The Perfection, set in the glossy and moneyed world of classical music, begins with a quiet death in the gray, drab interiors of suburban Minneapolis. After taking care of her beloved mother for years, Charlotte (Williams) emerges from a cocoon of grief to speculation about whether she's lost her incomparable musical genius. "Can she ever really perform again?" whispers a faceless individual at her house, quickly establishing that Charlotte was at one point a brilliant, peerless cellist. With her determined honor roll student intensity, deployed so perfectly in Get Out, Williams has no trouble selling the idea of Charlotte as a virtuoso whose wings were clipped right when she was about to fulfill her potential. She radiates a mix of ambition and entitlement.
Unburdened by familial obligations, Charlotte travels to Shanghai to reunite with her old teacher, Anton, a round-glasses-wearing instructor played by Steven Weber. Years ago, Charlotte was the star pupil of his highly respected, slightly mysterious academy for gifted musicians, which he runs with his watchful spouse Paloma (Supernatural's Alaina Huffman). In Charlotte's time away, she was essentially replaced by the younger and equally accomplished Lizzie (Dear White People's Logan Browning), who grew up admiring Charlotte as a child. When Charlotte attempts to flatter her, Lizzie responds with her own glowing compliments. "You were 14 and everything I wanted to be," she says. "I'm just so happy to finally meet you."