Breaking Down the ‘White Lotus’ Finale & the Show’s Unexpected Success

Let's talk about "Departures," the season finale of HBO's buzziest new show.

HBO The White Lotus Finale Explained
Murray Bartlett as Armond in HBO’s The White Lotus. Photograph by Mario Perez/HBO

Warning: The following contains spoilers for HBO’s The White Lotus

Lost amid the slow-burn obscurity and tropical Succession-on-Xanax vibes of HBO’s The White Lotus  is the reminder that this is a murder mystery at its core. You’ll remember way back in the first episode, “Arrivals,” we were tipped off to the inevitable tragedy that was to occur at the resort. One can be forgiven for being lulled into a false sense of security what with Belinda’s (Natasha Rothwell crushing it all season) deep-tissue massages and Quinn’s (Fred Hechinger) daily ocean vista wake ups. Sunlit wealth porn is intoxicating, to say the least.

Yet over the course the show’s six-episode run audiences have continued to cast suspicion on each and every character at one time or another. In the end, however, Occam’s Razor prevails. The fates of these intertwined characters were sealed from the very moment they arrived and the most obvious outcome came to pass.

The finale “Departures” concludes with Shane (Jake Lacy) accidentally stabbing Armond (Murray Bartlett, earning every ounce of that forthcoming Emmy statue) after the hotel manager broke into his room and, uhh, left him a parting gift in his suitcase. Really, this was the only way the story could play out. Armond had been circling the drain all season and his conflict with the hotel’s resident rich Mama’s boy was the most suitable vehicle for creator Mike White’s endgame. But rather than feel unfulfilled by the unsurprising development, The White Lotus uses it to twist the knife in its ongoing searing exploration of class and wealth.

Shane gets off scot-free (admittedly, it was unintentional, but we were all rooting for that douchebag to be punished) in what becomes a thesis statement for the finale. Rachel (Alexandra Daddario), embracing her own agency as recently as last episode, slinks back to him in the end. Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge, great all season) dashes Belinda’s dreams in favor of her own romantic chase. Kai’s (Kekoa Scott Kekumano) life is ruined after Paula (Brittany O’Grady) Lady Macbeth-ed him into breaking into the Mossbacher’s room. The incident, and by proxy his suffering, brings the despicable “it’s hard to be a white guy right now” Mossbacher clan closer together. (How great was Steve Zahn this season?)

The tragicomedy ends with the rich winning, succeeding and thriving while everyone else who exists in the real world in the shadow of the 1% losing or getting screwed over. Welcome to the hellscape that is modern economics. May I interest you in a coupon for being treated as a second class citizen for the rest of your life?

The White Lotus Finale Explained Recap Spoilers
Jake Lacy, Alexandra Daddario, Molly Shannon in HBO’s The White Lotus. Photograph by Mario Perez/HBO

The White Lotus has been a deliberately uncomfortable but often engrossing watch. That discomfort works for the quirky satirical humor and bits of the drama. But it’s so obscure and vague at times that it can feel like a series of disparately connected shorts rather than a series. Vignettes of malaise and misery interspersed with ASMR flavorings. Was it entertaining? Absolutely. But was it also an esoteric, glacially paced downer? That’s fair to say, too. So is it surprising that HBO has doled out a second season order for the limited series?

The show is averaging less than 500,000 live linear viewers on HBO, ranking 14th among HBO’s active shows (not canceled or concluded even if they’re in the offseason). In the key 18-49 demo, it ranks 13th in raw live linear viewership for the premium cable network. But currently ranking #1 among all series on HBO Max, The White Lotus has achieved consistent week over week growth for both premiere and digital audience, leading into the finale episode, per HBO. However, no specific viewership stats have been provided so we don’t really know what that means. 

Conventional wisdom would suggest that something more sturdy and traditional such as Mare of Easttown or The Undoing would be the recipients of a renewal. Yet despite The White Lotus‘ malleable disposition, it appears to have developed into a buzzy oft-discussed hit across linear and streaming.

“Crash and burn,” Armond snarls before snorting a line of Ketamine that will ultimately drop the question mark from his fate. That may be the decisive end for his character, but The White Lotus is on the opposite trajectory. Breaking Down the ‘White Lotus’ Finale & the Show’s Unexpected Success