WARNING: This article contains significant plot spoilers for Nine Perfect Strangers.

“I mean to fuck with all of you,” says Nicole Kidman’s Masha at the end of the first episode of Nine Perfect Strangers, the new eight-part series from David E. Kelley. Based on the novel by Liane Moriarty, the show tells the story of four individuals, one couple, and a family of three (nine in total) who check into Tranquillum, a mysterious wellness retreat, to purge themselves of their mental and emotional traumas.

The Marconi’s, played by Michael Shannon, Asher Keddie, and Grace Van Patten, are grieving a suicide in the family. Ben and Jessica are a lottery winner and Instagram influencer, respectively, whose marriage is beginning to deteriorate. Bobby Cannavale plays Tony Hogburn, an ex-football star whose battle with addiction has left him estranged from his family. He forms an unlikely bond with Melissa McCarthy’s Frances, a washed up romance novelist whose latest manuscript has just been rejected by her publisher. Lars, played by Luke Evans, is a journalist whose relationship has recently failed. Finally, Regina Hall’s Carmel has a personal axe to grind against Masha, the enigmatic guru who vows to heal them all.

Masha’s treatment protocols are unconventional, to put it mildly. Throughout their stay, the “strangers” are put through the wringer, physically, mentally, and emotionally, and medicated with heavy doses of powerful hallucinogenic drugs. Given Masha’s troubled past of her own, her seemingly cavalier attitude towards the safety of her patients, and her shady behavior towards her own staff, it’s impossible to know her actual M.O.. All we know is that something seems off from the jump, and each episode is filled with a sense of foreboding as we try and pinpoint Masha’s hidden agenda, and the real purpose of Tranquillum.

The series is executed with the skill one would expect given the pedigree of its creative team. Kelley’s dialogue is sharp, efficient, and wittily funny in places, just as it’s been throughout his extensive career as a television writer. Shannon and Cannavale are consummate actors who never hit a false note. Regina Hall gives a fantastic performance as perhaps the most severely tormented character in the show. Nicole Kidman, despite some fans’ qualms with her Russian accent, is also excellent – her character is intentionally impossible to figure out, which makes the job of portraying her all the more challenging.

Great scene-writing and performances aside, perhaps the most notable quality of Nine Perfect Strangers is its surprisingly anodyne resolution.

Even the series’ most chilling scene – the cliffhanger ending of its penultimate episode in which it’s revealed that Carmel is Masha’s stalker who nearly murdered her in a parking garage years prior – is resolved with peaceful reconciliation at the start of the finale.

Later in the final episode, Napoleon Marconi (Shannon) gets a nosebleed, which he thinks is an aneurysm, and we immediately assume that he’s experiencing a fatal side effect of Masha’s mysterious medicinal concoction she’s given him to conjure the presence of his dead son. As it turns out, it’s nothing more than a harmless nosebleed.

When Masha locks six of the nine patients in a padded room and proceeds to set “fire” to their building, we’re finally convinced of her murderous intent. Again, these assumptions are upset, as we soon find out that she only simulated the smell of a fire in order to giver her patients the simulation of a near-death experience, which she believes will prove helpful to their healing process in the end.

In all of these individual examples, and as a whole, Nine Perfect Strangers subverts its audience’s expectations of doom and gloom by essentially validating Masha’s bizarre coaching methods and affirming that her desire to treat her subjects was sincere all along. In the end, all nine of her patients are healed in one form or another.

The series ends with a montage in which we can see each of the characters well on their way to recovery. Finally, we see Masha, all smiles, driving along a beautiful coastal highway in the yellow Lamborghini she stole from Ben (turns out she wasn’t all that innocent after all), with the presence of her deceased daughter riding in the passenger seat. Even as the camera pans out to the ocean, it occurs to us that there may be some final shocking image in store for us that upends this impossibly benign ending. Instead, the shot cuts to black, and the series concludes on an optimistic note that none of us expected going in.

Nine Perfect Strangers is not without its flaws. Some episodes rely too heavily on extended dialogue scenes that become repetitive and formulaic. Others are overly brooding in their emotional intensity to the point where the plot slows to a stand still. Some characters are better developed than others, and the love triangle between Masha and her two staff members unnecessarily distracts from the show’s more intriguing plot elements. All in all, however, it’s an entertaining series that, as promised in its premiere, fucked with all of us and kept us hooked until the final frame.

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