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‘The White Lotus’ Episode 1 Recap: Class Trouble in Paradise

The HBO series’ premiere flashes back to sunnier times

“The White Lotus” is HBO newest series and, if the reviews are to be believed, it is unlike anything on television, not just the popular streamer. The genre-bending program is said to take some unexpected turns so we’ll be breaking it down episode-by-episode, starting with Sunday’s premiere. 

Written and directed by Mike White (“Enlightened”), the show is set over the course of one fateful week at a luxe Hawaiian resort as the lives of the newest wave of guests intertwine in insidious ways. It stars Jake Lacy, Alexandra Daddario, Sydney Sweeney, Jennifer Coolidge, Connie Britton, Steve Zahn, Natasha Rothwell and Murray Bartlett. 

Let’s dive into the (seemingly) crystal blue waters of Episode 1, “Arrivals.” 

The series opens with Shane, played by Jake Lacy, sitting in an airport terminal and donning a thousand-yard stare. We learn from other prying travelers that there’s been a murder at The White Lotus, the hotel from which Shane has just completed his stay. He asks to be left the f— alone, as he is noticeably departing from Honolulu solo. 

It’s here that the show flashes back to sunnier times, one week prior to be exact. The boat ride to the island introduces us to our principal cast. Vocal-fried college student Olivia (“Eurphoria’s” Sydney Sweeney) and her pal Paula (Brittany O’Grady), who’s tagging along on Olivia’s family vacation, speculate as to who all these people really are, including her own mother, Nicole Mossbacher (Connie Britton), the CFO of a Goop-esque wellness company. 

Resort manager Armond (Murray Bartlett) and trainee Loni (Jolene Purdy) are there to receive the tourists in matching salmon ensembles. The former is cool as a cucumber while the latter is decidedly sweatier at the thought of fielding the demanding guests’ many requests. Armond doesn’t know it yet but Loni, in addition to it being her first day, is pregnant and expecting to give birth very soon. She had to take the job out of necessity. 

Meanwhile Shane, pastel-polo’d douchery incarnate, is not happy with he and wife Rachel’s (Alexandra Daddario) room arrangements. This is their honeymoon. After ensuring the couple that they are, in fact, in the right room (even though he double-booked the honeymoon suite), Armond explains to Loni that their job is to ensure that the guests “feel seen” as if they’re the “special chosen baby child of the hotel.”

Later on, Rachel is interrogated by Olivia and Paula poolside, their judginess casting doubt on her recent marriage to Shane and life in general. 

Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge) is visiting the island under less celebratory circumstances. She is grieving the death of her mother with ashes in tow. However, a kind spa director named Belinda (Natasha Rothwell), whose own mother recently passed away, leads Tanya in a new age-y healing practice that may have just turned her stay around.  

The Mossbacher family vacation isn’t as peachy as it’d seem either, although some of them would like to pretend it is. Nicole suggests that her concerned husband Mark (Steve Zahn) distract himself from a testicular cancer scare by spending time with their son Quinn (Fred Hechinger), who’s been cast out by his sister.

That night, Lonis’ condition cannot be hidden any longer when she begins having her baby in Armond’s office. It becomes understandably difficult for Armond to maintain his composure, especially with the guests peppering him with new questions and concerns by the minute. 

The episode ends on a comically foreboding note, the champagne problems bubbling up in the ritzy guest rooms in sharp contrast to the drama playing out in Armond’s office below. The show’s satirical vibe (via White’s keen eye for social nuances) is already abundantly clear, even if the plot that’s to unfold is decidedly not.  

“The White Lotus” returns for Episode 2 on Sunday, July 18 on HBO.