“The lotus,” writer-director Mike White’s sinister satire of Western imperialism, luxury tourism, the category divide, and Oberlin College reading lists, has emerged because of the most talked-about TV series of the summer. But it’s hard to inform with precision whether that’s because of its dreamy setting, its earworm of a score, or the tragicomic stylings of Jennifer Coolidge.
Sunday’s season — not series — finale may traffic jam the loose ends of its multi-stranded narrative, but this is often “The lotus,” so there are still many messes. (In one unforgettable moment, quite literally.) Did White stick the landing on his group portrait of trouble in paradise or did that hectic final hour reveal the series’ seams? l. a. Times TV critic Lorraine Ali and staff writer Meredith Blake break it all down, from the ideological to the scatological.
Meredith Blake, staff writer: Aloha, Lorraine! Ours occupy “The White Lotus” has ended and there’s much to debate, but I suppose we’ve no choice but to start out with the elephant within the room — or, to be more precise, the steaming turd within the Pineapple Suite. for 6 episodes now, “The White Lotus” has kept us playing an irresistible game of guess-who’s-in-the-coffin. We now have a solution, also as an indelible image of a grown man pooping into a suitcase before keeling over and dying during a king-sized bathtub. It’s a death destined to travel down in HBO history.
Lorraine Ali, TV critic: Mahalo, Meredith, for starting this convo exactly where I expected you’d. Mystery solved, but not before paradise literally turns to [unprintable word here]. Frankly, everyone was so unhappy at the resort that death appeared like a sweet release. the gathering of reprehensible characters doing insidiously horrible things within the series was impressive in a misery-porn kind of way.
Blake: Some might dismiss the dead-body-at-the-top-of-the-series as a gimmick, but I found it devastatingly effective in ratcheting up the strain and dread. and therefore the whole murder-mystery-in-an-exquisite-setting may be a time-honored tradition dating back to Christie. To White’s credit, there have been many characters who seemed destined for (or deserving of) an untimely death. For a short time there I used to be sure that Tanya’s boyfriend — you recognize, the one from BLM — was a serial murderer who was getting to murder her and escape together with her jewels. At another point, I used to be convinced Quinn would exterminate his family during a skin diving “accident.” There was even a moment or two once I thought Kai would revisit Paula for screwing him over in such spectacular fashion.
Armond was clearly on a downward spiral from Episode 1, but I wasn’t completely sure he was a goner until he unbuckled his pants and unleashed his bowels on Shane’s hideous seascape sweater. (If only it had been his Cornell hat!) And even then, I prayed for a miracle, because I even have found Murray Bartlett so brilliant and sympathetic as Armond, a person whose tightly wound, obsequious demeanor can’t quite mask his deep-seated despair. (Bartlett is equally nearly as good because he rightfully praised Coolidge, IMHO.) I’m a minimum of glad that Armond went call at a blaze of coke-fueled glory, giving a virtuoso final performance as dinner host (set to “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”) before taking that cathartic revenge dump. better of all, he died with a glance of peace on his face.
Ali: I used to be rooting for Paula to beat Olivia to death together with her copy of “Discourse on Colonialism,” or for Lani, the pregnant employee who vanishes after parturition in Armond’s office, to return back and slay someone. Anyone. (OK, Shane first.) I needed a follow-up to her story. one among the issues I had with the series is that it spent an excessive amount of time satirizing the self-centered problems with the resort’s rich guests and their interplay with the staff rather than exploiting the despondency on each side of the divide. The nuanced slow burn of made folks drowning in their own dysfunction is nothing new, especially to HBO, and it had been a slog sometimes. That said, Armond was also one of my favorite characters, and his exit was epic.
Blake: It certainly was. Because I’m an intrepid journalist, I immediately began to wonder about the mechanics of the deadly doo-doo. (For starters, what was the turd made of? Who was liable for creating the fake poop? Props? Visual effects? God forbid… craft services?) But mostly I admired White for his willingness to completely and utterly go there and make the scene as over-the-top as possible. A more timid filmmaker would have moved a tasteful close-up of Armond’s face before the primary turd fell. But not White. In any case, the poo-nami was a fitting farewell for Armond, and a microcosm of the show as an entire — twisted, outrageously funny, and deeply sad all directly.
