Mike White has proven again that vacations are never just that when you stay at his extravagant resort. Relaxation comes at a price when you bottle up a group of eccentric guests with a side of debauchery, deception, and desire. The uproarious first season of his mega-Emmy winning series, The White Lotus, exposed the calamitous egotism and classism of the elite and how morality can both divide and unite guests and staff. An even more nerve-racking and hilarious second season follows guests halfway around the world to the new Sicilian resort offering even stickier situations, bigger confrontations, and more salacious disasters.
Fans of the show may find comfort in the many structural parallels between the two installments, even equating to similar final episode shots and revelations- yes, especially that one. The first two episodes also wonderfully tease so many tensions that seem bound to erupt over the course of the season. The opening credits again hint at the tragedies that lay ahead through successive frescos of royalty, predation, and betrayal that descend into orgiastic frenzies. Cristobal Tapia De Veer’s updated, discordant main theme will have DJs remixing this in nightclubs for months to come. Then, the season begins as another puzzling murder mystery just like how Shane (Jake Lacy) revealed a Lotus death in the show’s opening moments. When a floating body bumps into Daphne (Meghann Fahy) in the sea and the resort manager, Valentina (Sabrina Impacciatore), finds out that other guests have also been killed, the audience is again left to unscramble the scandalous clues and relive the previous week’s vacation from hell. Keen viewers may spot some of White’s former Survivor cast members along the way.
As the new guests disembark for their stay in the majestic resort- the actual San Domenico Palace, Taormina- escort Lucia (Simona Tabasco) spies on with her friend Mia (Beatrice Grannò), looking for which male suitor hired her. The generational trio of Di Grasso men first catch her eye- endlessly flirty and farting grandfather Bert (F. Murray Abraham), adulterous son Dominic (Michael Imperioli), and the boyishly handsome grandson Albie (Adam DiMarco)- having traveled here for a pilgrimage back to where their ancestors lived. Their broiling drama intensifies as Bert continues to question why Dominic’s wife and daughter aren’t also on the trip, but it’s not until mid-season that they all realize they’ve found another way to keep their Italian ties strong– and it’s not because they travel to the set of The Godfather. Abraham’s Oscar-winning Italian roots as the Machiavellian Salieri in Amadeus lurk behind his seemingly innocent charisma while you can’t help but imagine Imperioli’s guido past as Christopher Moltisanti in The Sopranos having a field day back in the motherland. They both butt heads with Albie when he starts to lecture them on the unrealistic and outdated philosophies of ‘The Godfather’ including the old-school patriarchy and how “gender is a construct.” Bert says, “I used to respect the old. Now we’re just the reminders of an offensive past everybody wants to forget.” DiMarco nails the “nice guy” demeanor, adding humility when Albie’s earnest approach with multiple dates just feels miserably pathetic.
Then comes the nitpicky and judgmental Harper, sharply and cleverly played by the fierce Aubrey Plaza. She is quick to bicker with her cute and nerdy husband Ethan (Will Sharpe) but their honesty with each other allows for a trusting marriage. Sharpe’s sensible and relaxed magnetism balances well with Plaza’s Harper to create a believably intelligent and centered couple. It’s impossible to take your eyes off Plaza, who has expertly honed her acting abilities across genres this year alone but is widely known for her superb comedic timing and deadpan delivery. On the other hand, Ethan’s elitist college roommate Cameron (Theo James) and his wife Daphne operate on a more oblivious plane with a forgiving mentality to maintain their ripe, passionate marriage. Fahy, whose character slightly mimics that of last season’s Rachel Patton (Alexandra Daddario), brings an bright-eyed, innocent delicacy All eyes are kept peeled for the brilliantly cast James, who plays the “consistent douche” persona to a T and easily sells a more macho version of Shane. While his big appearance comes in the premiere, reminiscent of the shot of Mark (Steve Zahn) checking his swollen genitalia for cancer- this is only the first of many gratuitous shots in the season.
