‘The White Lotus’: What Does the HBO Series Say About Privilege?

The White Lotus is the latest series to dominate HBO’s lineup, and the season 1 finale left fans with a lot to think about. Mike White’s dramedy features a cast of mostly white, wealthy characters whose privilege is on full display from the very first episode. Waiting on the vacationers are the staff members of the White Lotus resort, all of whom got the short end of the stick during episode 6, “The Departures.” Was that intentional? If so, what does the show want to say about class and privilege?

[Spoiler warning: This article contains spoilers for The White Lotus Episode 6.]

What happened during ‘The White Lotus’ finale?

Murray Bartlett, Jolene Purdy, Natasha Rothwell, and Lukas Gage in 'The White Lotus' premiere, which is paralleled in the finale. They're standing on the beach and waving.
Murray Bartlett, Jolene Purdy, Natasha Rothwell, and Lukas Gage in ‘The White Lotus’ | HBO/Mario Perez

The White Lotus finale sees the guests of the Hawaiian resort wrapping up their vacation, but not without leaving devastation in their wake. Every working-class character in the show winds up worse off after their stay. The resort manager, Armond (Murray Bartlett), even loses his life over his issues with Shane (Jake Lacy).

That’s the biggest example of the show’s commentary about wealth and privilege. After Shane uses his connections to get Armond in trouble with his boss, the White Lotus manager heads to his room to get revenge. Shane pulls out a knife to protect himself and winds up killing Armond — and he walks away from the situation with no consequences.

Of course, Armond isn’t the only person whose life is changed because of the visitors. Kai (Kekoa Kekumano) gets caught with the Mossbachers’ stolen jewelry, taking the fall for Paula’s (Brittany O’Grady) scheme, while she gets to return home. Meanwhile, Brenda (Natasha Rothwell) finds herself betrayed by Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge), who no longer wants to fund her business venture.

Even Rachel, who teeters the line between wealthy and privileged and a once-struggling journalist, ends the series stuck in an unhappy marriage. The overarching theme seems to be that the wealthy characters can afford to make mistakes, while the privileged ones remain stuck with theirs.

Fans of the HBO show are discussing its central theme

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With so many privileged characters avoiding consequences — while the White Lotus staff suffers — the show’s message hit fans loud and clear. Many of them took to Reddit to discuss the point the HBO series strives to make.

“I like how this show portrayed real life, which is the rich white people just got away with everything including murder,” one Redditor said.

Another Redditor referenced Olivia (Sydney Sweeney) and Paula’s conversation, where Olivia chides her friend for almost letting “something bad” happen. She never considers that something horrible did occur because Kai isn’t in her personal orbit. That self-centered approach to life defines most of the characters, and it negatively impacts those lacking Olivia’s level of privilege:

“That was fun and… really depressing? Anyone else feel that? ‘Something bad almost happened.’ ‘Something bad did happen.’ To all the working-class characters. Armand, Kai, Belinda. The ending is smart. It’s just pretty brutal.”

One Reddit user summed the whole theme up perfectly: “If you are mad that nobody faced any consequences, that’s the point.”

Mike White says there’s a clear difference between the vacationers and staff on ‘The White Lotus’

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Judging by Mike White’s recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, viewers are right about The White Lotus‘ central theme. White, who wrote and directed the show, emphasized the difference between the guests and the workers at the Hawaiian resort. Specifically, he noted that the visitors can move forward despite their mistakes. The staff members are the ones who suffer the consequences of their actions:

“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.”

He added that the guests then “move onto the next thing.”

It’s a bleak ending for a series that kept humor and a certain lightheartedness going throughout season 1. However, that darker underbelly was present since Lani (Jolene Purdy) was forced to give birth in Armond’s office during the premiere. It adds an intriguing layer to the show. It also makes you wonder what themes Mike White will convey in season 2.

The White Lotus is currently streaming on HBO Max.