’s pleas.

It’s interesting to consider Paul and Elizabeth’s point of view, not just on the issue of Gordon, but more generally. Some have called them slumlords, and maybe they are, but The Curse hasn’t really given us any strong evidence that they are. They mostly seem to be relatively decent and operating within the confines of the law. One might have issues with the laws (and I do!) or with landlords in general (as I also do!), but if we take “slumlord” as anything like a technical term, I’m not sure they’re that.

But, regardless, the way they view Whitney is not wrong. She’s overly idealistic—or, at least, pretends to be—and her whole plan relies on her parents’ money. She may insist that money is a loan, but I’m not sure how much that matters. Not all of us have parents who can loan us large sums of money to pursue business ventures, and Whitney is generally blind to her privilege. Even if her parents are falling into a purported realism that is too cold, they have a point about how Whitney is pretending to be something she isn’t and pretending the world is something it’s not.

Cara, in a mask, talks to Whitney, who is in a robe

Whitney goes to get a massage but is surprised when her masseuse is Cara Durand (Nizhonniya Austin). And, to be clear, I think Whitney is actually surprised by this. I thought for a moment that perhaps she was visiting Cara at work on purpose, but she calls off the session after she discovers it’s with her “friend,” not even taking the offer of a different masseuse.

As far as we know, Whitney and Cara haven’t seen each other since the party they both attended in last week’s episode, where Whitney coerced Cara into saying things she didn’t mean about Whitney’s homes and where Cara laid out how she feels about Whitney by explaining her art installation.

I might have thought that Whitney was a bit too daft for that metaphorically wrapped message to get through, but perhaps I was wrong about that. If she were oblivious, I’m not sure why she’d feel so weird about seeing Cara at the massage parlor. One possibility is that she just wasn’t expecting it. Whitney is a control freak, so she can’t go with this flow. Another possibility is that the situation concretely inverts a power dynamic that Whitney doesn’t want to recognize. In getting the massage, she’d be submitting herself to Cara in a way that makes her uncomfortable. Subconsciously, she knows that she’s in something of a power struggle with Cara, even if she wouldn’t consciously admit that.

Cara says that she’s returned to working as a masseuse because she’s been rethinking her life, and this is sadly easier to understand. In pursuing a career as an artist, she’s had to hobnob with people she neither likes nor respects. Maybe Whitney gets that at some level, and that it includes her. Regardless, we only have to think back to Cara’s face in “Down and Dirty” after their exchange to intuit how Cara felt that she had sold herself out.

Cara looking downwards, ashamed

“Young Hearts” culminates with the Siegels going to Dougie to see footage of their reality show after Asher notices that HGTV has amended their contracts to indemnify themselves against any potential libel claim. Dougie notes that he’s still chewing on the notes from the network, but he obliges and puts on the rough cut of the show, which does appear from its title card to have been renamed Green Queen at this point.

We’ve seen a lot of this before, but it’s interesting to see how it’s cut together into a reality TV show. The frame becomes wider, and through its tone, The Curse does a good job of recreating the feeling that one is watching HGTV. But the real action begins when Whitney tells Dougie to skip to the pottery scene, which he notes has been cut from the show at this point.

Whitney wants Asher to see it anyway.

Asher looks on in consternation

We see here what Dougie was up to as he guided Asher through his confessional scenes last week (though I was disappointed that the bit about the speakers didn’t somehow feature). Whitney talks about how Asher is too fawning, and we cut to Asher praising her, saying his life would be nothing without her, and so on. In short, he’s framed as pathetic and she’s framed as someone who should really divorce the guy.

The network doesn’t want that, so it’s been cut from the show, but Whitney’s dissatisfaction with her husband has led her to make him watch this. Unsurprisingly, Asher responds by getting up and leaving the room.

Dougie sits in a chair with his face to his chin

After a beat, he comes back (and it’s hilarious that he has to knock on the door to get back into the room). He tells Dougie to put the footage back into the show, which is a no-go, but that doesn’t stop Asher from carrying forward into a monologue to Whitney about how he’s felt what she was talking about. It’s his fault. He hasn’t sacrificed enough. But he’s different now. He knows what to do and how to be without her asking, and he wants her to shine.

This whole scene gives off vibes that are adjacent to the dynamics of abuse, but it’s a little ambiguous what direction the abuse flows in. Asher absolutely had to re-establish some degree of power in the relationship in light of what Whitney said on tape, but he does that passive aggressively. He says he’s a bad person, which affirms her previous claim about him, but his submissiveness actually flips things around on her.

Whitney is surprised that Asher would want to stay with her in light of the things she said, and we can see how she was grasping for freedom in a certain way by making him watch that footage, even though the cost might have been their show and their whole business enterprise. Whitney wants to live in the truth; she simply doesn’t know how.

