As I begin to scratch out these words in favor of Alexandra Daddario’s nomination (and my hope for her to win) for her Emmy nomination in the category of best supporting actress in a limited series, I know I write these words in complete futility. Let’s face it, this statue is Jennifer Coolidge’s (also for The White Lotus) to lose. And let me be clear, my feelings will not be hurt by tha likely (if not locked) result. Coolidge is a force of nature who nails every scene, and, perhaps most importantly, has a deep wellspring of voter sentiment rallying behind her.
That being said, as I took at Mike White’s brilliant series on the lives of the haves and the have-nots at an exclusive tropical resort, it was Daddario’s performance that resonated with me most. Perhaps it’s because she, heretofore, seemed to get cast for her, shall we say, charms beyond her acting skills. And at first, as her newlywed (to the impossibly, and oh so douchiest of douche-bags Shane Patton, played to the hilt by Jake Lacy), is introduced to us, you might think that, once again, Daddario is here to be the eye-candy of the series.
Fortunately, series creator Mike White (unsurprisingly, upon reflection) had higher ideals in mind for Daddario’s character. We soon learn that Rachel Patton has married her wealthy, handsome and ripped husband for security, and the feeling of buyer’s remorse sets in quickly as the shallowness and cruelty of Shane becomes more and more clear. While Rachel has a career of her own, she doesn’t have the confidence to believe in herself. It’s a masterstroke by White that he doesn’t make Rachel a great budding talent in her chosen field of journalism. Rachel is a mediocre scribe writing out gossipy entertainment columns for a TMZ-like web site. At the resort, she meets someone she has written about, and suffers a brutal takedown from her subject in regards to the trite nature of her column. It’s a painful, humiliating scene that only further impacts Rachel’s self-esteem.
However modest her writing skills may be, her writing is the only thing she has for herself, and even in that, she cannot take pride. Shane offers Rachel no comfort or encouragement when it comes to finding a place for herself in the world. Shane, to his mind, has acquired a trophy wife. Over their stay at their resort, Rachel, who may be naive and afflicted with bad judgment, quickly comes to realize that she has made a terrible mistake, and begins to plot a way out. But her lack of self-confidence overwhelms her moral compass, and when the moment comes for Rachel to choose a life of her own, or a future as her husband’s arm ornament, she silently, almost imperceptibly, and most heartbreakingly, caves to a future that will leave her no room to grow as a person as she accepts that she will wake every morning to a vapid and controlling person who can’t see past his own privileged desires.
The expression on Dadarrio’s face as she caves to a life of financial security that will allow her no space for her own thoughts and ideas is positively the most heartbreaking moment in a series that is full of the tragedies of people whose lives have hit a low ceiling with no map to navigate around it.
Before The White Lotus, Daddario could be seen as a lightweight performer whose beauty was her greatest asset. And while her remarkable appearance is certainly part of her performance in The White Lotus, what Mike White has exposed in Daddario is a wellspring of capacity that we, the audience, have been heretofore unaware of. With The White Lotus, Daddario got her chance to excel in ways that she had been never afforded before now. It is to her immense credit that she did not waste it. Were it up to me, it would be her name called on Emmy night, September 12, 2022.