Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The White Lotus’ Murray Bartlett sheds some light on HBO’s dark new comedy

The series premiere, "Arrivals," sets up a few season-long mysteries, including: Who's in the pine box?

Image of Jolene Purdy and Murray Bartlett in HBO's The White Lotus
Jolene Purdy and Murray Bartlett star in The White Lotus
Photo: Mario Perez/HBO

This post discusses plot points from The White Lotus series premiere, “Arrivals.”

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Mike White’s The White Lotus is a Venus flytrap of a TV show, its idyllic setting obscuring the rising tensions between the entitled and the exploited. The eponymous locale is a Hawaiian resort that draws pleasure-seekers from all over the world, especially privileged Americans who descend upon the island like, well, parasites—taking what they need with little thought of the ecosystem they’re disturbing. White’s brilliant satire follows the lives of several White Lotus employees and a group of especially demanding guests over the course of a week that becomes more harrowing with each new installment.

The cast of the limited series includes Murray Bartlett, Natasha Rothwell, Connie Britton, Jennifer Coolidge, Steve Zahn, Jake Lacy, Alexandra Daddario, Sydney Sweeney, Brittany O’Grady, and Enlightened alum Lukas Gage. As the resort manager Armond, Bartlett does his best to keep this paradise running smoothly, even as his hard-won sobriety grows more tenuous. The series premiere, “Arrivals,” introduces the groups on either side of this class divide, as well as some big questions. If you’re looking for something to replace your Mare Of Easttown theorizing, the most pressing of these questions is probably, whose body is in the large wooden box marked “human remains” being loaded onto a plane in the first five minutes of the episode? How long before the honeymoon’s over for Shane Patton (Lacy) and Rachel “Undecided” (Daddario)? Head on over to Roxana Hadadi’s recap to share your best guesses.

But there’s something about Armond’s forced brightness and the sneer he can barely keep at bay that invites just as much speculation; this newest group of VIPs already seems to be getting under his skin. The A.V. Club spoke to Bartlett, who recently starred in Netflix’s Tales In The City, about his character, who we joked was a kind of modern-day Mr. Roarke (though, actually, Roselyn Sanchez will portray a contemporary Roarke in Fox’s Fantasy Island reboot). In the premiere, Armond advises his trainee Lani (Jolene Purdy) to avoid making any kind of impression on their guests, lest she intrude on their dream vacations by, you know, being a person with thoughts and wants of her own. The Sex And The City and Looking alum shed some light on Armond’s self-negation, and the very real danger these new guests pose to his recovery: “He’s already worn down. He’s starting to feel like he’s losing his grip, and then these particularly obnoxious people tip him over the edge.” Bartlett describes Armond’s self-destructive tendencies as “a very recognizable human mechanism,” and says his character arc raises questions of “the sort of vulnerability that triggers this behavior. What is this dark part of the self that someone goes to when that happens?”

According to Bartlett, White has engineered “a real rollercoaster” for Armond, who starts to break from the straight and narrow the longer he’s exposed to guests like Shane, who won’t accept anything less than what he believes he deserves—which is really what his parents’ money can buy. Bartlett praises White’s balance of humor and conflict, but says “there is definitely a real darkness that underpins” the series. The actor was also drawn to the critique that builds from the moment The White Lotus opens: “This show throws up concepts that we need to take a really good, hard look at. All of these characters exist in all of us and they represent a lot of the ugliest sides of human nature.” Bartlett says the show aims to take a closer look at “how Hawaii and its indigenous people are impacted by the privileged people, who are white. There’s a lot of division at the moment that we need to deal with. This manifestation of privilege and power—economically, racially, culturally—is at the root of a lot of our stumbling blocks. I feel like this show comes at a perfect time to hold up a mirror and be like, this is who we are. Is this who we want to be?”

Combining acerbic commentary with genuinely moving insights is nothing new for White, the writer, director, and co-creator (along with star Laura Dern) of Enlightened, one of the A.V. Club’s best shows of the 2010s. Though it’s just getting started, The White Lotus promises a similarly engrossing experience, one that also explores the respect afforded to different types of work, a hierarchy that was brought into sharp relief during the pandemic. The interactions between the resort’s employees and its guests grow increasingly fraught, especially between Armond and Shane. Whether or not that disdain turns into something violent remains to be seen.