In the final episode of The White Lotus, Rachel (Alexandra Daddario) finds her voice at last. After a fraught honeymoon with new husband Shane (Jake Lacy) — throughout which he harasses the resort manager for a room upgrade and hosts his mother (Molly Shannon) when she pops by for a brief stay — Rachel has come to the realization that she and Shane aren’t as compatible as they thought. Writer-director Mike White breaks down this tense moment between the young couple as Rachel “rips the Band-Aid off” and declares the honeymoon over.
The White Lotus originated with a single storyline: that of a young couple vacationing on their honeymoon. “The idea was that one person in the couple realizes on the honeymoon that the person they’ve married isn’t exactly who they thought they were,” says White. “I’ve done a lot of traveling, and you realize what people are like when you’re outside your bubble, your comfort place.” Rachel and Shane, who rushed into their marriage, learn this hard lesson at the Hawaiian resort — but it’s Rachel here who admits it out loud.
White admits that this scene, while a straightforward two-hander between Daddario and Lacy, was unexpectedly difficult to tackle. “The whole show was sort of building to this in its original conception,” he says of the scene’s pressures. “I felt at the time when I was writing [that] if this thing doesn’t work, or if you don’t buy what she’s saying, or you don’t buy where it comes from, then I think the show would fail.”
One of the biggest challenges for White was to capture Rachel’s mindset and have it make sense narratively and remain true to the character. “I needed the audience to buy that this woman would get into a situation where she could be that naive about who he is and what the dynamic of their relationship is going to be,” he explains.
There has been a steady tension between Rachel and Shane leading to the season finale, so much so that even White knew his audience would expect their relationship to implode like this. “Rachel tells [Sydney Sweeney’s Olivia and Brittany O’Grady’s Paula] by the pool that Shane is very decisive,” says White. “Shane knew she was the trophy wife he wanted, and Rachel’s in a place, she explains, where she was looking for an anchor, something to brag about — which, I think, is very human.”
Shane is, without question, an entitled rich kid, but White still wanted to write him from a place of empathy. “Even though he’s a goon in so many ways, he has this very paternalistic approach to relationships that’s very earnest,” White explains. “He doesn’t want to have conflict with her, and he doesn’t want to say things they will regret.”
While this is, in theory, a breakup scene, the show ends with Shane and Rachel back together before they make their way home. This moment was a necessity for that narrative conclusion. “Rachel can have independence and [be] whatever she can be, but she’s still an appendage to him,” says White. “She can’t have all the trappings of his life and his lifestyle without some kind of sacrifice of power.”
This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Script to Scene: How ‘The White Lotus’ Writer-Director Mike White Crafted the Moment That Sparked the HBO Series