Nine Perfect Strangers Episode 8: The Fantasy of “Ever After”

An artist's rendering of Masha (Nicole Kidman) featured on the cover of a New Yorker magazine entitled "Psychedelics to the rescue"

The following article contains spoilers for Episode 8 of Nine Perfect Strangers, “Ever After.” If you haven’t already read them, be sure to check out the previous articles about this series.

Fairy Tale or Fantasy?

In “Ever After,” the story of Nine Perfect Strangers is wrapped up in a surprisingly positive manner. The title is appropriate because the episode feels more like a fairy tale than reality, even more than the previous episodes did.

After the dramatic events of the episode are concluded, we see glimpses of the future. Carmel (Regina Hall) is a therapist; Frances (Melissa McCarthy) and Tony (Bobby Cannavale) are dating, and Tony has reconnected with his daughters; Lars (Luke Evans) is dating Ray again, and the two have a baby together; Ben (Melvin Gregg) and Jessica (Samara Weaving) are facilitators at Tranquillum House; Delilah (Tiffany Boone) and Yao (Manny Jacinto) work for the Peace Corps; and the Marconi family (Michael Shannon, Asher Keddie, and Grace van Patten) is able to mourn Zach’s (Hal Cumpston) death and move on. In the last scene of the episode, we see Masha (Nicole Kidman) driving down an oceanside highway with (the presence of) her daughter, Tatiana (Alyla Browne) sitting beside her.

Zoe (Grace van Patten), Masha (Nicole Kidman) and Yao (Manny Jacinto) stand in the woods in Nine Perfect Strangers.

As a viewer, it was nice to see such a simplistic ending. Everyone finally let go of their past and embraced life. It was a refreshing change from what I was expecting: an ambiguous ending or some kind of Shyamalanian twist. However, even though I enjoyed the ending, I can only understand it as a depiction of Masha’s ultimate wish-fulfillment fantasy. In the end, she (somehow) gets everything she wanted, both for herself and for everyone else. But beyond her confession to the Marconi family that she had also lost a child, she was never fully honest with anyone and never had to be accountable for her behavior. In a sense, it feels like this series is saying, “It’s okay to microdose people without their consent, force your values onto them, make false promises, and potentially retraumatize them as long as it is (apparently) in the service of healing.”

I started watching this show with the expectation that it would critique the notion of quick, new age-y approaches to healing. But instead, it seemed to imply that you can heal almost instantly through radical exposure therapy and psychedelics. And I could never get a handle on what this series’ perspective actually was. I have a hard time accepting it as just “a story” because it all seems so unlikely, especially based on my own experience working in mental health clinics and being a client myself. Healing doesn’t happen overnight, and it certainly doesn’t happen in 10 days. Sure, sometimes symptoms can quickly improve, but healing from trauma is often an ongoing, sometimes lifelong process.

White Lady Knows Best

According to Nine Perfect Strangers, Masha, the new age-y psychedelic-pushing woman whose sole clinical qualification (as far as we know) is that she was shot and resuscitated, is more intelligent and therapeutically attuned than everyone else, especially if they aren’t white. Yao, the only Asian man in this series (Jacinto is of Filipino-Chinese descent), was portrayed as an emotionally stunted, powerless person. He is largely dismissed by Masha, who sleeps with him, lies to him about her relationship with Delilah, and basically silences him. He barely has any lines in the last two episodes and serves as a kind of butler-esque character for the guests and for Masha. His character was frozen, stuck, and unable to act, even when he felt strongly about something. I kept wanting him to rage, act out, speak his mind, or fight in some way. But he just sort of floated along, even when he was upset. His concerns about the guests are repeatedly ignored because, as we are repeatedly shown, the white lady knows best.

Delilah, the only Black staff member, is repeatedly ignored by Masha. In one instance, Masha essentially tells her to shut up and take her “medicine” (psilocybin) because it’s a requirement for her employment. And later, when we find out the two have a romantic relationship together, it makes these power plays even more heinous. In “Ever After,” when Delilah brings the police to Tranquillum House, she ends up unintentionally helping Masha’s cause. In a sense, the message seems to be that no matter what she does, as a Black woman, she is powerless; the controlling, perfectionistic white lady is always right and will win in the end, even if her behavior is unethical and manipulative.

