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‘Nine Perfect Strangers’ 1.05 Review: Sweet Surrender

The wellness retreat guests lean into the unorthodox treatments in “Sweet Surrender.”

Nicole Kidman and Grace Van Patten in Nine Perfect Strangers
(Image: © Vince Valitutti/Hulu)

Our Verdict

The tone is still uneven but this show is ideal for an end-of-summer watch — and the cast is magnetic.

For

  • 🌸 Michael Shannon singing not one but two songs.
  • 🌸 The location continues to provide stunning backdrops.
  • 🌸 There are some very funny and trippy moments, which gives Luke Evans time to shine.
  • 🌸 The ensemble scenes.

Against

  • 🌸 The threat to Masha’s life is still a drag to the overall plot.
  • 🌸 The dynamic between Masha, Yao, and Delilah is also a distracting conflict.
  • 🌸 Characters like Jess and Ben still don’t have much to do.

This post contains spoilers for Nine Perfect Strangers "Sweet Surrender.”
Read our latest review 
here.

The guests at Tranquillum House have gone from annoyance at the lack of consent regarding their laced custom smoothies to fully embracing the unorthodox methods within the space of an episode (or a day in their timeline). Five episodes into Nine Perfect Strangers and the tone is still all over the place, but similar to the guests taking part in the 10-day wellness retreat I am fully embracing the surreal scenarios depicted in “Sweet Surrender.” In fact, I can’t help but have a ball during the group scenes even if some of the individual plot threads are perplexing and thinly drawn. Reactions to the series include the proclamation that this is a Prestige TV misfire, but rather, it feels like a limited-series beach read. Not all the parts add up and yet with this cast and setting it is still a good time and ideal for an end-of-summer slot — even if landing after White Lotus does it no favors. 

First of all, this episode features not one but two Michael Shannon musical numbers and for anyone who wanted to see the Oscar-nominated actor take on Grease then you are in luck. Napoleon exhibited a gregarious side even before the magic mushrooms had taken effect and he is the most outgoing member of the Marconi family. He kicks off his daughter’s birthday with a rendition of “You’re the One that I Want” that Zoe (Grace Van Patten) finds equal parts cringe and hilarious. It is clear that this goofy performance reflects how the Marconis used to be before the death of their son, and Masha’s (Nicole Kidman) therapy appears to be having a positive effect. Rather than walking on eggshells when his name is mentioned, the reality of Zach’s (Hal Cumpston) absence is a topic they don’t shy away from. It is only when Yao (Manny Jacinto) brings up their son that Heather (Asher Keddie) snaps, which is in part, a defensive reaction to the waterfall jump he has asked the couple to undertake. 

Nine Perfect Strangers

(Image credit: Vince Valitutti/Hulu)

There are still secrets between Zoe and her parents as she doesn’t tell them about the conversation she had with her brother — which she puts down to the smoothies — and how real this interaction felt. Her confidant is Lars (Luke Evans) and Zach’s request for her to stop pretending they weren’t close directly reference Zoe’s previous confessional with Lars. At the end of the episode, Masha sees Zoe is communing with the dead and suggests she might be the key to all of this. Exactly what Masha is referring to is unclear (like everything Masha says) but it looks like the Russian therapist is trying to reach someone on the other side using magic mushrooms. Masha survived a near-death experience that peppers her every thought and rebirth is part of her end goal, but she clearly has bigger plans and each person selected is there for a reason. Grief is a big part of the Marconis’ lives for the last three years and perhaps she is exploiting this hole in their hearts for her gain. 

As with the overall mystery about who is stalking Masha — she gets another threatening text — this is the least interesting part of Nine Perfect Strangers and while I want to know whether Kidman is purposefully injected humor into her line readings, I don’t need to delve further into this character’s psyche. Instead, it is her role as puppet master whispering things about being a work in process and waltzing around in exquisite floral dresses — she has switched from her white angelic numbers — that I find fascinating. The inappropriate and entangled dynamic between Yao and Delilah (Tiffany Boone) and their boss takes another turn as Masha is also in a romantic relationship with Delilah. She mentions how Delilah was broken when she arrived and suggesting abuse of power from Masha. The levels of coercion on display are uncomfortable and she sprinkles this conversation with platitudes about how they are on the precipice of something big. Delilah wants Masha to stop sleeping with Yao and also keep their entanglement secret. This reveal is intended to be titillating and double down on the notion that those leading this group are just as messed up, instead, it is trying too hard to shock.

