White lotus floating in a pond

“The White Lotus” scorches like burning sand on bare feet. A satire about wealthy white tourists in Hawaii and a mysterious death that springs from their visit, the HBO series poses spiky challenges to viewers and critics grappling with its self-absorbed characters.

Vulture TV critic Jen Chaney took a dive with “The White Lotus is No Vacation.” Her review is full of terrific writing; the last line is an expertly placed barb, and you’ll have a hard time finding an analogy that sits as flavorfully on your tongue as this:

“Tonally, it’s a piña colada spiked with arsenic, or maybe a Bloody Mary with a generous dash of actual blood.”

But that’s not the sentence that brought me to an admiring, lurching halt. The sentence that did that  — because of its insight into a character and its elegance in expressing it — is about a mogul played by “Friday Night Lights” alum Connie Britton:

“Britton gives the kind of performance here that looks effortless, but only because she seems to understand deep in her bones how a woman like Nicole wields her power: gently, so that no one feels the entry wound until the knife’s already begun to twist.”

This is great because it understands the hidden difficulty of a performance that looks easy; and it’s great because it’s a knowing comment on the nature of power and the different ways of using it.  There’s also a lesson in how Chaney took the image of a twisted knife and bolstered it with “gently” and “no one feels the entry wound” to closely fit the character and circumstances she was describing.

I love it when writers find new contexts for language that may have seemed musty if it’d been employed with less care. As Storyboard editor Jacqui Banaszynski wrote: “Clichés are a bane of original writing. Unless you turn a worn and tired cliché on its ear … and make it new.”

Maybe Chaney could have gotten away with a familiar phrase. Instead, like the knife she described, she gave it a surprising twist.


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