Parental resentment is an electrifying current running throughout nearly every scene of Mike White’s HBO miniseries The White Lotus. Every major character harbors intense hatred towards their parents, dealing with the wrongs of their parents both in the past and in the present. However, this shared indignation never stops any of the characters from becoming the very people they claim to despise. Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge) deplores her deceased mother’s reliance on men, yet finds herself in a tenuous dalliance with a man at the resort. Family man Mark (Steve Zahn) agonizes over his father’s sexuality and hidden double life, yet found himself cheating on his wife in the past. And petulant teenager Olivia (Sydney Sweeney) constantly critiques her mother’s superficial neoliberalism, yet finds herself caught up in the same kind of performative allyship that she never actually acts upon.
In “Recentering,” the latest episode of The White Lotus, the guests of the Hawaiian resort are caught in cycles that created by their own hands. While the characters may all resent their parents, they’re also just filled with resentment in general, a biting cynicism that makes one wonder just how these people manage to live their lives at all. The chanting of “Money, money, money!” by Shane (Jake Lacy) and his mother (Molly Shannon), while not exactly subtle writing, is particularly odious and disturbing. In this instance, the audience is in Shane’s fiancée, Rachel’s (Alexandra Daddario) perspective—a mix of isolation, resentment, and revulsion. Much like Rachel, we can’t really believe we’re stuck with these obnoxious people, and while The White Lotus does have its virtues, it also fails to deliver a solid reason to stick around.
With a newfound focus on the Hawaiian perspective of these vacationing elites, as well as compelling character work centering on Paula and the never-ending car-crash that is resort manager Armond’s (Murray Bartlett) sobriety, “Recentering” finds The White Lotus charting some fascinating waters, yet still relies on the crutch of family dysfunction, a series of bickering that yields diminishing returns. While the romance of Paula (Brittany O’Grady) and Kai (Kekoa Scott Kekumano) isn’t particularly compelling on its own, Kai is a fascinating counterpoint to the guests of the resort. We learn Kai is working at The White Lotus, which evicted his family, where he puts on traditional Hawaiian dress and performs in a cultural ceremony for the entertainment of disinterested rich onlookers. He is a token for the resort, and he opens up Paula’s feelings of being a token for the politically-conscious Olivia, a non-white friend for the rich white girl. Interesting developments for sure, but White, the sole writer on the series, lacks the perspective to flesh out these observations in any truly potent way.
Perhaps the biggest development in this week’s episode is in the steady decline of Armond’s sobriety. Telegraphed very clearly from the start, Armond finally hits rock bottom as he steals Paula and Olivia’s ketamine and pills, embarking on a severe bender that only spells disaster. More innocuously, Armond slides into outright pettiness, messing with the entitled Shane in increasingly entertaining ways. An agent of chaos at the resort, Armond pushes each guest into uncomfortable territory, often playing a villain of sorts in the show. Knowing the struggles the masculine Mark is experiencing related to his father’s sexuality, he wiggles up behind him in front of his entire family and explicitly hits on him. Armond loves watching his guests squirm, and while he may have many issues, he is certainly the most appealing character. When he hits rock bottom in the closing scene of “Recentering,” we can’t help but sympathise. Being around the guests of The White Lotus would make anybody hit rock bottom.
At the center of this week’s episode is a tour-de-force sequence set at the shared dinner between the guests of The White Lotus. We’ve seen ambitious sequences depicting the families all joined at one location, filled with deliberate cutting back and forth in previous episodes, but nothing with the grace of this week’s sequence. Cristobal Tapia de Veer’s score and John M. Valerio’s editing carries this sequence, punctuating each line delivery with extreme deliberation. Rachel states, “I really want to get a job,” and the ever-present drums cut out, only to jump right back in as she is denied her own voice in the conversation. This is just one example of the incredible work put into this sequence, as it brings White’s writing up and renders the somewhat repetitive conversations intriguing.
Quinn (Fred Hechinger), the son of the Mossbachers, still feels distant, but this is starting to feel more like a deliberate choice on White’s part. All of the characters of The White Lotus are stuck in cycles, mostly parental related, and Quinn is no different. He sleeps on the beach at night, separate from the others, and seems to be reaching some kind of enlightenment. From his experiences with whales, to the constant lapping of the waves, and the Hawaiian men that intrigue him as they rig a boat, Quinn is becoming more self-aware of just how distant his family is from the island. He confronts his parents, saying, “We’re all just parasites of the Earth.” If any character in The White Lotus is to break the cycle of generationally repeated mistakes, it’s Quinn. A compelling character, but he’s one of the only characters who manages to surprise us at this point of The White Lotus. He asks, “Where does all the pain go?” and it becomes increasingly obvious that Quinn may be the only emotionally intelligent human staying at the resort. At least, he is the only one looking to break any cycles.
The White Lotus airs on Sundays 9:00 p.m. EST on HBO and also on HBOMax.