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‘Nine Perfect Strangers’ 1.07 Review: Wheels on the Bus

Chaos reigns in a tense penultimate episode of the trippy Hulu drama.

Nicole Kidman in Nine Perfect Strangers
(Image: © Vince Valitutti/Hulu)

Our Verdict

The trip might be bad for the wellness retreat guests but the penultimate episode delivers.

For

  • *Regina Hall captures the frenetic mood.
  • *Some very funny asides.
  • *Melissa McCarthy's emotional turn.
  • *The bonkers fantasy moments.

Against

  • *The twist takes the 'Fatal Attraction' element too far.
  • *Ben and Jess are still underdeveloped.

This post contains spoilers for Nine Perfect Strangers "Wheels on the Bus.”
Read our latest review 
here.

The wellness journey hits the skids in the penultimate episode of Nine Perfect Strangers as Masha’s (Nicole Kidman) desire to turn back the clock trumps her ability to see clearly. Multiple things go array in “Wheels on the Bus,” which takes a surprisingly sharp turn in the final moments to reveal the person who shot the Tranquillum House guru and is behind the threats. The psychedelics in everyone’s systems are hindering rather than helping and this vacation is not going to score highly on a Yelp.

From the jump, the stalker mystery has felt like an additional piece of the puzzle that came from another box and it is not until Carmel (Regina Hall) turns around to reveal her distinctive eye that it all falls into place. The series has deviated heavily from Liane Moriarty’s novel of the same name and Masha’s near-death experience in the book is a heart attack caused by poor health. There is no murder plot or stalker sending her threatening messages. When it was revealed last week that Carmel and Masha have a shared history — Masha is the first person Carmel’s husband cheated on — it felt too neat for her to be the person unleashing threats. However, in a show with this many reality-bending moments, it is almost fitting that the solution is the most expected. 

Carmel is a ball of rage when she comes upon Masha by herself and launches at the woman wearing white. Soon her pristine frock is stained with blood, and Carmel is being yanked off by Yao (Manny Jacinto). In the previous episode, she raised her concerns to Lars (Luke Evans) about her violent outbursts and what might happen if she “sees” her ex-husband. The issue here is she sees Masha as the woman who is currently with her ex, or so she says. While I don’t think Carmel is that good an actress, her creepy unveiling in the final moments suggests she has some sort of agency in all of this independent from the drugs. Alternatively, for all the blood tests and medicals that have been done, it is clear this ragtag operation doesn’t exactly have a handle on the mental health of its guests. I am a little concerned about the portrayal of Carmel’s rage in relation to her actions and whether there will be any kind of diagnosis. Right now, this feels like it is tipping into broad Fatal Attraction territory, and the gun flashback twist is a step too far. Hall bounces from state to state in a convincing fashion, and it is heartbreaking every time she gets locked in her room. She does have the sounds of “Xanadu” to keep her company as she packs and there are worse songs to get stuck in your head. 

When Masha goes to check in on Carmel she has already ingested the same drug cocktail as the Marconis, which she did in desperation to get them to agree to this radical treatment. This is only going to heighten an already volatile situation, and the wheels have long fallen off this particular bus. “Reason is no match for pain,” Napoleon Marconi (Michael Shannon) explains to his daughter earlier when he is making a case for Masha’s plan, and this is echoed in the actions of the wellness leader. Her judgment is clouded by the loss of her daughter in the bike accident we have seen fragments of and she is far from an impartial observer — this only makes her more dangerous. It turns out that the person who died the previous year at Tranquillum House was trying to see his dead brother and he drank the same dosage that Masha has ingested (along with the Marconis). Before she dishes out this beverage, Lars confronts her about this incident and reveals this is the impetus behind his investigation. When he comments on her connecting this man with his brother she is forthright about how well it turned out, “And I did. It was very successful.” This is another deadpan line reading that is hard to tell if Kidman is leaning into the dark humor or not, but I am choosing to believe she is — and yes, I laughed. She remarks that he had underlying health conditions, whereas the Marconis are all very healthy, and even without the Carmel factor this has disaster written all over it. 

While discussing the finer details with Lars, she spots Yao and Delilah (Tiffany Boone) in a heated conversation about their next move. Delilah is still set on fleeing this disaster in the making as she thinks they will be culpable when something goes wrong. Yao is torn between the two women he loves, as well as the safety of the guests but Deliah wants to alert the authorities to stop Masha’s scheme. When she reaches the locked gate and finds out they are in lockdown she takes a drastic route straight through the fence. Will she arrive back with the reinforcements before it is too late?

One person Masha does help without any ulterior motive this week is Frances (Melissa McCarthy) who describes the sensation of her head disappearing. Feeling weird makes her paranoid about her bond with Tony (Bobby Cannavale), which she can’t be sure is real of the drugs talking. Toward the start of “Wheels on the Bus”, she asks Masha whether his shift away from doom is the mushrooms or her, and she can’t quite buy the insistence that his romantic overtures aren’t manufactured. Frances has tapped into the notion of the inner child — she later finds out that Masha has actually been seeing her daughter — and describes the fearless girl she once was and now she is simply afraid. “Bit by bit life chipped away at that little girl,” she observes and later on we see a vision of this girl while “Moon River” plays. Masha explains that everybody is afraid, which includes herself and Frances has a hard time buying this. It is only later on when Frances sits on the edge of the cliff and Masha reveals the haunting secret that she finally accepts this similarity.

That conversation occurs after a heart-to-heart with Tony that doesn’t end well. Before matters spiral out of control, she sees Tony with long hair looking like a cover star from one of her novels. He quotes her first book back to him but this is all a fantasy — another glorious moment courtesy of Cannavale — and later on, when he reveals he has opened up in a way he has never done before this gesture is treated like a bomb waiting to go off. “Maybe the problem is you know too much,” he remarks about the lack of pretense between them. “When I consider the damage of you and the damage of me that equation of us. I don’t want to walk that plank because either it wouldn’t work out or it would and I don’t know which one is worse,” she replies, and Tony responds that this is one of the worst things someone has said to him. It is just as terrifying for Frances to find a partner who really loves her as it is to be broken-hearted. I really want this pair to work it out but first Frances has to address the issues eating away at her soul. 

Finding common ground with Masha occurs when she realizes they both lost their dads at an early age. Frances explains this is when she started eroding and cites a golf phrase her father favored. From my understanding (golf is not something I watch or play), “never up, never in” speaks of how you will never get to the hole if you don’t strike it hard enough. In this respect, Frances never had a chance of succeeding in love because she doesn’t put herself out there far enough (as she is doing with Tony) and the time she did is when she got severely burned. Her desire to go back to when she was happier is understandable but despite Masha’s mushrooms, the only way is forward. Frances is not too far gone to understand that the “shit has hit the fan” and she is not the only one to make this observation.

One couple that appears to be fixing things are Ben (Melvin Gregg) and Jessica (Samara Weaving), but Ben’s melancholic air worries me about their future. On the surface, as they lounge in the hot springs they seem better than before but what happens when they go back to the real world? There is talk of renewing their vows without a conversation about how to work through the cracks that brought them here in the first place. Jess sings “Wheels on the Bus” and airily (and accurately) notes the wheels have come off the Tranquillum vehicle and Weaving further highlights an uncanny ability to make Jess sound poignant and funny. But just like her character’s social media obsession, this couple is still very surface level and the series has missed a trick in sidelining them. With one episode to go, there isn’t much time to rectify this and even less time for Masha’s plan to fix these nine people who are now far from strangers.