Mike White’s comedy-drama makes a seething social critique and attempts to inspect diverse socio-economic power relations
The recent much-discussed TV satire The White Lotus, written and directed by Mike White, is set in a plush hotel in Hawaii by the same name. The hotel fashions itself as a resort for the elite to unwind, and acts as a microcosm of the society at large, confining the various power dynamics at play in the world within itself.
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The events that happen at the White Lotus during the course of a vacation, are reflective of the societal power structures. Released to criticial and commercial acclaim globally, the comedy-drama makes a seething social critique and attempts to inspect diverse socio-economic power relations. But what really keeps the show intriguing is its depiction of women.
Women at the White Lotus span across age groups, races and classes. They contain multitudes within themselves but are often forced to distil themselves to fit into moulds crafted by patriarchy. They are pushed around by men in their lives to a breaking point; their emotions belittled, their concerns brushed under, and their priorities ignored. Confusion is writ large in their minds and often they are made to doubt their own intentions and capabilities.
Rachel (Alexandra Daddario) arrives at the hotel for her honeymoon with her husband Shane (Jake Lacy). Rachel, an aspiring journalist, wishes to pursue her career after her marriage but is often made to doubt her capability and talent by her husband. To Rachel, the taste of independence and financial freedom is very alluring. However, throughout her trip, her beliefs are reaffirmed; the belief that a white male wields the axis of power in a patriarchal society, and to live a luxurious life, she will have to strike a bargain with patriarchy.
Alexandra Daddario and Jake Lacy in a still from the show
During the course of her honeymoon, she constantly tries to carve a place for herself in the marriage. But her efforts are thwarted by Shane and his mother who reiterate that her career is not sustainable, and that she would be able to wield more power only as Shane’s wife. She is pushed to the brink when her feelings are ignored and her concerns go unacknowledged. Just to be seen by her husband, she goes as far as asking for a divorce and moving into a new room. However, this assertion does not last long as the earlier allure overwhelm her dreams.
Rachel looks up to Nicole Mossbacher (a scene-stealing Connie Britton), a businesswoman who has made it big in life; she is what Gen Z would call a “girlboss”. Nicole provides for her family and holds them together. She goes above and beyond to afford their flamboyant lifestyle, and paints a picture of a functional family to the outside world.
Connie Britton is stand-out brilliant as businesswoman Nicole Mossbacher
However, as we get closer to the Mossbacher family, we realise how little she is valued in the household. She is constantly derided by her daughter, Olivia, who disagrees with her on her socio-political views. Her husband divulges the secrets of their marriage to their son without her permission, again proving the point that her say in their relationship does not really matter. She feels betrayed, and on their way to a scuba dive, Nicole finally breaks down when her husband tries to justify his actions. She leaves the boat, disrupts their plans and repeatedly questions as to why she has to be the punching bag in the family. Just like in the case of Rachel, it takes drastic action for people around her to acknowledge her feelings.
Though the rich white women have their emotions constantly brushed under the carpet and neglected, they find a way to voice themselves out. However, Belinda (Natasha Rothwell), the spa manager, does not have the privilege of doing so. Her race, gender and economic status reign her into silence. An example is when Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge) comes in and expresses that she does not wish to pursue the business deal with her, as the latter wants to set herself free. Though hurt, Belinda does not have the chance to express herself. Her livelihood depends on her being able to “keep it together”. In fact, Belinda frequently has to put up with rich white women unloading their emotional issues on her. Even among women, she is seen as an emotional tool for the rich women to cope with their own problems.
Natasha Rothwell stars as spa manager Belinda on the show
Tanya is one character whose emotions are expressed vehemently on screen. Tanya comes to Hawaii to immerse her mother’s ashes, but just can’t find it in herself to do it. She had to move away from her routine to grieve and immerse herself in the comforts of a plush hotel. Tanya’s grief and emotions clearly find a separate space, because she isn’t tied down to any family members or friends. She takes the trip alone — and hence in being alone — finds a space to grieve, unlike the rest of the women in the series.
Jennifer Coolidge as Tanya McQuoid in ‘The White Lotus’
Ultimately, The White Lotus is a masterclass in depicting the inadequacies in society when it comes to women and their emotions. By pulling just a couple of strings, it lays bare the gender hierarchy in society.
The White Lotus is currently streaming on Disney+ Hotstar