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A man and a woman in bright coral – his polo shirt matches the color of his jacket; he has a clipboard and she has a tray of clean towels – stay a little anxious near a beautiful beach, like they’re waiting to be rewarded or punished. He gives her advice, including this one:
The goal is to create an overall blurry feeling for the guests which can be very satisfying, where they get whatever they want, but they don’t even know what they want or what day it is. Or where they are, or who we are, or what’s going on.
This is how we meet Manager Armond (Murray Bartlett) and Day One Intern Lani (Jolene Purdy) as he explains the atmosphere they are looking for while waiting for VIP arrivals at a Hawaiian resort called The White Lotus. . Staff members are hardly meant to exist for their guests except as an indescribable blur of impeccable service, he explains. It should try to be “generic”.
The week these VIP guests will spend at the White Lotus is the subject of the exceptional new six-episode limited series of the same name from creator Mike White (Enlightened, Rock school) premiered Sunday night on HBO. And in this short statement, Armond explains how wealthy clients see not only their time at the resort, but their time on Earth: They don’t think too much about who they are or where they are, as long as they get what they want. .
Meet the guests
We follow three invited parties during this chaotic week. The first is the Mossbacher’s, a family that includes Nicole (Connie Britton) and husband Mark (Steve Zahn), their sophomore daughter Olivia (Sydney Sweeney) and 16-year-old son Quinn (Fred Hechinger), More Olivia’s friend Paula (Brittany O’Grady) was implicitly brought in as a guest to keep Olivia from complaining all the time. The second is Shane and Rachel Patton (Jake Lacy and Alexandra Daddario), newlyweds on whose marriage license the ink is barely dry. And the third is Tanya McQuoid (Jennifer Coolidge), a wealthy single woman in desperate need of a massage, visibly troubled and determined to find a place to scatter her mother’s ashes.
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Besides Armond, we’ll know another White Lotus employee very well: Belinda (Natasha Rothwell), the spa manager, who specializes in pampering almost all white and wealthy guests. She treats them not only with spa experiences, but also with other types of healing, including patient and intimate counseling.
It’s hard to overstate how much of a piercing satire White has written here, not about the downright horrible villains you find on many “get a load of these rich morons” shows, but about the failures of people whose humanity, in some cases it leaves vast space to explore.
When you focus on the two Pattons together, for example, theirs seems like the story of an unbearable rich man who married a smart, kind young woman who realizes too late that her husband is a spoiled bully. But the Pattons also interact with Armond in particular, and when you see them in that context, his relative kindness seems irrelevant. They act in this story as a privileged and intimidating unit, both benefiting from the way Shane uses power and money, whether Rachel opposes it privately or not.
Likewise, the Mossbacher at first appear to be a relatively benign version of the very wealthy family, moving around the world with appropriate “thank you” and “nice to see you” gestures, frustrated with their withdrawn son and their mean daughter. (Sydney Sweeney, who also played the sweet and vulnerable Eden in The Handmaid’s Tale, pivots here to one of the most compelling hateful depictions of a rich young kid to come in quite a while.) But there is a sense of guilt for Olivia hanging around Nicole and Mark, as they built the person she is becoming, even as they ineffectively roll their eyes and lecture her. Whatever their conscious positions on how a person should behave, they’ve raised one who meets and treats the rest of the world like Olivia does, and that accuses them.
And Tanya – well, Tanya is in need and in pain, and Belinda is a helper by nature and profession. Their relationship is that of a client and a service provider, but it takes on additional stakes as Tanya grows more attached and in awe of Belinda, who remains guarded on the other side of her bright smile as Tanya scrambles with it. insist the boundaries between them.
The work that Coolidge and Rothwell both do here is so subtle, and so emotionally complicated, that when you reach the end of the six-episode story, it has the sense of inevitability that comes fully and richly – and fairly. – considering who these people are, and build their history not around tropes, but around this unchanging truth.
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Race certainly plays a marked, albeit mostly unspoken, role in the power structure of the White Lotus. The fact that Belinda is black and Tanya is white is the basis of how they interact on all levels and how they ultimately see each other. Paula, who is the only guest of color we meet, is also the only one in the Mossbacher group to take an interest in the staff or object to how Hawaiian culture is appropriated by the resort as entertainment or decor. And much of the staff seem (logically enough) to be from Hawaii and surrounded by white guests, which comes into play in a story arc.
The costs of not noticing
It wouldn’t be fair to share how Armond fits into the stories of each of his guests except to say that he has flaws just like his guests, but he doesn’t have their money or their status. Even as a manager, he knows he is largely at the mercy of their whims, threats, and any outside frustrations they can inflict on him. As he explains to Lani, guests are best treated like little kids who just want to feel special and get angry when someone says no. But in this case, of course, those temper tantrums can ruin other people’s lives. Bartlett has a lot going on in this series playing Armond, as what at first appears to be unofficial, bottomless good humor takes other forms, and he’s exceptional for making the character likable, annoying, appealing, and exhausting.
The white lotus is largely a story of the costs of malignant inattention, as becomes clear in the first episode. During this hour, a character is made to wonder how he could have been so focused on other things that the more obvious features of another person’s life have been obscured. And time and time again, the resort’s guests demonstrate that their interest in the world is narrow and selfish, and that they lack the human peripheral vision that would cause them to treat others better than that. Mike White suggests that’s what very rich people use money for: to get what they want from people they don’t have to think about at all. Ignoring the inner life of others is therefore a primary manifestation of privilege.
It’s hard to say that a story is a searing indictment of privilege without making it sound medicinal, which The white lotus is not.
It’s very funny, beautiful to watch in the corals and blues-greens, and masterfully composed of a combination of original music by Cristobal Tapia de Veer and well-chosen songs. These songs are very varied, including Hawaiian music like “Hawai’i Au” by The Sunday Manoa as well as tracks, like “On A Coconut Island” by Louis Armstrong and the Polynesians, which sound like island paradise pop. -cultural established, that which exists as such in the imagination of tourists.
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The show is smart about the details – while Olivia and Paula arrive as best friends, they aren’t the same: Olivia shows up in a college shirt, while Paula says “POST HOPE.” And a recurring display of images of water and the ocean, especially in the story of the Mossbacher’s son Quinn, provides a connection to the fact that this is a place that was beautiful and magical long before it was anyone who builds luxury suites there, and that many of the resort’s guests are determined to miss out on its greatest pleasures.
There could hardly be a better time for this series, filmed during the pandemic, to arrive. Has there ever been a worse year for so many workers? Has there ever been a time when they risked more just to shop for groceries, clothes, booze, books, and other people’s sourdough entrees from point A to point B in exchange for crumbs? ? Plus, doctors and nurses, public health experts, scientists, teachers, so many people just wanted their work to be recognized as the work of real people, often in difficulty.
The white lotus is sometimes exactly what its premise suggests: a very funny show about rich morons (Jake Lacy is so effective as Shane you might never see him as a nice guy in movies again. Office). But where it shines the most is like a story about who has to care about what other people feel and who don’t, and how often that distinction comes down to money.
Watching The white lotus it’s like biting a very fresh lemon, when you get the acidity, sweetness, vibrancy and fresh acid on your tongue. It is certainly memorable, and it will wake you up. But there is a bitterness that rises to its brilliance, and it lingers.