Check Out Disney+’s New Psychological Thriller ‘Saint X’

Disney+'s new psychological thriller 'Saint X' is both a potboiling mystery and an interrogation of missing-white-girl syndrome

Lost in paradise

Conceptually, Saint X delves into familiar territory in centring its plot around a young American woman who is murdered while on vacation with her family in the Caribbean, but author Alexis Schaitkin’s 2020 bestseller attempted to go beyond familiar tropes in its girl-gone-missing narrative. “The book does a really incredible job of talking about culture’s obsession with dead white girls, but also the complicated nature of being a tourist in another country,” says the showrunner of Saint X‘s television adaptation, Leila Gerstein. “Those are very important themes. We are exploring the exploitation at the resort; the exploitation of the family by the press; and whether the family is, purposefully or not, exploiting their position.” 

Like Schaitkin before her, Gerstein was eager to dig into these themes of race and privilege in turning the novel into a limited series. “I fell in love with this book,” says Gerstein, best known for creating romantic drama Hart of Dixie in 2011. “From page one, it really gripped me. It’s about so many things and I think Alexis is a beautiful writer. I could see it on the screen.” Yet to make the story compelling for another medium, Gerstein knew she had her work cut out for her. “The stories are not woven together so much in the book as they’re pieced out,” she says. “The weaving together of the various timelines was the fun and the trick of the adaptation.” 

The story takes place predominantly in two timelines: one where 18-year-old Alison Thomas (West Duchovny) has yet to go missing, and a future timeline where her sister Claire, who now goes by Emily (Fear the Walking Dead‘s Alycia Debnam-Carey), is trying to solve the mystery of what happened in those last days of Alison’s life. The show also expands on the lives of resort staffers Clive (Josh Bonzie) and Edwin (Jayden Elijah), giving the viewer a window into the dichotomy of island life. “We are on a Caribbean island, which is obviously affected by the history of colonialism,” explains Elijah. “But even though we are telling the story that highlights the exploitation of these islands, [these characters] are, in a way, taking part in some of those systems. It makes you turn the lens onto yourself and think, ‘How do I participate in these systems?’ Hopefully, when people watch Saint X it can make you as a viewer look inward and see, ‘What can I do to help some of these systems be eradicated?’ ” 

Although Alison is trying her hardest to experience the world outside of their all-inclusive resort, the character is met with reservation. As the daughter of actors Téa Leoni and David Duchovny, West Duchovny knows something about fighting expectations. “Alison is being met with a lot of assumptions and projections from the people at the resort, and she’s facing a lot of expectation from her parents and from her sister. I think it’s something that everyone deals with in their own way,” the actress explains. “I definitely understand what it’s like to create your own identity in the midst of so much noise and other people’s opinions and expectations. [My parents] have been very good at letting me do my own thing. But I carry a little bit of that.” 

Breaking Bad‘s Betsy Brandt, who plays the mom of Alison and Claire, says she immediately connected with the material. “My character resonated with me because it’s my worst nightmare,” says the mother-of-two. “To tap into the fear of losing [your child] and then not knowing [what happened], I can’t say that I think one would be worse than the other. So much of the show, I would just picture [Duchovny’s] face, praying to God that we’d find her. That’s a reality. People have gone through this, and I hope to God that I’m doing them justice.” For Michael Park, who plays the girls’ father, the subject matter hit even closer to home. “My brother had just lost his son at 20 years old,” says the actor. “I felt like I was in safe hands whenever I was working with Betsy, and we were talking about this specific subject. I was dedicating a lot of this to my brother and my nephew, and really tapping into that. In a way, this entire shoot was therapy for me.” 

Although the themes are weighty, Debnam-Carey can’t wait to have the audience be caught up in the propulsive mystery and its ultimate conclusion. “The culmination of all those stories wrap up in such an extraordinary way by the time we finish the series,” she says. “It makes so much sense, especially those last couple of episodes, and there’s so much gratification in this story, getting the answers and understanding why all these puzzle pieces have been together. It’s very rewarding.” 

Saint X premieres Wednesday, April 26 on Disney+