Murray Bartlett on checking out of The White Lotus (for now)

This post discusses plot points from the season-one finale of The White Lotus.

The White Lotus’ six-week journey comes to an end in “Departures” with its status quo mostly intact—the guests have concluded their pantomime of wrestling with privilege and are ready to get back to their lives on the mainland. That is, except for Quinn (Fred Hechinger), who makes a sprint for freedom in the final moments. There’s also a notable absence in the group of employees bracing themselves for the new arrivals.

After nearly two months of speculation, The White Lotus answers whose human remains are being loaded onto the plane. Tonight, we bid a final farewell to embattled resort manager Armond, so forcefully portrayed by Murray Bartlett. The actor tells The A.V. Club Armond was already hanging on by a thread when this latest batch of VIPs—including Shane (Jake Lacy), who was determined to put the hotel employee in his “place”—arrived. The premiere episode drew a sharp line between the experiences of the guests and the employees, and, to a lesser extent, those of Hawaii’s Indigenous people and those ready to call paradise their own.

That divide only expanded as the season went on, and Armond tried desperately to bridge it. As the manager of the White Lotus, Armond wielded greater influence than his subordinates Dillon (Lukas Gage) and Belinda (Natasha Rothwell). When he advised Lani (Jolene Purdy), a trainee whose first and last day on the job end with her giving birth, to treat the guests as children in need of boundaries, he was trying to assert some sense of control. His efforts only grew more misguided as he became locked in a war of attrition with Shane, a feud that came to a deadly end in “Departures.” But they were ultimately almost innocuous, as Roxana Hadadi wrote in her recap: “Armond is irritated by Shane, and he thinks he’s an asshole, but he doesn’t break into the room to steal anything, or to attack him, or to otherwise threaten him bodily or monetarily. Armond simply poops in Shane’s suitcase. It’s gross, but also? It’s kind of harmless.”

The conclusion to this conflict, between a put-upon employee and a monied visitor, was almost foregone—not that Mike White hasn’t taken us through our paces in this biting story of class and self-sustained delusion. The particulars may come as a surprise, but what were the odds that Armond would strike a blow for the working class? White was forthcoming with his cast about where this story was going, so Bartlett knew from the beginning that Armond wasn’t going to be around to welcome any more VIPs: “We got all the scripts from the beginning. There was holding anything back. I mean, things shifted a little as we shot the show, but not that much.”

Bartlett tells The A.V. Club how moved he was by the ending, which he sees as a kind of release: “It was really a fitting, bittersweet end for this character. He completely unravels and I’m not sure where he goes from there. He’s sort of living a hell in his mind and in his life. And there’s something about him being released from that. And I feel like you sort of see that in his final moment a little bit. There’s some sort of, ‘Thank God. I’m out of this.’ It’s a sad end, but it feels fitting. I really feel for this character. But it made sense to me.”

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As for how his character’s fate informed his performance, Bartlett says he “really relied on [White] to help navigate through that stuff, because it is a real rollercoaster that he goes on.” The series used humor to cut through the darkness, but it was important “even when it’s a really sort of farcical moment, to play the truth or the reality of that moment, so that it’s not caricature. Because, sometimes being right on the edge of caricature is really fun.” The combination of comedy and tragedy “is like life. It can be really powerful in storytelling, because comedy tends to relax you and disarm you, and then you’ve got this dark thematic thing that comes in underneath it or with it. So, you’re willing to take the bit of pill with this sweet-tasting wine or cordial.”

Bartlett tells us a key part in Armond’s unraveling was his frequent scene partner Jake Lacy: “We really fired off each other in such a great way. We had these brilliantly written scenes where the conflict is so clear. Each character wants something and there’s no way that the other character is going to give them what they want. So it’s just this perfect recipe for conflict. And to be with an actor like that, who’s so willing to dive in and really just let loose, it was very enjoyable and satisfying.”

We spoke to Bartlett before HBO announced it was picking up the show for another season, which will have a different setting and cast, but the actor is keen to work with White again: “I love working with Mike White and I love this show so much. It would be awesome to do another season, but I don’t know how I would do that. I don’t know how you do that with a show like this. It’s designed in this one-season capsule, but I think that with a mind like Mike White, you can make anything happen.”

Whether or not Bartlett checks into The White Lotus again, he’s proud of what the team accomplished with season one, highlighting inequities and taking the piss out of the “vacation as paraxis” crowd. His time on the show also got him thinking about his experience working in the hospitality industry; Bartlett admits he was similarly tested by entitled people, but “the difference for me is that I would not blow up at people, I would internalize it. And then, all that night and the next day I’m running over these scenarios in my head of what I wish I had said to them or whatever. So, in some ways it was a great release to be Armond and be able to play out some of those things or some of those scenarios that I dreamed up of what I wanted to say to the obnoxious person. And I have a lot of friends who have worked in the hospitality industry, so I empathize.”