You know how in some horror movies it’s difficult to feel scared or any sympathy for the victims because they’re so goddamn stupid? We have reached that point in the prospective suspense of Nine Perfect Strangers. If last week’s episode was weak, this week’s is just… almost straight-up nonsense, with Masha flitting about from crisis to crisis and Delilah smashing through the gate and oh yes, a supposedly rational family deciding to trip with their guru/captor.
From the start of the series, the best part of Nine Perfect Strangers was witnessing the extremely talented actors rising above the material. Michael Shannon’s Napoleon singing a song from Grease. Melissa McCarthy’s Frances and Bobby Cannavale’s Tony tentatively opening up to each other. Luke Evans’ Lars and Grace Van Patten’s Zoe becoming unlikely friends. But now, as everything has gone completely off the rails (starting with last week’s episode), watching Nine Perfect Strangers involves seeing characters we had actually begun to like now in a deadly state of total chaos.
With Heather and Carmel both suffering breakdowns, our nine perfect strangers are dropping like flies. Most of “Wheels On The Bus” consists of Masha running around from crisis to crisis, somehow convincing herself that she still has control over the situation, even though every single interaction she has indicates that this is no longer the case. Carmel is locked in isolation. Frances is teetering on the edge of a cliff. The Marconis are making a really horrible decision by deciding to trip with Masha herself. With any backbone, Lars is about to blow this whole thing wide open. Oh and Ben and Jessica are going to renew their vows, yay. But why can’t anyone, besides Delilah, just stand up to Masha and say, “Enough!”
Because there has been considerable more character development in Nine Perfect Strangers than there would be in a typical slasher movie, it is more difficult for us to believe that the Marconis would do the equivalent of going up the stairs rather than running out the front door. Even though all three of them have expressed reservations about the delusional hallucinatory therapy that, let’s be clear, will not bring Zach back, once Masha says she’s on board to trip with them, they all go ahead and down the laced tea without even a discussion. Masha says that Yao will be their guide when Yao isn’t even in the room—and the number of Masha’s minions has really dwindled at the spa, hasn’t it? Now that Delilah has fled, it looks like it’s just Yao and Glory, who are both ridiculously loyal to a clearly deranged person. But the Marconis’ decision to continue their treatment is straight-up ludicrous.
It’s not like self-improvement isn’t an interesting concept for a novel/TV series, and like I said, some of the series’ best moments have involved showing the guests wrestling with their inner selves. Such a theme is universal. In fact, far and away the best part of this episode is the conversation between Masha and Frances sitting on the side of a cliff. It gives both award-winning actors a chance to open up, to dig deeper, for Masha to sound like an actual person for once and not an alien from a far-off planet trying to mimic human behavior. Frances’ nostalgia for her brash, fearless young self is only too relatable, and opens up bigger questions related to our selves: What does happen to us in life that makes us replace our bravery with fear? And how can we get that back? The conversation between Frances and Tony when they admit that they may have too much damage for their relationship to work is similarly moving.
Unfortunately, those momentary flashes of genuine insight are soon overtaken by the simultaneous unraveling of Masha’s machinations and her intent to double-down on all of them. Someone died the last time she tried this protocol she wants to attempt with the Marconis. Why wouldn’t Lars, who professes to care for Zoe so much, just tell her and her parents that? Delilah wants to reach the police to protect the Marconis, but how can they possibly get there in time, since the family has already taken the drugs? Meanwhile, guests like Ben, Jessica, and Frances seem aware that everything is spiraling out of control, but seem to find it amusing instead of rightly terrifying.
Obviously, Tranquillum has to fall apart. That descent accelerates rapidly on “Wheels On The Bus,” and likely the chaotic feel is intentional. But unfortunately, as the structure of Masha’s plan falters, so does the series overall. Across the board, everyone seems to be trapped (characters, actors, viewers), and no one knows where they’re going—except for Delilah, smashing right through a fence.
- “How did she look?” “She looked like she was strapped to a gurney.”
- It seems pretty unfair of Napoleon to blame Heather for Zach’s suicide, just because she was the one usually in charge of the kids’ medication. He could have read the pamphlet also. And shouldn’t Zach’s doctor have stressed that potentially fatal side effect?
- More Masha bullshit: “Totally safe, I promise you.” Maybe the Marconis hadn’t known about Carmel’s breakdown, but they had seen Heather’s, so how could they believe her?
- This episode’s feeble arguments against western medicine fail to make a case for undergoing psychotropic treatment with a non-medical professional.
- Oh my god, Delilah and Masha have the “It’s too dangerous,” “Don’t worry” conversation again.
- Next week: The finale! Really not sure how all this could possibly get tied up in one episode, what with the loose threads of who shot Masha and who has been stalking her, as well as the fates of all of our nine. If you’re still hanging in there with me (a big if, I realize!), we’ll (hopefully) finally find out next week.