Image courtesy of Warner Media.

The White Lotus Season 2 Review: Same Formulae, A New Mess

The first season of HBO’s The White Lotus explored themes of patriarchal ideology and white privilege through compelling storylines— including a mysterious death in the first episode. It would have been hard to replicate the first season’s success, sharp satire and fresh, over-privileged personalities. But Mike White, series showrunner, is back with carefully curated characters in a completely new story: a hotel-set satire that focuses on new complex themes in a different location. While the first season was set in Hawaii, this season White returns to another branch of the White Lotus in Sicily and explores a new mystery and death. 

The second season opens, as the first did, with a death on the hotel property — which won’t be identified until the last episode. The White Lotus’ repeat guest, Tanya McQuoid (Jennifer Coolidge), her new husband, Greg (Jon Gries) — her love interest from the first season — and her personal assistant, Portia (Haley Lu Richardson) are travelling to Italy. With the view of the country’s Mount Etna volcano, new guests include two college buddies Ethan (Will Sharpe) and Cameron (Theo James) along with their wives Harper (Aubrey Plaza) and Daphne (Meghann Fahy). The rich couples are constantly exchanging passive-aggressive comments and trying to remember whether they voted during the last election.

The final guests this season are three generations of the Di Grasso family hoping to connect with their Italian heritage: grandfather, Bert (F. Murray Abrahams), father, Dominic (Michael Imperioli), and son, Albie (Adam DiMarco). Dominic’s wife and daughter aren’t joining them in their travels, due to his infidelity. Additional characters are sex workers Mia (Beatrice Grannò) and Lucia (Simona Tabasco), who become entangled with various guests, while the hotel manager, Valentina (Sabrina Impacciatore) keeps a watchful eye. 

Meghann Fahy as Daphne and Aubrey Plaza as Harper
Image courtesy of Warner Media.

Even though the second season of The White Lotus has some similarities to the first, White doesn’t focus on the dead. Instead, he explores new themes and characters. The surroundings and complex social commentary seem more well-earned than the previous season, which explored white privilege. The commentary behind it was surface level due to White’s own, let’s say, lack of experience in understanding the subject. But it worked. For a rich, white family, the first season’s protagonists’ understanding of white privilege is surface level, too. They believe they are good people and get defensive when their flaws are pointed out, rather than self-reflective. 

With that, the general themes of season 2 of The White Lotus are sex, betrayal and infidelity. All the characters are connected to these themes and as White introduces their compelling storylines they are pushed into different circumstances. The lingering tension between Ethan, Harper, Cameron and Daphne is ready to burst any moment. Harper and Ethan fight about their lack of intimacy and begin to resent each other. Daphne drunkenly confesses to Harper about Cameron’s infidelities.

There’s also a shift in dynamics between the two couples in power, class, intelligence, and financial opportunity. The season also adds some painful scenes over meals where both couples express different opinions, on topics from voting to being cancelled.

Plaza’s performance is a surprise, as she usually plays deadpan characters, it is simply captivating. She gets a worthy counterpart in Fahy, who plays the unbothered housewife to James’ smug husband. The White Lotus shows their experiences are grounded in reality with issues, such as infidelity and manipulation. 

Adam DiMarco as Albie
Image courtesy of Warner Media.

Another group that deals with the wrath of the Lotus, is the Di Grasso men and their attitudes towards women. Bert spends his time flirting and even harassing women everywhere he goes. Dominic hires sex workers to spend the night with him while trying to make amends with his wife and save his marriage. Albie is the queasy “nice guy” who thinks he is doing right by trying to “save” women yet showing the bare minimum when it comes to respecting them.

White’s commentary and characterisation of Albie show a kind of misogynistic behaviour from incels,  establishing his entitlement towards women and their time. Not only is this a manipulation tactic but a heavily motivated plan to passively appease women into a relationship. Even though Albie appears to care about the lack of respect women are subjected to, it’s only a facade for a sinister agenda. The saviour complex is what destroys Albie in the end, and it is a serving point to his Nice Guy routine which implies that he will eventually end up exactly like Dominic and Bert.

Jennifer Coolidge as Tanya sitting in the White Lotus Hotel
Image courtesy of Warner Media.

The only guest that matters at the White Lotus is Tanya. She returns to the resort with her husband, Greg and personal assistant, Portia. In the first season, Tanya’s spirit is filled with grief and she is helped by one of the hotel’s staff. Honestly, she is just another self-absorbed and careless rich woman who brings chaos to her own life. Her marriage to Greg has lost its spark and he constantly bullies her about her weight.

On the other hand, Tanya orders Portia to stay in her room and out of her sight. In the second season, Tanya finds herself surrounded by a group of gay men but the story doesn’t get interesting until the last episode, which takes a shocking turn. Still, it’s fun to watch Coolidge portray a cartoonish, self-centred, affluent woman, who, despite everything that happens, is having the time of her life. 

It’s safe to say, while White has excellent ideas for social commentary, the execution isn’t always quite there. The White Lotus has always been a show that critiques the carelessness of wealthy white people. This may have been the criticism of the first season, however, the same cannot be said for the second season. The story doesn’t shy away from the complexities of its themes and dives head-first into the mess with complete transparency. It hits all the right notes and depicts the issues of adultery, betrayal, manipulation and emotional unavailability using its unlikeable characters. The White Lotus’ second season remains the most visceral and profound story ever made, digging to the root of the guests’ problems. Hopefully, we will get even more seasons to continue exploring these ideas and complex characters.

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