The White Lotus
Here is a television series that fulfills its promises. Dark, hectic, and stirring, The White Lotus’ season finale at last caught up to its frame story, which has been looming faintly over the action but never appeared to steer it. That fact in itself was perhaps the most salient clue we had as to who might die. In a luxury hotel, Armond once told the trainee Lani, the staff disappears into the tropical wallpaper — pleasant, helpful, interchangeable. Armond himself could be messy and antagonistic behind his obsequious mask, but until the transcendent moment in which he shits on Shane Patton’s resortwear, he could never quite take the mask off. Of course the coffin belongs to the hotel manager. How else could the story of three vacations ever double as the story of one person’s wasteful death? RIP, Armond, who died as he lived: in service to another man’s narrative.
Against Cristobal Tapia de Veer’s anxious score, this week’s credits read like the series’s potential hit list. Surely, Sydney Sweeney’s Olivia is still on the first of her many lives. Jennifer Coolidge’s alcoholic Tanya is fragile enough to die, but then again, she’s made it this far. Maybe they’ll kill off Natasha Rothwell’s empathic Belinda, just to make sure that after six hours in the noxious milieu of the filthy rich, we’re still able to feel. Only Rachel struck me as completely safe; the show had already brought her so low that she seemed somehow beneath death.
Accordingly, it was a pleasant surprise to see the sunrise over Haleakalā and wake up on the beach with the homeless Quinn. Only a 16-year-old boy with bones like Gumby could sleep on that rubber-band chaise and then jump right into a canoe. “Let’s go, braddah,” one of the local guys calls out to him, sprinkling in the familiarity of pidgin. “We need you.” It’s not that these strangers are being extravagantly kind to him, but they do treat him like a human being worthy of the same respect as any other person. When he tells his loved-up parents he wants to stay in Maui and finish high school online, they dismiss him without any curiosity. If they could only dismiss him compassionately, maybe Quinn wouldn’t think his only escape is aboard a hōkūleʻa to Polynesia.
The Mossbachers implicitly understand that they need Quinn in the house as a distraction from their fractious marriage. Nicole is desperate to find something to respect about her husband, but I doubt this Superman–Lois Lane role-play is re-creatable in San Francisco or New York or wherever they make their Restoration Hardware of a home.
Meanwhile, in the Pineapple Suite, Rachel is in the throes of her awful epiphany: “I think I made a mistake.” By morning, Shane’s touch is enough to induce a panic attack. She may have entered holy matrimony with blinders wider than the Pacific, but this moment where it suddenly clicks for her is relatable. Yesterday, she was fine — unhappy, yes, but in a way that some persist for their entire lives. Today, Shane makes her skin crawl. She gets a facial instead of the fruit platter and arrives back to find her husband arming himself against the ring of international jewel thieves he heard about at breakfast. I thought I had this dude’s number, but I was startled to learn he’s an “I wish I had a gun” guy. He settles for Chekhov’s pineapple knife and engaging the bolt lock.
Rachel has a little speech prepared for her future ex-husband, but the gist is “It’s not you, it’s me.” She just doesn’t want to be arm candy. Shane calls her an insecure baby, to which she replies something like, “Nuh-uh, Shane, you’re the coddled, tantrum-y baby.” Relax, Pattons, you’re both babies.
Tanya and Greg have progressed from booty calls to daylight. It’s the least depressing story line, so why does it make me feel so gross? Greg’s coughing while Tanya teases renting a house in Aspen just to be near him. “That’s a lot of sugar,” she says when he offers to fetch her a piña colada. It’s hard to watch Tanya interact with the world; she’s the bull and the china shop.
Armond catches up with the Mossbachers to share the good news, which is also devastating news: Nicole’s missing jewelry has been found, along with the “sweet kid” who burgled it. Watching Liv’s suspicions crystallize into knowledge is painful. At sea to flex Mark’s and Quinn’s new PADI licenses, Paula vomits off the side of the boat. It could be seasickness, or it could be the somatic manifestation of overwhelming guilt. She drops the necklace Kai made her into the sea in some empty cinematic gesture, but there’s no closure for this level of carelessness. This is what you see when you close your eyes.
Back onshore, Liv confronts Paula. What follows is a conversation that’s as manipulative as Olivia alleges, as hard-hearted as Paula perceives, and as selfish as we could ever have feared. “You’ve stolen, too,” Paula snaps at one point. Is that what’s underpinning this righteous crusade — payback for some guy they fought over? Paula’s right that Olivia isn’t very different from her parents, but Paula’s not so different either. Tellingly, Kai’s arrest happens offscreen. Wherever she started, Paula now belongs to the “tribe” that rarely faces its own flotsam.
