Picture this: a luxury resort in the Caribbean, not far from perfection other than it’s riddled with tourists who make up for their lack of manners with immense wealth. Of course, that all changes when the teenage daughter of one family is found dead. No, it’s not a third season of The White Lotus – it’s Disney+’s new series Saint X.
This psychological drama (which admittedly has a very similar premise to Mike White’s award-winning oeuvre) tells the story of the harrowing death of Alison Thomas (West Duchovny). She’s killed while on holiday with her parents (Betsy Brandt and Michael Park) and her shy little sister, Claire (Kenlee Townsend). The tragedy quickly becomes sensationalised in the media and, despite no one being convicted, two black men working at the resort are quickly pinned as the ones behind her rape and murder.
Twenty years later we follow a grown up Claire (played by Alycia Debnam-Carey), who is now going by the name Emily. Having just moved into a flat with her boyfriend in Brooklyn, New York, things couldn’t look more idyllic. But after unexpectedly bumping into someone from her past, she then falls down an obsessive spiral as she attempts to find out the truth about her sister’s death.
First thing’s first: this show has a pacing problem. The storylines – which flit between the past and the present day – feel sluggish, padded out with excessive timelines and perspectives. We hear from Alison’s insecure friend (who feels suffocated by her alcoholic mother), the college boy pining after her, the gay couple looking for a moment’s peace, and the pregnant woman whose husband is distracted by a younger model. With an already broad central plot to tackle, it all becomes a bit overwhelming. Claire’s increasing fixation on unearthing the truth also develops agonisingly slowly. Many key themes don’t become apparent until the final episodes and seem to spring up out of of nowhere. A dive into toxic attitudes toward homosexuality pops up towards the end; far too late to have any meaningful impact on the plot.
There are some pearls amid the dirt. Jayden Elijah and Josh Bonzie shine as best friends Edwin and Clive (the two Caribbean staff members wrapped up in Alison’s death) and eventually become one of the strongest parts of the show. We see how their strong childhood bond develops as they grow older, and how relationships, flings, and the things left unsaid threaten it.
That said, Alison’s character is exactly what you’d expect ‘the dead girl’ to be; not great, when she’s the pivot upon which the entire show turns. She’s introduced (with exposition so heavy handed it might as well have been served in an uppercut to the jaw) as a genius freshman at Princeton, all while being charming and (of course) beautiful. Any man that steps within a ten metre radius is practically leaving a trail of drool in his wake.
But – to its credit – Saint X doesn’t fall for the perfect white victim trope. As the story unfolds, Alison’s flaws and struggles creep through, and we see all the mistakes a young and naive girl would make, especially one with the privileged upbringing she so desperately tries to shake off.
Ultimately, it’s hard to tell if the show is criticising the sexualisation she faces from the men around her, or perpetrating it. There are interesting points raised about the fascination society has with young white women and the impact that has on their sense of selves, but the show opts to demonstrate this via multiple slow, leering shots of her figure as men gawk over her. Cringe.
At its core, the series is about the need to feel loved and to be seen, while still looking at how black lives become dispensable in white tragedy. When it fully digs into this territory, Saint X is at its best. If only the rest of the show wasn’t so disjointed.
Saint X is out now on Disney+