What is the price of a unique experience?
Editor’s Note: The article below contains spoilers for Cabinet of Curiosities andepisode “The Viewing”.
What if you received an invitation, out of the blue, to be part of a very exclusive viewing at the house of a reclusive billionaire? It could be the experience of a lifetime, but it comes with risks. Despite everything, four strangers will answer the call in Panos Cosmetics‘ (mandy) “The Viewing”, the most stylish episode of Cabinet of curiosities by Guillermo del Toro.
Written by Cosmatos and Aaron Stewart-Ahn, “The Viewing” might become the most controversial episode of the series, as it puts style way before substance. Even so, there’s something fascinating about a drug-infused slow burn that ends so explosively. But before we get to “The Viewing’s” weird conclusion, we have to go back to the night of September 22, 1979, when four people met in a garage in the middle of the night.
Drink, smoke, snort
On the evening of the viewing, the four guests of billionaire Lionel Lassiter (Pierre Weller) find themselves in a garage without knowing what they are going to see that evening or why their host is so discreet. The group is made up of the famous novelist Guy Landon (Steve Agee), musician Randall Roth (Eric Andre), astrophysicist Charlotte Xie (Charlyne Yi), and esoteric Targ Reinhard (Michel Therriault). It’s an unusual set, and all they have in common is that they’ve appeared on late-night radio talk shows. While discussing the mysterious viewing they are about to take part in, a man named Hector (Saad Siddiqui) arrives with a van and tells them to get on board.
Hector’s van has no windows in the back that guests can use to see where they are going. They only know that Lionel meets them at the Sandpiper House, a bespoke mansion where the billionaire remains hidden from the world. The conversation is soon interrupted by Hector, who reveals that their host asked them to listen in silence to a radio broadcast during their trip. Meanwhile, we see Lionel in the Sandpiper House being injected with drugs by Dr. Zahra (Sophie Boutella), his right arm. This scene will be the first of many drug use moments in “The Viewing”.
When guests arrive at the Sandpiper Mansion, they are taken to a room with golden machine guns hanging from the walls, where Dr. Zahra awaits them on an oversized round couch. Around the sofa are glasses with each guest’s favorite drinks. More than showing hospitality, the drinks are proof of Lionel’s reach, as he gathered information about each of the guests to the point where he knew Randall loved LapSang SouChong tea along with rare Tibetan menthol cigarettes. While everyone is happy with their drink, Randall seems preoccupied with the cigarettes. He tried to quit smoking and doesn’t seem comfortable with the gift.
Lionel comes into the room with a special bottle of Japanese whiskey that survived World War II bombings and an earthquake. The bottle is unique, but Lionel opens it to share it with his guests. Randall is the only one who doesn’t want to drink, but he’s pushed by Lionel, who wants everyone to be on the same page before the viewing. Randall drinks the whiskey, smokes a cigarette and prepares for the next rounds.
While talking around the table, Lionel reveals why each of them was chosen to be part of the thrilling viewing. Guy was once the greatest novelist of all time and might need some extraordinary experience to inspire him to be great again. Charlotte has developed equations that show that we are not alone in the universe and that aliens are likely real. Targ’s supposed extra-sensory abilities allow him to connect to other planes of existence. And Randall is the greatest living musician, and since there is no art form superior to music, Lionel wanted him to use viewing to take his compositions to the next level.
Lionel’s explanation already gives us clues about the object of the viewing. Yet, before moving into the obelisk room, Lionel makes sure his guests smoke weed and snort the finest Peruvian cocaine, spiced with a blue powder drug developed by Dr. Zahra herself. Drug use is a test for Lionel to see if his guests are ready to expand their consciousness. And since no one wants to be left out of the party, they all get high as much as a human being can get. And when everyone stumbles, Lionel finally decides to start watching.
Lionel’s guests are taken to an adjacent room where a giant meteorite is displayed atop a pedestal. The meteorite looks like a fossil instead of a rock, and Charlotte is the first to notice its uniqueness. It turns out that the meteorite is insensitive to X-rays, cannot be dated by carbon tests and appears to be made of a substance not found in the periodic table. So, despite Lionel’s money, he couldn’t find out what the meteorite really was, even though it’s obvious that it didn’t come from Earth.
Pumped by the viewing, Randall lights cigarettes in the obelisk room, despite being told by Lionel to put them out. All the guests discuss the nature of the meteor until the mineral inhales smoke from Randall’s cigarette. Then, to make matters stranger, the stone begins to glow with pulsating light and emits an almost deafening high-pitched sound. Finally, the meteor shatters, revealing a yellow slimy creature hidden inside. Two tentacles rise from the creature’s body to the ceiling, trapping everyone in a trance. Their noses begin to bleed as the electricity in the mansion begins to crackle. The first victim is Targ, whose face melts. After that, Guy’s head explodes, breaking everyone’s trance.
Once freed from the creature’s spell, Charlotte and Randall flee the obelisk room as fast as they can. Dr. Zahra, however, tries to touch the alien, only to melt his face. As for Lionel, the billionaire is sitting on the ground, shocked by the bloody spectacle. The creature melts, drips from the pedestals and expands towards Lionel, merging with the man’s body.
Hector realizes something is wrong when Charlotte and Randall escape from the Obelkisk room. After opening the door to let the guests out of the mansion, Hector grabs one of the machine guns from the wall and goes after the alien. The creature asks Hector for help, only to be greeted by bullets. The alien remains unscathed from Hector’s attack and retaliates with the two tentacles growing from Lionel’s back. As a result, Hector is fried by the creature’s yellow electricity.
Charlotte and Randall steal one of Lionel’s cars and drive as fast as they can through the night. After a while, Charlotte pauses. They wonder if what they experienced was real and, as Lionel wished, their lives will be changed forever. As for the creature, it escapes the mansion, wanders through the woods, and gazes at its reflection in a puddle. The image makes the creature scream in pain, and we wonder if the scream is coming from the human trapped inside or the alien lost in our world. Then the creature enters the sewers and emerges into the city, disrupting the electricity wherever it goes. And eventually, Lionel becomes part of the alien’s collection instead of owning the world’s most valuable item.