In an emotional crisis, Alison (West Duchovny) asks a stranger in the bathroom, “Am I generic?” as she cries out the worry she’s been carrying. Despite the stranger’s assurances, Saint X adopts a more nuanced stance.
The series’ plot revolves around the mystery surrounding Alison’s ultimate unsolved death, which appears to be a fairly standard take on the dead-white-girl narrative.
However, similar to the Alexis Schaitkin novel it is based on in 2020, it challenges these stereotypes by providing a kaleidoscope of viewpoints that question the types of narratives we anticipate from catastrophes like this and who gets to be at their center — or at least, it seeks to.
Unfortunately, a string of minor errors makes what may have been a sharp parody of a well-known tale seem more like a carbon copy.
Saint X, which Leila Gerstein adapted for television, mainly takes place in two timelines. The Thomas family travels to the titular island for a week of family fun in the early 2000s with dad Bill (Michael Park), mom Mia (Betsy Brandt), 7-year-old Claire (Kenlee Anaya Townsend), and 18-year-old Alison.
However, their dream getaway quickly turns into a nightmare when Alison vanishes the night before they are supposed to return to Westchester.
Meanwhile, in the year 2020, Alycia Debnam-Carey’s Claire, now going by Emily, occurs to board a taxi one night that is being driven by Clive Richardson (Josh Bonzie), one of the men suspected but never found guilty of killing Alison.
She starts to stalk him in the following months and eventually works her way into his life because she becomes more and more confident that he is the only person who can provide her with the answers about her sister that she has been seeking for so long.
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Saint X does far better in its resort content than its other two half. Although it lacks the deep detail that made Schaitkin’s version of the titular island pop off the page, it gains from a curiosity about the supporting cast members surrounding the leading players.
The unequal dynamic between the wealthy tourists and the hotel staffers who cater to their every need—pia coladas and towels, but also the thrill of a flirtatious smile or the ego boost of an effusive compliment—demonstrates a bracing willingness to dive into the uncomfortable conversations about race, class, and s*x.
The first episode’s director, Dee Rees (Pariah), demonstrates a clear command of a perspective that alternates between the visitors and the help and an eye for the silent but telling looks that pass between or among them. Alison, played by David Duchovny, is the queen of the tourist crowd.
Her insouciant drawl gives the impression that Alison is constantly chewing gum even though she never actually does. Alison is attractive and extroverted, and when she meets new people, she frequently elicits admiration, desire, resentment, or a combination of these emotions.
As we rapidly see, she is also highly insecure and frustratingly oblivious — a white girl who is so anxious to distinguish herself from the other white guests that she cannot recognize how that desire reduces her to just another ignorant white person.
She passionately chastises her parents on the bus trip there for their “hypocrisy” in planning a luxury vacation on “an island where people don’t even have solid roofs over their heads.”
She doesn’t even appear to think whether she is assuming the worst about people and a location she knows nothing about until the driver responds mildly, “Miss, on our island, the people are well fed and happy.”
Her love pursuit of Clive’s flamboyant best friend Edwin (a radiant Jayden Elijah) is her ultimate attempt to obtain an “authentic” experience from her resort vacation. But if Edwin exposes Alison’s pretenses (“She’s the funniest whitey you’ve landed yet. So sincere.
He has his own motives for seeking her affection, which will be gradually exposed throughout the season’s eight hour-long episodes (“So self-important,” his pal chuckles after observing one of their interactions).
Even if the local police chief declares Alison’s death an accident, the simple fact that Edwin and Clive were some of the last persons seen with her will continue to cast a shadow of suspicion over them, just like Emily’s sadness does decades after Alison’s passing.
Saint X presents two people in Emily and Clive whose lives were drastically upended by Alison’s passing and who naturally cannot help but be troubled by the doubts and regrets that have followed them ever since.
(Clive’s symptoms occasionally involve a goat woman stalking him in his dreams, taking an unnecessary detour into outright terror.)
On the other hand, the present-day sequences feel artless in their single-mindedness, unlike the historical scenes, which take care to develop the characters beyond their current predicaments — with, for example, many flashbacks to pivotal episodes from Edwin and Clive’s infancy.
Saint X transitions from “downmarket Law & Order: SVU” to “downmarket White Lotus” thanks to clunky speech and intrusive musical cues. “I’ll persuade him to believe in me. In one of the more groan-inducingly obvious lines from the program, Emily declares, “Like he made her trust him.
But the show’s unwillingness to develop either character beyond the scars left behind the night Alison died undermines the sour chemistry between Clive and Emily.
As the older Clive, a man so broken down by despair that he travels about his own existence like a ghost, Bonzie possibly provides Saint X’s most affecting performance. However, he remains distant for the most of the series due to the necessity of concealing what he did that night.
While Debnam-Carey does an excellent job of pacing Emily’s slow decline, she is frequently reduced to shrieking variants on the same themes, such as how discovering how Alison died is the only thing that matters.
Her relentless quest for information would seem to critique how we often absorb stories like Alison’s and what we anticipate from them. Finally, Saint X comes to a conclusion that seems intentionally, purposefully anticlimactic.
The series seeks to change our perception of the kind of drama we’ve been watching the entire time with its very last scene, which has nothing to do with Alison. However, it seems a bit too late and a little too little.
It turns out that Alison is the main character of this story, and while it may not be quite as generic as Alison feels she is, it still doesn’t manage to go far from the parameters of its genre.
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