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Why Hulu's 'Saint X' Adaptation Is About So Much More Than Just a Dead White Girl

'I didn't think I would want to do a show about a dead girl, to be honest,' showrunner Leila Gerstein said.

Danielle Turchiano
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Jayden Elijah and West Duchovny in 'Saint X'

Hulu

If you read Alexis Schaitkin's 2020 novel Saint X, you know the story can't really be summarized in a simple logline of "a white American girl goes missing while on a family vacation in the Caribbean." 

While yes, that happens, the story eschews finding out just what happened to her by delving deeply into the reasoning. Why did she go missing (and later turn up dead)? Why were the prime suspects Clive, aka Gogo, and Edwin, the local Black men who worked at the resort? What are the prejudices held against these characters that victimize one and demonize the others? 

The book peels back the layers on who these characters really were and why they were treated the way they were, while also exploring the pain the young woman's (Alison) death caused her younger sister, who, years later, decides to try to get to the bottom of things. It's the kind of book that screams to be adapted, and Hulu did just that with an eight-episode miniseries.

"I didn't think I would want to do a show about a dead girl, to be honest," showrunner Leila Gerstein said at a Television Critics Association press tour panel for the series. But "from page one, it really gripped me and it's about so many things, and I think Alexis is a beautiful writer and I could see it on the screen. To adapt it required a lot. The stories are not woven together so much in the book as they are pieced out, so the weaving together of various timelines was the fun and the trick of the adaptation." 

So, like the book before it, the series explores characters' behaviors and biases. Gerstein and her writers' room did "create a fair amount of new characters and add some backstory and intrigue" to other characters in order to keep the audience on their toes as to what really happened with Alison. But not every character gets equal treatment.

The show follows the adult version of Claire, also known as Emily (Alycia Debnam-Carey), Alison's sister, as she randomly encounters Clive (Josh Bonzie). (Alison is played by played by West Duchovny.) Claire/Emily tries to get close to him in the present-day storyline, but the show also tells the story of exactly what happened at that resort all those years ago — and also flashes further back in Clive and Edwin's (Jayden Elijah) lives to see them grow up on the island and become friends and then co-workers in the first place.

"I think their friendship is very beautiful and interesting and gives us a window into island life," Gerstein said.

"Clive and Edwin's friendship and relationship — that story plus the Alison on vacation story, plus the other story all come together to explain the ending. They're integral to actually explain the plot," she explained.

While there is a whodunnit aspect to the series, the larger themes look at how people's lives are destroyed in the aftermath of such an event. There is Alison's family — parents played by Betsy Brandt and Michael Park who lost their eldest daughter, and Claire/ Emily, who lost the older sister she idolized — but there are also Clive and Edwin who lost aspects of their freedom as they were accused and judged for what happened to Alison.

"The book does a really incredible job about talking about culture's obsession with dead white girls but also about going on vacation and being a tourist in another country, so those are two very important themes in both the show and the book. It's exploitation: exploitation at the resort, [by] the press and the family," Gerstein said.

Saint X premieres with its first three episodes April 26 on Hulu.