It’s all smiles at The White Lotus resort. The skies are clear, the rooms are staggering, and crystal blue water laps lazily against a sandy coastline. Paddle in the pool, enjoy a meal at the restaurant and bar, learn to scuba. Here is paradise on earth, for a moment or two. Until the guests arrive, at least.
Nobody gets to the end of this show with their spirit intact. The patrons are wealthy, oblivious, and accidental harbingers of a dozen little apocalypses. They’re played broadly at first, a satire of the rich and dumb. As the story rolls on and their paths intersect, however, a depth of personality is revealed. This is a characterful show, and the entertainment comes from watching these bold, bizarre people self-destruct, taking down innocent bystanders with them. It’s truly hilarious, at times, and honestly quite sad at others. Is it good? I think so. It sure is fascinating.
We’re introduced to our cast in quick succession, as hotel manager Armond greets them on arrival. He’s charming, attentive, and funny. He’s impulsive, fiery and tense. There’s a duality to each member of staff, and an increasingly strong implication that what this hotel really provides patrons is a comfortable façade. On occasion, Armond’s mask drops, and his eyes brilliantly betray an inner turmoil.
Elsewhere, spa manager Belinda allows herself a moment of vulnerability whilst connecting with the blundering whirlwind of a person Tanya McQuoid. From there on out, Belinda’s taken on a heart-wrenching rollercoaster of promises and disappointments. Her dreams might become a reality, and it’s all dependant on the whim of the wealthy.
Amongst the guests are a family preoccupied with countless simmering tensions, and Rachel, who has just married the absolute worst human Shane, played to bastardly perfection by Jake Lacy. So many of these people are insufferable, obsessing over the tiniest of blemishes, enthralled by one anothers faults. Yet they’re all given enough motivation, enough depth, to elicit at least a little sympathy. The journey’s these characters go on are introspective, and whilst they don’t all grow as people, they certainly do change.
The setting is beautiful, and the acting is top class, but it’s the soundtrack that stands out. Writer Mike White describes a sense of “tropical anxiety” with regards to the music. Flutes and percussion are drowned out by gasping, primal voices. It’s a soundscape that evokes the brilliantly weird Utopia, which, it turns out, shares a composer in Cristobel Tapia de Veer.
In reality, The White Lotus isn’t nearly as weird as the soundtrack would suggest, but an edge of strangeness does intensify proceedings. This is helped along by a promise during the cold open to episode one: by the end of our story, a man will be dead. It’s this tension, this drama bubbling away beneath the surface, that keeps you hooked. Here is a show where complicated people screw things up. So, we’re left to wonder; just how bad can things get?