It’s fine! We’re fine, we’re all fine.
So said Napoleon, and so say we all.
Nine Perfect Strangers may not have ended like people expected it to, but that’s ok. In fact, it’s pretty great. As our own Jim Vorel wrote, the show’s subversion of expectations has been one of its greatest strengths.
Initially, the eerie calm of Tranquillum House set its leader Masha up as a guru cult leader, seemingly luring high-paying guests to a remote location where they were being micro-dosed with hallucinogenics. From the start, Masha’s own staff were questioning her methods, and the fact that she appeared to be sexually involved with both (all?) of them hinted at more sinister manipulations.
But as Nine Perfect Strangers went on, it grounded itself not in the expectation of horror, but of healing. Even though the Marconi family became Masha’s main focus, as a way for her to also reconnect with a lost loved one, it was clear that every single “stranger” was in deep need of help. And impressively, they were finding it, both within the group and themselves—with only occasional help from Masha and, er, copious amounts of drugs. These were the show’s best moments, the emotional breakthroughs and revelations experienced by the strangers. Still, a question lingered… where was it all heading?
The show’s penultimate episode, “Wheels on the Bus,” set up what felt like the final violent act of the show. The healing was well and good, sure, but it’s going to end in tragedy, right? The revelation that Carmel was Masha’s attacker felt like the wheels had, indeed, finally come off.
For awhile, the finale (“Ever After”) played into that. The Marconis confront Masha after Lars fills them in on her real objective; there is a countdown to chaos as Delilah speeds away towards the town’s police station; Carmel—and later the remaining guests—are trapped inside of a padded room that is, later, being burned to the ground.
But perception and reality have rarely matched in the show, and we should have known better than to trust any event happening as being real. Masha’s whole treatment scheme, after all, is to simulate reality through a specific, intended lens—often of pain—to create real-world catharsis. And so it came to be that the Marconis moved forward with their hallucinogenic trip and found peace with Zach, the group in the steam room faced down death and realized how they really wanted to live their lives, and Masha finally reconnected with her beloved lapochka.
Nine Perfect Strangers could have ended there, or even with Masha being taken away by the police car and saying her goodbyes, but instead it showed how the guests protected her and their experience there. In a tropey but nevertheless satisfying conclusion, Frances writes a book about the experience and gives us a look into the future for each of the strangers: Frances and Tony marry, the Marconis have healed, Lars adopts a baby with his partner, Jessica and Ben take over Tranquillum, Carmel becomes a therapist, and Delilah and Yao join the Peace Corps. (We never know what happened to poor Glory, the third wheel of the Tranquillum employees who went along with things but never got a storyline). Masha drives away with the vision of her daughter in Ben’s stolen Lambo. Everyone is happy!
And still, as the camera panned towards the sea, I expected it to reveal some final horror. Maybe everyone died and this is a final dream, maybe they all jumped off the cliff in some last moment of shared hysteria, maybe the micro-dosing was actually some kind of death cult Kool-aid where everyone found the happiness they wanted in their minds even as their bodies passed away. I even thought Masha might be heading towards a Thelma and Louise final moment.
But no! Everyone genuinely ended up happy.
Undoubtedly there will be some viewers disappointed that the series didn’t end in a fiery crash, that there wasn’t some last twist to leave us gasping. But frankly, the far bigger twist was that there wasn’t one at all. Masha’s methods, though seemingly unhinged and definitely pushing the boundaries of informed consent (and psychological abuse) did work. Everyone got what they wanted, everyone broke through their walls and their pain and their pasts to move forward to a new future and a fresh start. There is a message here of hope and beauty that was incredibly affirming, and that in no way detracted from the show’s most intensely emotional moments.
Not every storyline in Nine Perfect Strangers was created equal, of course. After nine hours of the show I couldn’t tell you Ben or Jessica’s names without looking them up. We never got to dive deeper with Heather, either, who was always defined by the loss of her son (issues of parenthood defined most of the characters in the series, in fact). Delilah and Yao, and certainly Glory, were mostly blank slates. But the character studies for the rest of our guests, and Masha herself, were all beautiful to watch unfold. We took a worthwhile journey with them, allowing this excellent group of actors to really just shine with the material. It’s fine, we’re fine! It’s all going to be fine.
And I accept that.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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