The White Lotus Symbolism & Ending: What You Missed

The White Lotus season two was full of twists and turns, infidelity, dead bodies, and… so much more! The show was always more than a murder mystery – it’s a show about wealth, status, desire, and consequences. Here’s our take on which characters came out of their stay at The White Lotus as winners, and how the show gave us all the clues to its ultimate ending along the way.


The White Lotus was always more than a murder mystery – it’s a show about wealth, status, desire, and consequences.

In the Season 2 finale, we find out Tanya is the body that Daphne found in the first episode of season two, and that the other bodies are those of the gay men that Tanya killed. Albie gets played by Lucia, Portia gets deserted by Jack, and Harper and Ethan become more similar to Daphne and Cameron than they ever thought they would. Here’s our take on which characters came out of their stay at The White Lotus as winners, and how the show gave us all the clues to its ultimate ending along the way.

We see a number of different power dynamics at play in The White Lotus: those who have money and those who don’t, those who are able to use sex for their own advancement, and those whose sexual desires are a weakness, and even those who are allowed inside the hotel and those who are denied entry.

Valentina: This hotel is for guests only. So please Antonio, escort these ladies out. -The White Lotus

One of the most interesting power dynamics in the show is that of those who think they hold the power, versus those that actually do. Cameron and Daphne were presented as this perfect couple – the polar opposite of the cold, bickering Harper and Ethan. But we soon find out that appearances – and excessive PDA – don’t always tell the full story. And when Cameron ultimately cheats on his wife, we assume that the sometimes ditsy Daphne is blind to his infidelity. Yet when Harper brings up her suspicions, Daphne reveals her more cunning side – pivoting to talking about how much she enjoys sessions with her trainer before showing Harper a picture of her blonde-haired, blue-eyed children, subtly suggesting that she herself has her own extramarital affairs. And again, in the season finale, when Ethan tells her that he thinks something happened between Cameron and Harper, we expect Daphne to be upset at this news, but she remains unphased. Instead, she leads Ethan to an isolated area, insinuating that she can just as easily use Ethan to her advantage and not be a “victim” of her situation.

When it comes to the haves versus the have-nots – we turn to Mia and Lucia. Mia, who talks early on about wanting to be a singer, sees an opportunity to use the hotel’s piano player to get what she wants. After accidentally drugging him, she uses his absence to seduce Valentina and claim his job as the lounge singer. At the beginning of the season, the piano player was dangling the promise of connections in front of Mia – but in the end, she made her own connection, and thus her own opportunity. As for Lucia – at the beginning of the season, she is denied entry into the hotel and looks longingly in shop windows staring at expensive dresses. But by manipulating Dominic, she and Mia are able to gain access and get to work with other clients. She works on Albie and even has one of her friends pose as a threatening pimp to make him think that she is in danger. He sends her 50,000 euros in an attempt to free her from the danger, but when she leaves him with the money it’s clear that she played him.

The final shot of the season emphasizes the triumph of the working class characters over the uber-wealthy ones – a much different ending than that of the last season where working class characters were the ones snubbed or even killed. And so, the power dynamics set up at the beginning of the season are all completely flipped by the finale – the oppressed have outsmarted their oppressors.

This season’s star victim: Tanya – played by the ever-memeable Jennifer Coolidge – was sadly doomed from the start. While there were plenty of overt comparisons of Tanya to a tragic heroine – there were some other classic influences at work in her demise.

Quentin: You’re like the heroine of your own Italian opera!

Tanya: Does that mean I’m doomed? -The White Lotus

At the end of season one, Tanya alludes to her own death outright. We can see this is almost a prophecy – a classic storytelling device of Greek tragedies. These predetermined outcomes tell the audience what’s going to happen in the ending, even if they don’t know how it’ll all play out. Often, trying to get away from these destinies only pushes the character further toward that very ending, and we can see echoes of this in Tanya’s story. When Tanya tries to get ahead of her “destiny” by murdering the men on the boat, she still ends up dying…albeit not in the way she imagined.

