The White Lotus creator Mike White explains that big death
Warning: This article contains spoilers about Sunday's season finale of The White Lotus.
What a crappy way to die.
We finally learned the identity of the corpse in the box on Sunday's season 1 finale of The White Lotus, and learned that said corpse went out in a blaze of both glory and gory. After learning he had lost his job, hotel manager Armond (Murray Bartlett) had one last bacchanal blast, hosted a final dinner, then made his way into the room of his hotel guest arch nemesis Shane (Jake Lacy) and proceeded to defecate into his suitcase. Unfortunately for Armond, Shane happened to return to his room, found the unwelcome present, and, fearing an intruder after the recent break-in, armed himself with a knife and instinctively stabbed the hotel manager dead.
That was just one of the exclamation point endings during the finale — one in which Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge) finally found love, yet also cast aside her new spa manager BFF Belinda (Natasha Rothwell) in the process, Quinn (Fred Hechinger) waited until the rest of his family boarded the plane before running back to the beach to join his new Hawaiian outrigger paddling buddies, while, in perhaps the most heartbreaking moment of the entire series. Rachel (Alexandra Daddario) came crawling back to the financial security of her newlywed husband Shane, promising "I'll be happy" even though the tears she was choking back told a different story.
We hit series creator, writer, and director Mike White up with some finale burning questions to get the inside scoop on everything that went down (no pun intended) on the recently renewed resort drama. (Also make sure to read our finale Q&A with Murray Bartlett about Armond's death and that shocking suitcase scene.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Okay, you murderer. Why'd you have to go and kill Armond?
MIKE WHITE: Well, the thing is, I was like, "We got to have a death here." Because otherwise it's just going to be like My Dinner with Andre in Hawaii or something. So it was engineered from the beginning and I just felt like the guy's like an actor who plays King Lear. He has his best scene ever. And then he has the ultimate act of defiance where he craps in someone's bag. And I was like, "There's really nowhere else to go from here." But this is your swan song. So it felt like the right ending for him.
Was it always the plan to bookend the season and having it start with seeing the casket and then revealing at the end, or was that something you did later in editing?
It was always built into it. I wrote it just knowing that, yeah, it's now such a trope in these shows where there's a body, and I just did the most casual version of it. We don't keep coming back to it. But it just felt like that could create a little bit of a propulsion and attention in these scenes that otherwise it would just feel kind of overwrought to be playing this music. Like, "Why are they playing this music? Why am I so stressed?" And I felt if we just telegraphed that there is going to be blood on the floor by the end of this, that it would allow people to let us have more of a playful, anxious tone throughout the show.
How did you film in the now infamous suitcase scene, and what was coming out of him onto that suitcase on set? Or was that put in digitally later?
The actual closeup is a prop. But the wide shot from the side is a CGI shot coming out of him. [Laughs] We actually went to multiple CGI houses. My editor and the assistant were like, "This doesn't look right." I was like, "Well, it shouldn't. I don't know, should it look really real? Maybe that's too much for people to handle. Maybe it should look a little fake." They're like, "No, we've got to make it look real." So we went through a long process to get just the perfect shooting motion.
Well, it worked. I mean, it looks real soooo… congratulations, I guess?
What's funny is I think I told Murray that it would never be in the show. I was like, "We just need this just to set you. But we're not going to actually use it." And I don't think I've ever told him. I don't know if he... I assume he's seen it. He seems very happy. He's definitely texting back and forth with me, but I never brought myself to tell him that we actually did show the whole action.
I love the way you wrote that final scene between Belinda and Tanya, and the way Tanya says something to the effect of, "I use my money to control people." So how angry can you be with her for at least acknowledging that?
In a way, Belinda may have given her the therapy speak for her to do that. Belinda's helped her at Belinda's own peril, in a sense. So she's got the language to be like, "I don't need another transactional relationship. And that means you." And that's the painful part. It's like she's allowed her patient to fly, but now she doesn't get to benefit from it.
It's really devastating at the end to watch that reunion at the airport between Shane and Rachel after she summed up the courage to leave him and not take the easy way with everything handed to her and to not just be a plus-1. And then we see her tell him, "Everything's fine. I'm happy, I promise. I'll be happy." It just crushed me. Why have her ultimately crawl back to this total a-hole? I loved it for the show, but hated it for her.
Part of me feels like I have mixed feelings too, but I do feel that, in my experience, a lot of times that's what happens. I knew The Emoji Movie wasn't going to be good and I did it. So sometimes money and the lifestyle does draw you in.
Is it just that after she took that stand and said "I'm going to stand up for myself" she reflected more on it and just didn't have the self-confidence and see a path forward for herself without him?
Even the way she breaks up with him is a little bit…. You sense she's trying to get him to say something to make her want to stay. Like, she doesn't really leave in a definitive manner, I feel like. And there's just something clear that throughout, she's equivocating so much that you sense that she is not that strong. By the fourth episode, she's saying she realized that she's kind of a mediocrity, as far as her work goes. And I just think that a lot of times this is what happens if people get a taste of a different kind of life. And, at first, she wants to be able to have her cake and eat it too. She wants to have the lifestyle and also have the power and the relationship. And it just doesn't happen that way. And I think, by the end, she's thinking maybe she can compromise.
And just as devastating, in a different way, was watching a clearly despondent Belinda having to turn on that fake smile and start waving as the new batch of guests arrive at the resort as you show the cycle merely starting all over again. What were you trying to say with that scene at the end there?
In the end, I think that having money is the difference between being able to continue to make mistakes and fly out to Honolulu with the guy you just met and whatever, and then being stuck in the job that you want to get out of, or where you want more. And I just thought bookending the show where you have all of these people greeting them at the beginning. And then by the end, either they had a baby, they were murdered, they ended up in jail, or their dreams have been shattered. And the guests move on to the next thing. It just felt like it was, "Well, this is kind of a devastating moment." But it feels like it's true to the story.
This HBO comedy revolves around a bunch of rich white tourists arriving at a luxurious Hawaiian resort for the trip of a lifetime. Over the course of a week, they manage to antagonize various hotel workers, rip band-aids off their personal wounds, and spend a lot of time thinking about sex and death.