Nine Perfect Strangers Episode 4: Choice in a “Brave New World”

Lars (Luke Evans), Jessica (Samara Weaving), and Ben (Melvin Gregg) stare toward the camera wearing looks of disbelief in the Hulu original series Nine Perfect Strangers
(Photo by: Vince Valitutti/Hulu)

This article discusses the issues of choice and consent in Episode 4 of Nine Perfect Strangers, “Brave New World.” It contains many spoilers, so be sure to watch the episode prior to reading.

And if you haven’t already read it, check out the article discussing the first three episodes of Nine Perfect Strangers.

Truth and Smoothies

In Episode 4 of Nine Perfect Strangers, the truth about Tranquillum House is finally exposed. Well, a few truths are exposed, anyway.

Frances (Melissa McCarthy) sits at a dinner table with a worried expression in the Hulu original series Nine Perfect Strangers
(Photo by: Vince Valitutti/Hulu)

At the beginning of the episode, Masha (Nicole Kidman) admits to the guests that she has been microdosing their smoothies with psilocybin. The guests have varied reactions to this revelation, but ultimately they all decide to stay at Tranquillum House.

If you are unfamiliar with it, psilocybin is a naturally occurring psychedelic chemical compound derived from fungi. Traditionally, it was ingested by the South American Aztec peoples during religious rituals and healing ceremonies, but contemporary Western researchers continue to evaluate its potential therapeutic benefits. [1]

For me, this episode felt sobering because many of the unknowns were cleared away: Lars (Luke Evans) was exposed as an investigative journalist, Frances (Melissa McCarthy) learned that Tony (Bobby Cannavale) accidentally killed someone in a bar fight, and Delilah (Tiffany Boone) discovered that Yao (Manny Jacinto) is still sleeping with Masha. Learning the truth about one another is inherently relieving; whether that truth is disturbing or inspiring, it provides a release.

Speaking of which, the day after the revelatory dinner, the group engages in an activity to release their anger and rage. They are instructed to strike an empty armor suit with a wooden sword (somewhat akin to the “therapeutic exercise” of punching a pillow).

Frances sees Paul Drabble (played by Ben Falcone, McCarthy’s real-life husband), the man who lied to her and stole from her, standing inside of the suit. Frances vents her feelings and begins to cry. She strikes the empty suit several times, and as she finishes, the group applauds her.

(Photo by: Vince Valitutti/Hulu)

Then, Carmel (Regina Hall) is asked to participate. She reluctantly grabs the sword, and Delilah and Masha begin repeating demeaning phrases that Carmel’s ex-husband used to say to her. Carmel begins ferociously attacking the doll until it falls to the floor. She jumps on top of it, beating its head in with the sword. Her rage terrifies some of the guests, particularly Tony and Napoleon (Michael Shannon). But again, they all choose to stay despite their discomfort.

Like many of the activities in Nine Perfect Strangers, it’s hard to tell whether this activity had any therapeutic benefit, particularly for Carmel. Did it simply reinforce her violent tendencies? Did hearing her ex-husband’s hateful words retraumatize her? Either way, she made the final choice to engage in the activity, which is aligned with the themes of this episode.

As a viewer, I think it’s natural to feel protective of the guests, but peer pressured or not, these are all adults making their own choices. They may have initially been microdosed without their informed consent, but at this point, they’ve decided to continue the protocol. From here on out, even if Masha changes the substance in question or increases their dosage, they are willingly participating in a system that they know has manipulated them.

Boundaries and Conditions

The air of serenity and calm initially radiated by the staff at Tranquillum House is beginning to grow thin as the tension grows between Delilah and Yao. Delilah discovers Yao has been sleeping with Masha, although neither of them ever addresses it directly. The couple now appears irritable and somewhat forlorn, but more human. To me, they seem more grounded, perhaps because they’ve (finally) dropped their façade of equanimity.

At one point, Jessica (Samara Weaving) walks into the woods to find a weary Yao caressing the leaves of a tree. There was something about the way he was touching the leaves that made me wonder, “Are the staff members also microdosing?” By the end of the episode, I learned that this was indeed the case.

After Delilah vents her frustration about changes to the protocol, Masha tells Delilah that she knows she hasn’t been following her own protocol. Masha references Delilah’s “bipolarity” and tells her to take her “medicine.” In other words, Delilah is bipolar, and as a condition of her employment, she must take her medicine, be it psychiatric or psychedelic. Then, Delilah threatens Masha, saying that if she is left out of any major decisions regarding the guests again, it will not end well. After this interaction, I wondered if this was meant to turn our stalker suspicions toward Delilah, but the text messages and vandalism seem much too violent to fit her overall demeanor. (But I could be wrong—super-positive Napoleon did slaughter a goat with his bare hands.)

