The HBO miniseries is a sharp class satire, with a mystery at its core.
Within the opening scene of The White Lotus, it’s revealed that someone will die at some point during the show. But the question of who that someone is and how will they die isn’t really the central plot, as the six-part miniseries is much more interested in the characters and their fascinating dynamics than the mysteries and all the events leading up to the impending death.
White, who directed and wrote all six episodes, aims to explore two things. On a small scale, The White Lotus attempts to shed light on the dehumanization of hospitality workers in the hands of their guests, who demand to be treated like royalty, but never really see the people who serve them as human beings. On a bigger scale, meanwhile, the show is about class divide and privilege, evoking Parasite.
But The White Lotus is not exactly a pastiche of Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar-winning film, it’s its own thing: an excellent dark comedy with White’s DNA all over it — people seeking enlightenment, people being pushed to their limits, people trying to do good things but end up hurting others, big tortoise, etc. If you’ve seen Beatriz at Dinner or White and Laura Dern’s two-seasons HBO’s masterpiece Enlightened, you know what I mean.
Murray Bartlett plays Armond, the manager of the Hawaiian resort in which the story takes place, and who’s put through hell when three groups of VIP guests stay at the resort for one week. The first guests are the ultra-wealthy Mossbacher family, which consists of CEO mom Nicole (Connie Britton), her clueless husband Mark (Steve Zahn), their screen-addict teenage son Quinn (Fred Hechinger), and a sharp-tongued, woke college daughter Olivia (Sydney Sweeney), who brings her friend Paula (Brittany O’Grady) along on the family’s vacation.
It’s from Olivia and Paula’s perspective that we’re introduced to the other remaining guests: newlyweds man-child Shane (Jake Lacy) and freelance journalist Rachel Patton (Alexandra Daddario), as well as Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge), a grieving lady who wants to spread her mom’s ashes in the ocean. Though they all look just like regular white rich American guests at first, their presence in the resort will soon bring chaos, especially as Armond and his staff begin to crack under the pressure.
Shane keeps demanding Armond to put him in a different suite because the one he’s in right now is not the same one that his mother paid. Tanya lures spa manager Belinda (Natasha Rothwell), the show’s most empathetic character, into her affair by making a promise to help her set up a business — though whether she really means it remains a question throughout the show. And all this happens while the Mossbachers’ true colors are starting to show, to a point where Arnold can’t take more of it any longer.
Throughout all six episodes, White mainly highlights the guests as they keep doing awful things to the resort staff — sometimes in a crude, unnerving way, other times with humor. But there’s also heart and moments of nuance that provide the show with additional emotional weight. The plotline revolving around Rachel’s journey of discovering that her marriage with Shane might not be a good decision is particularly resonant. It’s a classic yet truthful story of a woman losing agency because the man she settles into marriage with takes all that away from her, just because he can. Daddario gives such an honest, heartbreaking performance as Rachel, especially in the final two episodes.
The White Lotus is not exactly a pastiche of Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar-winning film, it’s its own thing: an excellent dark comedy with White’s DNA all over it.
Coolidge is also a highlight throughout the show. Both unpredictable and devastating, she imbues real emotions in her character, making her human while still nailing all the show’s comedic beats. As the man at the center of everything, Bartlett’s unhinged, intense performance always sets each scene he’s in on fire. It’s Lacy’s turn as Shane, however, that steals all the spotlight. He embodies his character’s unlikability in a way that’s both charming and unsettling at the same time. It’s a career-best from him.
The excellent performances from the ensemble are backed by White’s writing. The jokes are like Succession, teetering between mean-spirited and cringy. His arguments on white entitlement and privilege are not only razor-sharp, but also in some way poetic. Each character has at least one outstanding line in each episode. It’s a masterclass in writing. The White Lotus, in the end, further proves that White is made for TV, and that he’s one of the most talented writers working right now. It’s a brilliant dramedy full of moving pieces, the kind of show that surprises you in each moment and subverts your expectations every episode. And one thing for sure, it’s among the best shows of the year.
The White Lotus premieres on HBO Max July 11th.