The White Lotus has been circling the possibility that it’s a show with something to say, but this week, Mike White finally lands the plane (sort of). The rich, white hotel guests — smiling, damaged — are each presented a chance to show what they’re about. One by one, they arrive at the same answer: themselves.
Still, as a series, The White Lotus is more curious about the deficiencies of its privileged characters than in getting to know the characters who wait on them. For every morsel of intel about Belinda, for example, we watch five minutes of Rachel and Shane’s interminable quarreling — does anyone think she has the backbone to leave him? However frivolous the show believes its upstairs cohort to be, they’re what the show is made up of. It’s an open question, for now, if that’s a commentary on reality or merely a tell. At least in the case of Armond, whose steep relapse gets the same irreverent gloss as the Mossbachers’ dysfunctional dinners, it feels like the latter.
In the small hours of the morning, though, Paula’s upstairs/downstairs locationship is played for something more than heavy petting. Kai, the series’s first native Hawaiian character, has a complicated history with the White Lotus. It’s built on the lo’i his family used to farm, and his brothers are contesting their eviction. Kai is caught between two visions for modern Hawai’i: one where the tourist is king and one based on sustainable agriculture, more closely resembling Hawai’i before annexation. Paula tells Kai he’s “so real,” which makes me (1) cringe, and (2) wonder how she’d categorize everyone else. Fake? “Tricky” is the word she chooses for Olivia, her borderline frenemy. She can’t tell Liv about Kai because Liv is the hotel developer in their relationship, with a history of taking what’s Paula’s if she wants it. But what does it say about Paula that they’re still friends, that she said yes to this trip?
Overall, the Mossbacher suite is in disarray on the morning of “Recentering.” Mark wakes up hurting from yesterday’s bender, and Nicole’s sympathy is nonexistent. “Are you going to participate today?” she asks him. “Participate” here means “play one happy family,” but social mores have deteriorated past the point of pretending. Even Paula is sassing Nicole.
Quinn, permanently bunking on the beach now, stares out at the glassy blue sea as local guys paddle an outrigger canoe, bonding in the exact way his father is trying to force. Suddenly, that scuba school that takes place in the kiddie pool feels metaphorical. When Mark confesses he bought Nicole’s $75K worth of bracelets after cheating on her, it doesn’t make father and son closer. It sends Quinn back to the ocean to befriend the watermen. Real relationships have to grow organically in the real world. (Sidenote: I felt oddly proud of Nicole’s poor, alienated rich, white son for introducing himself. Turns out he’s not a misanthrope; he just hates everyone he knows.)
By comparison, the Pattons seem normal today. Shane wears his Cornell hat to breakfast, which is perfect in a way I can’t put into words. (Just imagine Andy Bernard watching The White Lotus on his Roku and gleefully bounding from the sofa.) Rachel wants to talk about her work (again), but instead of journalism, she’s mulling a nonprofit career. No particular cause or charity is identified, and there’s no explanation for why a person who doesn’t have the “drive” for media would succeed elsewhere. She’s just looking for a soft landing. Shane is totally supportive of the plan, whatever it is, so long as he doesn’t have to listen to her talk about it anymore. He has an enemy to vanquish.
Oh, Armond! Armond didn’t make it home last night. He looks and feels terrible. Belinda coaxes the truth from him with one long, empathic stare. And Armond really seems like he’s about to return the girls’ their depleted drug stash when Shane shows up to complain about the previous episode’s Titanic of a sunset cruise. Fed up, Shane wants to talk to the Big Boss. Tripping off their showdown, Armond gives Paula back her bag, minus the drugs. It’s stupid, but also kind of genius. What are they going to say? Excuse me, sir, but our ket is missing?
Armie has one last surprise to distract Shane from contacting senior management: Molly Shannon. A Mike White regular, Shannon barrels in as Shane’s inappropriate mother, Kitty. “Poor thing, she’s white as a sheet,” the OG Mrs. Patton says when she sees the new Mrs. Patton’s unmistakable, justifiable shock to see her mother-in-law on her honeymoon. She’s a daughter-in-law’s nightmare, fretting over little Shane’s little swimmer’s ear and going on about the wedding like she was its main character. The song of Shane and Rachel was perhaps one-note, but suddenly I could not be more excited for the Big Dinner Sequence.