Which brings us to the big breakup. Tanya wants to thank Belinda for helping her break old patterns like latching on to strangers and using her wealth to ensure fealty. That’s why Tanya can’t open a wellness center with her; she doesn’t want another transactional relationship, she explains as she slides Belinda a thick envelope of cash. (I’d be curious to see who’s paying for Greg’s flight to Honolulu, too.) Belinda’s tearful breakdown doesn’t get its deserved privacy because Tanya is shameless enough to return for the designer sunglasses she left on the spa counter.
By dinner, the White Lotus staff has been totaled, including Armond, who learns the big boss is coming round to fire him. So he empties every crushable pill from the girls’ lingering drug stash onto the table and snorts all that is snortable. That he cruise-directs his Last Supper rather than eats it is a dismal metaphor; that he does it high as the New Shepard is our only consolation. He’s smiling, he’s pouring wine, he’s showing the good people to their corner tables. It’s damn near ballet.
Lonely Rachel Patton shows up for dinner, which is unreal. Shane assures her he’ll be there when she’s done spiraling, but ten seconds later, when she’s not done spiraling, he slams the table. Ten seconds is the extent of his patience. The thought that he has done anything wrong hasn’t crossed his mind, and even though he’s an absolute buffoon, I’m a little sympathetic. Honeymoons are generally not so soul-searching. For her part, Rachel will be minimizing her desire to hit “eject” by the time she calls Belinda for after-hours company: “I’m just having a moment.” It’s momentarily satisfying to hear Belinda say she’s all out of advice, but it’s a hollow graduation. Compared with Tanya or Shane or Shane’s mom, Rachel is too easy to swat away.
Meanwhile, the Mossbachers are making light dinner conversation of convincing their underage son not to sail away on the morning light. Maybe they can take more trips or buy a boat? Paula looks on with disbelief that’s starting to curdle for me. Is she really surprised that they’ve moved on? And why is she so sure that the difference between enjoying dinner and simply sitting at the table for it is a meaningful one? Later, the girls spoon on the pullout, and Paula cries. After college, they’ll share an apartment in the city and be each other’s bridesmaids and never, ever mention Kai’s upended life ever again.
I’d almost forgotten someone had to die when Greg started hacking into his after-dinner drink. He ambiguously tells Tanya he’s got little time to live but a code to live by: “Enjoy life till they drop the curtain.” It’s not a bad philosophy, and it certainly seems to be Armond’s approach to his last 24 hours as regent of the White Lotus. Dillon and now Hutch — and I think I saw another body in there? — have joined the scorched-earth office party. Maybe one of these kids will die? As Armond tears through the hotel’s tiki-torch maze, it’s clear he’s looking to confront Shane in defiance of our usual bedtime. On this show, what happens after dinner usually arrives in soporific glimpses. We should all be safely asleep by now!
If only. Armond breaks into the Pineapple Suite against ominous choral music and all that glowing décor — grass-cloth wallpaper, marigold upholstery, the yellow brocade quilt. He walks over to Shane’s non-rolling suitcase, which seems to anticipate that someone other than Shane will be carrying it, and takes a glorious shit among the finery. (Thank the alcohol and the Adderall for being able to poo on command.) Although Armond is but steps from the bathroom, he does not wipe. He’s still in the suite, unwiped, when Shane comes in from the Kahuna Bar, baby-drunk and alone. He locates the source of the bad smell before hearing Armond’s attempted escape.
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who run out of the room when they hear a suspicious clatter and those who pick up the pineapple knife. I suppose there are two kinds of shitters, too: those who come out with their hands up and those who aren’t built for surrender. When Armond walks into Shane’s knife, it’s an accident, and it’s inevitable. There’s only so much chaos one story line can hold.
At the start of a vacation, it always feels as if you have all the time in the world to sleep late and check out the island; the end of a vacation always sneaks up on you. Before her flight, Tanya dashes out to the sea to throw her mother’s ashes in the air and dance through the ghost of her. Quinn cries as he squints out at the water he has fallen completely in love with. Rachel shows up at the airline gate promising to be happy; she may not even know about the other vacant body on the flight. Paula is reading Discourses on Colonialism, and Liv is reading Lacan or maybe they’re just making the sounds of the words in their minds before moving on. Nicole is counting her bangles. I repeat, Nicole is counting her bangles. Back at the resort, Belinda prepares to welcome this week’s guests. Every day is Groundhog Day at the White Lotus. Every guest is the same guest.
Except, perhaps, Quinn, who runs away when his parents’ backs are turned. Whether it buys him a life of independence or just one more day at sea, I clapped. The series did not end on a whimper; in fact, it hasn’t ended at all. But when season two of The White Lotus comes to HBO, I’ll be interested to see how many people want to return to the cloistered world of the squirmy, unthinking rich. That freedom you want for Quinn? It’s what you want for yourself, too.
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