Cabinet of Curiosities episode 2 “Graveyard Rats” recap and ending

Cabinet of Curiosities episode 2, titled “Graveyard Rats,” is a cut-and-dry morality tale set in the early 1900s about a graverobber who gets in way over his head when he attempts to face off against a vicious horde of rats.

We meet Massan (David Hewlett) at the end of his wits about rats stealing corpses from the graveyard before he can knick any valuables off them. He pleads with the local bruiser (and his boss) Hans Overfist (Nabeel El Khafif) for assistance in eliminating the rat threat. Hans makes it clear that he doesn’t give a damn about this supposed “rat problem,” and if Massan doesn’t turn over some high-priced items, he’ll be the one to end up in the graveyard next.

A desperate Massan turns to his partner-in-crime, Dooley (Julian Richings), a medical examiner who occasionally allows Massan to examine his cadavers for things like gold fillings in exchange for Massan fueling his opiate addiction.

Massan hits the jackpot on this particular visit as Dooley is in the middle of preparing the body of a wealthy and influential man for his funeral. While at the morgue, Massan overhears the man’s widow making plans for his funeral, including burying him with a priceless saber gifted to him by King George.

With dollar signs practically bulging out of his eye sockets, Massan insinuates himself into the funeral proceedings and introduces himself to the widow as the carer preparing Winston for his eternal resting place. He plans to dig up the grave as soon as possible to beat the rats to the corpse.

But when Massan arrives to dig into the coffin, he’s too late. The rats have already made off with Winston’s body, chewing a hole through the bottom of the coffin that descends into a horrifying labyrinthine network of underground tunnels harboring who knows what.

A self-proclaimed claustrophobe, Massan is terrified of descending into the tunnels after the body, but he’s even more afraid of Hans burying him alive, so he musters up the courage to slide into the muck and make the descent.

Cabinet of Curiosities episode 2 recap: Massan descends into the underground

Most of this episode’s horror comes from Massan’s journey through the underground. It’s dirty and gross, and the tension is palpable as Massan progresses further into the darkness in search of gold. I want to give a lot of credit to episode director Vincenzo Natali for his deft handling of the filmmaking in this episode because how the camera navigates the tunnels with Massan is a remarkable feat. Anyone who shares Massan’s claustrophobia (like me) was probably squirming watching this episode play out.

And if Massan thought the scurrying feet of hundreds of rats were terrifying, his shock is incomparable to when he meets the queen of all rats down there, a massive and slimy-looking beast that’s only weakness appears to be that it’s blind. And like in the first episode, the practical effects and creature design are excellent. Queen Rat reminded me a little of the Raatma design from V/H/S/94.

But then Massan’s luck changes, or so he thinks, as he stumbles upon an underground church. Earlier in the episode, while pleading with his Hans, Massan had mentioned the existence of “black churches” erected in worship to satan who host orgies and partake in all manner of the occult and his theory that these churches might be the cause of the recent rat problem.

The discovery of the church also plays into the religious themes of this episode, as Massan is portrayed as a greedy, cowardly man driven by self-preservation instincts at the expense of everything else. Yet, in his darkest hour, he promises God that if he survives, he’ll forsake graverobbing and become a devout man, but more on that in a minute.

Since rats are only interested in organic matter, Massan discovers that the old church is full of jewels and valuables, including the saber he came down to find in the first place.

You’d think stealing from the dead, even in an “unholy” place, would give Massan pause, but considering he desecrates graves for a living, it’s not all that surprising that he steals whatever he can get his hands on from the church, failing to notice a terrifying statue of a demon complete with teeth and tentacles.

Massan steals a gold necklace from a corpse propped up near the statue, and it springs to life, giving chase. Massan desperately tries to escape from the tunnels, now with a reanimated corpse and the Queen Rat still on his tail. Trapped between one beast and another in the middle of a small outcropping in the tunnels, Massan uses a massive boulder to kill the rat and block the tunnel off from the corpse.

Cabinet of Curiosities episode 2 recap: Salvation?

Without anything chasing him anymore, Massan turns his attention to escaping the tunnels and prays to God to guide him back to the surface. Ahead of him, he notices a literal bright light at the end of the tunnel and assumes it to be his salvation, but when he gets there, Massan realizes that it is just his light reflecting off of a “requiescat in pace” placard on the inside of a coffin.

Yes, Massan’s worst nightmare comes true as he accidentally crawls straight into a coffin. As the rats descend upon him, he becomes just like the corpses he’d robbed in death, complete with plenty of valuables adorning his body stolen from the black church.

Later, when another pair of graverobbers find the coffin with Massan inside, they’re horrified to see rats crawling out of his mouth as they eat him from the inside out.