When they are shown to their rooms, the script offers the first unsettling warning of foreshadowed danger in the traditional Testa di Moro. This vase in the shape of a man’s head is based on the legend of a woman who decapitated a man after he seduced her and admitted to cheating on his family back home. The faces loom throughout the season in all of the couple’s suites just as the coastal waves crash with a growing immediacy to caution of an impending tragedy. This doesn’t bode well when Cam freely says to Ethan at dinner, “Monogamy was an idea created by the elite to control the middle class.”
The conversations between this foursome account for the most biting commentaries on socioeconomic and racial politics. When deciding what type of wine they want for dinner, Cam just responds, “I like white.” Later in bed, Harper and Ethan agree that they “think we’re their white passing diverse friends.” Ethan tries to justify their questionable beliefs with being fun, but Harper can’t excuse that they don’t vote. She retorts, “Is that what happens when you’re rich for too long, your brain just atrophies?” The more methodical development allows for a deeper and yet still entertaining criticism of the aristocratic compared to the recent, oversaturated satire, Triangle of Sadness.
Lastly, we are reunited with returning guest Tanya McQuoid, the dazzlingly versatile and perky Emmy-winning Jennifer Coolidge, now dragging her assistant, Portia (Haley Lu Richardson), in tow. Since Hawaii, Tanya and Greg (Jon Gries) have tied the knot, but even before her arrival, she’s annoyed that he hasn’t been returning her texts. Yet, when they meet up, he’s already at the hotel, kicked back with a spritz in one hand and cellphone in the other. He’s quick to make excuses about problems with work or negatively comment on her eating habits, and his first reaction after seeing Tanya is being upset with Portia’s presence. Tanya, sensitive and eager to please her new man, orders Portia to stay in her room for the entire trip, to be invisible yet ready in case she needs her. Their relationship wavers throughout the week but shines in perfect comedic bits, like when Tanya spots Portia in the restaurant and still shoos her away, as if to time-out. Poor Portia begins to spiral, but is able to find relief and excitement in two of the hotel guests: Albie and Jack (Leo Woodall). Woodall, another hot addition to the resort eye candy, is direct and playful and able to offer Portia the romp she needed on this getaway. Jack’s uncle, Quentin (Tom Hollander), is finally introduced at the end of Episode 3 (of the five made available to critics for review), creepily staring at Tanya from across the restaurant. He later takes her under his affluent wing, becoming the final puzzle piece that snugly fits all of the subplots together.
Jennifer Coolidge is again one of the season’s brightest stars. She basks in her campy glow- the resort must offer quite a soothing lavender bath- but also develops Tanya’s complex personality. She struggles with pronouncing basic Italian phrases, but her joy to be at another White Lotus resort with upgraded status proves innocuous. She looks over the ledge at the beautiful views and thinks, “Such a beautiful view, I wonder if anyone’s ever jumped from here.” She later repeats that it’s her Italian dream to be Monica Vitti, an Italian actress, so one day she dresses up like her in a beautiful pink, silk gown. She asks Valentina who she looks like and she seriously replies, “Peppa Pig? Monica Vitti is dead, but yes.” Valentina is a humorous and fitting foil for Tanya: even more uptight and structured as a manager than season one’s Armond that stresses over every tiny detail with a blunt European honesty that provides amusing comic relief. Her attempts at flirting are extreme, either too casual or forced, while Tanya does not restrain her sexuality.
The second season continues to challenge the boundaries of human virtues with sharp wit and palpable angst. White goes straight for the jugular in crafting these authentic characters in distressing scenarios that feed off of the viewer’s insecurities and are never what they seem. The focus shifts more to the guest’s interpersonal relationships yet still examines the power structures embedded into a capitalistic society. Audiences are again going to have a blast every week, deciphering the show’s clues, twisted gags and uncomfortable moments that initially made it a hit. The beginning of the season promises a wild, disastrous final two episodes that, when you’ve actually had too much wine, will definitely not be amore.
Season two of The White Lotus begins streaming the first of seven episodes weekly on HBO Max October 30.