The new show, Nine Perfect Strangers, is now streaming its fourth episode on Hulu. The show is based on the 2018 book of the same name, by Lian Moriarty.
The show centers around a group of people attending a high-end wellness resort named Tranquilium, for a ten-day retreat. The resort is headed by a Russian woman named Masha (Nicole Kidman). In a former life, she was a driven, ruthless, CEO until she was shot and robbed in a parking garage. The paramedic that saved her, Yao, is her partner at Tranquilium.
The show highlights various aspects of mental health and illness. From addiction, grief, anger management, negative self-talk, to narcissism, therapy, relationship & family dynamics – and this all in the first three episodes. And in the fourth – Micordosing.
Who are the nine?
The Marconi’s, Napoleon, Heather, and Zoe, are a family in turmoil. In the midst of grieving the loss of their son and brother, Zach, they have opted to join the retreat on what would be Zach’s twenty-first birthday. Zach and Zoe were fraternal twins. Zach committed suicide on this day three years prior. Heather finds herself in a deep well of isolation, depression, and loneliness. Napoleon, on the other hand, is the eternal optimist, scientifically minded, and an endless chatterbox. The daughter and sister of the deceased, Zoe, is a victim of the death of her brother and the havoc it has wreaked on her family including her parent’s walled-off, disconnectedness. The family struggles with how to deal with the untimely death as well as the other members’ methods.
In her anger, Heather not only feels the grief of the death of her child but is isolated from her husband who constantly spews propaganda directing the family towards ‘moving on’ and keeping a positive attitude. Secretly, he blames himself for his son’s suicide. Zoe is caught between the two, seemingly mature beyond her young age. She has learned to accept the facade her parents have put up and at the same time sees through it.
The Chandlers are a picture-perfect couple, Instagram ready at every turn. Ben, a former caterer turned lottery winner, has fallen out of love with Jessica. Ben drives a Lamborgini and is obsessed with his car. Jessica, desperate for social media approval, is stunningly beautiful though she has lost the interest of her husband. She believes all she has to offer is her beauty. Ben, at one point, is quick to mention that he never worked for his money, instead he won the lottery. The shame is obvious in his words, though it is a lived-in, a common feature of his existence.
The couple attends the retreat in an effort to rekindle their fading bond.
Lee is the most unexplored character to this point. His reasons for attending the retreat are somewhat veiled, though it is revealed in the fourth episode that he is an investigative journalist and his attendance was due to the job. However, it is made clear that Masha, the retreat’s curator (for lack of a better word) has personally chosen each person based on reasons viewers are not aware of as of yet.
What we know is that Lee has recently exited a relationship. A screenshot is shown of a response to his text “I miss you”, being “YOU’RE A NARCISSIST” (in all caps.) While no cell phones are permitted during the retreat, Lee still uses the call feature on his Apple Watch to communicate with the outside world. Lee is an instigator, agitating the group at one point provoking Carmel to jump over a table and choke him in anger.
There is still much to learn, though he has formed an immediate bond with Zoe, the Marconi’s daughter.
Welty is a famous romance author who appears to have lived a life of fortune and fame, but also severe loneliness. In the first scene of the show, she learns that her publisher has dropped her. Her career as an author has taken a serious blow.
In the course of the show’s development, she admits that a man had faked his love for her for financial gain. The man had a son in which he lied to Welty stating that he needed help with the medical bills. In the end, he left her and he made off with the money that was supposed to be for medical bills but was, in fact, that goal of his involvement in the relationship. Welty, though a famous romance author, has little romance in her own life. The pain of the betrayal is exponentially more pronounced due to her loneliness.
Schneider is talkative, seemingly a people pleaser, and appears to be a genuinely nice person. However, it quickly becomes clear that though this is her intent, she often feels her anger boil to the surface and over. In plain, even-toned language she mentions to Jessica Chandler that she wants to punch young, beautiful women in the face. We learn that her over-the-top niceness has a dark side if it is betrayed. Though she attempts to quell her anger, she has not yet allowed herself to confront the source.
