The White Lotus: The Controversial Season 1 Ending Explained

Even following season 2 of the HBO Max show The White Lotus, there are still fans who need to understand The White Lotus‘ season 1 ending. The first season of the satirical dramedy drops its audience into the eponymous Hawaiian resort, following several wealthy guests and the havoc they carelessly wreak. Themes of imperialism, classism, and a mercurial moral compass guide these characters through a sun-baked murder mystery. Critics and fans alike have praised the show, leading to Emmy and Golden Globe wins for Best Limited Series. Season 2 took the show to Italy, but there are still aspects of season 1 of The White Lotus that fans question.

The main aspect that fans question is the ending of The White Lotus season 1. The show highlights the central themes of wealth and colonialism, challenging how the privileged class can afford to behave carelessly, and the burden this places on marginalized groups and the working class. Though it provides no clear solutions to the dense and complex problems it targets, The White Lotus’ season 1 ending follows its characters to their logical conclusions as if fated to their ends by mechanisms far beyond the understanding of the rich and the reach of the poor.

What Happens in The White Lotus’s Ending

The White Lotus season 1 ending explained how each of these guests changed in their time at the resort and it often wasn’t for the better. In a brief six episodes, the audience comes to understand the unique wants and needs of each member of the Mossbacher party (daughter Olivia’s friend Paula included), the perpetually bewildered heiress Tanya McQuoid (Jennifer Coolidge), the newlyweds Shane (Jake Lacy) and Rachel (Alexandria Daddario), and a slew of hotel workers and other guests overseen by the delightful manager, Armond (Murray Bartlett). As these characters jostle and crash into one another, their relationships move towards the ending with an increasingly claustrophobic sense of dread and wondering who at The White Lotus will die.

In The White Lotus‘ season 1 ending, Shane kills his adversary Armond (albeit less intentionally than perhaps expected); the Mossbachers reach an understanding within their own marriage, while their daughter and her friend begin the end of their relationship; Tanya gracelessly bows out of her commitment to spa manager Belinda to chase another guest Greg to Colorado, Quinn Mossbacher self-actualizes, dipping the boarding queue to join his newfound Hawaiian friends as they train to row to the big island, Rachel decides to stay with her husband Shane in their nascent unhappy marriage. It’s a lot of ground to cover in one hour of finale, but there’s even more lurking beneath the surface of The White Lotus’ season 1 ending.

Why Armond Had To Die In The White Lotus

The White Lotus season 1 ending explained why Armond had to die, hammering home the themes of classism in the series. From the opening moments, White creates tension with the anonymous “human remains” box and the incessant voiceover “where’s your wife?” With this in place, the audience spends the next six episodes wondering who will end up in that box and learn it’s Armond, who represents the torment of working in hospitality, catering to the vapid whims of the carelessly rich. His fate is begun with the double-booking of the Pineapple Suite, but it’s sealed with his falling off the wagon.

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Whether it was an accident or not, Shane is never charged with Armond’s murder in The White Lotus’ season 1 ending though this is fitting given the themes of the show. After the pressures and unnecessary stresses of his longtime job push Armond to the edge, and when suddenly presented with Olivia and Paula’s stash, he turns to drugs to cope — which leads to his fatally reckless behavior. While Shane getting his comeuppance would have been the satisfying outcome in The White Lotus‘ season 1 ending, instead, the opposite occurs.

This supports one of the main themes in The White Lotus: the notion that the working class is powerless against the entrenched mechanisms that unequally distribute wealth. While The White Lotus season 2’s winners offered a more upbeat end, season 1’s bleak ending highlights the horrors of contemporary western class stratification. And White at least gives Armond, who had to die, some measure of bittersweet fulfillment: he nails dinner and he leaves Shane an odorous parting gift.

Why Does Rachel Stay with Shane at the End of The White Lotus?

One of the biggest criticisms The White Lotus’ season 1 ending is Rachel and Shane remaining together Rachel is no “Lotus-Eater,” she’s a writer with journalistic aspirations beyond the listicles she gets assigned. Unfortunately, she’s just married one, and he shows his true colors on their honeymoon as a spoiled, hyper-masculine, self-indulgent man-child. Shane might be The White Lotus‘ worst character and Rachel is worn down by him throughout the series: Shane coveting her appearance over character, his incessant complaints and vendetta against the staff, his belittling of her career, and his mother’s appearance.

When Rachel finally decides to stand up for her principles in White Lotus‘ season 1 ending, she’s hardly even acknowledged by the unlikable Shane — but when she goes searching for advice, she finds Belinda has no wisdom to dispense. In her, Rachel sees the cost of living under the feet of the wealthy, physically and emotionally spent. Suddenly, sacrificing her principles in exchange for the carelessness wealth would afford seems a good option.

In response to the strong reaction to The White Lotus ending, the creator stated he wanted to create this dynamic from the onset, just as he knew it was Armond he wanted to put in that “human remains” box. White describes Rachel as “a woman who realizes what she’s really married to and what she’s giving up,” but that he always knew she’d end up staying with him in The White Lotus‘ season 1 ending for three main reasons.

First, there’s an element of “seduction of a lifestyle,” that she’s married into wealth and its advantages. Second, is similar to Daphne and Cameron in The White Lotus season 2 with their flawed marriage that still has some love there since White imbues Shane with a sense of pathos, insisting that he really does love her, even if he falls short of supporting her when it inconveniences his childlike temperament. White cites the difficulty for Rachel as her situation is rather prohibitive — it’s easier to stay the course than back out now, on their honeymoon of all places.

