If there’s anything truly of note in Hulu’s adaptation of Saint X, it’s the first episode’s direction from filmmaker Dee Rees. Rees, an extraordinary director, establishes tone and atmosphere early, as a young man runs through the rain, muttering “Oh god, I’m sorry,” to himself as he tries to shelter himself from those looking for him. It’s tense, and eerie, with the discovery of a body moments later cementing the mystery and mood of the story, as we’re submerged into what wants to be a provocative thriller.
Created by Leila Gerstein, the miniseries follows the death of a young woman, Alison (West Duchovny) while vacationing in the Caribbean with her family. Split into the past leading up to the tragedy, and the present day where her surviving sister, Emily (Alycia Debnam-Carey), begins to investigate the truth of her sister’s death.
Based on the novel by Alexis Schaitkin Saint X fails to live up to the expectations of the direction. Elements of the story and production work but few work together in a way that combines to make a cohesive story. Rather, pieces are separated to the point where they fail to come together naturally, resulting in a stalled story that wants to be gripping but lacks the narrative structure and confidence to bring viewers to each point. The mystery itself of who killed Alison works fine in straying from linear storytelling, but it renders the series as a whole as overlong and dragged out. It needed better pacing and greater focus in each scene. Instead, the story is burdened by sequences that play out as mere setups for the next.
The split narrative too, while making sense for the type of story it’s telling, only manages to further confuse the timeline. We jump between 2005 and 2023, while also diving into the background of one of the original main suspects, Clive “Gogo” Richardson (Josh Bonzie). The editing between these sequences where we leap back and forth in time with no rhyme or reason results in a choppy product with meandering storytelling and a lack of visual cohesion. Clive’s childhood is filtered with a feverish glow, the 2005 flashbacks are bleached out to the point of blending in with the white sand of the beaches, and New York has somehow been rendered with no personality. It’s all sterile.
Bonzie is, easily, the most compelling part of the series, as we follow him from first being accused of Alison’s death and being named a suspect to his present day in New York where Emily spots him. Clive’s story has more to latch onto, from his childhood that raised him to be critical of the tourist location he’d end up working at, to trying to play a more instrumental role in the lives of his ex and their child.
Meanwhile, Debnam-Carey’s sequences falter. Her journey is impeded by a lot of noise by way of supporting characters who add nothing to the overall story. Her friends and romantic partners in the present day are used for little more than reactionary shorts as they listen to Emily spiral. The flashbacks to 2005 fare better, but this is largely due to the inclusion of Bonzie’s performance which withholds so much while giving way to the pain his characters feels through his emotive eyes.
There are moments when Saint X stumbles into a storyline that captures the intrigue and engagement it’s seeking. This is especially true when we see the ramifications of Alison’s death and the ways in which the tragedy follows Emily and Clive for decades and how much they’ve lost.
All in all, Saint X isn’t particularly bad. But, in large part due to the heavy turnaround of new shows, it’s forgettable. Dealing with stories of affluent white people and the casual racism and privilege they hiss is nothing new these days (The White Lotus comparisons seem too easy.) This is part of the problem too, because if we want a story like the one it’s giving us, we could go watch another, better series instead. The condemnations themselves of the characters in positions are shallow in comparison to shows that dig deeper, the depth of the social observations cutting as deep as Alison calling her dad out for his privilege.
Saint X is filler. It’s the type of show you watch when you need background noise, and all the other true crime dramas have somehow been deleted. The biggest takeaway of the series is that we might be better off going and reading Schaitkin’s book instead.
Saint X Episodes 1– 3 are available now to stream on Hulu, with new episodes each Wednesday.
Saint X is filler. It’s the type of show you watch when you need background noise and all the other true crime dramas have somehow been deleted. The biggest takeaway of the series is that we might be better off going and reading Schaitkin’s book instead.