I must be direct here: Carmel! Carmel? Last week I tossed out an off-the-cuff thought that Carmel didn’t seem to be progressing like the other eight perfect strangers. She wasn’t finding a new romantic connection, like Frances and Tony. She didn’t immediately spark with someone in a friendly way, like Lars and Zoe. Her traumatic breakup with her ex-husband made a matrimonial rejuvenation, à la Heather and Leon and Ben and Jessica, impossible. But for Carmel to be at Tranquillum House because her fuck-around husband had an affair with Masha? I did not see this coming. Is there anyone who does not find Masha attractive? What is the power of this woman!
But: Does that mean Carmel is the stalker? I almost feel like that’s too easy of an answer since we still have two episodes to go. Nine Perfect Strangers adores mess (there is no other way to describe the Masha-Delilah-Yao love triangle!), and I think it would be very messy indeed if the show offers up Carmel, gets us suspicious, then ultimately sprints in another direction. And I’m also a little skeptical of the Connelly family that Masha and Delilah keep talking about. Would you hold a grudge if your loved one died while attending what advertises itself as a wellness resort? Absolutely! But I just don’t know what they would pursue past the lawsuit that they won! And then there’s the glimpse of Masha’s shooter that we got last episode. And then there’s the reveal that the young girl we’ve been seeing in Masha’s memory isn’t herself, but — I’m assuming — Masha’s daughter, who passed away after being hit by a car while riding her bike.
The loss of a child is a devastating, faith-crushing thing. Think of what Leon says when he learns that Heather either didn’t read the side effects for, or didn’t quite process, that the asthma medication their son Zach was on caused suicidal ideation: “People’s lives go on, but not together.” Is that what happened to Masha? And doesn’t that help explain Masha’s drug use, her whole therapy program, and why she singled out the Marconis for this experimental shared psychosis hallucination? Perhaps if the Marconis can see Zach again, Masha can see her daughter again. Maybe that’s why Zoe is the key — because she unlocks something in the Marconis, combined with Tranquillum House’s increased doses of psilocybin, that allows the family not just to see Zach but feel Zach. What would Masha do to see her daughter again? What wouldn’t you do?
“Motherlode” begins in the aftermath of Zoe’s 21st-birthday party, as we see Masha crack a bit under pressure (binging that cake; admitting to Delilah that they’re not out of money after the Connellys’ lawsuit but are low on it) before seemingly enacting plan after plan. In her one-on-one with Lars, she basically gives him permission to write about Tranquillum House: “You came here to boost your career. Instead, you get a legacy. You get the chance to be the one who told the world.” She informs the group that the team will be raising their doses and that everyone now needs to use the buddy system. She calls Carmel on why she’s at Tranquillum House before the other woman has the chance to admit that she blames Masha for her ex-husband’s constant cheating and eventual dissolution of their marriage. Nicole Kidman is so measured in this scene, and I can understand why wayward Carmel would respond so well to Masha’s commands: “You can trust me. You’re safe with me. I would never hurt you … Take the medicine.” That authority can be attractive, and although I still don’t understand all the details or machinations of the Masha-Yao-Delilah love triangle, I can’t discount that Masha’s forcefulness might have something to do with it.
In other love news, Frances and Tony finally hook up (the Rihanna “Love on the Brain” musical cue might have been too on the nose) and admit that their feelings for each other seem authentic. Tony’s commitment to protecting Frances seems like an about-face since the events of “Sweet Surrender,” in which Tony alluded to wanting to end his life, but I’ll roll with the inconsistent characterizations because Melissa McCarthy and Bobby Cannavale really click together. As usual, the acting on this show is elevating the writing, but everything works together in the Marconi story line. Lars shares with the group what he’s learned about Masha’s tactics and how she creates their hallucinations (“She does it with drugs and audio”), but the knowledge of that doesn’t make Zoe’s, Heather’s, or Leon’s experiences with Zach feel any less real. For the Marconis, Zach’s swinging body in Zoe’s peripheral vision felt real, Leon spotting Zach through the trees and bamboo (“I see him! He’s right there!”) felt real, and Heather feeling Zach’s tap on her shoulder, and her clutching hug of him, felt real.
And Asher Keddie made Heather’s grief, guilt, and anger at herself tangible, too. As Zach, Hal Cumpston was indignant and snarky enough in his line deliveries to genuinely capture a resentful, needling teenager, and Keddie’s journey of confusion to panic to despair was well done. Is it fair that Leon doesn’t know if he can forgive her? No. But life often isn’t fair. Death isn’t fair. Loss isn’t fair. “It doesn’t matter. It’s not enough,” Leon says of love. It’s a huge leap, though, from grief to whatever Masha is offering: “I’m not saying I can bring him back for real. But I am saying reality is a perspective … Put yourself in my hands and under my care, my control. I will try to give you your son back.” What if it doesn’t work? Wouldn’t that hurt the Marconis more? And what if Delilah and Yao leave: “I don’t want to be complicit in this. I don’t want you to be complicit in this,” Delilah insists. Another Masha scheme in which Delilah is playing a role? Impossible to say, since Nine Perfect Strangers is set on surrounding the administrators of Tranquillum House in obfuscation and mystery. Perhaps another twist awaits us, and it involves whether there is an Anthropologie nearby where Masha is getting all these increasingly frilly, boho outfits. Seriously, how much eyelet can one person tolerate?
Have We Achieved Nirvana Yet?
• Well, now we know why Tranquillum House has that MRI machine.
• While writing this recap, I am simply hungry enough that I, too, would like to dig into Zoe’s chocolate birthday cake. No judgments there.
• Luke Evans singing — why has this man not starred in an adaptation of Cabaret yet?
• Kudos to Melissa McCarthy for her deadpan delivery of “I did not come here to have a Lilliputian-sized Internet hustler sing show tunes to me from the toilet”; I’m still laughing about it.
• Carmel is certainly pitiable, but Regina Hall deserves a lot of credit for how empathetic she also makes the character. The way she leans into other characters when they touch her is a subtle, effective moment of physicality, and her panicked “Am I in trouble?” in the one-on-one with Masha was also revealing — like she never intended to make any real trouble. I’m still not sure she’s the stalker.
• Heather mentions going to a Fleetwood Mac concert, but this episode used “Leather and Lace” in that scene, which is a Stevie Nicks and Don Henley song. Discontinuity! Unacceptable!
• Melvin Gregg’s Ben and Samara Weaving’s Jessica continue to have great chemistry, from their giggles while Lars sang to Ben’s support of Jessica during her plastic-surgery-inspired freakout. Gregg’s “Nobody’s just gonna steal your nose … It’s on your face. You have it,” was pretty cute, and I agree with them: Where did Masha come from?
• Ben drinking pool water was a nice reminder that you should watch The Nice Guys, and if you know why I would suggest this, kudos.
• Did we really need another violently throwing-up scene? I did not appreciate that, although Michael Shannon is a very good actor and I’m sure his vomiting was award-worthy!