Flashbacks are a standard storytelling technique in mysteries, but they are taken to a whole new level in the latest Hulu original series, Saint X – an adaptation of the 2020 novel of the same name by Alexis Schaitkin, and another take on the classic gone-girl genre.
During a luxury family holiday to the Caribbean, charismatic college student Alison Thomas disappears – having last been seen with two resort workers, Edwin and Clive. Years later, her sister goes to extreme lengths to uncover the mystery behind her disappearance.
“It takes place at a beautiful location, with beautiful people,” says Leila Gerstein, the executive producer and writer of Saint X. “There is a delicious mystery whodunnit propelling us through the plot, and it’s also talking about real things like race, gender, class, tourism, our culture’s obsession with dead white girls… and it’s really entertaining!”
Gerstein has a wealth of TV experience under her belt, having worked on the likes of Hart of Dixie, Gossip Girl, and The Handmaid’s tale. She told Tech Advisor that from sixty pages in she was dead set on adapting the book for the screen, thanks to its complicated, flawed characters and social commentary.
Told across eight episodes, the show features an all-star cast, including Alycia Debnam-Carey (Fear the Walking Dead), Josh Bonzie (The Good Fight and The Politician), West Duchovny (The Magicians), Jayden Elijah (School’s Out Forever), Betsy Brandt (Breaking Bad), and Michael Park (As The World Turns and Stranger Things).
The source material bounces between timelines, an element that’s been carried over to the show. One moment we’ll be exploring what happened on the resort both before and immediately after the grisly disappearance of Allison, and the next we’ll be in the bustling neighbourhoods of New York City as her sister continues to dig deeper into her past.
Much like the first season of Netflix’s The Witcher, these different plot threads aren’t always linear. Sometimes scenes are linked by story beats, themes or even visual elements – so this made things even more challenging for the writers.
“Weaving together those timelines was really tricky, there’s actually like a lot of math involved!” says Gerstein. “Deciding what elements we want to see and how they inform each other was the bear of creating this show, but also the most rewarding, because its kind of like creating a great big jigsaw puzzle.”
That impacted the actors too, many of whom had the task of playing the same characters under polarising circumstances – a challenge that Betsy Brandt and Michael Park had to take on.
Brandt and Park portray Mia and Bill, Alison’s parents, who must deal with the aftermath of their daughter’s disappearance, which turns their vacation of a lifetime into a living nightmare.
“The timeline is definitely something to keep track of, where your character is in that moment and what’s happening in making sure that you put all the pieces together,” Brandt said of the tricky filming process. “But I felt like we did that, it was a team effort.”
“Mia is a very strong individual, and so is Bill,” added Park, elaborating on how his performance altered throughout the process. “They’re raising two very headstrong females, and what you see… the vulnerability was not shown in the younger Bill, but it was definitely there in the older timeline because of what happened.”
Brandt and Park both drew on their personal lives to portray the Thomases and what they must endure as a family when Alison is taken from them.
“I’m a mom, and when I read the book, I just connected with her,” Brandt explains. “Because whether you’ve lived that scenario or not, as a parent you’ve lived it in your mind… I was just so moved by the complete and utter fallout in this family. Mia tries to hold everything together and I love her for that.”
Meanwhile, Michael reflected on moments from his own past for his performance as Bill. “Having my parents go through a traumatic experience when we were growing up, and then my brother going through a very traumatic experience,” he said, “there were unfortunately so many things to draw inspiration from.
“I appreciate the fact that I had this incredible cast to work through this very vulnerable spot in my personal life to see in Bill was such an incredible, weird gift in a way.”
The first three episodes of Saint X are out now on Hulu in the US, with new episodes dropping every Wednesday. You can sign up to Hulu for $7.99 per month for an ad-supported plan, or $14.99 per month for an ad-free one.
In the UK, Saint X arrives on Disney+ on 7 June 2023. Disney+ costs £7.99 per month, or £79.99 per year.
You can see how both services compare to rivals in our list of the best TV streaming services.