Schneider had a cheating husband who left her for a younger woman. She has failed to express much of the anger that she feels from this. She also has stored all of the terrible things that her husband said to her regarding their fading relationship and her aging appearance. She seems to be the victim of a narcissistic ex-husband, left in the wake of his destruction.
Hogburn is an ex-professional football player and oxycontin addict. His career was short-lived due to a back injury introducing him to the pain killers. He is divorced, estranged from his two sons, and self-deceiving. Things get interesting when Masha, Tranquilium’s operator, openly calls him out for his addiction, having her staff remove the medication from his personal effects and doled out as she deems necessary.
Though the pair started as enemies, an unlikely bond has formed between Hogburn and Welty. Hogburn appreciates the time she takes to listen and care for him, she also deals with his temper tantrums – which are frequent. Welty seems to appreciate the attention Hogburn pays to her, though it is mostly in teasing (at one point, asleep in the pool, Hogburn tosses a grape in her mouth in which she chokes. He then performs the Heimlich Maneuver!)
Hogburn also killed a man in a barfight. Though he did not start it, he was provoked, he also was not charged in the matter. Hogburn struggles with the guilt for the man’s death, reinforcing his addiction.
Why would a Russian, ex-CEO, and predatorily driven woman start a wellness retreat? The complete picture has not yet been revealed (currently streaming only through episode four). Though it appears to have begun when she was shot in the chest in a parking garage. The man who saved her life is Yao, her right-hand man and sometimes lover. The experience had a transcendent effect on Masha.
However, it is hinted that perhaps she has not fully transcended her past. She is receiving death threats via text message and at the end of the fourth episode, she returns to her room to find someone had broken in. A message painted on her wall read “It’s good to die”, to which Masha calmly says shit in Russian.
Masha, Yao, and Delilah have had many esteemed guests. In several instances, they discuss “the protocol” which we come to find refers to the psilocybin microdosing (and potentially other drugs) of the guests through smoothies prepared at breakfast each morning. Initially, this is done without the guest being aware. But after a rash decision to increase the protocol, the guests report at dinner the strange experiences they’ve had throughout the day. Heather, after listening to an impassioned deliverance of grace before dinner followed by her husband Napoleon admitting he killed the goat in which they were about to feast, asks “Are you drugging us?”
Masha admits the act but then goes on a tirade about the benefits of microdising, its potential to heal, and change the world. The guests are angered and betrayed by being dosed without their knowledge. Yet after they sleep on it, most choose to remain being dosed.
Napoleon, perhaps the most against the idea, explains to his wife the next morning that it was the first time in years that he slept without his sleep apnea machine. He also revealed his true feelings to his wife for the first time during grace the night prior. The effects of the dosing seemed to be the start of a healing process for Napoleon. (For more information on research into microdosing, visit here.)
At the end of episode four, Masha increases the protocol again against the warnings of Yao and Delilah. The result of this action will be revealed in further episodes.
The Mental Health Connection
Nine Perfect Strangers illustrates an array of relatable situations to which we can relate to our own experiences with mental health. The family dynamics of the Marconi’s and their dealings with grief to Hogburn’s struggle with falling from pro-athlete grace. All of the nuances that surround mental illness are here in this depiction, though fiction. The show feels real and relatable on several levels. Its exploration of these ideas is worth some admittance of utility.
The show also seems to address the issues inherent in the CEO type personality, and how even with the best of intentions, they remain those of control, exploitation, and dominance. Masha has chosen those that she wished to attend the retreat. She handpicked them, as it is noted that less than ten percent of the people who desire to attend Tranquillium actually are chosen. It seems to be some sort of science experiment for a business idea that she has. I truly hope that is not the endpoint we are headed towards, yet it does seem to point in this direction.
New episodes of Nine Perfect Strangers air on Wednesdays on Hulu. The next episode is slated for Wednesday, September 1st… Check it out.