Murray Bartlett knows what everyone’s thinking about the White Lotus finale; not even he saw it coming when he was reading the script. But in the end, he thinks the ending for Armond, his character in HBO’s hit series, was “brilliant.”
“I did not see it coming,” Bartlett told BuzzFeed News. “There's a part of me that’s like, I want to keep playing this character forever, does he have to die? But at the same time, I feel like it's an amazing end for this character. It's so brilliant that it was unexpected. I love that kind of shock value. I also feel like he's a casualty of this whole nightmare of this sort of mini society or mini version of a society that he's sort of hooked up in. It's satisfying and horrifying in equal measure.”
While there’s no main character in the all-star ensemble cast, which includes Jennifer Coolidge, Connie Britton, Steve Zahn, and Natasha Rothwell, Armond is the most present from the very first episode of White Lotus. He interacts with every guest and employee, giving him ample time onscreen, and he’s arguably the show’s number one agent of chaos, often at the center of everyone’s drama, if not instigating it himself. Bartlett described him as the ringleader.
“He is that kind of link, in a way, between all the stories,” he said. Armond’s role as the unifying element makes it all the more affecting when, in the last few minutes of the season, hotel guest Shane Patton (Jake Lacy) stabs him in the chest.
After five episodes of tension between the two — starting with the fact that the resort manager didn’t book Shane and his new wife Rachel (Alexandra Daddario) in the promised and coveted “Pineapple Suite” — Armond breaks into the couple’s room, defecates in Shane’s packed suitcase, and then hides in a closet when Shane comes back into the room. Armond tries to sneak out without being noticed, but Shane hears an intruder, grabs a knife, and stabs him before he can successfully break free.
“In the moment after his death, after the pain and kind of shock has subsided for him, to a certain extent there's some sort of release. It's like, thank god I'm out of this,” he said. “I mean, it's kind of nightmarish, and I think it's fitting that there is a person that is literally a casualty to this because I think in this system we either die inside or, in Armond’s case, being the sort of extreme character that he is, he physically dies.”
Despite the first episode’s opening scene, which leads viewers to think Shane’s wife is dead, speculation about whose body was actually in the casket ran rampant from episode to episode — but in hindsight, the foreshadowing was there: We witness Armond’s self-destructive behavior, and there’s the moment when Belinda (Natasha Rothwell), the hotel spa manager, wakes him up in his car and says, “I thought you were dead.” But there was so much suspense along the way, Bartlett said, it was impossible for viewers to be sure of anything until the finale.
“I think for the audience, there are sort of little hints that it could go that way, but you see other people also on that trajectory and then they pull out of it. There's always the possibility, I think. It's really well written in that way,” Bartlett said. “Armond is losing his shit and he's got serious addiction issues and he's not OK.”
Despite Shane’s adversarial role, Bartlett said, filming with Lacy was a highlight, saying it’s “awesome” when “someone with so much sweetness can play that kind of character.” For their final moment onscreen together, after all of the tension and buildup over the season, Bartlett said there was a lot of technical choreography involved.
“When one person closes the door, another door opens, and I have to look out while he's looking away, and then quickly jump back in,” he said. “When he's sort of creeping up the hallway, unbeknownst to both of us he’s about to stab me. There's just natural tension there because we can't see each other and we're waiting for this thing to happen. ”
While Armond doesn’t fare well in the end, pretty much all the rich white people tangled up in the resort’s web do, leaving the underprivileged and nonwhite people in their orbit in the lurch. Shane seemingly doesn’t get in trouble and heads to the airport after killing his hotel manager foe. Tanya McQuoid (Coolidge) leaves the island without actually funding Belinda’s independent business like she promised. The Mossbacher family leaves while hotel employee and Native Hawaiian Kai (Kekoa Kekumano) is in trouble for attempting to steal from their safe.
"There's a vast difference between the guests and the people who are on the lower sort of ends of that pyramid," Bartlett pointed out. But nobody really wins.
“On a surface level, the guests do get away kind of unscathed and they get to go on with their lives, but we've seen inside their lives. It's kind of a nightmare,” he said. “Ultimately, no one wins in this hierarchical system — because are they really happy? Yeah, they've got everything, but they seem miserable at a core level, even if they've got a lot of stuff and they can kind of cover it with a lot of fancy shit. But there’s depth to their suffering, perhaps.”
Still, Bartlett emphasized that the suffering of the privileged guests is not the same as that of the employees.
“It's not the nightmare of having your land taken away, or not having any money, or being sent to prison because you've been set up in this stupid situation, or … Belinda being taken advantage of and never being able to get ahead,” he said.
But underpinning everything in White Lotus, he added, is the fact that the whole system is a mess and ultimately not good for anybody.
“These characters might think they're fine, but there's a deep level of suffering in all this.”