The White Lotus
In Homer’s Odyssey, the lotus fruit is so enchanting that Odysseus’s men who unwittingly eat it lose all desire for home — not a bad analogy for a good vacation. But by the time Tennyson’s mariners wash up on the peculiar island, getting high on lotus is an act of moral rebellion: “Ah, why Should life all labour be?”
These are “The Lotos-eaters” of Armond’s oratorical flourish, when he joins Belinda to finish off a bottle of white, compliments of Tanya. It’s a dark coda to an episode that shifts the series’s tonal register: Cristobal Tapia de Veer’s trippy score turns somber, the tracking shots increasingly evoke horror movies, and the jokes barely dribble in. Until this week, I didn’t appreciate enough that Murray Bartlett’s hotel manager is the show’s charismatic core, burdened with preserving its balance of humor and pathos. But with Armond rarely in the picture in “The Lotus-Eaters,” the White Lotus Hotel on tropical Maui becomes a dour place to stay.
The episode picks up where the last installment left off. Dillon is buttoning his clothes while Armond reneges on the promises that convinced him to take them off in the first place. Greg, too, can’t get dressed fast enough after his tumble with Tanya, maybe even faking a bout of emphysema to avoid questions about when he’ll call. Neither do our young lovers Kai and Paula escape the post-coital comedown. Kai made Paula a necklace with a sunny shell charm — the same shell he combed for as a kid before falling out with his brothers. He wants her to stay on the island. “I doubt we’ll ever see each other again,” she tells him, then takes off the necklace before Olivia can see it. For all her good intentions, Paula’s swift, brutal rejection of Kai might be the most damage any single guest has inflicted on the White Lotus staff … so far.
The Mossbachers are fighting over Mark’s unilateral decision to tell Quinn about his affair, which Nicole is still grieving. She thinks he’s selfish; he thinks she’s emotionally closed-off. Even if they’re both right, gormless Mark is way more wrong. Once upon a profoundly homophobic time, his dad didn’t tell him he was gay, and now Mark can’t tell the difference between secrets that belong to him and those that don’t. I do wish I had a better sense of how long Nicole’s been rocking those diamond bangles. When did this affair happen? And when did Nicole find out about it? Ten points to Slytherin for Olivia asking her parents what’s wrong between them — I wasn’t sure she’d notice someone else having emotions.
By the time the guests hit the breakfast buffet, the show is already priming us for death. If there’s any doubt the end is nigh, Armond announces that the Pattons will be moving to the Pineapple Suite, which OG Mrs. Patton immediately deems too pineapple-y. Shane, though, is finally on vacation. He’s got the plunge pool and the general manager’s real phone number and the self-satisfied, shit-eating grin of a man who isn’t happy until he’s made someone else unhappy. Perhaps even more unsettling than Shane lording over Armond is how I’m kind of into his terry-towel aloha shirt, like if a bathrobe and a leisure suit had a fluffy baby.
When Quinn is late for breakfast after canoeing with some local guys, his parents are performatively pissed he didn’t call on the phone he no longer has. “You getting excited, bud?” Mark asks, changing the subject from the canoe, which Quinn was clearly stoked on, to their scuba-school graduation, which no one cares about. Over fruit platters, the fam debates whether the native Hawaiian staff in last night’s hula experienced it as a positive expression of culture or an extension of imperialism. No one suggests actually speaking to a native Hawaiian person directly, but, helpfully, Mark can have an entire conversation about colonialism and reparations by himself. “You shouldn’t kill people, steal their land, and then make them dance. Everybody knows that,” Mark says. BUT, on the other hand, “Should we give away all our money? Would you like that?” If you want to be super-charitable about it, he’s making the same point Quinn did last week: What do your politics matter if they’re not prescriptive? Mark is a low-key troglodyte; Paula is outspokenly progressive. They’re both sleeping between Egyptian cotton sheets on stolen land.