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What Does The White Lotus Say About Classism and Imperialism?

The White Lotus‘ season 1 ending dissects class divide, a scathing satire criticizing the carelessness of wealth. It’s a complicated discussion that reflects the creator’s own experiences. Mike White has had considerable success, both critically and commercially, and that informs the characters. He calls Armond the character he relates to the most, often finding himself in the role of being “a ‘give the suits what they want’ kind of person.

His experience as a white man informs his perspectives on Quinn Mossbacher (Fred Hechinger) and Steve Zahn’s Mark. In the latter, he places his struggles to atone for “the things he can’t control.” In the former, he taps into his experience on Survivor and his other world travels, citing a personal desire to escape a world that’s “too much with us,” and connect with these cultures. However, in the same breath, he places himself in Rachel’s shoes, often sacrificing his principles to be a writer-for-hire

The White Lotus’ season 1 ending is designed to create conflicted feelings in its audience. Because of White’s vantage point on classism and imperialism, the series provokes debate. Whether it’s Nicole Mossbacher’s feminism versus Rachel’s career aspirations, Olivia and Paula criticizing Mark and Nicole for fetishizing the fruits of imperialism, or Quinn choosing personal freedom over wealth in the end, the show functions as a clash of contemporary ideologies. The parable of Belinda and Jennifer Coolidge’s Tanya further illustrates the disparity between the classes, as the former’s greatest career opportunity amounts to just another delirious whim in the pseudo-psychotic life of the latter.

Which White Lotus Characters Return For Season 2?

The White Lotus season 2 Jennifer Coolidge Tanya

The White Lotus season 2 premiered at the end of October 2022 with a whole new storyline in the works. The White Lotus season 2, titled “Sicily,” follows a group of hotel guests at the White Lotus in Taormina, Sicily after discovering a group of patrons who died on the beach. Several cast members returned for the new installment, but it’s mostly new faces. Each returning cast member retained the same character from season 1. Jennifer Coolidge was back for season 2 as Tanya McQuoid-Hunt, and her husband Greg Hunt (played by Jon Gries) also shows up at the White Lotus in Sicily.

Among the new White Lotus season 2 characters are Michael Imperioli (The Sopranos) is Dominic Di Grasso, a Hollywood producer looking into his Sicilian heritage. His father, Bert, is played by F. Murray Abraham (Mythic Quest), who is also a Hollywood producer on the show. Dominic’s son Albie is with them as well, and is portrayed by Adam DiMarco (The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina). Italian actress Beatrice Grannò plays Mia, an aspiring singer. Theo James (Sanditon) is a businessman named Cameron, and his wife Daphne is played by Meghann Fahy (The Bold Type), who is a stay-at-home mom.

Tom Hollander (Pirates of the Caribbean) portrays a British ex-pat named Quentin, and Sabrina Impacciatore (The Passion of the Christ) plays Valentina, the manager of the White Lotus in Sicily. Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation) is Harper Spiller and her husband Ethan is played by Will Sharpe (Sherlock). Haley Lu Richardson (The Edge of Seventeen) portrays Portia, a recent college graduate and Tanya’s assistant. Finally, Italian actress Simona Tabasco plays Lucia, a Sicilian local trying to find work at the White Lotus.

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The Real Meaning of The White Lotus’s Ending

The show The White Lotus’ season 1 ending is satire and is meant to be read as such. Lani disappears after episode 1 because, after she’s unable to work, she ceases to exist to the patrons around which the show is centered. Kai is arrested for assault and attempted burglary because to the wealthy, that’s just what “the help” does sometimes — but of course, they themselves show no remorse for the pillaging of Hawaiian culture and resources by their colonial forefathers. Nicole and Mark repair their marriage since they’re perfect for each other, as secure in their status as they are insecure in themselves.

Even The White Lotus‘ unanswered questions and uncertain futures of some characters can be guessed at with the themes of the show. Rachel rejoins Shane because the world is a scary place without the privileges (and protections) money affords. White Lotus character Belinda painstakingly puts on her smile again as a group of interchangeable helpers, ready to handle baggage (both material and emotional) prepares for new arrivals at the resort — the endless cycle still churning that defines the HBO Max show.

And to top it all off, the final shot of The White Lotus’ season 1 ending bears the stain of utilizing marginalized characters for the straight white male to self-actualize — and it’s arguably the most gratifying moment in the whole six episodes. Such is the intrinsic cognitive dissonance of The White Lotus‘ season 1 ending.

Some White Lotus Season 1 Characters May Return For Season 3

The White Lotus Connie Britton Nicole

Fans are already looking to The White Lotus season 3, but The White Lotus season 1 ending explained that at least one fan-favorite character would likely not be returning. However, that doesn’t mean that the third season couldn’t see some familiar faces return. Connie Britton who played Nicole in season 1 addressed the fact that she originally planned to be part of season 2 only for those plans to fall through. However, she claims the idea could be used for season 3.

There is also a tease about one of the big-name stars of season 2 who didn’t appear on-screen. Laura Dern provided the voice of Abby, the estranged wife of Michael Imperioli’s Dominic. One theory from The White Lotus covers how Dern could return for season 3 and how it could even connect to Nicole’s storyline. The fan theory suggests that Nicole and Abby are sisters which could mean they go vacationing together at a White Lotus resort in season 2, perhaps with Abby’s newly reconciled husband.

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