I can’t help but feel like this is on me, fam: I should have identified that last week’s lovely Nine Perfect Strangers episode was the calm before the proverbial storm. Compared to “Sweet Surrender”’s moments of genuine connection and affection among our nine, “Motherlode” seems like an entirely different series.
The problem, of course, is Masha, whose latest attempt to up the “protocol” involves tracking her guests’ dreams using “auditory subliminal stimuli mixed with a chemical catalyst” (someone less tired than I am look this up to see if this is actually possible, because as with all things Masha, it sounds fishy), invading their bedrooms (poor Lars), and moving on from microdosing into straight-up dosing, leading to an unsettling, hallucinatory day at the spa.
Every single week, Masha and Delilah have the same conversation about the “protocol” (“I don’t think they’re ready,” “Just trust me”) that doesn’t change anything. There are so many leaps of faith we need to take here: that all nine are still at Tranquillum, obviously, and that they are still trusting the person who drugged them without their knowledge or consent. Granted, Masha does give them all the chance to opt out of this more intense treatment (or, says she does, anyway), but after several days in her “care” they all go in anyway, even though whatever level of hallucinogen that they’re on seems to bring up their most painful insecurities and fears.
Sure, maybe Frances got some catharsis from flushing a tiny, Cabaret-spouting Paul down the toilet. But Lars had to revisit his childhood bullies, and looks-obsessed Jessica (who’s only supposed to be on MDMA, right?) sees her worst nightmares come to life when her nose falls right off.
But the most poignant and painful vision has to be from the Marconi family, who all have varying levels of contact with their dead son/brother Zach. Not saying that Asher Keddie didn’t totally bring it for Heather’s psychotic break when she realizes that Zach’s suicide could have been due to a tragic side effect of his asthma medication. But wouldn’t that reaction be enough to finally clue everyone into the fact that Masha doesn’t know what the fuck she is doing? Especially her employees? Still Delilah is the only one who seems to get it, which makes her want to leave the compound outright: understandable, but a but irresponsible, to want to leave several innocent people helpless at the unbridled whims of Masha.
Because, Masha being Masha, of course she just wants to take this thing farther and into more dangerous territory, which seems especially perilous given Heather’s current mental state: a guided hallucinatory trip that will lead them all right to Zach. Poor wrecked Napoleon tells her he just wants his son back, and this goddamn vulture says, “I can arrange that.”
Look: As a middle-aged orphan, I have very strong feelings about grief. Every once in a while I’ll dream about one or both of my parents, and it seems like a gift. That doesn’t mean that I am going to down some magic mushrooms in the hopes of having a conversation with them: because they’re not really there. No, Masha, I don’t believe “reality is a perspective”; reality is goddamn reality. Napoleon is spot-on when he says, “I’m sorry, that just sounds like madness,” because it is nothing but that. And Masha preying on the grief of this ailing family to further her own mind-meld experiments reveals her to be an even bigger villain than we could have imagined.
But wait, there’s more: Masha is especially interested in the Marconis because it turns out that she’s a grieving parent herself; she was once just a regular mom who took her little girl bike-riding, only to have that end in tragedy. Presumably, that’s when she transitioned into high-powered executive, only to get shot in a parking lot, leading to her Tranquillum creation. Yes, losing a child is unconscionable, and helps to explain how Masha became the person she is now, someone desperate to communicate with the other side, no matter what means she has to use to get there. Unfortunately, by this point the list of Masha’s misdeeds is so long, the hopefully sympathetic reveal just seems like too little, too late.
- Sometimes I feel like I would like this show at least 20% more if Nicole Kidman had just used her regular Australian accent (which she hardly ever gets to use onscreen) instead of this ridiculous faltering Russian one. It takes me out of the show every single time. They were filming in Australia, for god’s sake.
- Hey, no smoothie footage! Maybe after six episodes they figure that message has finally sunken in.
- Frances and Tony finally make the turn from platonic to romantic this episode, but I liked them better when they were just flirting.
- For a really interesting examination of how Masha is both similar to and different from an actual cult leader, check out this recent article by our own Katie Rife.
- Somehow Masha says this with a straight face: “You can trust me. You’re safe with me.”
- Frances says that everyone else is getting better, but Carmel is getting worse, but is that really fair? She seems to be coming to grips with her anger issues (like how protective she was of Lars while tripping), and her talk with Masha about her affair with Carmel’s husband was hopefully therapeutic.
- At the top of the Nine Perfect Strangers list this episode: Hopefully Lars can help bring the whole Tranquillum operation down by publishing a splashy exposé about Masha and all of her unconventional and illegal methods.
- Next week: Two more episodes until this thing wraps up, and frankly, I don’t like where we’re headed. See you next week!