It’s not hard to find supervillains in real life. In fact, they’re thriving. To rip myself off, I’ll break humanity into three groups: the WWE villain types who love to drink the tears of their rivals and genuinely enjoy wreaking havoc on others like it’s a sport, the Lex Luthors who are world-beaters motivated by narcism and selfishness using their bank accounts as a scoreboard, and then there’s everybody else who is just exhausted. But Mike White’s The White Lotus reminds us all that there is another kind: the oblivious subtle monster, which might be the worst kind because of how casually they manifest in the perfectly pleasant people around us and within ourselves. Who among us hasn’t been short with a server, dismissive of a friend’s needs, or hogged the spotlight and the conversation without even realizing it? Truly, The White Lotus is a sneaky horror story where you should be as afraid of your own reflection as you are of what be lurking under your bed… or in your hotel room after sh*tting in your suitcase. I should mention there will be spoilers here.
Are they villains like the WWE heels and Lex Luther’s of the world? It’s worthy of debate and something we’re going to explore as we look at each of the primary adult guests from season one to determine who was the actual worst. These rankings are derived solely from our read, but we do have some insights from the cast from interviews that speak to the show and their characters in general terms that we’re going to sprinkle in.
6. Rachel Patton (Alexandria Daddario)
She’s one of the adult guests, so I have to add her, but I actually have nothing negative to say about Rachel, who is a victim here — of Nicole Mossbacher and her mean-girl daughter (minorly), of her mother-in-law, of her husband, and of an economic reality that becomes the saddest comment of all at the end of this show.
5. Nicole Mossbacher (Connie Britton)
Nicole’s placement near the bottom of this list is not a reflection of the fact that Connie Britton is Tammy Taylor. In fact, trying to shake things up and play something different is what drove her to The White Lotus.
“I’ve sort of made a career of playing strong women,” said Britton. “What I loved about this, in particular, was that this is sort of the quintessential strong woman and it’s showing the underside. It’s showing how she’s doing all the things that she’s being told she needs to do to be strong and what she believes to be strong, and she’s blowing it. It’s not working. That, to me, was really fun and exciting to contemplate playing because it is really complicated. I don’t see her as villainous, but I see her as flawed.”
That’s an interesting read overall: not villainous, but flawed. Steve Zahn, who plays her husband Mark, said something similar to us, and it’s kind of true for both of them, but maybe not so much for the character in the number 1 spot on this list.
As for Nicole’s flaws, well, both her and Mark share the burden of being inattentive parents. Nicole is also consumed by her job on vacation and feelings that she can’t stop. Which, as someone who has worked on vacation because I can’t stop, feels more sad than anything else. She does kind of decimate another guest (Rachel) over a “hatchet job” article she wrote about her, but that’s after tenderly offering some light mentorship, so it’s sort of a wash.
4. Mark Mossbacher (Steve Zahn)
Largely distracted over a possible health crisis and then pouty and lost in a swirl of overreaction to news about his father’s sexuality, Mark is an inattentive husband and father (as mentioned above) who gets the chance to rise to the occasion after corkscrewing himself into the ground by breaking his wife’s trust (again) and deciding to disclose a past affair to their teenage son so that he could connect with him. Mark also earns the wrong kind of points for his rich white guy grievances about no longer being considered a good guy without putting in the work. What a prick.
3. Kitty Patton (Molly Shannon)
Molly Shannon is so great and ebullient that you can almost miss the ways her character sucks all the oxygen out of every room, diminishes her daughter-in-law, and seems to be a genuine psychopath for not realizing the existence of boundaries, most supremely the one that would keep a mother from popping in on her son’s honeymoon. No wonder Shane (Jake Lacy) is so messed up, his mother is a human wrecking ball with near-zero self-awareness.
2. Tanya McQuoid (Jennifer Coolidge)
First, as an aside, this might be the best thing Jennifer Coolidge has ever done, and according to her, White (who she’s known for nearly 15 years) had to push hard to get her to leave her home in New Orleans where she had sheltered in place during COVID. “This little text came in from Mike White [at 2AM] and it just said, ‘Are you scared?’ And then I thought, ‘Oh my God, Mike has ESP’ and he gets into your mind,” she told Uproxx. “He knew what I was thinking even across the country. And so I knew I couldn’t get out of it.” Thank goodness she didn’t.
Despite her apprehension (which clearly had nothing to do with the role), the character wound up being exactly what she was looking for: “I always wanted a part like this, where it was someone who was very complicated and didn’t know how to navigate life and was sort of going after the wrong things and oblivious.”
There’s the perfect word to describe Tanya, who maybe shows the biggest heart of all the guests before pulling an epic heel turn that you know is coming, but which still pancakes your soul when you see it. I am, of course, talking about the kiss-off that she gives to Natasha Rothwell’s spa manager Belinda after building up her dreams of starting her own business and breaking free of the resort and all the shitty, fake nice people that wear her down.
To a degree, you want to let Tanya off the hook since she’s so messed up over the death of her mother and she just seems desperate for anyone with a pulse to listen to her, but the carnage left in her wake is just too large to ignore. Even if Tanya is just a runaway trainwreck as opposed to someone taking joy in the decimation of others.
1. Shane Patton (Jake Lacy)
Speaking of which, Shane Patton. There can be no doubt that Shane is an absolute villain, but it all spirals from such a minor place with him choosing to obsess over not getting the best of the best room for his honeymoon. To be fair, you can kind of understand that and almost see it as a romantic gesture to his wife, Rachel (Daddario) — until she indicates that his behavior is wrecking their honeymoon far more than the room mixup. Then it just becomes a clear character flaw.
Rachel’s desire to maintain her independence obviously doesn’t square with Shane’s outdated view of what their relationship is supposed to be. It’s actually heartbreaking to see the disaster of their coupling build and build as she realizes that she’s little more than a prize for Shane.
That he eventually commits an accidental murder isn’t a surprising thing. He’s a male Karen with absolute rage issues that are hyper-focused on Armond (the brilliant Murray Bartlet, whose descent into his self-destructive tendencies as a result of all of these people, speaks to the destruction the guests can leave with little awareness or effort). No, the most surprising thing is his coldness and inability to try and change when Rachel confronts him about her want to end the marriage before its really begun. That they ultimately wind up together is as cynical as it is realistic. Money corrupts, absolutely and also absolutely. But look at the lux accommodations it can also get you. The view is pretty great if you can look past the people who are the absolute worst.