Quentin’s explicit noting of Tanya as a “Puccini heroine” also epitomizes Tanya’s character – and her ultimate fate. In Madame Butterfly, the opera that she and Quentin go see – Butterfly is left by her husband – and dies in the end. In Tosca, another Puccini opera, the heroine Floria Tosca leaps from a parapet after her lover is killed. When Puccini’s heroines die, it is a tragic death, but it is often tied to a larger romantic idea. They die for love and they die – on a more meta level – for the art of the opera itself. When Quentin calls Tanya a Puccini heroine, or says “I’d also die for beauty, wouldn’t you?”, he’s seeing her as a woman whose destiny is to die for something greater than, perhaps, keeping his wealth intact, and keeping his estate beautiful.

While White Lotus may have felt like a mystery, the show actually gave the audience plenty of hints along the way. The symbolism of Tanya as a tragic opera heroine was just one of a slew of symbols you may have missed…including the show’s opening title sequence. As Sophie Gilbert notes in The Atlantic – “Tom Hollander’s name appeared next to Bacchus, befitting his character’s hedonist tendencies. Simona Tabasco’s by a cat with a bird, recalling the alluring Lucia. Theo James’ with a close-up of David’s sculpted penis, suiting the priapic Cameron”. Haley Lu Richardson’s name card shows a young woman and a lamb, emphasizing her tendency to follow others – from her boss Tanya to the Di Grasso men to the charismatic Jack. Michael Imperioli’s name card is a man bowing in front of a woman throwing a necklace away, showcasing his desire for penance and his wife’s refusal to be swayed by his lavish gifts. One of the creators of the title sequence, Mark Bashore, also noted the mythological influences in the title sequence, telling TV Insider, “We had the original famous ‘Leda and the Swan’ painting in our rough cut for months. It just felt right because it’s about passion, and there’s a lot of nature in this show.” In the story of Leda and The Swan, the God Zeus disguises himself as an animal, proving that powerful entities may sometimes appear non-threatening. We can see this parallel in how Daphne is portrayed as an airheaded housewife, or how Lucia is portrayed as a simple local girl – and how these portrayals disguise the fact that they are both much more powerful than people originally perceive.

White himself noted how the prevalence of the busts all around Sicily inspired his ideas for the second season, telling The New York Times It felt like a place where some classic male-female stories could be told with contemporary characters.” The busts, as Rocco notes, they are tied to an old myth. The placement of the busts in each room keeps the specter of infidelity constantly hanging over the two couples. Where Daphne and Cameron may know about each others’ dalliances, Harper and Ethan worry constantly about the other being unfaithful. However, there’s an element of the mythical bust story that the show didn’t mention. According to Collider, the young woman ends up using the man’s severed head as a vase for growing flowers, and those flowers prospered to become “the talk of the island”. So the infidelity actually brought a fruitful outcome, which is echoed in how Harper and Ethan’s infidelity actually created a stronger sexual chemistry between them.

Rocco: A moor came here a long time ago and seduced a local girl but then she found out he had a wife and children back home, so because he lied to her, she cut his head off. -The White Lotus

And it’s no coincidence that the show often references Greek mythology. Quentin jokes about Portia being a victim of Hades, Bert references Achilles, and even the trek to the family’s original village could be seen as a parallel to Odysseus’ return at the end of The Odyssey. A significant part of Greek mythology is the idea that the Gods control nature – so these constant shots of the water reflect the idea that there are things that are completely out of the control of humans. Between Tanya being stranded on the yacht and then drowning as she tries to get off, and Ethan and Cameron’s fight in the sea – water is constantly presented as a symbol of hostility rather than relaxation. We also see a volcano in the background, emphasizing the volatile nature of the central relationships in the show – and the way things emotionally bubble under the surface…before they ultimately explode.

The White Lotus never shies away from taking on the hot button topics facing society: money, sex, and power. Ultimately, the characters that came out on top, like Mia, Lucia, Daphne, and even Valentina, know that emotions – like desire and sympathy – can be transactional. Lucia and Mia use the male characters’ uncontrollable sexual urges to their advantage and Daphne uses Cameron’s infidelity to feel empowered to do what she wants.

Daphne: And if anything ever did happen, do what you have to do to make yourself feel better about it. -The White Lotus

The show knows that humans are flawed and do terrible things, and that it’s very difficult to change those immediate urges. Even after facing the consequences, old habits die hard. But using those ideas to your advantage, seeing human nature for what it is, and making it work for you…that’s how you get the outcome you want.