In terms of their love triangle, it is interesting that even though Masha, Yao, and Delilah know what is going on between them, no one is willing to name it. Even on psychedelics, isolated in the countryside, they continue to repress their feelings and avoid acknowledging the truth.

The Problem of Choice

(Photo by: Vince Valitutti/Hulu)

This episode largely revolves around consent and choice. Although the guests were forced to take psilocybin without their consent, after having experienced its positive effects, they decide to stay on at Tranquillum House. Now they willingly, even happily, drink their protocol smoothies. There are, undoubtedly, many ethical issues to consider here.

After the episode, I found myself thinking about the ads I receive on my Instagram account. Weeks ago, I started receiving Instagram ads about microdosing, long before seeing this show or researching for this article. I also receive daily advertisements for ADHD, depression, and anxiety medications, even though I do not follow any accounts or like any posts related to any of these subjects. I do realize that Instagram is free and that the ads are simply part of the deal, but my point is that seeing an ad, even for an instant, plants a seed.

I start wondering: do I have ADHD? Is my depression beyond the existential variety? Would it be helpful to me to start microdosing or taking psychiatric medication?

The idea becomes something I might talk about, think about, or even dream about. And, like the guests of Tranquillum House, I wonder if I am being manipulated. If I do make the choice to seek out psychiatric medication or psychedelics, the fact is, I would not have sought these things out if I had not seen the advertisements first. But ultimately, the choice is mine. Or so I tell myself.

In Episode 4, we witness this dilemma of choice and consent, coupled with the power of ideas and the allure of transformation. In general, I think the guests relent because they cannot deny the positive effects of the substance. And further, there is no going back, because they can’t choose to un-consume what they’ve already imbibed. So, because it’s already happened, they shrug it off and say, “Why not? What’s the worst that could happen?”

Masha refers to dosing the guests and gaining their consent after the fact as “constructive consent.” I’ve never heard this term before, and in researching it, found very little information about it, except for one journal article that explained:

The law and society occasionally impute consent to an agent despite a clear lack of actual consent. A common type of such ‘fictitious consent’ is constructive consent. In this practice, we treat an agent as if she consented to Φ because she did Ψ. [2]

Based on previous episodes of Nine Perfect Strangers, I am inclined to think Masha learned this term during her last legal battle with a former Tranquillum House guest (or a former guest’s family member). Perhaps during a previous retreat, something went wrong during one of the protocols, resulting in Masha being sued. I’d imagine Masha was able to convince a lawyer or jury that the person in question chose to stay at Tranquillum House despite the risks which would, somehow, indicate their consent after the fact (even if they were initially lied to). In a way, constructive consent sounds like retroactive consent, which is, to use a legal term, totally bananas.

Regardless, Masha continues to be Masha: she takes people’s choices away, ostensibly “for their own good.” In the name of healing the guests and making them well, she makes their choices for them. [3]

“It’s Good to Die”

I have to admit, it was relieving to see all of the guests sitting around a fire, talking and laughing together. But of course, nothing can stay nice at Tranquillum House for very long. Upon seeing the guests’ “progress,” Masha decides to increase their dosage and begin “the second protocol.” Yao and Delilah are concerned, and Masha ignores their concerns, yet again.

(Photo by: Vince Valitutti/Hulu)

At the end of the episode, Masha returns to her office to find her door open and a smattering of broken pottery on the floor. The painting on Masha’s wall has been covered with the words “It’s Good to Die.” This episode began with a slightly longer version of a scene from Masha’s previous life, just before she is shot and killed in a parking garage.

It is clear this person knows about Masha’s past, but it’s still unclear whether this person is someone who was harmed by Masha at Tranquillum House or in her previous life. Time will tell.


  1. Nichols, D.E. “Psilocybin: from ancient magic to modern medicine.” Journal of Antibiotics 73, 679–686 (2020).
  2. Valentine, M.B. “Constructive “Consent”: A Problematic Fiction.” Law and Philosophy 37, 499–521 (2018).
  3. Guggenbuhl-Craig, A. Power in the helping professions. Washington, DC: Spring Publications, 1998.

Written by Daniel Siuba

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