This post discusses plot points from the season-one finale of The White Lotus.
Mike White’s The White Lotus has reached its final destination (for the season, anyway) with “Departures.” One of the season’s biggest questions—who’s in the pine box?—was answered, but as Roxana Hadadi noted throughout her coverage, this pitch-black comedy also offered up meaty discussions about privilege and the disparate, but equally predetermined fates of characters like Shane Patton (Jake Lacy) and Armond (Murray Bartlett).
But there was one character who did manage to defy his destiny: Quinn Mossbacher, the low-key wild card throughout the season. When he was first introduced, the tech-obsessed teen seemed no more capable of thinking beyond his vaunted position than the rest of his family members, refusing to look up from his many screens to take in the natural grandeur around him. By the fourth episode, though, Quinn was calling his family and all the other White Lotus guests “parasites.” In the final moments of the finale, he leaves his family, and possibly his spoiled existence, behind.
Fred Hechinger, who plays Quinn, says the character’s insights shouldn’t come as a surprise: “There’s sort of a dumb misconception that if a person is quieter, that means they have less to say or that speech is the only form of deep expression. I think that’s very much not true.” He notes that “everyone, especially Quinn is grappling with the futility of words. His family talks incessantly as a form of defense, just to feel good and protect themselves.” The A.V. Club spoke to Hechinger—who’s having a banner year, with roles in The White Lotus, The Underground Railroad, and the Fear Street trilogy—about the season’s funniest and most surprising moments, as well as what he learned about directing from Mike White.
The A.V. Club: There have been a lot of theories about who ends up in the box in the plane, but there’s just as much speculation about what the show is trying to say, whether it’s about privilege or masculinity. Do you have any major takeaways?
Fred Hechinger: I love talking about the show and characters and hearing from other people, but I do think that the thing that is hard about the press side of it, is to try and almost be above it in a way. Like, if I could deliver a takeaway, then there wouldn’t need to be a show. I do have a ton of thoughts and ideas about it. It’s exciting, and everyone should be arguing and listening and enjoying together what they think it’s about for them. What was really thrilling about making it, and also now getting to see it come out week by week, is that I’m overwhelmed with my love of all the actors in it, and my pride for being able to be a part of it, and how shape-shifting and large it is. Because to me, that feels true to life.
Again, I want to be apart from the thing and understand it and all that stuff, but what ends up happening is, I get distracted and lost in human interaction. There are all these massive issues, and really life-threatening things that people in corporations need to change drastically. At the same time, it’s like, you wake up with a mission, then you get to the end of the day and you realize that you kind of laughed for a lot and cried at this one point, and got into an argument at dinner and, sort of, had to deal with your family… I know this is long-winded, but it’s just like it is in the show, people are trying to have some kind of control over what the meaning of their life is. There are moments where that happens, but at the end of the day, it’s a lot of characters who are real people that we get to talk about, and be with momentarily. That’s sort of how I see it.
AVC: It’s almost as if, as viewers, we’re making the same mistake as the people in the show, by trying to sum it up.
FH: Yeah, and sometimes it’s not a mistake. I mean, there are moments where it’s vital to say that Tanya is taking advantage of Belinda. And at the same time, I love both of those characters so much, and every time I see them, I’m filled with love for them. Even though I’m also filled with increased judgment and wish that Tanya wouldn’t put her insecurity into Belinda in a way that harms her. So it’s this thing where you get perspective, and you’re able to make certain judgements, which hopefully lead to some kind of progress, but also, are inherently messy, always. It’s funny to me and interesting that people are so on the edge of their seats about what the actual meaning of the entire thing is. I’m really interested to hear and talk about it. I know that Mike definitely has tons of very eloquent things to say about that, but my enjoyment comes from something a little more mysterious. That’s just more about sitting with human beings in their messiness and glory, their failures and successes, and moments of surprise.
AVC: In the finale, we see Quinn run off at the last minute to join the canoe crew. What does that moment represent? Is this just teen rebellion or is he really rejecting his upbringing and his family in that moment?
