Chaos Trifecta #1: Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities

chaos trifecta
Written By Ai Jiang

Ai Jiang is a Chinese-Canadian writer and an immigrant from Fujian. She is a member of HWA, SFWA, and Codex. Her work can be found in F&SF, The Dark, Uncanny, among others. She is the holder of Odyssey Workshop's 2022 Fresh Voices Scholarship. Her debut novella Linghun (April 2023) is forthcoming with Dark Matter INK. Find her on Twitter (@AiJiang_) and online (

I fell into Guillermo del Toro’s work the same way many have—after watching Pan’s Labyrinth—which, if you haven’t yet watched it, take this as my fervent persuasion and recommendation to do so. And while you’re at it, Nightmare Alley was quite the gothic ride as well.  

I’ve heard mixed reviews concerning del Toro’s latest venture, Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities, and wanted to share my thoughts on some of the more…deathly pieces. Though I must say, almost all of them do include death in some shape or form. 

“Graveyard Rats” (Season 1 Episode 2)

I think this is episode, though dark, is more in line with the fun, yet gothic and at times absurd tone of Nightmare Alley. It features a desperate graverobber who scours the graves of the wealthy for the goods that they’ve been buried with

It comments on the failure of society in allowing people to fall through the cracks while others have wealth to spare to bury their dead with materialistic goods that may save the lives of those less fortunate, along with having enough money for aesthetic goods like gold teeth when there are others barely able to keep their teeth from rot like the dead, even though they are still living. 

“Graveyard Rats” goes as far as to show how people might violate, mutilate, and disrespect the dead just to survive. And yet, we can sympathize with these crimes because of how the need to survive may drive us toward immoral acts.  

“Dreams in the Witch House” (Season 1 Episode 6)

The way that we might look to religious and the supernatural to explain death and disappearances. The way we are unable to grapple with the reality of a lost loved one, especially those who pass early, and how we might rationalize early and unexpected deaths as something more complex, something more explanatory, anything that might help us understand the nebulous concept better, to make it less unknown, more concrete. 

“Dreams in the Witch House” shows us the ways in which our lives may wither with grief, with lacking closure, and the way we might, out of desperation and frustration, desire to trade our lives for those who had been lost. There is such a futility of the struggle, of fate, of death. And as much as we might not want to, there is an inevitable need to move forward and spend our time in the present rather than the past, or else we might be consumed and imprisoned by our grief. 

“The Murmuring” (Season 1 Episode 8)

“The Murmuring” is a take on the traditional haunted house story and how the people who have passed within its walls still haunt as ghosts. Sometimes, those ghosts haunt the living, but other times, those ghosts might haunt each other, reliving their most regretful actions and memories: holding onto their guilt, stuck in a time that has long passed with heightened emotionality. 

In this episode, death is something that can bring us closer to the past and the dead, but it might also tear us apart from the present and the living, as we discover with Nancy and Edgar’s deteriorating relationship after the passing of their child. 

“The Murmuring” shows us the ways grief might interweave the past and the present and bind the pasts of others to our own. In these shared instances of grief, the pain of the experience, we might learn to better sympathize and connect with both the living and the dead. The episode explores the way the fear of loss—the isolation brings us as we distance ourselves to mourn in private, alone, rather than allowing the navigation of shared grief—might cause us to neglect and lose what is most important. 

What we truly need, at times, is to know that we are not alone, and embrace the comfort of knowing that our experiences are shared, that the pain and suffering do not have to be silent suffocations. 

Editor’s note:

This was sent to subscribers several days ago, along with the first installment of “Letters From A Psychopomp.”

You can catch up with the first “Letters” and make sure you get this directly in your inbox by signing up here:

    We’ve got upcoming essays from Ariel Marken Jack, E. Catherine Tobler, A.C. Wise, Jordan Kurella, and more that you won’t want to miss.