The thing I really like about White’s work, dating back to the dear, departed “Enlightened,” is his comfort with complexity, his willingness to be deeply compassionate to the characters he’s also skewering, the convenience with which he switches from poetry to potty humor. during a single episode, you’ll have an underwater sequence so beautiful it brought a tear to my eye (side note: He really loves sea turtles) and a gross-out close-up of a poop. a bit like life itself! Anyway, I’ll curtail my verbal diarrhea and allow you to share your thoughts. Ali: many thanks, Meredith. I will be able to nevermore consider craft services within the same way. By the finale, I didn’t care who ended up going range in that box. Like Hanks, I just wanted off the island.
Blake: Let’s talk a touch bit about who does and doesn’t get off the island. You raise an honest point about Lani. I also wondered what became of poor, tragic Kai, who’s last seen running down the beach after the ill-fated heist. you’ll argue that White is just less curious about what happens to the less affluent, non-white characters within the series. In fact, he told me he was “trying to urge into the mindset of the people that have money and therefore the power” with this series. thereto end, I felt like White was making some extent about how expendable the workers are at an area just like the lotus — they’re here at some point, gone subsequent, only to get replaced by a replacement batch of “pleasant, interchangeable helpers,” as Armond once put it.
Even the supposedly progressive Paula ultimately treats Kai sort of a pawn during a revenge plot against the Mossbachers, never reaching bent him because she knows better than to implicate herself. That last shot of Belinda, robotically greeting another boatload of awful rich people as she stands next to Lani and Armond’s replacements, her life playing out like an endless rerun of “Fantasy Island,” says it all, really.
For the resort’s guests, things mostly end up fine — which is how the planet works when you’re wealthy. Rachel resigns herself to life as a plus one, which honestly sounds OK compared to being a poorly paid content aggregator. Despite literally killing someone, Shane jets off to Tahiti — where he’s destined to never finish “Blink” — with nary a clap on the wrist. Tanya finally lets go of her mom’s ashes and heads to Aspen together with her probably dying boyfriend.
The one that seems significantly healthier by the week’s end is Quinn, who has freed himself from the shackles of technology and is off on his house’s. can we think he’ll get bored and fly back home? HBO recently announced plans for a second season of “The lotus,” with a replacement setting and presumably new guests. Got any suggestions for White to form subsequent seasons less excruciating for you?
Ali: White definitely makes the purpose that inequality is baked into the character outcomes, which stands to reason since that’s the truth of the planet — then many cruise liner ports. But he does so almost exclusively from the colonizer’s viewpoint, which is problematic on tons of levels. For starters, it limits the series by giving it equivalent blind spots because of the resort’s self-centered guests. There’s no shortage of satirical series out there about affluent jerks treating others like disposable wipes, and “The White Lotus” had the right chance to stretch that formula when it took a family just like the Mossbachers out of their usual habitat and brought in characters like Lani and Kai. But it never moved beyond the absurdity of white affluence — money in lieu of parenting, the lopsided power-differential in their marriage — which frankly felt played out.
I mean, we both love the soundtrack by Cristobal Tapia De Veer, right? an outsized part of what makes it amazing is that it seems like a collision of opposing cultures at the resort, a mix of the strain between mainlanders and islanders, colonizers and natives, both historically and now. For me, Season 2 would be much more dynamic and smarter if it ventured into the worker break room before the hukilau dinner show or lei greeting or whatever “native entertainment” awaits guests at subsequent season’s lotus property. which doesn’t mean turning this HBO series into a woke diatribe. God no. It must stay sardonic with its working-class and non-white characters too (see “Ramy” or “Atlanta” for pointers). As for Quinn, I predict he’ll find yourself running a Sandals-like property within the 2024 spinoff “The Blue Flip Flop.”