There are no easy answers to the many questions that Mike White’s sharply-written social satire, The White Lotus throws up. There are the glaring inequalities and the casual cruelties and the contradiction of tourism — where it brings in the money — but also ravages the land, and finally does not benefit the people of the country.
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There is the troubled past of a colonised nation, which resonates so sharply with us; our luxury hotels seem to be functioning as monuments to our imperial history. The White Lotus , which looks at a set of rich, white people over a week’s vacation in an exclusive resort in Hawaii, is a bleak and beautiful dissertation of privilege and exploitation.
The show opens with Shane (Jake Lacy) at the airport biting off the heads of two fellow travellers when they ask him how his vacation in Hawaii was. He grimly says it was his honeymoon and when asked where his wife is, looks away to the loading dock where a box marked ‘Human Remains’ is being loaded on to a plane.
The scene cuts to a week earlier and resort manager, Armond (Murray Bartlett) telling a trainee, Lani, (Jolene Purdy) she needs to disappear behind a mask to be a “pleasant interchangeable helper,” as they wait to welcome the new batch of guests to The White Lotus.
- Season: 1
- Creator: Mike White
- Cast: Murray Bartlett, Connie Britton, Jennifer Coolidge, Alexandra Daddario, Fred Hechinger, Jake Lacy, Brittany O’Grady, Natasha Rothwell, Sydney Sweeney, Steve Zahn, Molly Shannon
- Episodes: 6
- Run time: 54 to 65 minutes
- Storyline: A group of rich, white vacationers unwind and unravel at an exclusive resort in Hawaii
The guests include Shane and his wife, Rachel (Alexandra Daddario), Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge), the Nicole (Connie Britton), her husband, Mark (Steve Zahn), and their children, Olivia (Sydney Sweeney) and Quinn, (Fred Hechinger), and Olivia’s friend, Paula (Brittany O’Grady).
A mistake in the booking brings out the worst in Shane. Rachel, a present-day journalist who writes listicles (ugh) realises to her horror she is a trophy wife. She questions her marriage, a feeling compounded by her mother-in-law, Kitty (Molly Shannon) dropping in unannounced. Nicole as a CFO of a tech company earns more than Mark and pays for all the fancy vacations, but feels her family does not respect her. Quinn is a loner and when he loses his phone, he first thinks it is the worst thing to happen, but then the island casts its spell—cue the frolicking whales and magical locals.
Tanya is a troubled, flaky alcoholic who has come to Hawaii to scatter her mother’s ashes. After making the spa manager, Belinda (Natasha Rothwell) her confidant and promising to help Belinda set up her own venture, on the last day says she does not want another transactional relationship and goes ahead and does precisely that—eases her conscience by giving Belinda a wad of money (does Belinda take the money or leave it in the drawer?)
The girls, Olivia and Paula (the only non-white vacationer) are woke beyond belief, but also woke only to the point that it serves them. Paula is as honest with Kai (Kekoa Scott Kekumano), a staffer, as she can be and her plan for him to fight for his land must have come from good intentions. What was that, however, about the road to hell being paved with good intentions? Mark’s speech about people wanting a better seat at the table of tyranny and that no one wants to cede their privilege is sad, out of time and true.
Armond is the person one can identify with the most —surrounded by all this luxury that he can never afford to live in. He has to smile and smile and cannot be a villain, even as Shane is scaling insane levels of jerk-ness. His last supper with “the best seating ever” is the pinnacle of tragi-comedy. When he quotes Lord Tennyson’s The Lotos-Eaters , “Why should life all labour be?”, we can only nod sadly even as we wonder at his eruditeness; Victorian poets are not really beach reads. Speaking of books and beach reads in particular, the girls trot out an impressive array of reading matter as they sit by the pool, from Nietzsche to Freud and everything in between. They have a little joke along the way of a book stylist.
A glorious looking show — the wallpaper in the title sequence is to die for — The White Lotus with its brilliant writing and cast (Bartlett and Coolidge are outstanding) makes for riveting, if disturbing viewing.
The White Lotus is currently streaming on Disney+ Hotstar