I Think I Liked "The White Lotus," But I'm Still Scratching my Head
Exotic locations, wealthy celebrities, and a message that hits you over the head while entirely missing the point.
I know, I know, I'm super late to the party, but I just caught up on HBO's The White Lotus series.
The smash hit, ensemble anthology is Mike White's baby and, as a huge fan of School of Rock, that gives it an extra check mark in the PRO column for me. But even though I binged the whole show in five days (very slow for me), I can't tell if I loved the show or not.
See, the first time I tried to watch season one, I was fresh out of the hospital, recovering from vasovagal syncope related to dehydration (drink your water, kids). I remember lying on the couch, half-asleep, with the volume down a few notches too low. I assumed it was just a silly comedy and easy background noise. I didn't really get hooked and wondered what the hype was.
But when I tried again earlier this week, I realized that I had missed a crucial ingredient to the series: the murder mystery.
In the beginning of the first season, it's revealed that someone at the White Lotus Resort and Spa will die and their remains will be traveling on a plane out of Hawaii.
That alone gripped me. Knowing that someone would die was interesting enough to keep me watching, rather than seeing rich people be rich people while on a swanky vacation.
Season two begins with a similar hook, only this time, a body is discovered in the ocean overlooked by the Italian branch of the hotel. Then season one's stakes are raised by the reveal of multiple other dead bodies found.
Anyway, I was sucked into the show due to the nature of the mysterious deaths, and honestly, that might have been the only thing that kept me watching. We'll be diving into my thoughts on the show throughout this column, which I feel will be therapeutic for me.
...Especially since the friend who recommended it to me never texted me back, so who else do I have to unpack it all with?
I'm going to do my best not to give away any spoilers, especially because I got a big death from season two spoiled for me before I watched it, and I don't want to do that to anyone else.
To say The White Lotus is a character-driven show is an understatement. In fact, the ensemble nature of the show is one of its best features in my opinion.
In season one, we follow the Mossbachers and their daughter's friend, the newlywed Pattons, and the spacey Tanya, as they stay at the Hawaiian resort. The guests travel via boat together to get to the hotel, and their experiences end up intertwining somewhat.
In season two, Tanya returns, this time with her apathetic assistant, Portia. They arrive in Sicily with the Di Grasso men, as well as the Spillers and Sullivans. There isn't as much intertwining in this season, aside from Portia's almost romance with Albie Di Grasso in the first half, as well as sex worker Lucia spending time with some of the guests.
I have to say, I liked how the guests interacted with each other in season one. I loved seeing Tanya and Rachel talk with the disinterested, bitchy teenagers, highlighting just how nasty the girls were. Or how the Pattons and Mossbachers would talk to (or about) each other at meals. It all felt very connected, like there was a reason we were watching these people together.
However, due to less constraints (season one was produced in the midst of COVID), season two was allowed to spread its wings in ways season one wasn't allowed to, especially with the location and all it had to offer. Unfortunately, that means the cast didn't interact as much as they did in season one.
I will say, though, that in both seasons of the show, the characters we follow are all, for the most part, unlikable. I think the awkward Quinn was probably the most likeable of the Mossbacher party. Rachel Patton was much more grounded than her husband, Shane, but I pitied her more than I enjoyed her. And Tanya...well, I liked her friendship with Belinda in the first half of the season. That's all I'm going to say about that.
In season two, I think I was supposed to like Harper Spiller? Except I found her really irritating and sanctimonious, hence the name. I liked Daphne Sullivan way better, but even then I couldn't really root for her. Harper's husband, Ethan was okay? I thought Portia was going to be my favorite at first, but I was really disappointed in how she treated sweet Albie. And don't even get me started on Albie. Kid's got two terrible role models in his family, but I think he still has a chance.
As for everyone else, they're all either really entitled, really rude, controlling, or selfish. Or, you know, any and all combinations of the four. But we'll get more into that in the plot section down below.
I'm sure this was exactly the point, but I found the staff to be the most likeable characters in the first season. However, I didn't feel as connected to Valentina and her staff, mostly because they had their own subplot and didn't interact as much with the guests.
In season one, however, manager Armond had his own subplot, as well as one that involved another guest and carried through until the end of the season. I honestly think Armond was my favorite character, even though watching his one mistake turn into many more was a little disheartening.
Then there's Belinda, the spa manager who desperately wants to start her own business. She's grounded, realistic, and arguably the easiest to root for in the whole show.
In season two, I didn't know much more about Valentina, other than her crush on one of her employees. Still, I liked Valentina more than most of the main characters.
Well, as previously mentioned, the plot of both seasons involves a death (or four) at the hotel, as well as what shenanigans our rich characters get up to while there.
I mentioned that most of the characters are awful and hard to get behind, which is also one of the themes of the show. Something-something-eat the rich-something-something-rich people suffer no consequences.
Look, I am the daughter of a single parent raising two kids on an elementary school teacher's salary in America. I am not rich. I have never been rich. And while I have dreams of living with a more comfortable financial situation, I don't have much sympathy for the ridiculously wealthy characters in this show.
I also don't need to be hit over the head with the message of "rich white people=bad" every episode. Especially not while watching a show produced by people in the glitzy Hollywood industry on location in exotic places, and made for people who can afford HBO.
Like, I get it. I truly do. But you're preaching to the choir here.
That aside, I do love how both seasons of the show are framed so we know from the get-go there'll be a death, and now we have to see what leads up to it. Without that in the very beginning, I don't know if I would have sat through the first couple episodes of the show.
My biggest gripe of the whole series is that it moves very slowly. And though I was hooked enough to watch a few episodes every day until I finished season two Saturday afternoon, I also walked away from the show feeling like each season could have just been, like, a movie or something.
Sure, there was plenty of drama in each episode, but it wasn't exactly thrilling. Not until each season finale amped it up in regards to the aforementioned deaths.
Well, this write-up has certainly provided me with some clarity. I did enjoy the show, but I wouldn't say it's perfect. Nor would I add it to my ever-growing list of "Favorites" any time soon.
Despite its decidedly unlikable characters and slow pace, I'm a sucker for the allure of the mysterious deaths. They'll keep me pressing that "skip credits" button every episode.
I'm just hoping that season three will bring more characters I can root for, and maybe cut back on the ham-fisted preaching. Because again...
I get it.