HBO aired the day before yesterday the penultimate episode of "The White Lotus," a light-hearted but unsettling series that, against the least promising backdrop, depicts the intimacy of class relations and ironizes the dominant ideologies of today's US bourgeoisie.
The White Lotus is Hitchcock, not Magnum
Trailer for "The White Lotus"
A luxury "resort" in Hawaii with a Magnum-looking manager, his new assistant, the denizens of three suites, the hotel's physical therapist, waiters and a handful of supporting cast. Colonial quilt wallpapers, torch-lit pathways, poolside cocktails and dinner with local dances and fire juggling. The White Lotus' marketing pitches point to a light-hearted summer series with brief flashes of HBO's usual identitarian pedagogy. But no. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The music is already a warning. It rips us out of the imaginary of the 1980s afternoon shows. Forceful, ironic, it threatens to break the fine weave of the dialogues without ever doing so. When it stops the restlessness remains. There is a mystery, we do not know which one. There is a dead person, we don't know who. The dialogue flows without apparent relation to the promised action or the growing tension. "The White Lotus" is Hitchcock...with an extra twist: criticism of the discourses and attitudes of the ruling class.
The White Lotus and the danger of getting close to the bourgeoisie
"The goal is to disappear behind their masks as pleasant, interchangeable helpers"
The first episode opens with the hotel manager explaining to his new assistant how to welcome new guests: "The goal is to disappear behind their masks as pleasant, interchangeable helpers". Quite a declaration of principles. Corporate petty bourgeoisie in full bloom. He tries to run "The White Lotus", which is still a chain hotel, as if it were a family store and fantasizes about trading managerial favors for sex with his favorite waiter.
But beneath the obsequious smiles toward the hosted millionaires, resentment grows. His greatest fear: that those above him socially - the customers - will go toe-to-toe with the chain's bureaucrats, above him hierarchically. His own collapse will be a step closer with every contact or influence between him, the guests and their habits.
One step down, the physical therapist. One of the clients, a rentier in her 60s with notorious emotional problems, pitches the physical therapist on the idea of setting up on her own and insists on funding the project if she writes it down. But by the time our physical therapist writes it and tries to present it to her, the millionaire's investment thrill will have worn off. The fragility and dependence of her dreams of autonomy will become uncomfortable and painful.
The portrayal of the occupants of the other two suites of "The White Lotus" will add volume to the ensemble.
First suite: the family of the head of a multinational tech company who has taken advantage of "#MeToo" in order to rise to the top of the corporate ladder. A husband who can't find his role in the family, a teenage son abducted by his cell phone and a college-aged daughter who brings her college friend, who is studying, we are hinted, on scholarship, along for the vacations.
The daughter's cavalier attitude and table conversations with her parents will expose the university' s identitarianism as a weapon tailored to her assertion. A rhetorical inter-generational game within a social class to which her friend does not belong. The guest will discover she can't be anything but a chorus girl in that play...but when a local bartender invites her out she'll turn him down, she' s not about to leave the college path... though first she'll try to weaponize him out of her newfound resentment.
Second suite. A young journalist torn between sticking to writing articles for a few tens of dollars to serve as click-bait in famous online magazines versus enjoying a honeymoon handpicked by her mother-in-law. The husband, a young millionaire on the back of a family real estate firm, is the adult version of a frat-movie character, a young Trump slightly up to date but a faithful follower of the individualistic religion of "success".
The girl, reminiscent at times of a Modern Love character, finds out that she married an obsessive, banal, mean-spirited guy. A visit from her mother-in-law, who invites her to live as a "wife of" and tries to convince her of the merits of being a "trophy wife," foreshadows an ending that is hinted at in the series' prologue.
Before the last episode...
In the absence of the last episode we have to recognize in "The White Lotus" a fluid story, rich in nuances and paradoxes, extraordinarily well constructed and with a sense of humor that knows how to approach a custom and manners style without adopting it. A critique of the US bourgeoisie and its morality with a poor lesson: "better not to approach them". But without alternatives.