Every Sunday after we watch a new episode of The White Lotus on HBO Max, America asks itself three questions: Will class stratification make our social structure rickety enough to collapse, killing us all? Where are those fancy pajamas from? And which of these characters is going to die?
The six-episode miniseries, which concludes on August 15, follows rich guests and hotel staff through a week-long Hawaiian vacation from hell. Viewers know, thanks to an opening scene, that the week will end with one character in a body bag. The episodes are a piña colada you just can’t stop sipping even though you don’t know if it’s laced—every actor is perfectly cast, every scene deliciously tense. The tight shots, coupled with the muffled, eerie score, collaborate to make the show feel immersive, like a stranger’s hot breath whispering in your ear.
We spend a week at the resort with mismatched newlyweds Rachel (Alexandra Daddario) and Shane (Jake Lacy) who are later joined by Kitty (Molly Shannon), Shane’s real estate tycoon mother. They arrive on the same boat as middle age girlboss Nicole Mossbacher (Connie Britton) and her husband Mark (Steve Zahn). The Mossbachers bring misunderstood teen Quinn (Fred Hechinger) and semi-sadistic college student Olivia (Sydney Sweeney). Olivia brings her friend Paula (Brittany O’Grady), the only guest we meet who isn’t white. Rounding out the group is Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge) a lonely, teetering alcoholic who is in mourning for her mother.
On the working class side we have the high-strung general manager Armond (Murray Bartlett) as well as the extremely lovely spa manager Belinda (Natasha Rothwell). Twenty-something Dillon (Lukas Gage) reports to Armond, as does Lani (Jolene Purdy), a trainee who is secretly pregnant, and Kai (Kekoa Scott Kekumano), a busboy who hooks up with Paula.
Like a waiter pushing dessert, the show can’t stop winking at the idea of knocking off one of its characters—Rachel jokes about “stuffing ourselves with food and drowning in the ocean,” Quinn wakes up almost under water, Belinda searches for an intruder in the spa. Something is going to blow, because this is a TV show. But the story has a slyer message—when life is set up such that the majority of people break their backs to make things easy for a small group, there are going to be casualties.
The first episode gives a demonstration—Lani, a low-level trainee working at the hotel, is heavily pregnant. She continues to work as she goes into labor, afraid to lose her job. Even as she begins to deliver her baby in a back office at the hotel, Armond refuses to ask if any of the guests is a doctor. He’s willing to risk his worker’s health for the sake of not bothering his guests.
It’s not an absurd scenario. Women do work through their pregnancies and labor. If you’re in a minimum wage job with no benefits, you may have no other choice. In the U.S., which has the highest maternal mortality rate of any developed country, Black and indigenous women are up to five times more likely to die from pregnancy. In Hawaii, a review by the state found that half of maternal mortality cases between 2015 and 2017 were preventable.
That’s the thing about extreme wealth divides. Guests at a luxury hotel tell themselves they have earned their money, they’re paying well, and they deserve to be taken care of. But that in our current system, there is no way to have people waiting on you without them being exploited.