The truth is beginning to come out and a romantic storyline is 'Nine Perfect Strangers' at its best.
- 🌸 The mix of comedy, romance, and sweetness in Melissa McCarthy and Bobby Cannavale's scenes.
- 🌸 The use of 'Cabaret.'
- 🌸 How the series explores grief and guilt (and Michael Shannon's heartbreaking conversation).
- 🌸 The soundtrack (including a great Dusty Springfield song).
- 🌸 Samara Weaving is underused still but has some funny line readings.
- 🌸 The whiplash from the melodramatic reveals.
- 🌸 Still need more character development for Ben.
- 🌸 The Masha backstory still feels superfluous.
This post contains spoilers for Nine Perfect Strangers "Motherlode.”
Read our latest review here.
After the high of Zoe’s (Grace Van Patten) 21st birthday party that saw her father Napoleon (Michael Shannon) crooning to the small crowd, it is not surprising that matters take a turn toward the dark on Nine Perfect Strangers. Before coming to the picturesque Tranquillum House and entering into Masha’s (Nicole Kidman) psilocybin wellness treatment, the Marconi trio was stuck in their grief — they were neither moving forward nor looking back. Heather (Asher Keddie) and Napoleon’s marriage was frozen because of guilt stemming from what occurred on the morning of Zach (Hal Cumpston) died by suicide. Opening a wound that has been barely covered with a metaphorical bandaid is precarious. Throwing hallucinogenics into the mix uncorked a stream of emotions that have not been discussed in the three years since Zach’s death. Unfortunately, a buried secret is also brought to the surface when the dose is increased and it alters the narrative patriarch Napoleon has constructed around this tragic event.
Masha’s goal becomes clearer thanks to the Marconi family and last week she told Zoe she was the key after she saw her dead twin. Rather than altruistic reasons, Masha is motivated by her own past and this makes the experiment she is conducting more dangerous. She has claimed that a near-death experience sparked her change in career and while there is no disputing those events (after all, Yao was a paramedic who treated her), she has also been withholding a major part of her story. The little girl she keeps envisioning — including when she eats and then spits out some of Zoe’s cake — isn’t an inner child she is trying to reconnect with but rather a daughter. While Dusty Springfield sings the haunting “The Windmills of Your Mind,” the final moments of “Motherlode” reveal an accident involving the little blonde girl who I presume is her dead daughter. The pieces are slowly falling into place regarding the Russian guru’s past and the reason why she picked various members of the group is also shifting into focus.
The Marconi family got a big discount and their desire to turn back the clock explains why they are ideal candidates for Masha’s scheme. Unfortunately, Masha can’t predict everything and the revelation about Zach’s asthma medication opens up a whole new can of worms that could threaten everything. She is so blinded by her task that nothing will stop the plans she has set in motion, and this makes Masha an incredibly dangerous force. The version of Zach is their own memories projected, which is why he speaks their greatest regrets back at them. For Zoe, it is the fact she keeps telling people they weren’t close, whereas Napoleon hasn’t conversed with him as of yet — perhaps because he blamed himself for what happened. Heather’s conversation brings up the side effects pamphlet that mentioned “suicidal ideation” and whether or not she underlined this phrase. Later, Napoleon comments to Masha that Heather is so specific about researching medication and food that he doesn’t know if he can forgive her for this slip (or keeping it secret).
Michael Shannon is at his most heartbreaking as he tells Masha about the low percentage of couples who remain together after a tragedy with a child — foreshadowing what happened with Masha’s own relationship, perhaps? — and that blame is malignant to a marriage. He was convinced Heather would leave him because he overslept and didn’t save Zach, and now he is contemplating whether he can forgive. “Love is not enough,” is Napoleon’s assessment of his relationship, and all he wants is his son back. Masha offers this to him and while she cannot physically resurrect Zach, she proposes a shared hallucination so they can process the unbearable grief and pain. The plan is to relive past trauma so they can come out the other side but I am with Delilah (Tiffany Boone) regarding how unstable this unorthodox treatment is. Heather has already had an extreme psychotic reaction that left her in the fetal position unable to move and Masha’s determination coupled with her erratic mood further makes this ripe for disaster. Nine Perfect Strangers is emotionally powerful during scenes that discuss grief and guilt in a profound and nuanced manner, but as soon as Masha brings in her theories it veers into a trippy melodrama.
The Carmel twist is very silly — Hall does wonders with the material though — but Tony (Bobby Cannavale) also raises the question of why them? He observes that Masha picked nine people who would do anything she wanted them to, which is why they all drank the smoothies even after they knew what was in them. They are all desperate to feel better, and this shared anguish unites them. He tells Frances (Melissa McCarthy) that rather than despair he chose to feel hope when drinking the higher dosage at breakfast. One of the new rules for this more potent mix is a buddy system and to my delight, Frances and Tony are paired. Even before the new dose, Frances was seeing some pretty peculiar things, namely a tiny version of Paul (Ben Falcone) singing “Money Money” from Cabaret. She flushes him down the toilet and her mood is brightened by this surreal event. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how wonderful it is to hear Luke Evans sing snippets from other Cabaret tracks while trying to guess what show tune the tiny Paul was performing. The breakfast ensemble scene is a gift that keeps on giving and while the family atmosphere is part of the illusion, there is truth to the relationships that are developing.
