Created by Academy Award-Winning filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro, ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ is a Netflix horror anthology series. Its fifth episode, titled ‘Pickman’s Model,’ is based on the namesake story (written in 1926 and published in 1927) by H. P Lovecraft. The plot revolves around Will Thurber (Ben Barnes), a young and promising artist who is drawn to the macabre work of a new student, the titular Richard Upton Pickman (Crispin Glover). Years later, Pickman, now an acclaimed artist, returns to exhibit his work at the gallery Thurber is associated with, once more affecting the latter’s sense of reality. Here is everything you need to know about the ending of ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ episode 5. SPOILERS AHEAD.
Cabinet of Curiosities Episode 5 Recap
Directed by Keith Thomas, ‘Pickman’s Model’ begins with Thurber drawing a portrait of his girlfriend Rebecca, who sits on the bed topless. Suddenly, Rebecca’s father arrives home, prompting Thurber to make a hasty departure. Thurber is a star student at Miskatonic University (a fictional university located in the fictional town of Arkham, Massachusetts, often appears in Lovecraft’s work). He and his fellow students are introduced to the new enrolment, Pickman, who is a few years older than Thurber and the rest. Thurber manages to catch a glimpse of Pickman’s work during class and is stunned by how disturbing and life-like it is.
Upon learning that Pickman often visits the graveyard, Thurber lets his curiosity gets the better of him and visits the graveyard as well, finding the other man there. Pickman’s ideas about art seem to resonate with Thurber, but at the same time, he becomes envious of the other man’s talent, fearing that Pickman will win the upcoming competition. With his own work not measuring up, a frustrated Thurber gives up on it. The following day, Pickman’s submission to the competition seems to have received brutal critique from the judges. Thurber tries to console Pickman, who invites him to see his work.
All of Pickman’s paintings demonstrate his apparent fascination with rotting flesh and monstrous creatures. Pickman wants to show Thurber one painting in particular. He claims that it is of his aunt Lavinia, a witch or hex who was burned at the stake. Afterward, Thurber begins to have hallucinations and nightmares that seem too real. Fortunately for Thurber, Pickman suddenly departs, taking the other man’s nightmares with him.
Years pass. By 1926, Thurber is married to Rebecca and has a son named James. He is associated with the local art society, as is a friend and fellow former student of Miskatonic. It is this friend, Joe Monet, that brings Pickman and his monsters back to Thurber’s life.
Cabinet of Curiosities Episode 5 Ending: What Is Pickman’s Model?
The title of the episode holds the key to the central mystery of the series. Thurber initially thinks that his visions and nightmares are the result of him being drunk and delirious. But he eventually realizes that Pickman’s paintings are responsible, especially after his son catches a glimpse of one and starts having nightmares.
It turns out that Pickman’s paintings are not the products of his imagination but his experience. He paints what he sees, and what he sees are ghouls — human-like cannibalistic monsters. In Lovecraft’s original story, the ghouls are described as follows: “The madness and monstrosity lay in the figures in the foreground — for Pickman’s morbid art was pre-eminently one of demonic portraiture. These figures were seldom completely human, but often approached humanity in varying degree. Most of the bodies, while roughly bipedal, had a forward slumping and vaguely canine cast. The texture of the majority was a kind of unpleasant rubberiness.”
It is heavily implied that Pickman’s ancestor, Lavinia, and her guests, who feasted on the corpse of her dead husband, were also ghouls, or at least that’s what they became afterward. Pickman confirms this when he calls his paintings family portraits. This also implies that other members of his family and he himself are ghouls, which is supported by the original story. In Ron Shiflet’s ‘They Thrive in the Darkness,’ a short Cthulhu mythos story published in 2006, Pickman is depicted as the leader among the ghouls.
Is Pickman Dead?
Thurber is one of the earliest admirers of Pickman’s works. Although Thurber later has nightmares, and his sense of reality becomes warped, Pickman doesn’t know this when he suddenly disappears. So, when he returns, Pickman still believes that Thurber likes his work. He is genuinely surprised upon hearing the pure loathing and fear for his work in his friend’s voice and convinces him to come and see the best painting he has ever created. However, Thurber goes to Pickman’s home with a gun in his pocket and shoots the other after becoming spooked by his sudden movement.
After Pickman explains the subjects of his work to Thurber, a ghoul emerges from a well and drags Pickman underground. If Pickman is dead — and it seems he is — the ghoul is likely to devour his flesh. However, there is also a possibility that this was the final step in his transition. Lavinia, the witch, probably turned into a full-fledged ghoul after she was burned. If that’s the case, that’s what awaits Pickman after his death.
What Happens to Rebecca and James?
During his visit to Pickman’s home, Thurber sets fire to the other man’s paintings, knowing what they can do and intending to destroy all of them. However, Joe has already brought some of them to the gallery, putting them on display, and they affect Joe, Rebecca, and James. Thurber finds Joe chanting to Yog-Sothoth, a major antagonist in the Cthulu mythos and extremely powerful outer god. Joe has plucked one of his eyes out and claims that Yog-Sothoth is coming.
After presumably burning the paintings and sending Joe to the hospital, Thurber returns home to discover that Rebecca’s eyes are missing. She killed James and placed him inside the microwave. The episode ends as chanting about Yog-Sothoth grows louder. After seeing Pickman’s painting, Rebecca inadvertently turns into an acolyte for the malevolent deity and sacrifices her son to him.