The White Lotus finale review – an absolute televisual chef’s kiss

Yet again, this show has proved that it is possible to make outstanding TV that both plays to the crowd and refuses to sing the classics. What a glorious way to see off the year

There can be a tendency for television shows – particularly popular, much discussed, endlessly meme-ed ones – to hedge their bets in order to protect the franchise. Often, when a drama becomes a bona fide hit, it is less likely to plump for a definitive ending. Wanting to preserve the magic for another season, it ekes it out just enough to satisfy while dangling a carrot for the next go around. It’s safe to say that The White Lotus (Sky Atlantic) has no such qualms about choosing a side.

What an ending this was. It wrapped up its storylines with decreasing levels of subtlety, from Albie being “played” by Lucia, moving through the resilience of Daphne’s determined denial, ramping all the way up to Tanya the destroyer, and ultimately the destroyed. Did you see it coming? Tanya was always in danger – “These gays! They’re trying to murder me!” – but it was a chef’s kiss to have her almost get away, having shot her way through her enemies, only to be undone by her own poor aim, and possibly the fact that she didn’t take off her heels before jumping.

Played … Adam DiMarco as Albie.
Played … Adam DiMarco as Albie. Photograph: HBO

Tanya’s final flourishes – to ask a dying Quentin if her husband Greg was having an affair, as if that was what mattered most, and to give herself the briefest of pep talks with “you got this” before plummeting off the side of the boat – were outstanding. The White Lotus likes the least deserving to triumph, and Greg didn’t even need to appear on screen to be the winner here. He will surely inherit Tanya’s fortune, and he won’t even have to share it. I am desperately disappointed not to have a third season of Tanya, if only because it deprives us of Jennifer Coolidge in the role of her lifetime. But it was impeccably done. When Martin McDonagh was promoting this year’s brilliant The Banshees of Inisherin, he told the Observer that “no one really tries to make sad films any more”. I’m not sure The White Lotus is sad so much as a tragic farce, but I kept thinking of what McDonagh said throughout this season. It is surprisingly invigorating to watch a drama and know that it is not going to end in easy resolution or happiness. RIP Tanya, you were one of the greats.

There was resolution, but like so much in this series, it was transactional. The marriages of Ethan and Harper and Daphne and Cameron found their way towards a sort of chosen and hard-won contentment in the end. We never quite found out what happened with Cameron and Harper, which made it all the more powerful, nor did it feel the need to make explicit what happened between Ethan and Daphne, though we can guess at a likely scenario. This has been gorgeously acted by everyone involved, but there is a particularly fine moment for Meghann Fahy’s Daphne, when Ethan tells her he thinks something happened between Harper and Cam. She says nothing, but in a brief look, conveys a woman breaking apart before reassembling herself and working out the next move. “You just do whatever you have to do not to feel like a victim in life,” she says, before leading Ethan away. Similarly, there is a fleeting moment when Daphne calls Cam to come and speak to their son – the son she implied to Harper might not be Cameron’s after all. We see him swallowing down his disgust, before emerging from the bathroom a smiling, doting husband and father.

A woman breaking apart before reassembling herself … Meghann Fahy as Daphne.
A woman breaking apart before reassembling herself … Meghann Fahy as Daphne. Photograph: HBO

It would be hard to walk away feeling short-changed by any of it. Jack became the villain he was always going to be, and it was frightening and tense, though perhaps his warning to Portia, to flee and not ask questions, was a sort of kindness. (So many lines from this finale will end up as memes, and “So you fuck your uncle?” is surely destined to be one of them.) Dominic will probably get another chance with his wife, thanks to Albie, who was of course being fleeced by Lucia, and entered into a complicated transaction of his own to “save” her, though he didn’t seem too surprised to discover that it was a scam all along. And I would happily watch a spin-off series involving Lucia and Mia taking Valentina on a big night out, in real time, over several glorious hours.

This has been fabulous entertainment to see off the year. It is clever, funny, heightened television that both plays to the crowd and refuses to sing the classics as they are supposed to be, preferring to do its own versions instead. The only question left unanswered is this: who will transfer to The White Lotus season three, now that “the new diva of Palermo” has had her last breakfast buffet?


Rebecca Nicholson

The GuardianTramp

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