Why are we weigh’d upon with heaviness,
And utterly consumed with sharp distress,
While all things else have rest from weariness?
Hateful is the dark-blue sky,
Vaulted o’er the dark-blue sea.
Death is the end of life; ah, why
Should life all labour be?
Let us alone. Time driveth onward fast,
And in a little while our lips are dumb.
Let us alone. What is it that will last?
All things are taken from us, and become
Portions and parcels of the dreadful past.
Let us alone. What pleasure can we have
To war with evil? Is there any peace
In ever climbing up the climbing wave?
All things have rest, and ripen toward the grave
In silence; ripen, fall and cease:
Give us long rest or death, dark death, or dreamful ease.
—“The Lotos-eaters,” Alfred, Lord Tennyson
In 1832, Alfred, Lord Tennyson published the poem “The Lotos-eaters.” After the poet visited the Pyrenees mountains, he penned a poem in conversation with Homer’s Odyssey. Historically, different variants of the lotus plant appeared in China, Egypt, and Persia, but our collective idea of the “lotos” or “lotus” is tied up in its appearance in Homer’s work: “whosoever of them ate of the honey-sweet fruit of the lotus, had no longer any wish to bring back word or to return.” Tennyson expanded the reference to the “lotus” in Odyssey with “The Lotos-eaters,” in which a group of mariners come upon an island where the “lotos” tree grows, and where the island’s inhabitants live in a blissful stupor after eating its fruit. Contemporaneously, you could argue that the fruit as imagined by Homer and Lord Tennyson is a drug, or any kind of addiction, that draws you away from your regular life. But in the context of The White Lotus as a series, there is only one thing the “lotos” or “lotus” can be: money. Oh, excuse me for not quoting Shane and Kitty Patton correctly: “Money, money, money!” Go ahead and imagine my shoulder wiggle; I promise I’m doing it.
Money is the elixir, the ambrosia, the manna upon which the White Lotus guests feast, and yes, this has come up over and over again during Mike White’s preceding four episodes, but it takes on a grimier weight in penultimate episode “The Lotus-Eaters.” What kind of life did Armond lead before coming to work at the White Lotus resort, that he can quote Lord Tennyson at the drop of a hat? And: Who does Armond see himself as in this poem?
Read “The Lotos-eaters,” and it describes the exhaustion, desperation, and malaise of overworked, lost men who collapse at the first offering of rest from island inhabitants who live openly and easily. “Should life all labour be?” the interlopers ask, and so does Armond when quoting. Does Armond consider himself one of the natives from Homer’s and Tennyson’s works, one of the Lotophagoi who selflessly offers leisure and mindlessness to the guests—the “special chosen baby child[ren],” as Armond called them—who come to this place? That isn’t exactly true, is it, since Armond, as a higher-level employee of this resort that stole bequeathed Hawaiian land, is arguably complicit in the imperialist spread affecting the actually indigenous. Or, is Armond one of those mariners looking for a break: a person whose labor has been endless, and who is embracing the opportunity to get lost? And if so, what is his “lotus”? It’s not money. It’s something more like not giving a fuck, like singer Peggy Lee in the classic 1969 song “Is That All There Is?”:
Is that all there is, is that all there is?
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is
Or like Tyler Durden in Fight Club: “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.” Armond is a bird pecking through the last bars of its cage, and while so many others at the White Lotus resort are trapped—Belinda in her potential reliance on Tanya, Tanya in her reliance on men, Rachel in her marriage to Shane, and poor, sweet Paula, whose involvement in the theft of Nicole’s jewelry is immediately guessed at by Olivia—Armond is trying very hard to get free. “Is there any peace/In ever climbing up the climbing wave?” Tennyson asked, and think of those Hawaiians who accept Quinn into their canoeing circle. Every day they paddle outward, and every evening they come back. Armond, though, is the like the men in the boat of The White Lotus’ opening credits: facing a gargantuan wave that threatens to wash him away. That riptide will drag you under, and Armond is on his way down.
“The Lotus-Eaters” is soaked in dread and disappointment from the beginning, which cuts between Armond’s post-rimming, post-walked-in-on panic and Paula’s rejection of Kai’s domestic planning. Funny how Paula’s “I’m just being straight with you” sounds a lot like Mark’s “realness”—on a long-enough timeline, we all become our own villains—but then, unsurprisingly, Nicole’s $75,000 bracelets come up again. What if Paula were to help Kai steal some of the Mossbacher matriarch’s jewelry? That kind of money could help Kai and his brothers hire a lawyer to fight the resort, which is an altruistic, a la Robin Hood reason. But I also think Paula was driven a little bit here by how frankly exhausting the Mossbachers can be, and how consistently their dinner conversations are the absolute worst. Nicole’s insistence that Hawaiian employees dancing for tourists staying in $9,000-a-night rooms is “just a way for them to honor their culture.” Mark’s scoffing “Obviously imperialism was bad … But it’s humanity. Welcome to history. Welcome to America.” Remember when Paula asked the Mossbachers what they stand for? Well, this is it.