Luke Evans and Bobby Cannavale in Nine Perfect Strangers

(Image credit: Vince Valitutti/Hulu)

Once again, Bobby Cannavale and Melissa McCarthy as Tony and Frances make their material sing whether it is Tony being protective at breakfast or the author showing genuine concern for his fragile mental state. The breakfast scene is already firing on all cylinders before Frances stumbles thanks to Lars bringing up the vivid dreams he has been experiencing. Napoleon echoes this explaining that he saw himself onstage as one of the Beatles. He thinks he was John Lennon and then points to fuzzy dream logic as the song they were performing was the George Harrison penned “Something.” Before he can break out into another showstopping performance, Carmel’s (Regina Hall) stabs her fork into the table in a rage-induced moment of anger — this happened to be her wedding song. Her fork gets swapped out for a spoon and the Lars is encouraged to share his vivid dream. This is when the show makes it feel like the viewer is also microdosing as Lars describes giving birth with all of the Tranquillum guests surrounding them. Not only that, but Tony is the father and wept tears of joy. When the former NFL player responds unfavorably to this it suggests he is homophobic, however, he later confides in Frances that it made him feel awful because he wasn’t present for the birth of his children — the first because he was working, the second because he was high.

When Yao pulls Frances from the table because Paul (Ben Falcone) is here to see her it is quickly apparent that this is also some sort of hallucination, although I didn’t foresee the faceplanting in her porridge. He explains he isn’t a con man, rather he ghosted her because she sucks as a writer. Everything he says draws on her acute self-doubt and she holds onto these comments in her awake state. Tony is complimentary of the snippet he read and maybe they can be each others’ HEA (Happily Ever After in romance novel vernacular). “What the fuck, eh?” he says offering his hand when Napoleon starts singing “Happy, Happy Birthday Baby” as another one of Zoe’s birthday traditions. It doesn’t sound that romantic but it is a cute gesture and one that makes me root for this pair. Darkness lingers and it is worrying when Tony tells Frances he doesn’t know if he will “make it.” He is no longer on the drugs he has been using to numb everything, and this moment of honesty is a major concern.

Bobby Cannavale and Melissa McCarthy in Nine Perfect Strangers.

(Image credit: Vince Valitutti/Hulu)

Addressing buried trauma is part of Masha’s plan and Carmel practically explodes when she sees Ben (Melvin Gregg) and Jess (Samara Weaving) having sex in the hot springs pool — sidenote, this couple is still woefully underused. Stomping away from the scene she bumps into Lars and he uses his many years of therapy to suggest she needs to disassociate from her ex in order to get her life back. Anger is starting to control her every fiber and she knows how detrimental this is, but she is also sick of pretending everything is fine and having this sunny disposition. This place has stripped away the remnants of the latter, but Lars reminds her she is vibrant, beautiful, and passionate and this nice moment is captured in front of a stunning vista. Throughout Nine Perfect Strangers, the location is a secret weapon and feast for the eyes that add to the aesthetic over the substance of this series. 

Lars is coming into his own this week as he confesses to Zoe about his terrible childhood impacting his desire to have kids (the reason his relationship broke up) and his bond with Carmel is building. He is still sneaking off to make phone calls in the middle of the foliage — how his phone has any battery left is beyond me — and as with the overall Masha mystery, this is not that interesting. “Sweet Surrender” is how I feel when watching the ensemble bounce off each other and it is curious that everyone is fine with the unorthodox program even when Frances has clearly been given too much. They are all getting something positive so far and the audience is trapped in this afterglow. Knowing Masha, something sinister is a few sips of smoothie away.