Courtesy, HBO Studio

White Lotus Season Finale Review

12:00 January 04, 2023
By: Graham Andreae

You can say a lot of things about White Lotus—that it's vulgar, offensive, crass, but to tell you the truth, the thing that most resonated about the series finale is that it got to me. It's not something that happens often in film. Film being the medium of feelings, it is a high-water mark when a film makes us feel something, even better if it is something we do not expect.

So, when I tuned in for the series finale of White Lotus, with much internal protest, I was not expecting what I got, which was catharsis. The feeling of unexpected emotional validation to a problem that we have been white knuckling our way through.

That said, there is a lot going on in the series finale that makes it what it is. Aubrey Plaza's performance is arguably the best she's ever given. Gone is the angsty teenage girl, replaced by a strong, complex woman. Her performance alone is worth watching. The complexity of the love quadrangle is also a breath of fresh air from the tired, but classic, love triangle.

On top of that, the performance of returning actress Jennifer Coolidge is additionally complex and layered. Her babe in the woods routine is incredibly deep and deeply funny also. The humor present throughout each of the story arcs is an important element in making us forget that at the end of the day, this is a tragedy.

There is a lot going on here that is worth noting from a technical perspective. The music is phenomenal—setting the stage tonally, as all great scores do. The way that the show looks, the saturated, heavy yellows, convey an almost sexual tension that does the magician's flourish to keep our attention away from what the writer's don't want us to notice. It's almost sexual. And the plot is also well handled. Although we know how it is going to end, it does a similar magic trick there. We forget that the show is full of death right until the very end. We don't' know what to make of it, but we do know that it is fun, and these days we need as much of that as week can get. But White Lotus succeeded in making me forget the very first scene.

In fact, this is a landmark in how, if you are going to do it, to do a flashback properly. It becomes a challenge on the part of the show, to keep showing you new mysteries to keep your mind busy so you forget about how it ends. Even if you do know how it ends, the reality is that it doesn't matter as much because you want to see how they get there. It's almost an Apollo 13 moment. Obviously, it's a fundamentally different kind of story, but, for those of us who don't fall for the misdirection, we want to know how we got to the opening scene of the season. For those of you wondering what makes a flashback great, look no further. This is a Harvard Business class in how to pull off a flashback: consistently perfect misdirection. Even the people who don't want to be fooled can understand that the mystery presented is a treat all its own.

The finale also brings catharsis. It brings it to the entire cast in a way that both surprises and somehow manages to emerge unscathed as anything but cliché. Whatever you may think of White Lotus, there is an uncomfortable truth to it: it's simply great television. If you're wondering what the appeal is of the show, it's this: it consistently surprises, and the surprises are great.

This is great television and I look forward to seeing where this show takes us in the next season. I hope it surprises us again.

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