“Arrivals” is funny, scathing, and expertly acted — The White Lotus is shaping up to be a small-screen highlight of the year.
This recap of The White Lotus episode 1, “Arrivals” contains spoilers.
HBO’s new six-part limited series The White Lotus doesn’t appear to be anything like the network’s own Succession, at least not at first glance. It’s set in and around a luxury Hawaii holiday resort, not in high-rise boardrooms, and it’s about an eclectic bunch of haves and have-nots, rather than exclusively the moneyed scions of an unscrupulous media mogul. But the two shows share plenty. Both are as funny as they are dramatic and tragic (Succession is also, in its way, wrenchingly sad, but The White Lotus hasn’t had a chance to get there – yet.) Both are also scathing eviscerations of the privileged, especially those who also happen to be white. They’ll appeal equally to much of the same audience. And that’s without the corpse.
Someone dies at The White Lotus (the show is named after the place), but we don’t know who. Could be anyone, at this point. The first episode, “Arrivals”, introduces an eccentric mix of potential suspects and victims, all plucked from various points along the socioeconomic spectrum. Writer, director, and creator Mike White touched on similar themes in his Enlightened, which ran from 2011 to 2013; this show feels like a lot of that spliced with Below Decks, the aforementioned Succession, and perhaps a sprinkle of Knives Out. The likelihood is that more people here will deserve to be killed than actually end up being.
The audience POV character is the resort’s Australian manager, Armond (Murray Bartlett), a well-heeled salesman who adroitly handles queries about mis-booked rooms and unavailable water-sports activities while giving his staff the reality behind the platitudes – the service industry is just an exercise in making people who aren’t special feel as though they are by babying them. We all know that’s true, except those of us who’re too used to being babied in the first place, but The White Lotus episode 1 allows us into Armond’s headspace by daring him to retain his unflappable manner as things go drastically and rapidly wrong.
Enter the guests. And there are many. Rachel (Alexandra Daddario) also works as a kind of fish-out-of-water sub-protagonist, since she has recently married Shane (Jake Lacy), a man from a very wealthy family who she hasn’t known long and is quickly realizing might be a horrible pig. Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge) is less easy to sympathize with, as she almost immediately forms a one-way relationship with a well-meaning hotel masseuse, Belinda (Natasha Rothwell), though she’s obviously nursing a great deal of damage and is at The White Lotus to scatter her late mother’s ashes. Breadwinning exec Nicole (Connie Britton), meanwhile, has brought a great deal of baggage with her, not all of it the carry-on kind. Her husband, Mark (Steve Zahn), thinks he might have testicular cancer, and wants to use this opportunity to suture a strained relationship with his lonely son, Quinn (Fred Hechinger), while his daughter Olivia (Sydney Sweeney) and her tag-along best friend Paula (Brittany O’Grady) roam the grounds being profoundly awful to everyone they encounter.
This is a lot of people, who have a lot of problems, and there are many complex motifs and dynamics at play even without the potential for murder, and the sense of gradually escalating chaos is pretty prominent. There’s plenty more to come here, and when all is said and done, this might end up sneakily being a small-screen highlight of the year.