The White Lotus, HBO’s most addictive show about miserable rich white people since Succession, comes to an end this Sunday night. As Lotus loyalists know, viewers learn in the pilot that some mortal creature’s remains are flown back in a casket—rumored to have been murdered—from the posh $9,000-a-night Maui resort. It can’t be the smugly seething Shane Patton (Jake Lacy), who watches the casket unload. But nearly every other character has been given a compelling enough reason to end up dead.
But here’s a thought: Does it really matter who bites the dust? For a whodiedit, the body count is arguably the least interesting thing about a slow-burn of a show whose real winning turn is its unflinching portrait of the misery-soaked woes of the affluent. Trapped by their own status anxiety, vanity, and touchiness about their increasing cultural irrelevance, it’s clear they are already in hell, even if it does come with a high thread count.
That doesn’t mean the show can’t deliver a satisfying earthly comeuppance for the haves, via murder or accidental demise. The married Mossbachers (Connie Britton and Steve Zahn), plus daughter Olivia (Sydney Sweeney), are so irritating in their attempts at “doing the work” of checking their privilege that the Lotus universe may see fit to fly that point home first class in a box. Teen son Quinn Mossbacher (Fred Hechinger), equally babied, misunderstood, and ostracized by his family, is increasingly fixated on the canoeing locals to a degree that feels heavy on an escape-to-sea metaphor. Cuckoo heiress Tanya McQuoid’s (Jennifer Coolidge) thinly caftan-veiled messiness thwarts her efforts at philanthropy, and she’s practically one Chardonnay away from stumbling off a boat. (Her fling’s coughing fit in the penultimate episode feels like a sharply planted red herring.) But there’s always the chance that Olivia and her less privileged friend Paula (Brittany O’Grady) finally confront the deep-seated tensions between them to tragic results.
White Lotus could also give us a gutting, twisty demise of a have-not, demonstrative of the guests’ monstrous disregard for others. Is it hotel manager Armond (Murray Bartlett), on a self-destructive bender triggered by placating one too many rich assholes? Or is it beautiful, poor, mediocre journalist Rachel (Alexandra Daddario), suddenly hit with the realization that she’s married up with controlling asshole Jake, who cares nothing about her ambition unless it props up his image? I could see Armond overdosing, or Rachel diving off a boat to fake her own death, picking up blogging on a minor island under a pseudonym.
Losing Kai (Kekoa Scott Kekumano), the Hawaiian hotel worker forced to dance for whitey on the land stolen from his family, or the deeply empathic Belinda (Natasha Rothwell), whom Tanya has strung along with the promise of funding a wellness center, would be unthinkable. Plus, don’t they all live in Hawaii, thus making a relocated casket sort of illogical?
I have my own admittedly offbeat theory: Maybe the casket is simply filled with the ashes of Tanya’s mother. Because she’s so unable to part with them, perhaps, in an act of defiance, she refuses to give her the sea burial she wanted, but the six-feet-under treatment that will finally rid her of the crippling physical burden of carrying her around. That would be a “death” that feels fitting for a show so uncannily satirical about the way money buys people the luxury of indulging their most whimsical impulses, just because they can.
Still, though, no one has to die for White Lotus’s message to land. The show’s smartly honed sense of foreboding has never felt like it was about The End, but the long horrible middle. These well-heeled jerks’ crime is that rather than truly looking inward about the embarrassment of riches they’re hauling through life, they can only see what’s lacking, and their best response is to soullessly demand better amenities. Death for a group of people already in prisons of their own making, suffering mightily in overabundance, is likely just spending purgatory in a lower-starred hotel. That’s something White Lotus understands very well: Anyone whose life is defined by such crass frivolity, who suffers no matter how beautiful the backdrop, may as well be dead already.
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