The Controversial Season 1 Ending Explained

The Controversial Season 1 Ending Explained

Mike White’s latest HBO Max show The White Lotus has arrived and departed, leaving viewers with plenty to chew on surrounding The White Lotus’ season 1 ending. 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 of sorts. Critics and fans alike have hailed it as among the most thought-provoking shows in recent memory, and with the anthology series set up for a second season, it’s important to understand just how The White Lotus season 1 tied up its chosen cast and setting.


The White Lotus is, first and foremost, Mike White’s creation. He has written screenplays (School of Rock, Nacho Libre), competed in reality television contests (Survivor, The Amazing Race), and co-created his Lotus predecessor Enlightened at HBO with Laura Dern. In an interview with Vulture, White provided insights from his own life that are key to understanding the at-times difficult-to-parse messages in The White Lotus. White wrote and directed every episode of the series, leading up to White Lotus’ season 1 ending, and pieces of his own personal experience reside in several characters. But The White Lotus isn’t just Mike White’s creation, it also has its finger on the pulse of contemporary American culture in a way few other of its contemporaries can claim.

Related: All HBO Max Original Shows & Movies Releasing In 2022

While Enlightened featured an executive and her escape to a Hawaiian resort (not unlike the character of Nicole Mossbacher), The White Lotus updates such material with a focus on the hotel staff in addition to its patrons. Such an approach 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. Some viewers may have been unsatisfied with their favorites’ ultimate decisions, but how these ends comment on the show’s central themes justifies The White Lotus’ season 1 ending.

What Happens in The White Lotus’s Ending

The HBO Max show The White Lotus packs many rich (in more ways than one), well-developed characters into a relatively short runtime. 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 White Lotus’ season 1 ending with an increasingly claustrophobic sense of dread.

In The White Lotus’ season 1 ending, Shane kills his adversary Armond (albeit less intentionally than perhaps expected); Rachel decides to stay the course with her husband Shane in their nascent unhappy marriage; 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; and, Quinn Mossbacher self-actualizes, dipping the boarding queue to join his newfound Hawaiian friends as they train to row to the big island. 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

There are a number of reasons why Armond had to die, mostly having to do with the themes of classism that lurk underneath the surface of White’s anthology series. From the opening moments of The White Lotus, 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 which of the colorful cast of characters will end up in that box? And in The White Lotus’ season 1 ending, they get their answer: Armond. Armond represents the maddening torment of working in hospitality, particularly catering to the vapid whims of the carelessly rich. His fate in the HBO Max series is begun with the double-booking of the Pineapple Suite, but it’s sealed with his falling off the wagon.

Related: What To Expect From Big Little Lies Season 3

While it may or may not have been an accident, 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 is important because it 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. It’s a bleak end to a sad story for the 2021 TV show, perhaps, but it’s designed this way precisely to highlight the horrors of contemporary western class stratification. And White at least gives Armond 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 gets has to do with Rachel and Shane remaining together. In The White Lotus, the character 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, becoming a perfect image of the spoiled, hyper-masculine, self-indulgent man-child. Alexandra Daddario’s 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 Shane — but when she goes searching for advice, she finds Belinda is fresh out of 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 and practical option.

In response to The White Lotus ending criticisms, 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 all its advantages, and is therefore naturally incentivized to stay. Second, he 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. This care for the character is essential to his screen presence, especially when White wrote and directed the performance himself. And finally, White cites the difficulty of the situation for Alexandra Daddario’s Rachel as her situation is rather prohibitive — it’d just be easier to stay the course than back out now, on their honeymoon of all places.

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 in a hearty 20 years as a creative, both critically and commercially, and his diversity of experience 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.” But in the same breath, he places himself in Rachel’s shoes, often sacrificing his principles to be a writer-for-hire. Finally, his experience as a white man informs his perspectives on Steve Zahn’s Mark and Quinn Mossbacher. In the former, he places his struggles to atone for “the things he can’t control.” In the latter, 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.

Related: The Chair Season 1 Ending & The Decision About Bill Explained

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 is designed to provoke 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, Paula taking Olivia to task for sticking with her problematic family when push comes to shove, or Quinn choosing personal freedom over wealth in the end, the show functions as a clash of contemporary ideologies. The parable of Belinda and Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge, Legally Blonde) 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.

What White Lotus Season 1’s Ending Means For Season 2


The White Lotus’ season 1 ending sets up several possibilities for Mike White’s anthology series. First, The White Lotus season 2 will continue its rampant themes of classism and imperialism, though it will follow a different cast and, reportedly, a different setting. The only character set to reappear thus far is Jennifer Coolidge’s Tanya McQuoid. Another thing that fans can expect, based on White Lotus’ season 1 ending, is that there’s no telling where White will take the storylines, and more often than not the comfort of wealth will win out over real morality. Parks and Rec star Aubrey Plaza has already been cast in White Lotus season 2 and there’s no doubt she’ll bring more wit and dark humor into White’s drama anthology. Finally, audiences can expect to see more people (this time season 2 is set in Italy), wealthy and not, living their lives in the best way that they know how. Tanya McQuoid will be the connecting thread between the two seasons unless Coolidge is somehow playing a different character. All of that being said The White Lotus’ season 1 ending sets up season 2 in its themes – now with audiences knowing to expect the unexpected.

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 — never mind the pillaging of Hawaiian culture and resources by their colonial forefathers. Nicole and Mark repair their marriage — they’re perfect for each other, as secure in their status as they are insecure in themselves. Rachel rejoins Shane because the world is a scary place without the privileges (and protections) money affords. 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.

Next: Big Little Lies Season 2 Ending Explained: What Happens To The Monterey 5

Young sheldon Subtly Reminds Fans That Georges Dark End Is Coming

Young Sheldon Creator Reveals How They Could Avoid George’s Death

About The Author

Gabriel Ponniah
(139 Articles Published)

Gabriel Ponniah is a filmmaker and writer originally from Columbia, Maryland. He has worked both in and out of the entertainment industry as a freelance creator and for several production companies in film, tv, and talent development. Gabriel is excited for his eminent return to work in the industry in Los Angeles after graduating from the University of Texas at Austin with highest honors in Radio-Television-Film. When he’s not dissecting films, he’s playing basketball, cooking, or cheering on his favorite sports team: The New Orleans Saints.

More From Gabriel Ponniah