HBO comedy-drama The White Lotus was a wonderful surprise of a show. As well as being a brilliant study of all kinds of relationships and the difficulties, anxieties and animosities contained within them, it’s also about a number of huge issues in society such as class, inequality and race.
What’s Going On?
The White Lotus is a luxury hotel in Hawaii. It has just about everything a person could want for a fantastic holiday, where your every whim will be catered for by the staff. In one of the first scenes the manager, Armond, explains staff should be blandly anonymous yet always there. The show focuses on three sets of guests: the Mossbacher Family; newlyweds, Shane and Rachel; Tanya, a woman in deep grief for the passing of her mother; as well as Armond and the resort’s spa manager, Belinda. It’s hard to get into too much more of a plot as there is a big event revealed at the beginning of the show and, well, it’s all about the relationships between these people.
The Mossbacher Family
The Mossbacher Family consist of mother Nicole (Connie Britton), father Mark (Steve Zahn), son Quinn, daughter Olivia and her friend Paula. Nicole is a very successful executive and this accounts for the family wealth, she makes far more than Mark and this is an issue. Olivia and Paula are college students and are extremely engaged in political causes but actually quite unpleasant to people they meet. Quinn is seemingly addicted to his devices and lets himself be pushed around by his older sister, in so much that he ends up sleeping on the beach. For Mark, a recent health scare leads to learning a family secret that completely rocks him leading to him making some very poor choices.
Newly wed couple Rachel and Shane Patton are also very wealthy and on the first leg of their honeymoon. Shane is the son of very rich parents and an exceedingly entitled person, Rachel is a more laid-back person from a far less wealthy family. They got married very early in their relationship and clearly, there are some issues that need to be addressed. Shane is constantly demanding from everyone and everything, seemingly unable to engage at all with Rachel’s feelings or inner life in a meaningful way. Whereas Shane feels insulted by anything that isn’t perfect Rachel implores him to simply enjoy the wonderful things they have, even if not exactly what they ordered.
Tanya McQuoid & Belinda Lindsey
Tanya is liable to steal every scene she is in, a person with big emotions that are very close to the surface. Holidaying alone and still in grief from a family death Tanya bounces from person to person, sharing too much and unsettling them. A session with the spa resort manager Belinda who seemingly offers not just a massage but is someone who listens to Tanya (which she desperately needs), leads to an instant and curious obsession. It becomes quickly clear that Tanya latches onto people, she confesses that she forms very quick, intense and ill-advised relationships with men but seems to do this with everyone. Belinda is an exceedingly kind person which when coupled with the over-the-top deference and service leads to many people leaning on her for support.
Resort manager Armond at first seems a perfect host combining flawless politeness with eagerness to solve any and all problems. However, an incident in the first episode leads to him questioning his priorities and the rivalry that grows between Armond and Shane Patton around a potential mistake pushes at Armond’s tolerances.
While part of the Mossbacher party Paula is most definitely separate. She is a close friend to Olivia but it is a friendship with a lot of baggage. Paula’s stay is being paid for by the Mossbacher family, whatever her family situation is, it does not compare to the Mossbacher’s. Paula is also a person of colour and the issues of white privilege, cultural appropriation and colonization are near constants in the show – with the hotel on a Hawaiian island there are displays of traditional Hawaiian culture that many find uncomfortable.
The show is very tense, very funny and very poignant. It’s hard to watch and not think of your own relationships and your own behaviour. For example, Shane, the entitled rich man, clearly is very demanding and expects everything to be perfect, he wants the best, not because it is more comfortable or higher quality but because having the best is a status requirement. When he can’t get exactly what he wants immediately this causes massive problems for him. Annoyingly though, at times he has a genuine grievance. All of the guests (apart from Paula) are very wealthy and their lack of understanding of what things can be like for people without that wealth is infuriating. They throw around life-changing offers of money, unaware of the significance of what they’re doing, and what will happen if they change their minds.
There are only seven episodes and each episode is around an hour long and this makes White Lotus a great show you can finish in a weekend. The relatively short time scale of the programme, it covers the holiday people are having and so is only a matter of days, makes watching it quickly all the more tempting.