Post Mortems

White Lotus Finale: Mike White Explains Why [Spoiler] Had to Die, Dissects 'Crap' Climax: 'I Had to Show It'

HBO’s six-episode social satire The White Lotus wrapped Season 1 on Sunday with an episode that resolved the series’ central “Who’s in the Coffin?!” mystery, while also bringing some degree of closure to many of the show’s in-limbo relationships (read our full recap here). But questions remain, and we went straight to the source — series creator Mike White — for answers.

TVLINE | You kept us guessing until the very end about who was in the coffin. How much did you wrestle with the decision as you were mapping out the story?
It was kind of baked in [from the start]. I knew how it was all going to play out when I started writing. I wanted to give Armond a good send-off. He had the best seating ever and then he had the greatest act of defiance ever — taking a crap in someone’s bag. There’s really nowhere to go from there.

TVLINE | Between this and the rimming scene in Episode 4, did Murray Bartlett know the full extent of what he was getting himself into when he signed on to the show?
[Laughs] No. I actually think I told him that the shot of him crapping in the suitcase was not going to make it into the [final cut]. I think I said, “Oh, I’m just going to use this as a set-up.” But then later when we were [editing] I [realized] I had to show it. And I was like, “I need to tell him.” But I never did. I guess I’m kind of procrastinating. He’s going to go down in history as the guy who ate out ass and then took a crap out of his ass. [Laughs]

Where does one go to get a realistic fake turd made?
We used two different CGI companies. My editor and the assistant were like, “This doesn’t look real enough.” And I was like, “Should it look that real? The audience might not be able to handle it.”

It was CGI not a physical prop?
We had a physical prop made for the close-up. And then there’s a CGI shot of it coming out [of Armond’s ass]. By the way, I love that this is your line of inquiry. [Laughs]

Switching gears, did Shane and Rachel’s reunion at the end make you happy or sad?
I felt sort of happy that they [ended up] together. The emotion of the music and [the look on] their faces, I was like, “Awww, that’s nice.” As far as what it means in terms of her idealism and what she’s choosing, it’s bittersweet. I don’t judge her for it. It was always about her choosing that lifestyle and whatever compromises she was going to have to make in connection with that. And so it made sense for the character.

The way he tightly embraced her, it seemed to me like maybe the death of Armond had changed him and he was appreciating her more. Am I reading too much into that?
I think that’s right. It’s paralleled with the Nicole and Mark storyline, where some kind of traumatic thing can change the DNA of a situation and make someone a little more sympathetic. I kind of wanted Shane to look like a little boy lost. Suddenly, all of his swagger is gone. And I find that that’s often true with those kind of guys. They’re so used to winning that when something bad happens they don’t really know how to process it. They’re often a little lost.

In your mind, do Nicole and Mark run off the plane when they realize Quinn never boarded?
They don’t let you off the plane anymore. Once you’re on the plane you can’t get off the plane.

Jennifer Coolidge has publicly said that she almost backed out of playing Tanya because she wasn’t in the right mindset due to the pandemic, but at the 11th hour you convinced her to conquer her fears. How personally satisfying is it for you to now see her earning some of the best reviews of her career?
[Laughs] It’s hugely satisfying because we’ve been friends for a long time. She’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. She’s also a really nice person. And we had some false starts with other [projects] we tried to work on together, so this is very gratifying. It’s probably one of the most satisfying aspects of the whole experience for me.

I’m obsessed with the score. At what point in the process did you nail down the specific sound?
With all of these pretty white people sitting around the hotel [during the day], I wanted to feel like there was going to be a human sacrifice at night. I wanted it to have this sort of tropical anxiety feel. I was looking into Tahitian drums and different kinds of sounds, and then one of the editors stumbled on Cristobal Tapia de Veer’s music from another show and we ended up using that in the temp score. And it was perfect. He’s just an inspired guy.

Note: White recently spoke to TVLine about White Lotus Season 2 — read that interview here.