Commentary: ‘White Lotus’ & The Different Kinds Of Sequels

by Frank Martin

Dr. Manhattan has a famous line in Watchmen. Ozymandias asks him if he did the right thing in the end, to which Manhattan responds, “nothing ever ends.” This might be true of life, but it’s certainly not true of stories. After all, “the end” is literally the last thing that’s written in a book. A story has to end somehow, which is why sequels must be handled so delicately. They are expanding upon the ending and, essentially, moving the goal post further back. So when approaching a sequel, storytellers have essentially three different options, all of which can lead to very different approaches to how a story is written.

The first option isn’t really a sequel at all as it’s a planned expansion of the story before the first one is even finished. Often times, writers will know that they want to write a certain amount of books in a series or produce a trilogy. In which case, it’s all one continuous story and a sequel is just part of the larger picture. The second option is to keep the story going. This is the most common form of sequel. It basically picks up where the previous story left off and continues. This is also the most dangerous as it essentially adjusts the timeline of the first story and establishes the original is no longer self-contained. This happens in a television series all the time as they are unaware if the show will be renewed and they have to find a way to make the next season worthwhile.

Or storytellers can take a completely different approach and essentially restart the story from scratch. This turns a story into an anthology, allowing the first story to exist unhindered while also continuing it in a different fashion. To view this in practice, one can look at HBO’s White Lotus. The first season is pretty much completely disconnected from the second. The show is about a series of expensive luxurious resorts, with each season focusing on two different locations and two different sets of characters. A pair of characters cross over from the first season to the second, creating a connection; their stories carry on, but for everyone else, it isn’t a sequel at all. This allows the writers to script a brand new, self-contained plot without worrying about affecting the ending of the previous story.

White Lotus is streaming on HBO Max.

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