There are two obvious sides in The White Lotus — the self-awareness-deficient subtle monsters who seem allergic to contentedness despite their stations in life, and the staff of the luxury resort who spend their day’s tongue-in-teeth trying to put up with a shit job and those shit people. And then there’s Rachel Patton (Alexandra Daddario), a newlywed former struggling freelance journalist caught in the middle as she begins to see the ugly side of the manbaby real estate prince whose net worth is about to lift her out of economic precariousness. A side effect of their relationship, but not an inconsequential feature.
It’s easy to feel bad for Rachel. Whether she’s getting judged, crushed, imposed upon, or seeing that stark contrast between Shane’s (Jake Lacy) charms and his possessiveness, we read the heartbreak in her eyes. That’s why the season’s ending (that I’m about to spoil — run, flee, hide if you haven’t seen the finale) is so affecting.
Set after initially leaving him (and after Shane accidentally kills Armond after driving him to fall off the wagon), Rachel surprisingly shows up at the airport, resisting all of her better instincts about their divergent personalities and views of what their marriage and her career should be, and actively choosing the dark side. This kicks up some “don’t go in there!” passion from all of us, some disappointment, and also some questioning of whether we’d make the same choice if it meant losing the creature comforts of life with empty people who happen to possess full bank accounts. Short answer: yeah, probably.
For Daddario, who we spoke with ahead of the season premiere, The White Lotus represented a chance to comment on “privileged people who don’t really have a sense of the world around them.”
While the assholes among us inflict pain by way of annoyance, anxiety, and sheer exhaustion, Daddario sees the nuance while also remembering the toll, which she experienced firsthand while working as a waitress early in her career.
“No one’s all bad or all good. Well, some people are all bad, yes. Don’t get me wrong. I can name a few. But I do think that there’s this in-between where there’s no self-awareness and you just sort of go through life, and you’re… I waited tables in New York for four years and I still have scars from some of the ways that I was treated by guests and the way that I was treated as a teenager and a young girl in her early twenties. I won’t forget some of the negative things that were said to me or the way I was treated in that environment. Which is a subtle thing, but those small things, like treating people poorly, I’m sure those people are good people, but they don’t have the perspective or understanding to provide empathy.”
It’s not written anywhere that Rachel has to lose her soul and her own ability to feel empathy if she stays with Shane, but it’s implied by the apparent awfulness of all the guests and the notion of distance from her past life that she will. The further you get from being in a place of subservience and in that spot where you don’t have the safety net of money, the easier it is to forget the things you swore you’d never be like. Hypocrisy is an easy line to cross. We all forget where we come from, to an extent. Because we’re often running away from it.
“If the show is about what it means to have money or not have money, and what the power of money is,” Daddario says before pausing to consider Rachel’s thought process. “She’s ultimately like, ‘I should leave him because I can’t communicate with him and I’m not happy.’ And then she ultimately decides, ‘well, it’s easier to stay.’ And I don’t know if that’s from self-doubt. I imagine there’s self-doubt. I imagine that it’s fear.”
That fear is legit. Perhaps it’s defeatist to say, but the romance of being a starving artist, a gallant crusader, or even a disinterested slacker doesn’t quite stand up to the reality that comes with the low paycheck and the terror of being a medical bill or bad break away from begging people to stay on their couch. It’s not so much about stuff or staying in fancy resorts on lux vacations. Not at its most base level and not for Rachel. Instead, it’s about achieving a measure of calm in a shitstorm-prone world. Some slack. A damned break from worry.
Now, people go overboard and become gluttonous and awful. Proving that money is like booze — a little takes the edge off and too much causes you to talk without thinking, act out, and ruin everyone else’s good time. But I digress. The point is, of course, Rachel goes back to Shane because she realizes the harsh reality that it is better to be miserable with money than be miserable because you don’t have any — a very cynical thought to close an article on and to close a season on, but something worth contemplation as we look back on a show that so skillfully satirized privilege, class dynamics, white victimhood, and the gulf between the haves and have-nots, begging us to look in the mirror to see how much bad or regrettable behavior felt familiar.