Nine Perfect Strangers Episode 6: Mining the “Motherlode”

Frances (Melissa McCarthy) sits hunched over on the floor, staring down at a toy-sized Paul Drabb.

The following article contains spoilers about Episode 6 of Nine Perfect Strangers, “Motherlode.” If you haven’t already read them, be sure to check out the previous articles about this series.

Mining the Motherlode

At the end of my article about Episode 5, Sweet Surrender,” I said that I hoped the narrative progression of the next episode would change, and in Episode 6, “Motherlode,” I got what I wanted. This episode was littered with romance, body horror, and a Cabaret-themed hallucination, so if you haven’t seen it already, I highly recommend you watch it.

The title of this episode, “Motherlode,” is worth exploring. A lode is a rich supply or source, usually referring to metallic vein-like deposits in rock formations. So, the term “mother lode” would mean the mother of all lodes: the richest, most fruitful source or supply, be it figurative or literal. In “Motherlode,” many of the guests discover the source of their deepest fears. But rather than engaging with these experiences (often in the form of hallucinations), the guests typically evade them, like when Frances (Melissa McCarthy) flushes a miniature Paul (Ben Falcone) down the toilet. Or they become completely overwhelmed by these hallucinations, like Heather (Asher Keddie), who almost has a psychotic break after she speaks with her deceased son, Zach (Hal Cumpston). And then, of course, there is Carmel (Regina Hall), who seems like the only guest that is actively getting worse.

In my first article, I talked about the normal level of resistance at the beginning of any therapeutic process, but beyond this basic form of resistance lay more complex psychological defenses. Some schools of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy emphasize the need to (gradually) soften and even dismantle these defenses because they limit our freedom, damage our relationships, and drain us of our vitality. Defenses require energy to be maintained, so in theory, fewer defenses would mean more available energy. But people develop psychological defenses for a reason, and in some cases, these defenses may be holding someone’s mind together.

Napoleon (Michael Shannon) stands at Heather's (Asher Keddie) bedside in Nine Perfect Strangers, Episode 6, "Motherlode."

“Motherlode,” as well as Nine Perfect Strangers in general, conveys many messages about using psychedelics for the sake of healing. First, it is evident that for some people, psychedelics are simply not an option, and although others may be able to take them with few or no issues, there is clearly no one-size-fits-all approach to microdosing (or in this case, macrodosing). Second, even when psychedelics “work” for someone, what happens if the person continues to run away from what they see? The critical issue is whether a person is ready to engage with their fears, losses, and suffering, as well as their neglected or denied strengths and talents. But throughout Nine Perfect Strangers, Masha (Nicole Kidman) pushes people too far. She gives them too much psilocybin too soon because she is relentlessly driving at a goal that has nothing to do with the well-being of the guests.

Addiction to Perfection

At the beginning of “Motherlode,” Masha finds herself entranced, stuffing her face with cake. This was quite a telling moment because it became apparent how much Masha yearns for sweetness, yet she seems to be unconscious of this desire because she reaches for literal sweetness in the form of sugar. Or maybe she misses being a child who is unconfined by rigid ideals. Either way, when Masha realizes the cake is in her mouth, she is shocked and ashamed, and immediately spits it out. This scene encapsulates perfectionism which, at its core, rejects life. [1]

Masha (Nicole Kidman) licks frosting off of her fingers in the kitchen at Tranquillum House

Later in the episode, we learn that Masha witnessed the death of (most likely) her daughter. This significant loss is probably related to her perfectionism, as well as the relentless way she pushes others, denies them rest, and rapidly increases their dosages. There is also no true sense of play at Tranquillum House. Even in the early episodes, the guests’ “playtime” was scheduled and prescribed, and it was presented with vague statistics about its benefits. But planned spontaneity is not spontaneity, and play requires the ability to relinquish control which Masha is unable to do.

Control is at the core of perfectionism, be it the control of oneself, other people, or even life itself. Masha appears to be addicted to control, and in front of the guests, must appear to be in control at all times. This tendency is evident throughout Nine Perfect Strangers, but “Motherlode” provided a particularly dramatic example. During Heather’s breakdown, Masha was more concerned about maintaining the appearance of control than she was about Heather’s safety. Later, she pressured Heather and Napoleon (Michael Shannon) into taking the protocol further with the guarantee that they would be able to speak with their dead son Zach again.

But as we witnessed in this episode, Heather’s pain was extraordinarily powerful. I think her depression and her resistance were there for a good reason: they protected her from a psychotic level of grief and anguish that was too much for her mind to handle. True, this defense was draining her vitality and negatively impacting her marriage, but it should not have been abruptly torn away. Once again, Masha pushed too hard too soon, and after the fact, appeared to have no regret or guilt about the consequences of her actions.

Looming Questions

Fear permeates Tranquillum House, but so far, only Delilah (Tiffany Boone) is willing to acknowledge it. In “Motherlode,” Delilah urges Yao (Manny Jacinto) to escape with her, which seems reasonable considering the dangerous way Masha is proceeding with the guests. In addition, the stalker has not been exposed and Tranquillum House may be financially troubled.

Delilah (Tiffany Boone) and Yao (Manny Jacinto) speak privately in the woods at night in Episode 6 of Nine Perfect Strangers, "Motherlode."

There is a collective denial of these dangers and fears among both guests and staff, which reminds me of a dysfunctional family system. Although the people at Tranquillum House are not literally a family, they’re constantly sharing space and are involved in intimate relationships with one another. And, like any other family, their system has an equilibrium that is maintained by each member playing a certain role. In this family, the staff carry Masha’s anxiety and sense of responsibility, both for the guests and Tranquillum House itself. Masha’s choice to ignore their concerns has only increased their sense of panic about the future. If this tension is not acknowledged and consciously released, it will become explosive, possibly leading to the restructuring or even dissolution of the family system. In other words, we may be approaching the end of Tranquillum House.

“Motherlode” was my favorite episode of Nine Perfect Strangers thus far, and I am eager to see what happens to the guests, the staff, and Tranquillum House. As we approach the final two episodes, I can’t help but wonder: will Tranquillum House survive beyond Episode 8, or will this be its final group of guests?


1. Woodman, M. Addiction to Perfection. Inner City Books, 1982.

Written by Daniel Siuba


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  1. Not only do I love this show, I love checking in to see what your take on it is after watching. You give us readers a deeper analytical look, and help me see pieces I totally missed; it’s fascinating. Please keep these articles coming, I learn and enjoy them so much!

    • Thanks for reading, Lex! This was definitely my favorite episode so far, and with only 2 episodes left, I’m hoping they keep up the momentum. I also have a handful of topics/issues about the series as a whole that I want to discuss in the finale article, so stay tuned. : )

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