Can we escape becoming our parents? Halfway through The White Lotus, up to third episode “Mysterious Monkeys,” practically every character who discussed their parents did so with resentment. On the adults’ side were Tanya, complaining about her mother’s myopia and manipulation, and Mark, despondent over the reveal of his father’s gayness and secret life. On the twentysomethings and teens’ side, Olivia kicks back at her mother’s neoliberalism, status, and wealth all the time, while Quinn is increasingly wary of his father’s reckless honesty. Theoretically, those who complain about their parents probably don’t want to follow in their footsteps.
And yet in this fourth episode “Recentering,” it feels like nearly all of them are inching closer to becoming versions of the very same people about whom they complain. Tanya jumps headfirst into this dalliance with Greg, although on the boat with Shane and Rachel, she had bemoaned her mother’s reliance on men. Olivia might claim that she’s Paula’s ally, but if so, why did she make that desperate, “cool”-filled pass at Kai? Isn’t pushing aside the competition something that, say, Olivia’s mother Nicole would do in the boardroom at Poof? Mark starts off maintaining his open lines of communication with Quinn, but then shares that he—like his father—cheated on his wife. Across the board, there’s a lot of denial before what seems like a lot of acquiescence.
Even as “Recentering” finally acknowledges the Hawaiian perspective, sketches out the sympathetic Paula, and tumbles Armond further into self-destructive debauchery, Mike White’s insistence that our identities are generationally cyclical looms large. Think of Shane and his honeymoon-crashing mother Kitty (Molly Shannon, operating on a particularly noxious wavelength) gleefully chanting “Money, money, money!” as the horrified Rachel looks on. (Alexandra Daddario is really exceptional this episode, and her expressions of loneliness, exasperation, disgust, and bitterness are the most nuanced work of her career.) Is this the future Rachel has to look forward to? Wealthy, sure. But also attached, for the rest of her life, to an asshole. Is it worth it?
“Is it worth it?” applies to Paula and Kai, too. Is it worth it for Paula to be close friends with Olivia, who, she tells Kai, treats her like a token? “She’s my friend. As long as she has more of everything than I do. But if I have something of my own, she wants it,” she says, and that observation comes true when we see Olivia, who knows Paula and Kai are sleeping together, make a move on Kai herself. Is it worth it for Kai to work at the resort that evicted his family from their land, and to drive a wedge between himself and his brothers by doing so? “I gotta make a living, you know?” he says, and that living includes putting on traditional Hawaiian dress, blowing the “pu” or conch shell, and then engaging in fire dancing before barely interested resort guests—cultural ceremony as tourist entertainment. At a certain point, performing your otherness, and tolerating people like the Mossbachers, might be too much, and I wonder if Paula and Kai are nearly there.
Armond certainly is! Did we really believe his “Absolutely, 100 percent” to Belinda when she tells him to get rid of the drugs he found in Olivia and Paula’s bag? I did not. Armond is clearly working through some shit, and during this bender, he goes through it all. He resents Olivia and Paula’s pushiness, and keeps their pills, ketamine, and other hard drugs before giving back their backpack. He lies to Shane, giving him a fake phone number for the general manager Shane now demands to speak with. He hits on Mark again, with a delightfully lascivious wink. And by promising Dillon a better work schedule and some of the drugs, he gets the employee he’s been lusting after into bed—or, more technically, naked in his office. What is the fallout from Shane and Belinda seeing Armond and Dillon in flagrante delicto? For Belinda, it’s probably a loss of respect toward her coworker. But I doubt Shane will be satisfied with just that.
