Unfortunately, it’s just one step forward, two steps back with Nine Perfect Strangers. After last week’s surge of momentum in “Earth Day,” we deal with the fallout in episode four, “Brave New World.” Masha reveals that she has in fact been microdosing (most of) her guests, and despite being drugged without their consent, they all decide to stay.
Plotwise, obviously it makes sense, but logically? Maybe there’s a bit of Stockholm Syndrome going on, a getting-sucked-into-the-cult mentality. Masha commands their trust and respect (again, a big if, not to mention, why?), so much so that even though she just violated that trust, everyone is willing to stay in her care for seven more days. Yes, if they all ran like hell out of there we wouldn’t have much of a series, but really?
And about that series: Nine Perfect Strangers is set up right now so that every episode covers a single day in the guests’ stay at Tranquillum. The problem is that some of these days just aren’t going to be that eventful (maybe a tight six-episode stretch would have been better). This episode is a perfect example. Other than the necessary conversations in which the guests decide to stay at the retreat, and a few rage-filled exercises, this was another outing that primarily consisted of wheel-spinning.
So let’s search for some bright spots: Regina Hall continues to kill it, especially in Carmel’s one-on-one with Masha, where she reveals the cruelty her husband inflicted on her, which resulted in her simmering, unresolved anger. Unfortunately, Masha then decides to use Carmel’s revelations against her by exposing them in the rage exercise, which honestly should be another red flag to everyone that yes, Masha’s methods are unconventional, but not necessarily in a healthy way.
Tony and Frances grow even closer, and their banter is beginning to contain sparks of actual friendship, which is heartening to watch. A lot of that is due to the camaraderie of the performers and just how frickin’ outstanding they are. It’s great to get to see Melissa McCarthy, who is known mostly for comedy, stretch her dramatic range in her rage monologue about all that her deceptive boyfriend stole from her. (Although you have to wonder if her roles in action movies like Spy and Thunder Force aided her with wielding that sword a bit.) But thanks to those comedic chops, she also offers us the most lighthearted moments of the series, kind of an antidote to Kidman’s grating “moose and squirrel” accent: The scene where Frances goes off and drinks a bottle of Tito’s in response to Masha’s drugging revelation is pretty hilarious, as even Frances admits it made very little sense.
But that all helps Frances become someone that Tony can open up to, and Bobby Cannavale is just stellar here. We learn another reason behind his pill addiction: his guilt over accidentally killing a drunk fan in a bar fight. Cannavale effectively leans into Tony’s pain, revealing him to be a generally good person felled by a horrid string of bad luck. Nine Perfect Strangers’ plot lines may be nonsensical, but the performances (well, most of them, obviously there are many Nicole Kidman portrayals I enjoy more than this one) are consistently a joy to witness. Like our weekly solid player Michael Shannon, able to conjure up tears immediately just by thinking about his son Zach. Napoleon is healthily skeptical about Masha’s methods, especially since he’s a high school teacher; Heather is surprisingly on board, but the couple can’t deny that they seem to be in a better place than they were before Tranquillum. And there are all sorts of studies about microdosing and pot and mushrooms being medically helpful. As most of our inmates point out, it’s Masha’s methodology that’s so problematic.
After all, even though all her minions keep talking up how awesome she is (even Delilah, although there was hopefully a dose of sarcasm in there), at least one person out there is less than pleased with Masha’s methods. They even taunt her with her whole “rebirth” exercise as they trash her office. Masha’s strongheadedness, supposedly, is what helped make her such a success in the first place, but there’s also an irritating factor inherent in someone who refuses to consider any opinion but her own. Especially when she keeps veering further in the obviously wrong direction: Amping up the medication appears to be capable of steering the group straight into disaster (as Napoleon’s faltering speech indicates at the end of this episode), and yet Masha can not be swayed. Which makes you wonder what her ultimate goal could possibly be.
- Hulu just announced that the first episode of Nine Perfect Strangers was the most-watched debut for any Hulu original series so far, outdrawing other prestige projects like Little Fires Everywhere and The Handmaid’s Tale. I wonder how many viewers are sticking around in week two?
- Tony’s Styx T-shirt is my favorite fashion choice on this show so far.
- Other than Tony and Frances, my favorite pairing on this show is Lars and Zoe.
- Ben’s best line so far, to Masha: “How crazy are you?”
- Since Yao tells Jessica that they often recommend MDMA for couples, are we supposed to discern that that’s what Heather and Napoleon received? (Which judging by their behaviors, seems to make sense.)
- At the top of the Nine Perfect Strangers list this episode: She’s not technically one of the Nine Perfect Strangers, but thank goodness for Tiffany Boone’s Delilah, who seems to be the only person on that compound who actually realizes how messed-up this whole situation is.
- Next week: Zoe celebrates her 21st birthday at Tranquillum in “Sweet Surrender.”