When Belinda catches up with Tanya, she finds her spiraling out over what will happen when Greg reaches her narcissistic, alcoholic center. She attempts to steer the conversation to the wellness center, but it’s no use. Tanya has a new toy with more complicated instructions. She puts on her snazziest caftan to stalk Greg to the pool, where for maybe the third time he promises to get in touch later. It’s hard to watch, but still not the ugliest thing going down at the lido.
That distinction belongs to the confab between the Misses Pattons. Shane’s mom knows about Rachel’s “identity crisis” — her codependent son told her — and wants to reassure her about the gifts she brings to their new marriage. For example, Rachel is incredibly beautiful, and she makes Shane so happy when countless other beautiful women that came before her didn’t. I’m 90 percent sure Mrs. Patton the Elder is genuinely trying, but she doesn’t understand what’s suddenly the problem. To be fair to her, the suddenness of the problem is hard to understand! Everything Rachel’s upset about was just as true the day before the wedding as the day after.
What was less foreseeable is that over the course of a four-day fling with Paula, Kai would go from a really nice dude with a steady job to a jewel thief on the run. With the Mossbachers all now planning to attend scuba graduation at sea, Paula pleads with Kai to use the key card he swiped and the safe code she weaseled from the Mossbachers to steal the Range Rover Nicole wears on her wrist, thereby righting historical injustices. Somehow. “I don’t steal from people,” Kai tells her. It’s all so bad. Paula convinces Kai that he could hire a good lawyer to fight the hotel, but (1) that’s not enough money, and (2) where on Maui is he supposed to pawn the bracelets? The theft will be front-page news.
The heist is hardly The Italian Job. Kai’s a lousy thief, fumbling over the safe, snatching the diamonds but leaving the cold, hard cash behind. He’s still in the hotel suite when Nicole, who decides to skip the boat trip rather than spend more time with Mark, gets back. But Mark runs after Nicole, and Kai is forced to punch his way out of the suite. It’s all so, so bad. Nicole is traumatized; Mark is bleeding. Paula didn’t even get off the boat. When the kids get back, the cops are dusting for prints, and Paula looks stunned, like she never believed she had this much power. What did she think would happen?
Dinner is a downbeat affair all around. Tanya doesn’t want to talk about the fact that Greg never called or the wellness center. She’s content to sit across from Belinda in spacey, self-pitying silence. She hasn’t read the business plan; she’ll never read the business plan. When she leaves mid-meal because Greg booty-calls her, even Belinda understands that she was never going to read the business plan.
In a stunning reversal, though, Tanya rejects Greg in an act of deranged self-preservation. She’s just self-aware enough to know that eventually her neediness pushes people away. In a brilliantly batshit moment, she even tries to foist her mother’s ashes on him. Alas, her nerve doesn’t hold. “I still want to fuck you,” Greg tells her. If you squint at it hard enough, you can maybe see shades of Rhett telling Scarlett, “You need kissing badly. That’s what’s wrong with you.”
Tonight is Shane’s mom’s last night with the couple before she heads to her own hotel, so she spends it shit-talking the country-club set with her son, who is wearing a blue ombre sweater with boats and whales and maybe birds on it — his worst look yet. Rachel just sits there, not unlike a trophy wife. Later, she’ll say to herself and maybe her husband, if he’s listening, that she thinks she’s made a terrible mistake. It’s the same realization she has every episode, but for the first time there’s a sense she’ll Google “annulment” before bed.
Meanwhile, the Mossbachers are rallying around each other. At last, Mark is the hero he wants his family to see — and all he had to do to earn their respect was tackle a mostly harmless person.
Which brings us back to Belinda and Armond and Tennyson’s lotos-eaters. The narcotic on this island isn’t release from the obligation of home, but from the world of consequence. Tanya will never care or perhaps even notice the accidents she leaves in her wake. Shane will claim them, like prizes. From her tears, it’s clear there’s not enough lotus fruit on Maui to keep Paula from confronting what she’s done, though of course, she’s not the one who will pay for it. That ache in her stomach isn’t fructose intolerance; it’s her humanity. She should get on a plane far away from these people before she can no longer feel its tug.
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