Whitney cries, with pursed lips, as Asher looks at her intently

So, if this is abuse, it’s Asher in the role of the abuser, which is an interpretation that’s only bolstered by the last line of the episode when he says to Whitney, “That’s a good girl.” Though, the most disturbing line of the hour might be when he invokes how they always used to say they looked so good on paper.

I know you’re unhappy, but the optics are so good, baby. We can make it work.

If you don’t like the suggestion that this amounts to abuse, I’m not going to argue that point strongly. Again, I think it feels adjacent, but the vibes from Whitney are also toxic on the whole. It’s like the Siegels are competing to see who can be more passive aggressive.

Young Hearts

The Curse S1E9 begins with an extended scene shot from inside of a car. Through the windshield, we see Whitney walk out and along a road, so I thought this might be someone following her, but then the car passes Whitney and proceeds to the strip mall where Fliplanthropy is being filmed. It does not pull up to the set, however; it stops a bit further away in the parking lot.

This scene lasts for several minutes, so I didn’t feel like I could just ignore it in this write-up, but I have also not figured out who was driving this car, nor do I have a good theory about it.

I don’t think it was any of our main characters. Dougie seems to have already been on set, and Asher parks closer. It obviously wasn’t Whitney, since we saw her walking from within the car.

It could be Fernando (Christopher D. Calderon), who has apparently quit his job at Barrier Coffee, or perhaps Vic (Alexander Poncio), who I’ve been wondering about since Asher failed to steal the oven he put out for the trash. But, particularly since S1E9 returns us to Dougie’s hotel room, I find myself thinking about how the shot of Asher and Whitney arguing outside of that room in Episode 1 was filmed through the peephole of the room across the hall. Maybe the season finale is going to feature some kind of wildcard.

Asher and Whitney talk in a hallway, as seen through a peephole

See you next week.

Written by Caemeron Crain

Caemeron Crain is Executive Editor of TV Obsessive. He struggles with authority, including his own.

Caesar non est supra grammaticos


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  1. You saw THAT and your immediate response is to throw around meaningless words like abuse and toxic? There’s so much I could get into but the blending of fiction and reality is getting unreal. Is that a final last ditch attempt to keep Whitney – consciously or not – or is it a genuine realisation for Asher that he’s a “bad person”? After all Whitney said about Asher being needy, how is his response to be even more so?

    • I did indeed! But I don’t think the words are meaningless at all. You don’t think he’s being toxic? I don’t know how to respond to that without more being said. And to say it’s abuse doesn’t imply in any way that Whitney is innocent. She’s a terrible person. But he’s manipulating her hard in that scene, don’t you think? I can’t imagine reading it as a “genuine realization” on Asher’s part, but if you do OK. I’m not looking to argue the point really. This is just how I read things

      • This is a very difficult thing to unpack in a comment section alone, which is why I personally don’t like this style of analysis/journalism as a former journalist myself. When you analyze such complex pieces of art/cinema throwing around pop psychology terms is extremely reductive to the complexity of the situation. – “Why is this character acting this way?” + “Oh, he’s abusive and toxic”. It’s almost disrespectful to the layers of depth and character that the creator incorporates into his artwork. I don’t think I can name a single piece where an analysis or unsolicited psychological diagnosis enhances the viewer’s understanding of the work.

        Also, sorry if I’m coming off as passionate about this; I don’t mean to attack you or your analysis. I was very curious to see what other people were thinking after watching the episode early after watching it, and was expecting a more nuanced take on such complex characters than the trend these days which is just psychological name-calling to reduce these people – fictional or not – to mere words that have little actual definition, and are used to dehumanize people and characters; hence why I said they are meaningless.

        • It’s interesting because I’m actually with you in a way in terms of being annoyed at people for throwing around psychological terms loosely in a way that dilutes their meaning and so on, if we’re thinking about the same kind of move. I guess I’d just say that I don’t think I’m doing that. I mean to be deploying the term ‘abuse’ in line with my understanding of the technical definition of psychological abuse. I’m claiming that he is manipulating her emotionally, breaking down her sense of self and reality, to move her to a position where she feels like she has to stay with him in order to go on. I think that’s the structure of abuse, though what’s interesting here is how the surface level of what he says seems to point in the direction of him subordinating himself to her. Whether we call it abuse or not, my main point is that he’s making a power play here. He’s re-establishing his power in the relationship and indeed, exerting power over Whitney. Their relationship is, imo, incredibly unhealthy. Thus, “toxic.” I am saying that she should definitely leave him, but he manipulates her into not doing so. I don’t think either of them is what I’d call a good person, but I certainly never meant to be reductive to the complexity of the characters. I don’t think I was engaged in armchair diagnosis or name calling. But, I don’t know. If it came across that way, maybe that’s my fault. But if I use a term from psychology, I mean it in line with my understanding of its technical definition and am happy to be called out if someone thinks I’m using the term inappropriately. Anyway, thanks for reading!

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