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‘The Curse’ episode 3 review: The ails of TikTok curses and the biases attached to “good” deeds

Asher and Whitney don’t necessarily take the assessments of a focus group well and do what they do best, which is to mess things up.

Richard Foreman Jr./A24/Paramount+ with SHOWTIME

“I know your heart is in the right place, and I give you the benefit of the doubt.” Asher says it in his fight with Whitney at the end of “Questa Lane.” The tagline for The Curse could very well be “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” because no matter how “good” their intentions may be, Whitney and Asher are just unable to see themselves. Hell, they cannot see that Flipanthropy might not be the HGTV hit they are hoping for.

But don’t take that from me. The focus group gave enough excoriating feedback on the show's pilot – mostly pointed towards Asher's direction. Most people think he’s flavorless, a little swaggerless, and even call him a sidekick. Honestly, I can’t blame them because he feels like gentrification Milhouse. Besides Whitney’s instance of doing too much, Asher often gets into crazy situations, for which he is the root cause. At first glance, they might be a match made in heaven, but as we see later in the episode, that might not be so clear-cut. One of the sad things about their self-centeredness (well, one of many sad things) is that they cannot see someone in need right in front of them.

Richard Foreman Jr./A24/Paramount+ with SHOWTIME

Dougie asks them to get pizza and walks by their house to connect on a “non-work” level. However, they are so wrapped up in this show, and the many things attached to their personas that they discard him altogether. It’s a small part of “Questa Lane,” but the show of Dougie crying is sad and uncomfortable because of how the camera hones in on him and that there doesn’t seem to be any relief on the way. It’s crucial that Flipanthropy gets picked up from Asher and Whitney just from a brand standpoint, but it’s different with Dougie. I wonder if this will element will be expounded upon during the rest of the season.

The overall arc of Questa Lane” nestles itself within the flawed intentions of Asher and Whitney and how they don’t make anything better. Before we get into the “teardown” house story that takes up much of the episode, there’s Barrier. Remember, the coffee shop was on a temporary lease and is essentially decommissioned until the show (hopefully) gets picked up. Besides the fact that Española didn’t need one anyway, now Fernando is tasked with a security job that is even more dangerous than being a barista. What a horrible flip of job luck due to the lack of foresight on Whitney’s part.

Then there’s the situation with Asher’s auction house, where it just so happens Abshir (Barkhad Abdi) and his daughters Nala (Hikmah Warsame) and Hani (Dahabo Ahmed) are squatting in. A scene where Nala and Hani walk home from school, talk about Roblox, and then argue over the basketball eraser has a genuine quality to them. You can tell they are a family that cares for one another outside of any predisposed condition we’ve been introduced to thus far. The moment when Nala is in class and experiences prejudice because of her skin color is critical because of everything that happens after that interaction.

Richard Foreman Jr./A24/Paramount+ with SHOWTIME

Stereotypes and racism that can unfortunately be attached to them can be overt or subtle depending on the person. When Asher buys the house and discovers they live there, it’s never really about doing the right thing. It’s all about lifting the curse and absolving himself of previous sins with a “good deed.” Even though he drills through their lock like a maniac, scaring the girls. A switch flips when he hears about Nala’s curse being a TikTok trend and geared explicitly toward the chicken. Here, you have a family living off hot dogs, and he’s still worried about his packaged pasta dish. It then turns darker when he implies the family is digging through their garbage and watching them.

That’s more overt than Whitney’s thoughts on having sided with the hot dogs and being so keen on upgrading the place – even if they didn’t ask for it. All of this builds to a crescendo in the last scene of the episode. There was already tension present after the doctor’s visit, where Whitney had to get the shot to stop the ectopic pregnancy. Asher, affected by the focus group talk, asks insane, inappropriate questions to Dr. Brown while she’s there. When they have the back-and-forth about the sweater gag and try to duplicate it for Instagram, it’s a clever personification of their marriage and the show's themes.

The nature of going viral can be curated (and mostly is), but it also builds from an organic place. That’s why Asher watched a bunch of “curse toks” before things went down. It’s telling they couldn’t replicate the funny moment they had off camera because that’s real. Every mask comes down, from Asher’s thoughts about the family and Whitney’s feelings about it. (telling that Whitney is the one to call Asher out). Going back to the focus group, a person spoke about a show like House Hunters and questioned the authenticity of a show like that. Much of The Curse feels like a show within a show – where these characters lack the self-awareness to view the entire nature of what their presence is doing to Española.

Asher says it plain: the goal is to get these homes up so that rich people invest in them. It’s a race to two possible outcomes – Flipanthropy ripping this community apart from the ground up or destroying Asher and Whitney’s already shaky foundation.