Because by this point in the season, the episodes are definitely taking familiar shape: sunrise; a breakfast spat with the Ps; Armond ping-ponging aimlessly among his guests; Tanya’s problem of the day, which never quite coheres to the rest of the action; and finally, a hectic, quick-cut, Christopher Nolan-esque dinner hour that brings us to a banal yet thrilling crescendo. The circadian rhythm is a formula of sorts, but it’s a good one. And tonight’s dinner is extra-special. The menu includes a bad first date, a high and hammered maître d’, and Quinn spilling the tea on Mom’s blingy wrist. For those who are so inclined, there will also be hula.
Tanya seems weirdly okay after half-scattering her mother’s ashes; she even renews her offer to fund Belinda’s wellness center. But when she meets a bald deep-sea fisherman too drunk to find his own hotel room in the middle of the day, she abruptly cancels their business dinner. In Tanya’s defense, she thinks Greg is a kindred liberal spirit, vacationing with friends from Black Lives Matter. In actuality, Greg’s a cop. To him, BLM is the Bureau of Land Management. She was attracted to him because she thought he stood for something, but when it turns out he doesn’t, she has sex with him anyway. Tanya’s proving as empty and erratic as the love-starved mother she described, which I guess casts Belinda in the role of the expendable daughter. I’d bet Tanya finds and discards a Belinda everywhere she goes.
A couple of tables over, before the Mai Tais arrive, Shane unilaterally decides to run Rachel’s new trajectory by Kitty, whose idea of nonprofit work is donating a weekend at her Aspen place to a silent auction. (She never goes in February, anyway.) “It’s a great way to give back,” she tells Rachel, approvingly. But when Rachel clarifies she’d like to get a job, Mrs. Patton can’t compute. What nonprofits need is money, she explains. Actually, they need moneymoneymoneymoney. And Rachel and Shane are moneymoneymoneymoney. Yes, Mrs. Patton is a horrifying glimpse into a possible future for Rachel, but at least she’s clear about what she brings to the table.
At one point, though, Rachel saw herself as more of a Nicole. (What happened to “your independence is your power”?) I wonder what she’d think if she knew her would-be mentor had declared herself for the forgotten white man — and Hillary, of course. But tonight it’s Mark’s turn to face Liv’s political inquisition. “For years, I was the good guy,” he says, longingly. Now he suggests they “center the narrative” around Paula. He doesn’t mean it. When pushed, he can’t come up with a single question he’d like to ask her. “When has Paula ever asked me a question?” he bites back, setting a record for the world’s briefest decentering.
I don’t know if it’s the impact of Kai’s story or just the familiarity that comes from spending concentrated time with people, but Paula is getting punchy with the Mossbachers. “What do you stand for?” she asks Mark, who doesn’t answer, which is its own answer. Depressingly, Nicole speculates that no one’s sincere about what they stand for; even anti-capitalists secretly just want to be higher up the food chain. Olivia doesn’t answer, either, but a few scenes later, when she’s sure Paula can’t see, she approaches Kai: “That’s such a cool name.” Olivia’s grown up in the context of extreme privilege, but there remain other kinds of power she’d like to grab.
From all this, Quinn emerges as something of an oracle, espousing what sounds like the show’s point of view: “What does it matter what we think? If we think the right things or the wrong things? We all do the same shit.” His frustration is our frustration.
Usually, this is the point in the episode when Shane and Rachel convince themselves they’re compatible enough to make it through another day. But tonight, Shane’s too distracted. He realizes Armond gave him a fake phone number and storms off to confront him (again). The timing is … unfortunate. Armond offered the waiter with the topknot his choice of shifts and some K to get naked together. So when Shane makes it down to the office, high and naked is how he finds them. Shane laughing in the orange glow of a thousand tiki torches throws off menacing Apocalypse Now vibes. He’s so stoked on destroying this hotel manager it’s revolting. He wants it more than he ever wanted the Pineapple Suite. This is Shane Patton’s opus.
Because for all their ineffectual grumbling and confused politics, it’s the rich, white people fucking up the world on The White Lotus. “I’m your friend,” Olivia tells Paula in bed, either deceitful or half-deranged. Is she any different than Tanya, who is never in a million years going into business with Belinda? (I’ll eat a bikini if I’m wrong.) At least Shane knows what he’s doing: ruining a stranger’s life over a series of small to medium slights. I finally understand why Mike White teased episode one’s dead body in the exact way he did. So that we would watch Shane Patton’s mad glee in the full knowledge that whatever happens next, he simply gets to hop on a plane and leave it all behind.