A Lot of People Forgot Mike White and ‘The White Lotus’ Are Funny On Purpose

The murder is superfluous to the vibes, not the other way around

Mike White and Haley Lu Richardson at the Los Angeles Season 2 Premiere of HBO Original Series "The ...
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lol-er alert

An alien crash-landing onto Earth or a foreign national cursed with the tedious, low-impact labor of analyzing American civilian social media would be led to believe that The White Lotus is the most confusing, archaic, and esoteric piece of text committed to the English language. It’s not just the theorizing rampant on TikTok and Twitter, but a number of post-episode post-mortems, including one on HBO itself, bloomed in their ability to explain what was happening on screen. Were the gay guys trying to kill Tanya? What’s the deal with the DiGrasso family relatives? It even goes so far into costume design: consider a headline on the veritable Today website asks a question on the minds of many HBO viewers of late: “There’s a reason Portia dresses like that in ‘White Lotus,’

It’s not just that the post-episode blog landscape inspires frantic, relentless theorizing and breakdowns — this is old news by now — but that in the aftermath of the show’s finale on Sunday, we were inundated with interviews with show creator, director, and writer Mike White and a number of the cast members, all tasked with the joyless slog of explaining the show’s ambiguities. What did happen with Harper and Cameron? Or Ethan and Daphne? Frankly, that has nothing to do with me or my understanding of the show, and to keep asking these poor actors to explain something deliberately not shown on purpose is an insult to their intelligence (medium) and ours (low, at best) alike.

What this hyperfocus on The White Lotus’s plot ignores in its literal mindedness is that, for better and worse, Mike White is a funny and smart guy who knows what he’s doing and is mostly just having a good time doing it. Read any interview with him — no, seriously, they’re all good — and more than he’s willing to divulge the inner workings of his brain, it’s clear that he’s just a guy who loves a good LOL. Look at him on Survivor!! After the finale of the show, writer Jake Bittle tweeted about the show failing to adhere to tropes of the “murder mystery” genre, before a bunch of people jumped in to defend White, saying it’s actually not really supposed to be a murder mystery but actually just a vibes comedy about the rich. I can see why this distinction is confusing, because the bulk of the writing and analysis on White Lotus ignored its more comedic elements — even investigated some of them — in lieu of its dense, over-plotted second half of the season. That the Internet conformed around one distinct read of the show, a red herring-laden puzzle box, does a great disservice to the act of just watching a well-made show on Sunday night with your roommate.

No hate to the dedicated fandom whose incessant questioning have made White’s show the king of SEO, but everyone perhaps could just benefit from remembering: the show is funny. When White doesn’t show you what happened between two characters, he did it on purpose — either to be frustrating or obtuse or narratively engaging, and that’s totally fine. He’s a lol-er — not a bad boyfriend willfully withholding information.

The same type of attitude could be applied to Todd Field, the writer and director of TÁR whose laugh-out-loud funny film is now being subjected to the same types of robust, soulless analysis, coming down to an in-depth read at Slate purporting that the final third of the film is a dream so as to not have to sit with its own strange ambiguity. While the analysis of TÁR’s more hallucinatory aspects feels not half-baked, it’s just ignoring that, like, the ending of TÁR is funny. She goes to conduct a video game symphony! Sure, it’s a metaphor if you want it to be, but maybe it’s just that Monster Hunter is a really popular game, and that many working conductors wind up doing jobs like this. Todd Field is having a laugh; her real name is “Linda Tarr”! Is that a dream too?

Anyway, I will be sad to lose the weekly voice of White via The White Lotus, a show that makes me laugh more than I wonder “what will happen,” though I am sure there will soon be another thing that will make me laugh more than I wonder what will happen. The thing about HBO is that even though it’s not TV, it’s still TV. If people really wanted to dissect something, you could have gone to bat for Westworld before it was too late.