One of my chief gripes about this season is how it oscillates between moods, as it can be distracting and makes it hard to gauge exactly what the Nine Perfect Strangers creative team is striving for. The latter tends to happen when Masha is on screen — I am still weighing up whether moments are intentionally comedic — but this is never an issue when McCarthy and Cannavale are on screen. Swinging between funny and heartfelt causes no whiplash when Tony and Frances finally smooch in the picturesque location. In her mushroom-addled state, Frances accidentally speaks out loud when she thinks Tony is about to lean in for a kiss — “Oh my god, he’s going in.” The romantic music abruptly cuts out and this is how you play with genre successfully. There are jokes about dizziness before Tony lays his fears on the table telling her that he hurts everyone he loves and he doesn’t want to do it to her. This gives her reason to bring up her writing insecurities and not only is Paul a con man but he is also a stand-in for the critics who hate her books. Tony shuts this down pretty quickly and it swings back into rom-com territory. The former football player jokes he is a bad kisser, which is clearly not the case and I am rooting for these two kids to get through the mushroom haze and make it work.
Post first smooches (yes there are multiple), Tony brings up his new state of mind that includes thoughts of painting his house, buying a dog, and taking her out to dinner. “If I ever do write romance again, I’m gonna steal that,” Frances tearfully jokes after this vulnerable speech. She is both touched by his candor and turned on as they lay on the ground under the huge tree. The humor doesn’t feel out of place and only adds to the sweetness of this scene. Later, when everyone (except the Marconis) is breaking the “no water” rule by hanging out in the pool, Tony is the only one who is freaked out by the cavalier manner in which everyone else is ignoring Masha’s higher dosage stipulations. Finally, he is feeling grounded and any threat to this is something he has issues with.
During this scene, Lars (Luke Evans) looks out for his buddy Carmel and earlier in the episode, he films her (with her consent) using the equipment Masha has provided — I’m not sure how much of an exposé it is when the subject willingly provides the device to record his findings on. Masha speaks to his ego telling him that this story could put his name on the map and she even shares that she has been controlling their dreams, and this includes the one in which he was being called a homophobic slur by his entire class at school. Carmel tells him the truth about her connection with Masha and notes that she is afraid of seeing her ex as a vision because of how angry he makes her. She also seems happy with the family Masha has given them during this short stay and this connection is something each of the nine guests has been craving and Masha has given to them.
Later, Frances has a heart-to-heart with Carmel in which the latter suggests they are alike. Yes, they both came here to get over a bad relationship, however, Frances seems to be working through her con-man crisis and is moving on (even if she is only incrementally feeling better) whereas Carmel is trapped. “I just worry that you seem to be getting worse,” is how Frances views the woman sat before her. Should we be worried about what might happen in the woods when neither Lars nor Tony is around to look out for their buddies?
While they are still woefully underused, Jess (Samara Weaving) and Ben (Melvin Gregg) have some funny and scary moments in “Motherlode.” It took a bit of time to adjust to the fake teeth Weaving is wearing in this role, but that is nothing on what she looks like when her nose falls off into the sink. This hallucination comes as a surprise because they thought they were only on MDMA, but Masha manages to talk Jess down from this appearance-based nightmare. Weaving has some fantastic comic timing that I wish the series would utilize more and she offers some funny reactions after she has calmed down — namely not knowing where the hell Masha appeared from. So far, other than their marriage suffering from the weight of their lottery win it is unclear how this couple fits into the grand scheme of Masha’s plan, and I worry that whatever the reason will be too, little too late. One thing that is working is the therapy to reconnect and they are certainly exhibiting intimacy, although will this stick when they are sober?
Elsewhere, the family connections are already falling apart with the Marconis struggling with the truth. It doesn’t help that behind the scenes, Delilah and Yao (Manny Jacinto) are at odds with Masha’s plan as Yao has put all his faith in his boss whereas Delilah can only think about the previous death (and lawsuit) at Tranquillum House. She tells him they will be complicit if anything goes wrong and they should leave while they still can.
It was only a few hours earlier that Zoe and her parents were dancing around a field before it quickly went to hell. Will Masha be able to keep control of her own bubbling emotions or is this wellness center on a crash course to disaster? Two episodes remain and finally, Nine Perfect Strangers is coming into focus even if not all the guests and staff can see clearly.
Emma Fraser spends most of her time writing about TV, fashion, and costume design; Dana Scully is the reason she loves a pantsuit. Words can also be found at Vulture, Elle, Primetimer, Collider, Little White Lies, Observer, and Girls on Tops. Emma has a Master’s in Film and Television, started a (defunct) blog that mainly focused on Mad Men in 2010, and has been getting paid to write about TV since 2015. It goes back way further as she got her big start making observations in her diary about My So-Called Life’s Angela Chase (and her style) at 14.
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