Yes, Kai is right that these people aren’t those people who stole from him. And overall, I do not think The White Lotus as a series has yet come down on all the “All rich people should be eaten” side of the ideological divide. But, it does come down on the “Rich people will always be fine” divide after Kai’s thieving of the Mossbachers’ safe is interrupted by Nicole, who bails on the family scuba-diving trip after getting into it with Mark again. Mark’s attempt to defend Nicole ends up bringing the couple back together; the resort comps their entire stay (which they could certainly afford); and Olivia and Quinn now look at their father with respect, which was all Mark ever wanted. Sure, yes, it is admirable that Mark moved so quickly to defend his wife. But The White Lotus is consistent in emphasizing that there are levels of elitism, power, and wealth that, once you pass into their boundaries, will protect you forever. And so the Mossbachers? They’re absolutely fine. But Paula? Olivia has her number. And Kai? He’s on the run, with what I think is the series’ first fade-to-black mid-episode moment. (There are cameras all over the resort, I would assume, and it’s not like Kai’s balaclava and baseball hat hide his height, body type, or employee uniform. I’m worried.)
You can basically rely on the fact that whenever a guest tells a White Lotus employee they “want to help,” it actually ends up like a curse. We have it with Paula and Kai, and we have it with Tanya and Belinda, especially now that the former is diving headfirst into this affair with Greg. If the character were played by anyone but Jennifer Coolidge, I probably wouldn’t have any sympathy at all. Week after week, though, Coolidge finds new emotional notes to hit with this character, and her work in “The Lotus-Eaters” is stellar. She’s phenomenally awkward (“Like, when, you think?” in response to Greg’s “Let’s hang out later”). She’s uncomfortably vulnerable (“The core of the onion, Belinda, is just a straight-up alcoholic lunatic!”). And she’s self-sabotaging in such a dramatic way that she tries to ruin things before they even start (“I’m a very needy person, and I am deeply, deeply insecure … I want you to get out of here and save yourself because I’m like a dead end. This is a trap door, and I want you to get out!”) How amazing, then, when Greg absolutely does not fall into said trap. This man is trying to smash, and kudos to Jon Gries (Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite!) for being utterly nonplussed in the face of Tanya’s mania. “You’re not really cuckoo” isn’t exactly nice, but someone who finally pushes up against Tanya instead of appeasing her? Maybe that’s what she wants—and maybe that’s why Belinda’s business proposal is going nowhere.
Someone on Twitter told me they found Belinda’s storyline “problematic” because they doubt that a Black woman working in such a high-stress environment, who can recite Hindu chants and is so good at her job, would fall for Tanya’s offer of a business partnership. I can certainly understand that argument. But I think the point The White Lotus is trying to make is that these employees, Belinda and Armond both, are beaten down by the day-in, day-out frustrations of dealing with guests who mostly don’t care about them at all. That’s why Armond rises to Shane’s bait, and that’s why Belinda is grasping onto the possibility of Tanya helping her launch a wellness center—and, possibly, why Belinda demonstrating neediness to the already-needy Tanya is actually hurting her cause. She’s recycling the same lines she used on Tanya earlier (“Women from all economic backgrounds could benefit, not just rich women. Not that there’s anything wrong with rich women … you know what I mean”), and she’s still trying to sway Tanya away from Greg and toward herself. And in return, Tanya … buys her dinner. “Charge all this stuff to my room, you can even have more if you want” is such a patronizing line, and the dejection Natasha Rothwell paints all over Belinda’s face was well-done.
And finally, there are the Pattons, with the increasingly lost Rachel, who finally realizes why the Pattons accepted her. It’s not because they respect her job, or because they think she’s smart or interesting, or because they even like her company. They tolerate her because she is beautiful, and every time Shane or Kitty says that to her, it hurts a little bit more. Consider all the ways Rachel retreats into herself this episode: her thousand-yard-stare and refusal to make eye contact at breakfast; her pained underbite flexing when Shane leaves her alone with Kitty by the pool; her shellshocked stillness at dinner while Shane and Kitty gossip about people she doesn’t know, speaking endlessly—and solely—about their money. “Be happy, okay. Be happy,” Kitty coos in Rachel’s ear at their parting, and I don’t begrudge anyone who is unsympathetic to the situation in which Rachel finds herself. She’s gorgeous! She’s rich now! She willingly married Shane! What is there to complain about? But think again of that line from “The Lotos-eaters” poem: “What is it that will last?” Maybe Rachel doesn’t find the lotus so sweet. Maybe the Pattons’ marriage doesn’t last. And don’t forget: that box of human remains that Shane was staring at in the premiere episode awaits us in next week’s series finale, “Departures.”
- Connie Britton had that standout scene with Alexandra Daddario earlier in the season, and she gets two this episode with her extended bickering with Steve Zahn. Her line deliveries of “Because I’m still in a lot of pain!” and “Why am I the fucking punching bag?” were wonderfully histrionic, and I think those cracks in her normally calm demeanor really worked.
- “You said a bunch of shit … You owe me,” Dillon says to Armond. A threat, or just a reminder for Armond to hold up his end of their bargain?
- Quinn’s “END HOMELESSNESS” T-shirt continues to pique my interest about this character, who at first seemed so different from Olivia but who I think ultimately shares her general frustration with the status quo. Quinn’s growth over the series, though, and his actual interest in and appreciation for Hawaiian customs now suggest to me that he’s willing to actually do something to change the world in a way his older sister isn’t.
- If you would like to bleed out of your ears—and try to figure out which room of the Four Seasons Resort Maui was used to stand in as the White Lotus’s Pineapple Suite—you can see how many thousands of dollars per night these rooms cost.
- How far from the Big Island to Kauai, the journey the Hawaiian canoers are training for? 300 miles.
- “We could use the dead weight. Makes us strong” is an entire lifestyle in two lines, and if there were a whole show about the Hawaiian rowers, I would watch it.