But what made me viscerally uncomfortable numerous times was the overall treatment of Carmel. Masha knew she slept with Carmel’s husband and still invited her to Tranquillum House. Then, Masha encouraged Carmel to violently act out (in the scene with the wooden sword), drugged her (beyond just the psychedelics), locked her in her room, then brought her to a sensory deprivation tank, which was locked in a room with padded walls. Throughout it all, Carmel screamed and cried out in pain, knowing this treatment was not what she wanted or needed.

Carmel (Regina Hall) pushes her fingers into a padded white wall and looks fearfully into the distance.

I realize this is just a TV show, but as I watched Carmel scream to be let out of her room (and the padded cell), I squirmed and winced. She was institutionalized against her will and forced to deal with the situation by herself (until the end of the episode, anyway). In the articles I’ve read about why Black Americans don’t seek psychotherapy, the interviewees often describe fears of being locked up or institutionalized, so in a way, Nine Perfect Strangers confirms these suspicions, except with the farcical caveat that if you submit to and survive this harsh treatment, you will heal and can even become a therapist yourself, which is what happens to Carmel.

In the end, Carmel essentially becomes a less extreme version of Masha, which the show seems to imply is what she wanted all along. Maybe after being forgiven, microdosed, and re-experiencing one positive memory of her children, she feels liberated and content in her life. But does the end justify the means? I’m not so sure.

What Spoiled Nine Perfect Strangers

As I mentioned in previous articles, one of the main issues I had with Nine Perfect Strangers was the clear imbalance in character development and screen time. Even though this show was ostensibly about nine people (12, if you include Masha, Yao, and Delilah), it really centered around Frances and Masha. They’re both wonderful actors, it just often felt like this series was really their story masquerading as a group narrative. I even forgot about Ben and Jessica until they popped up out of nowhere in the finale. Ben was by far the least developed character, but perhaps this was because his only “trauma” was his immense lottery wealth and a vague existential dissatisfaction with not having to work.

For me, the musical soundtrack also tarnished this series, perhaps more than any other element of production. I felt like Nine Perfect Strangers should have either had no music at all or a completely original score (like the music that plays as Masha runs through the snow to reunite with her daughter in “Ever After”). This show revolved around trauma, grief, and healing, so to have Rihanna and Bon Iver (loudly) thrown in during various scenes in nature felt bizarre and disjointed. There was also the strange issue of the dance music in “Earth Day.” The volume kept getting louder or quieter, depending on whether a character was speaking, or whether they were dancing. As the show’s realistic atmosphere dissolved, suddenly it felt like a sitcom. I wondered where the music was coming from and who kept adjusting the volume.

Masha (Nicole Kidman) drives a convertible down a country road with the presence of her daughter Tatiana in Nine Perfect Strangers

Stylistically, the series kept getting pulled in different directions. It seemed to strive for (and sometimes achieved) a sense of realism, but any semblance of realism was often dissipated by abrupt, goofy, or loud music. The out-of-place soundtrack made it so obvious that I was watching a show. I wasn’t absorbed in the story anymore; I was at home staring at a TV screen. I experienced this push-pull between the magic of Nine Perfect Strangers and the obviousness of its production in almost every episode. I wanted it to be consistently great, but it wasn’t. In fact, it often became great for a moment, and in the very next scene, broke the spell it had just cast.

For me, the actors were the primary strength of this series. They are supremely talented, and their abilities were the only thing that kept the world of Tranquillum House alive. Even if the music was jarring and out of place, and even if the first several episodes had the same narrative arcs, I still cared about these characters. I believed in them and in their stories, and I think their believability was the singular thread that held the series together.

Written by Daniel Siuba


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    • Hello Edith,

      Thank you for your kind words, and for taking the time to read my article. I hope it was an enjoyable read!



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