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Nine Perfect Strangers draw closer together in a standout episode

The guests are fine, but the Tranquillum host is this show’s biggest problem

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Photo: Vince Valitutti/Hulu

Yeah, I know: I complained about last week’s Nine Perfect Strangers episode because very little happened. You could say the same about this week’s episode, “Sweet Surrender,” but all the little micro-developments were so positive that this NPS gave all of the series’ talented players a chance to stand out. Plus, it had not one but two Michael Shannon musical performances. I mean, come on.

It’s interesting that far and away the best parts of this show are those nine performers and their interactions with each other. Luke Evans’ Lars continues to open up to Zoe, and when he tells her that she shouldn’t be alone in her grief for her brother, and she says, “I’m not alone,” because she’s with him, he slight, off-to-the-side smile was epic. Lars even was able to make amends with his nemesis Carmel this week, rightly pointing out that all her rage for her husband is keeping her from moving ahead.


Frances and Tony continue to circle around each other: Tony takes care of her when she’s so drugged she face-plants right into the oatmeal (Delilah’s “Oh, fuck off, Tony,” seemed a bit harsh, didn’t it?), listening to how her hallucination about her ex brought up all her biggest fears about her professional life. It’s a theme a failed football player can totally relate to. Then Tony opens up to Frances again (involuntary manslaughter last episode just wasn’t enough) about the fact that he wasn’t there for the birth of either of his kids, so Lars’ childbirth dream triggered him. It’s a predictable progression, but Melissa McCarthy and Bobby Cannavale are just joy to witness, so that their inevitable dance at Zoe’s party zooms past hokey and right into charming.


Even the married couples move closer this episode: Ben and Jessica reconnect in the hot springs after admitting to pining for their former, pre-lottery life (They always say that lottery winners have a lot of regret later; I mean, I am willing to find out for myself, if that should happen). Yao does the only positive act of consequence by a Tranquillum staff member this episode by taking Napoleon and Heather cliff-diving, where Napoleon’s pent-up frustrations about his wife come out, and are released as the couple takes the plunge (stunt doubles were probably used due to insurance reasons, etc., but Michael Shannon’s first dive, especially, sure looked real) and continues to draw closer together.

Across the board, those were all great scenes, but guess who’s missing from this equation? Masha. The glittering guru somehow seems to grind all positive Nine Perfect Strangers interactions to a halt just by showing up. She creeps into her minions’ bedchambers? She’s also having an affair with Delilah, completing the third side of that romantic triangle? Delilah had her moments of clarity last week, attempting to call out Masha for her unconventional (to put it mildly) methods. But this week, after a tryst with magical Masha, she somehow seems to be on board again. Masha didn’t even get a one-on-one with anyone this week, which only adds to the perception that all the progress that her guests are making, they are doing on their own, conversing in sweat tents and on meditation mats, getting to the root of their many problems. And since they are all more compelling than Nicole Kidman’s wafting accent, it seems a shame to waste a scene on Masha waltzing through the woods, being scared by her phone yet again.

There was one major development this episode, though, and it seems to swing this series into supernatural territory. Zoe sees Zack this episode. Again, this outlandish plot twist gains agency just through Grace Van Patten’s tremendous performance; it’s difficult not to get choked up when Zoe reveals, “I didn’t know what it felt like to be lonely because I always had you.” (Full disclosure: As the mother of boy-girl twins myself, this scene pretty much wrecked me.) Zoe hadn’t turned 21 yet, so presumably there wasn’t anything in her smoothie, so why should she be seeing Zack, not in a dream, just straight-up in her room? I mean, we really shouldn’t put anything past Masha, and given everyone else’s vivid dreams/visions from the same night, it seems logical that Zoe was dosed as well, just in time to see her brother on the morning of her/their birthday.

But then… she sees him later at the party as well? It’s an intriguing development that adds to the mystery of Traquillum, so I’m still on board there. But naturally, Masha has to storm in and mess everything up: She notices that Zoe can definitely see something—or can she see Zach as well? Either way, she now identifies Zoe as “the key,” whatever that is. Masha as some sort of supernaturally gifted guru would be another step too far for this show, despite the strident efforts of everyone else in the cast.


Stray observations

  • Props to the casting department for hiring Hal Cumpston to play Zach, who looks an awful lot like a kid Michael Shannon would have, while also being a credible twin for Zoe.
  • Yes, the smoothies are ominous, we get it, smoothie footage.
  • Grace Van Patten is in fact a member of the Van Patten acting/directing clan, the daughter of Sopranos/Perry Mason director Tim Van Patten.
  • The dreams/visions are all connected to the guests’ deepest desires and fears: Zoe and her twin, Lars and the family he missed out on with his ex, Frances and her insecurities about her writing talent, and Napoleon’s unfulfilled dreams to be a rock star.
  • At the top of the Nine Perfect Strangers list this episode: We have to go with Michael Shannon’s Napoleon, for not only diving off of a frickin’ cliff twice, but for both standout musical numbers: the sweet silliness of singing a Grease song to his wife and daughter in his boxer shorts, and the truly impressive velvet pipes that deliver his version of The Tune Weavers’ “Happy, Happy Birthday Baby.” Just give him the Emmy for that “You’re The One That I Want” scene alone. In second place: Zoe, for connecting with her no-longer-living brother and for pulling the group even closer together with her heartwarming speech at her birthday party.
  • Next week: In “Motherlode,” apparently the “protocol escalates,” so hold on to your collective hats, everyone.