From the very first scene of the six-episode mini series The White Lotus, you know someone is going to end up in a coffin. With the promise of death hanging over the social satire created, written and directed by Mike White and available in India on Disney+ Hotstar, we shimmy into the White Lotus –an exclusive resort in Hawaii for the affluent.
The story follows three sets of vacationers during their week-long stay and a few key members of the hotel staff. There are the Mossbachers – Nicole (Connie Britton), the CFO of a tech company, her emasculated husband Mark (Steve Zahn), their son Quinn (Fred Hechinger), an awkward teen attached to several gadgets, his older snooty sister Olivia (Sydney Sweeney), and her friend Paula (Brittany O’Grady), who matches Olivia barb for barb.
Shane (Jake Lacy) and Rachel (Alexandra Daddario) are on their honeymoon, which turns into a battle between Shane and resort manager Armond (Murray Barlett) over a mix-up in the room booking. Over the course of the stay, Rachel faces up to some home truths as Shane obsesses over Armond’s mistake.
In the Hibiscus Room is Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge), a single woman travelling with her mother’s ashes. She strikes up a friendship with spa manager Belinda (Natasha Rothwell), a kindly therapist who chants the Gayatri mantra to sooth her needy client. Tanya makes promises to Belinda, only to leave the latter disappointed.
White Lotus is the Downton Abbey of the American hospitality industry. It’s about rich white people with rich white people problems peppered with comments on colonisation, privilege, entitlement, identity, parenting and transactions.
The guests disguise their misery under layers of designer resort wear, shield their troubled eyes with oversized sunglasses and discuss trending topics with woke teenagers practising armchair activism. Meanwhile, the staff has to plaster on a beaming smile and helpful attitude even when they are wronged or hurt by the shenanigans and inflated egos of their wealthy guests.
More than the plot lines, the detailing makes White Lotus visually sumptuous, right from the opening credits with wallpaper featuring palm trees, pineapples, sea creatures, stormy clouds and decay to the production design, costumes and even the carefully selected books the guests are reading.
When Shane asks Paula and Olivia if they are actually reading Nietzsche and Kafka, they reply:
“No, they’re just props.”
“We have a stylist pick our outfits and then we have a book stylist pick out our books.”
A standing ovation for the music, which is both jaunty and tension-building. Composer Cristobal Tapia de Veer’s score mixes playful with impending disaster. Creator White has described it as a feeling of “tropical anxiety”.
The casting is on point, with Murray Barlett delivering a particularly impressive performance as the resort manager who begins to unravel. To picture Armond, imagine a gay Basil Fawlty (Jon Cleese in Fawlty Towers) with a substance disorder.
Not every character is well rounded. For example, didn’t Rachel know about her husband’s arrogance before? Why is Olivia perpetually unpleasant? What happened to Kai and Lani, two staff members we see and then we don’t?
That’s perhaps the point – that the service staff is expendable, and in the power struggle race, class, gender will determine winners and losers. Just don’t piss off the manager, because the person with the master key to every room has power too.
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