On The White Lotus and its unfulfilling finale
THE WHITE LOTUS FINALE SPOILERS AHEAD!!!
Is The White Lotus a satire?
The debate has been sparked, though I’m not sure how strong the flame is because yes, Mike White’s HBO series which concluded last evening is a satire by definition, in that it uses humor and irony to expose white privilege and vices. I’ll let other people debate whether or not it’s effective satire — white people love this show and it’s making them want to plan Hawaiian vacations the same way The Wolf of Wall Street gives finance bros hard-on — because I’m still stuck on the ending.
Was The White Lotus good?
Honestly, it was white excellence until the finale, which left me… unfulfilled. Murray Bartlett’s Armond marched on to his tragic end, one that he entrenched himself in from the minute he lied about accidentally double-booking the Pineapple Suite. Hilariously, it’s a lie he didn’t need to make. I assume Armond doesn’t do the literal booking for the hotel himself. But having dealt with enough pushy rich white people who are also amenable to being hustled as long as they feel like they’re getting a good deal, he thought he could sway Jake Lacy’s Shane with a lie. It didn’t work. Because Shane was a dog with a bone, a man who wanted to prove he was right.
I found Armond such a fascinating television character. A gay, recovering addict, who was a delightful bitch and also cunning and exacting revenge on his impertinent hotel guests was a breath of fresh air. I’ve longed for more stories of gays behaving badly, particularly in the soap genre, and each week felt as exhilarating as a fifth season episode of Breaking Bad between Armond stealing ketamine from teenagers and getting caught rimming Lukas Gage’s Dillon in his office while on a bender.
The White Lotus has been renewed for a second season with a new hotel locale and cast, but I’d have been just as engaged watching Armond squirm his way in and out of chaos for multiple seasons at either the same hotel, a different hotel, or fuck selling drugs in Amsterdam if the show just wanted to abandon its premise completely and just churn out random storylines like Weeds did with Nancy Botwin. But our sexy, Australian version of Nancy Botwin was always doomed for demise rather than ultimate triumph because this is a Mike White show.
White is a writer I’ve admired for years. Enlightened was a brilliant (canceled too soon by HBO) comedy and perhaps Laura Dern’s best role. And the even more cruelly canceled Pasadena, a 2001 FOX primetime soap, is a series I remember constantly to this day (probably more than White himself, tbh). Years ago, this series could have been just as dramatic and twisty as Pasadena promised to be, but White seems to have become a stern realist since then. Enlightened was a hopeful show, at its core. It was (literally) about burning it all down. White told The New Yorker that if he were to make that show again, it would be “pandering to the Zeitgeist.” Because Enlightened felt like an outlier ten years ago but now, a show about virtuosity and exposing the ills of white privilege sounds like a show people want now, but actually wouldn’t enjoy (just look at the Gossip Girl reboot). I’m inclined to mostly agree, I say mostly because what I took from Enlightened was learning to love yourself as a flawed human which is most certainly not in “the Zeitgeist” right now (unless you live your life in Instagram self-help memes*).
There’s a version of The White Lotus made from a non-white person that would feel more akin to Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, but White isn’t the person to do that. White is a person who loves messy characters and reality television.
White himself competed on Survivor, where he came in second place to Nick Wilson — a handsome, charming lawyer from Kentucky who bears more than a striking resemblance to Shane in this series. If White sees himself as Armond, then in his mind, all of the power struggles and blindsides and upsets in the world won’t change the order of things. Someone like him is still going to be seen as the lesser gamesman, when put up against a Nick Wilson. Maybe if White had won his season, or a non straight white male hadn’t won, we might have seen a different ending to The White Lotus. But I always thought that Armond’s story was going to end tragically at the hands of Shane, whether or not he ended up in the box on that place, because their squabble didn’t just seems pre-ordained, it seemed almost produced by hidden reality television cameras.
Maybe white people do see themselves in The White Lotus far too much for it to be an effective satire, but I think that White also sees too much of himself in The White Lotus for the series to end on a hopeful note. He’s Armond, but he’s also a wealthy television writer. Maybe the reason the show doesn’t work as effectively as satire is because it’s White’s way of working out his own white guilt. I wonder if White letting Armond die felt therapeutic… or, if it just felt as if, “this story can end no other way.” Because the former, I can understand. Using the series to say something about the society we live in would be secondary to the catharsis of merely telling Armond’s story. But if it’s the latter, and the point of The White Lotus is that white people in power stay in power… then it shows... a lack of imagination.
*Occasionally. Mostly astrology.