There are active and passive villains in The White Lotus, and the series has now positioned Armond firmly into active villain territory—alongside Shane, of course. But I will say that Armond’s frustrations with the guests, sparked by his realization that he’s become the kind of ignorant manager that puts their concerns over the staff’s, feel understandable, even if the ways he is acting on them are various levels of petty. Shane, though? The way Shane treats Rachel, the woman he allegedly loves, feels worse because it suggests that even in a relationship that is supposed to be intimate, honest, and supportive, Shane can’t manage it. If that’s how he acts with his life partner, of course he’d act so dismissively to a lesser-than like Armond. And everything about Shane makes sense when we meet Shannon’s exacting, judgmental, and casually cruel Kitty, the mother who crashes Shane and Rachel’s honeymoon.
In the span of something like five minutes, Kitty insults Rachel, describes her only in terms of her looks, asserts her dominance as the most important woman in Shane’s life, and takes Shane’s side in the ongoing Palm Suite vs. Pineapple Suite saga. The friction between the original Pattons and new addition Rachel comes to a head at dinner that night, during which Cristobal Tapia de Veer’s fantastic score and John M. Valerio’s spry editing combine for maximum impact. When the drums stopped after Rachel said, “I really want to get a job” and then bumped back up after we cut to Kitty’s appalled “No. … Why would you want to do that? That doesn’t make any sense”? That was art! And while Rachel realizes the selfishness and narrowness of the family she married into (Shane insulting her mother as poor with an “oh well” shrug!), the Mossbachers are across the restaurant in their own meltdown mode.
Paula going after Mark: “What do you stand for?” Nicole going after Olivia: “What’s your system of belief, Olivia? Not capitalism, not socialism. So, just cynicism.” And Quinn going after everyone: “We all do the same shit. We’re all still parasites on the Earth. There’s no virtuous person when we’re all eating the last fish and throwing all our plastic crap in the ocean.” Each night that Quinn has slept on the beach, he’s come one step closer to realizing that the Hawaii around the resort is at odds with its existence. The waves, the whale, those six very handsome, very buff men who Quinn could not stop looking at in that outrigger boat. Quinn is experiencing some kind of epiphany here, and it’s not coming from his family. They don’t have an answer when he asks, “Where does all the pain go?” Does anyone?
- Those $75,000 bracelets are absolutely coming up again. There is nothing as dependable as the rich thinking “it’s not polite to talk about how much things cost”!
- I’m curious what specifically informed White’s writing of the Hawaiian perspective in this episode, but in general, it’s depressingly easy to find news coverage of ongoing land disputes involving native Hawaiians and outside interlopers trying to buy up real estate. Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan own more than 1,300 acres of land in Hawaii, and Hawaiians have been fighting their purchases for years. And of course, the problem isn’t limited to the Facebook billionaires. The saga of private corporations stealing ancestral land, and the Hawaiian government dragging its heels on figuring out a way to return land to Hawaiian natives, has been infuriating for a long time. ProPublica published a thorough, dispiriting story about this last December.
- Natasha Rothwell’s gasping “What?!” when Belinda learned Armond fell off the wagon was straight out of the I Think You Should Leave season one fully loaded nachos skit. Rothwell’s pained expression is so similar to how Tim Robinson reacts to being called out for complaining about his date eating the chips with all the good toppings.
- Was Paula sleeping in a Rage Against the Machine shirt? This is on-the-nose costuming, but I’ll allow it.
- “Most of these activists, they don’t really want to dismantle the systems of economic exploitation. Not the ones that benefit them, which are all global, by the way. They just want a better seat at the table of tyranny.” In another I Think You Should Leave moment, cue my “Oh my god, she admit it” face to Nicole acknowledging that the world is unjust, sure, but she’s benefitting from it, so oh well!
- How sincere was Tanya’s “Let’s get into business”? My heart already aches for what I am sure will be Tanya letting Belinda down.
- I need to see Daddario’s name on some Emmy ballots for many aspects of this performance, in particular her delicately ravaged line delivery of “There are people my age doing great work. I’m just not one of them.”
- The dialogue on The White Lotus rarely makes me do a double take, but do we really think Shane has seen What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. I doubt it.
- “All these guests are crazy.” Not wrong, Kai!