The first episode of the Netflix horror anthology series Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities is a cautionary tale, but viewers may not understand the ending of « Lot 36 » ending upon first viewing. Cabinet of Curiosities episode 1, “Lot 36,” stars Tim Blake Nelson as Nick, a bigoted war veteran desperate to make money. Striving to repay a debt that he owes to mobsters, he makes a living via the ethically questionable method of buying repossessed storage units and re-selling their contents.
Nick buys the titular lot 36 at a storage auction and, shortly after, is met by Emilia (Elpidia Carrillo), who informs him that her unit was mistakenly sold to him. The uncaring, racist Nick dismisses her and, like every flawed protagonist in a horror anthology story, he soon gets what is coming to him. At the end of the « Lot 36 » episode of Netflix’s Cabinet of Curiosities, Nick accidentally unleashes a Lovecraftian demon from lot 36 and attempts to escape the monster’s grasp by fleeing the storage warehouse. He is met with a locked door with Emilia standing on the other side, and she leaves him to deal with the demon.
When Nick opens the titular storage unit of Cabinet of Curiosities’ « Lot 36 » episode, he discovers an antique candelabra, prompting the warehouse’s owner to refer him to Agatha (Martha Burns), an antique dealer. Nick brings Agatha the notable contents of lot 36, including a séance table whose hidden compartment contains several books. Agatha calls Roland (Sebastian Roché), an excited collector of occult paraphernalia. The episode then gives Nick a choice as Roland tells him he will pay $10,000 for the three books that Nick has, or $300,000 provided Nick returns to lot 36 and finds the fourth and final volume.
It is easy to argue that Nick didn’t need to return to lot 36 at the end and that greed alone was what doomed the character to his gruesome eventual death. However, that is not quite true. A mobster who appeared earlier in the « Lot 36 » episode of Cabinet of Curiosities smashed Nick’s car windows and brutally beat him with a hammer before demanding $12,000. Thus, $10,000 would not be enough to ensure that Nick could keep his creditors happy and his face intact. Nick sustains pretty serious injuries from the bust-up, and it is clear that the mobster won’t be pulling his punches next time, meaning Nick doesn’t have many options beyond returning for the fourth book.
The “Lot 36” episode of Cabinet of Curiosities pointedly provides its lead character with a moral choice early on in the story. Before he is attacked by the mobster and well before he learns the terrible secrets of the storage unit, Nick is approached by Emilia, who explains her sorry story. The warehouse sent her eviction notice to the wrong address, meaning she had no way of knowing that lot 36 was going to be put up for auction.
Nick could do the decent thing here and give her the keys to her unit, which he admits was filled with sentimental items of no value to him. But he opts to be cruel for no reason. In fact, he goes out of his way to not help her. Nick justifies his decision by noting that no one helped him when he returned from war, but the owner of the storage warehouse is quick to explain that both he and Emilia have suffered just as much.
Roland is the reason that Nick returns to lot 36, and he is also the character who helps him unearth the unit’s terrible secret. However, Roland is also obsessed with the titular unit of Cabinet of Curiosities’ « Lot 36 » episode, and there is a reason for this. He needs to know about the unit’s long, sordid history so that he can warn Nick about its powers later. The unit’s original owner, a monstrous Nazi war criminal who fled Germany, offered his sister as a sacrifice to the eldritch tomes that the duo has uncovered. This detail sets up the ending’s big twist as it sees Roland state that the demon can sense someone’s inherent evil, which proves important for Nick’s character journey.
When it’s mentioned that this Nazi was a twisted monster, Nick notes that Roland also seems morally dubious. Roland gets cold and demands to know whether this is a problem for Nick. In this Guillermo del Toro-produced horror show’s most unsettling moment, Nick answers no, revealing that he is aware that he is no saint, himself. This foreshadows the revelation that occurs when the pair later enter lot 36’s hidden room, wherein Roland states that the demonic entity contained will sense the evil in Nick and feed off of it if given the chance. Nick, in a hurry to grab the book and refusing to believe in the occult, ignores this advice.
The demon seen at the end of Cabinet Of Curiosities’ « Lot 36 » episode is a terrifying amalgamation of a human body — the desiccated corpse of the Nazi’s sister — and a writhing mass of tentacles. The Lovecraftian monster of the show does not seem like an entity that would be stopped by something as flimsy as a warehouse door, yet the demon doesn’t break out of the warehouse. Instead, the thing devours Roland and then Nick, but leaves Emilia alone. The reason for this is that Emilia isn’t tainted by the same evil as the two men.
As such, Emilia offers nothing for the demon to feed on. From the moment that the elderly Nazi is introduced butchering rodents to feed the demon, to the scene where Nick nods in agreement with a racist radio host’s right-wing rhetoric, it is clear that the characters of « Lot 36” are largely awful people. However, even though she refuses Nick the same decency that he refused her, Emilia is the sole survivor of the « Lot 36 » episode of Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet Of Curiosities because she doesn’t stoop to their depths.