Salman Rushdie and Ayatollah Khomeini walk onto a stage.
That might seem like a bad joke.
But given the trajectory of season nine of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” this is a natural progression. When season nine commenced, our less-than- politically correct protagonist Larry David was making a musical. The musical, “Fatwa,” is an exaggerated account of the real-life author Salman Rushdie and his death threat or “fatwa.” This blurring of fiction and reality is a hallmark of David’s show.
To add to the spectacle, David, playing a fictitious version of himself, received his own fatwa in the season nine premiere. However, David has now ostensibly had his death threat lifted. In an earlier episode, David defended his would-be killer in a restaurant buffet line. As a result, David has earned forgiveness. He has also been permitted to make “Fatwa: The Musical” with the proviso that Lin-Manuel Miranda stars.
The Hamilton creator indeed appears, as himself and as Rushdie in the fictitious musical. F. Murray Abraham is the musical incarnation of the ayatollah. In the opening scene of the episode, they rehearse a song in which Miranda’s Rushdie and Abraham’s ayatollah pledge to remain “enemies forever.”
Enemies forever might also describe David’s relationship with the world, in this episode specifically. Trouble occurs on multiple levels. David combats what he perceives as absurd social norms, a classic David hallmark.
David’s efforts to say “sorry” throughout the episode are branded tepid. He is less than sensitive about the deaf.
“Do deaf people go to musicals?” David says.
David suggests that deaf viewers of “Fatwa” be given their own special monthly performances, so that interpreters do not distract audiences.
David also gets into a war over fashion choices with F. Murray Abraham, branding Abraham an “outfit tracker” for commenting on David’s wardrobe.
In David’s most fatal mistake, he insults Lin-Manuel Miranda’s cousin, who is staying with him. Miranda hilariously challenges David to a duel. David accidentally shoots Miranda with a paintball gun.
If you see a “Hamilton” reference here, you are not imagining it.
“You are Aaron Burr,” Miranda says, before he collapses. Suffice it to say, this duel has serious repercussions for “Fatwa” and for David. A once promising musical seems to have been doomed by a social “fatwa” thanks to David’s antics. There seems to be an overt commentary on pop culture here and it works nicely.
David consistently blurs the line between fiction and reality, both through incorporating and distorting the real-life Rushdie’s own fatwa. The mere fact that “Fatwa” exists in this fictitious world is commentary enough. Political correctness and accuracy are replaced with comically offensive scenes of harems and the ayatollah. Having Lin-Manuel Miranda reenact “Hamilton” with a paintball guns is equally funny.
And speaking of “fatwas,” at one point, David’s friend and manager Jeff Greene raises the possibility that David’s real-life fatwa is not necessarily over. Predictably, the ending of the season finale suggests that Jeff may be right. This raises questions about the dynamics of a potential 10th season.
By and large, “Fatwa” is the coda to a strong season. Throughout the season, we have seen David grapple with social changes in the world and in his life. He dated Elizabeth Banks as well as a censor with an autistic son. He pretended to have Asperger’s syndrome to justify his behavior, among other offenses. While there were some underdeveloped subplots throughout the season, the charm of the show is still strong.
David offends us. And we laugh.
For the record, I would see “Fatwa” the musical. It might be a fantasy, but in the “Curb” world, the surreal and real entwine.
“Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Season Nine finale, “Fatwa.”
Starring: Larry David, Cheryl Hines, Jeff Garlin, Susie Essman, JB Smoove
Where to watch: HBO
Fun fact: Most of the show’s dialogue is improvised.
Collegian reporter Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @dudesosad.