(Photo: John P. Johnson/HBO)

“I do not like this / I cannot like this/ I do not like this… man!”

Of all the mini-arcs that made up this season of Curb, the one co-anchored by Lin-Manuel Miranda is the most successful. The overarching story—Larry’s offensive nature finally pisses off the wrong person—plays out in micro over the course of these final two episodes, with an assist from Hamilton. There’s a duel, an orgy, and apologies that range from tepid to tremendous. Larry David also adds a couple more terms to the pop-culture lexicon, including “outfit tracker,” “stand-in,” and “gift-rescinding motherfucker,” just in case “Larry” truly meets his end.

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“Fatwa!” is more focused than its predecessor, “The Shucker,” flowing more smoothly from beginning to end despite having a longer running time.* Beyond that, there’s a cohesion I haven’t seen since midseason, a feeling that was boosted by opening with an actual opening number, and ending with a return to Larry’s premiere predicament. The act in between the musical overture and poetic justice steadily builds toward that final moment of delayed vengeance, as Larry fails to follow through on most of his nice gestures.

As the episode begins, Fatwa! The Musical’s preview is just a week out, with Lin-Manuel playing Salman Rushdie opposite F. Murray Abraham’s (the F stands for “fucking awesome,” if I recall correctly) Ayatollah. But with a perfectionist like Miranda and someone as relentlessly fussy as Larry, you know it’s still far from being a done deal. The two producers are arguing over musical numbers and character motivation every chance they get, albeit amiably. Larry’s just so damn excited about the show. In fact, it’s the second “most excited” he’s ever been in his life. Unhooking his first bra tops the list, so “this is my second bra!,” he triumphantly tells Lin-Manuel and Cody (Nick Offerman).

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Still, a falling-out seems inevitable. Last episode, Larry tried to physically wrestle creative control from Lin-Manuel, but just ended up with an injured shoulder, which led to taking a powerful painkiller that left him dozing off on the Hamilton creator’s wife’s shoulder. But even those back-to-back events didn’t make for an especially high rate of offense for Larry, something he unconsciously tries to remedy in “Fatwa!”

(Photo: John P. Johnson)

But things look pretty rosy at the outset; Larry even agrees to host Lin-Manuel’s cousin Valentina and her husband Ernst. Just as soon as he agrees to the favor, he’s taken aback by the “tepid” thank-you from LMM, who throws in a kind of dismissive wave after Larry says yes. It’s not commensurate with the ask, Larry argues, an expression that comes back up in discussions of apologies. This is the world of Curb, where a good deed is not its own reward—it doesn’t require immediate or equivalent reciprocity, but a favor does demand a heartfelt thanks, just like tardiness or some other slight necessitates a full-throated apology. Larry is so hung up on gestures that he tries to invent new ASL signs, insisting he knows how to give things meaning.

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All that aside, I have to agree with Larry (I’ve been known to do that). Maybe it’s my Midwestern upbringing, but the only thing I do more profusely than say “thanks” is apologize. (Let’s not even get started on the confusing “ope.”) So I have to declare Big Funk’s restaurant dinner apology insufficient and his mea culpas at Sammi’s rehearsal dinner a bit overwrought. Valentina and Ernst definitely gave some weak-ass thanks, and if Larry’d ever gotten them to apologize for trashing his home, would have made similarly listless apologies.

But this cuts both ways. Lin-Manuel might not give the most enthusiastic thank-yous, but he recognizes the same “favor” or “gift” cycle that Larry does. And he challenges Larry on essentially rescinding both a favor and a gift, first by imposing all kinds of rules on houseguests, and later, by suggesting Cody pay him back the FICA difference on his day rate. Do the favor or don’t; there shouldn’t be any strings attached, even if it’s just to say thanks. And Larry doesn’t have a high success rate of fulfilling kindnesses anyway—he tried to reset his friendship with the country club security guard, and now he’s so caught up pissing off Lin-Manuel that he misses Sammi’s wedding.

(Photo: John P. Johnson)

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The episode flips the script yet again, though, in the course of the duel. Cody, a true Renaissance man—he stage directs, soothes cats, and knows the code duello— takes LMM and LD through their paces. Larry planned to shoot into the air, a la Alexander Hamilton, but his aim is thrown off when he grabs for his pants. He shoots a paintball pellet into Lin-Manuel’s mouth, putting him out of commission for six months, and derailing Fatwa! The Musical for good. By not communicating his good intentions (Hamilton reportedly did), Larry ruined everything. But he would have probably demurred from talking about it ahead of the shooting anyway, because that’s besides the point of a good deed. Once again, Curb shows us how fraught all of our interactions are, and why we should all probably keep to our goddamn selves anyway.

That’s not the lesson here, because there really isn’t one. There never really is on Curb; you’re infinitely more likely to pick up a new term for awkward social gatherings than learn anything about how to treat your fellow humans. In this regard and others, the ninth season of Curb functioned like every other, including boasting a ton of great guest stars. Tonight, in addition to Offerman and Abraham, Casey Wilson toasted the bride and groom in Larry’s place as stand-in/actress/plus-size model Marie Deschamps, and This Is Us’ Chris Sullivan scolded Miranda-as-Rushdie for being a bad houseguest.

“Fatwa!” is a strong close to a solid ninth season, as well as a satisfying series ender, if that’s where this is going. Larry’s fate is once again doomed by the Ayatollah—in this case, Abraham as the Ayatollah—as the musical shuts down production, costing his investors “a lot of money.” And Jeff’s seemingly tossed-off line about dissemination of the fatwa withdrawal news turns out to be right on the money, as Larry ends the season (or series) on the run again.

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When news of the ninth season first broke, I welcomed it. I’m a big Curb and Seinfeld fan, and I didn’t worry much about how the former would fit in the current TV landscape or even the political one, though obviously some things don’t fly the way they used to. More often than not, Curb is punching up, but it’s never been a show I looked to for political commentary. As I wrote in a previous review, the only person “Larry” was guaranteed to take down was himself, and the only thing Curb was going to rescue us from was boredom. The show and its creator succeeded on both fronts, which, regardless of the year, is prett-ay, pretty-ay good.

Stray observations

  • *I incorrectly stated last week that this season’s penultimate episode was the longest in the series to date (at the time). It was not.
  • What displays of emotion from Big Funk tonight! First, the way he yells at Larry at dinner for leading to Little Funk’s death was actually very cathartic. Later, when he’s practically opening a vein at the rehearsal dinner, you just feel for the guy.
  • “You FIC’d up.” “I thought you were sleep-fucking.” I’m going to miss Leon.
  • “I don’t pick up, I put down.”
  • “If there’s any profession you can do later in life as a woman, it’s acting.” Marie Deschamps has Penny’s optimism, that’s for sure.
  • Susie is totally dressed like a bride. I have no idea if that’s bad luck or not.
  • Finally, thanks for reading, and for bearing with me in these screener-less times! If there’s a tenth season, let’s hope some asshole doesn’t hack HBO again and leak any episodes, so the network will feel comfortable sending out previews again.

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