FH: Everyone else in this family is sort of talking themselves into oblivion—not to actually understand each other or push themselves, but just to justify their existence and suppress their guilt. Ideas are kind of like Band-Aids to them. They just slap them on every which way, while continuing through something that feels rather trapped and stuck. I have some ideas about what it really is, but they flow in and out. I don’t want to take away from anyone what it means to them. But to me, it’s not a clear thing of rejection, or this or that. It’s a physical need. But I knew where it ended up; that was just an inspiring little call to push through. There’s that thing of, “just go and see what happens.” Go—really, what’s stopping you? It’s just a testament to Mike and his hidden-yet-unyielding hope and kindness. Even when he can also look, square in the face and see all this misery, he still pushes on, and I just find that very inspiring.
AVC: There are so many really funny and shocking moments throughout the season. For you, what scene was the most laugh-out-loud funny?
FH: There’s so many. When we filmed the scene in episode three, where Mark reveals that he found out that his father was gay, and Paula and Olivia are like offended by the way he does it. A lot of those very specific lines, we couldn’t get through the scene, we were laughing so hard. It was such a joyous day to film, because it’s just the best feeling, when you look across to your other actors and the more you look at each other, you just keep breaking and you can’t stop it. We had this really wonderful script supervisor, and we were just laughing so hard, trying to hold it all back. She thought that one of the actors had forgotten the lines, so she, in the sweetest voice, yelled the line about—oh gosh, I’m now forgetting it, but a line about, basically, what classification, like whether they’re a twink or a bear. Hearing her say it, and being all there together, it was so fun.
The amazing thing about also filming in the natural world is you can’t predict it. In the same way that I’m saying with how Mike treats his characters, that you have to be open to the surprise of every human being within the story, we literally had to be open to the natural world. So, I was filming the scene in the water in episode one with Steve, and a turtle appeared between us, as we’re talking to each other from afar. A turtle just pops its head out, and I started to walk with it, and the cinematographer started to follow it. It’s just these things you could never plan, and you’re just suddenly in the moment of this great, wondrous thing.
I loved this show so much that I would hang out and watch scenes that I wasn’t in, just because I wanted to watch as much as I could. I mean, with everybody, anything, whenever I got to watch Jennifer [Coolidge] and Natasha [Rothwell]’s work, it not only makes me laugh so hard, but it also surprises you with these wells of emotion, and I think that those things are connected. Again, Mike really knows that comedy and tragedy aren’t these distinct categories, they go hand in hand. We do have to take things seriously, and also not take them seriously, and I think it’s important to figure out how to do both of those at the same time. That was also really special about shooting this.
AVC: This has been a huge year for you, performance-wise, but I know that you’re also interested in directing. Did you ask Mike White for any advice, or was there something he did that really stood out to you?
FH: That’s actually part of why I wanted it to be on site as much as I could, to see him in action. Mike was so kind and open to letting me shadow whenever I wanted to be there for scenes that I wasn’t in. It was more like advice through seeing him do it, watching the process. Even though he was the writer of the script, he still went into every scene with the openness of a director, in the sense that, he’s like the God of these characters in this world, and yet once we stepped on set, he still opened it up.
So, for instance, one of my favorite moments in the whole thing is the moment between Armond and Mark at breakfast, the next day after they’d been at the Kahuna Bar. It’s a scene that on paper was shorter, it was just a moment between the two of them, but Mike is so skilled as a director, that he really was like, “Let’s stretch this as long as we can to see what comes out of it.” And in doing so, you feel a kind of longing and a side of Armond that we haven’t fully seen yet, that we’re about to see more of. You almost see the possibility in Mark to experiment, and possibly open up a side of himself, but you don’t know if it’s true or not. So it’s just this thing where Mike was just really skilled at stretching a moment. Because even if it was stretched too long, you can always cut. But when you stretch it out like that, sometimes you reveal this truthful thing about the characters that’s in the script, but hasn’t come out in that way yet. That was a major lesson for me.