"When the credits roll on the first episode of Nine Perfect Strangers, the show’s newly formed collective of lost souls is not a cult," says Katie Rife. "If anything, the setup is more like a Saw movie, with Russian-accented self-improvement guru Masha (Nicole Kidman) serving as the omnipotent puzzle master moving unwitting pieces on a board only she can see. Whether Masha’s plan—what’s been revealed of it in the series’ first five episodes, anyway—is torture depends on your attitude towards recreational psychedelics—but it is arguably thought control. As Masha systematically breaks down her guests and rebuilds them in her own image, the wall between their thoughts and Masha’s begins to crumble. And by midseason, the answer to the question of whether Tranquillum House is a cult compound, and Masha herself a cult leader, is less clear." Rife adds: "At their core, cults are about coercion. Whether through threats of an imminent doomsday only the leader can prevent or overt threats of violence, another thing that separates a cult from a New Age book club or Baptist prayer circle is that cult members are unable to leave whenever they like. Scientology keeps wayward members in line by threatening to cut them off from family and friends, while NXIVM collected compromising “collateral” to be used against adherents if they decided to leak Keith Raniere’s secrets to the press. If, at the end of their 10-day stay, Masha physically prevented her guests from leaving, that would be a straightforward sign of coercion. But Masha’s methods are more subtle. She prefers the Charles Manson-approved method of zonking her guests out on drugs, making them both susceptible to a leader’s whims and incapable of making an informed decision about whether they really want to stay at Tranquillum. Significantly, the guests are dosed without their consent. Even more significantly, Masha massages them into giving retroactive consent, and is aware of the legal definitions around consent in the locality where the story takes place. It’s often technicalities like these that bring down an abusive cult, and Masha seems prepared to defend her actions in court, proving that she knows what she’s doing is wrong—or at least illegal." ALSO: Does the microdosing of the psychedelic psilocybin on Nine Perfect Strangers work?
TOPICS: Nine Perfect Strangers, Hulu, Nicole Kidman