‘White Lotus’ theories rule.
Credit: Screenshots: TikTok / @sloanepeterson / @cringenbinge /@stuartbrazell /
When I watch White Lotus, I really watch. Eyes on the TV, phone down, my oft-fleeting attention pointed in one direction. For roughly one hour every week, I’m having a single-screen experience — a rarity for anyone these days, let alone a digital culture writer with a brain susceptible to discourse such as myself.
Once the episode ends, the scrolling begins. And it doesn’t stop. That’s because the online conversation around HBO’s White Lotus — the theories and memes — is so engaging. It’s like a perfect storm. A central mystery? Check. Easter eggs and tiny clues? Check. Symbolism, metaphor, and other esoteric stuff tailor-made for superfans to obsess over? Ohhhhhh baby, yes. And does the show deliver memeable one-liners, beautiful freeze frames, and clever social commentary? My dear friend, Jennifer Coolidge stars in this show, what do you think?
To be clear, White Lotus is far from the first or only show to spark fan theories. For theories, think about Stranger Things or Watchmen. And shows like The Sopranos or The Office remain meme factories despite being off the air for years. But White Lotus seems like a show invented in a lab to create these sorts of viral communities. Not sure what I’m talking about? Then maybe you’ve never scrolled through TikTok?
Because that’s where theories run rampant. Just this week there were theories on the meaning of Dominic’s wife’s name. Or what birds represent in Harper and Cam’s relationship. The true identities of the people in a photograph that appeared briefly in the previous episode. Or noticing tiny details — like if a door was closed or the importance of a certain dress — in the episode. These TikTok theories seem to follow a similarly vague format. There are screenshots of the episode and a person narrating what they think is happening. It’s like a short TED Talk.
Say memes and jokes are more your thing? Pop on over to Twitter and, oh man, you’ll find a trove of things.
That is a full range of memes of jokes. The show is funny and beautiful. It makes sense. But I have a theory as to why the online community is so robust for White Lotus. (Mild spoilers ahead if you’re not caught up.)
First: White Lotus is compelling. I’m not going to recap the whole season — Mashable has some great stories you can read that do just that, though — but Season 2, like the first, centers on a death (or in this case, deaths). But it’s not just a whodunnit, it’s a…whahappened. The show starts at the end — somebody or some…bodies…are dead — but has saved the actual fatality for the finale. That means we trace every detail to piece together what exactly happened at that Italian resort. That’s why Tanya’s choice in shirt can be a holy shit moment — because it might hint that she’s the person who meets their end in the finale. Or it’s why a tiny sequence in the premiere episode might tell you what’s happening in the penultimate hour. We’re attempting to build the world as we go, working with incomplete information. It’s constructing the airplane as you fall to the ground. And that makes for an exciting viewing experience.
But the series also has something to say. Season 1, for instance, did a nice job of showing the harms of wealth inequality and the people bulldozed by others’ privilege. Season 2, as TikTok will tell you, seems to be focused on different forms of toxic masculinity, generational trauma, deceit, and, per usual, wealth inequality. After all, these are wildly rich people at an impossibly beautiful resort. You can take any of these themes and build a thesis. From analyzing what’s going on under the plot, you can try to resolve the mystery that’s to come. For instance: The show is telling us that toxic masculinity is generational, and thus one might think Albie is going to somehow be responsible for Lucia’s death in the finale. It’s like being an English major, but, you know, in a fun way. (I was an English major, can you tell?)
That’s half the fun of White Lotus. You get to build half-truths and maybe clues into your own little gospel of what the show’s telling us and where it’s going. The episodes might be an hour long, but the real fun doesn’t start until after the episode ends. Every Sunday, a thin layer is unpeeled, then we take to the internet and try to extrapolate that layer into the entire onion. That’s the final piece of the magic: White Lotus is a weekly cross-platform event. This isn’t a mystery show that dropped all at once on a streamer. The theories surrounding White Lotus change continuously over seven weeks, instead of being a wave that passes quickly.
After all that building, we’ll finally get resolution of some kind with Sunday’s finale. But that doesn’t mean the theorizing will stop. After all, there’s always Season 3.
Tim Marcin is a culture reporter at Mashable, where he writes about food, fitness, weird stuff on the internet, and, well, just about anything else. You can find him posting endlessly about Buffalo wings on Twitter at @timmarcin.
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