Season two of HBO’s Emmy winning anthology series The White Lotus ended with a bang on Sunday night. This season brought a new cast of characters to the Sicily location of the White Lotus hotel chain, save for Jennifer Coolidge reprising her role as Tanya, a depressed heiress, from season one. Much like season one, the season begins with a dead body. This time discovered by the deliciously flighty Daphne, played by season MVP Meghann Fahy. While season one was a rumination on class, season two was more of an Aperol Spritz – it was a delectable piece of sexy fun dramatizing the ways sex is used for social and economic currency. The season finale wrapped up all of the storylines, including that mysterious death, in an episode packed with sex, intrigue and its own fair bit of filler.
Major Spoilers Ahead. Don’t read further if you have not seen the final episode.
Mike White absolutely knew he would inspire memes with this iconic line delivery. Pandering? Yes. Did it work? Absolutely!
Let’s start with the obvious, we need to toast the poor, deceased Tanya. The most kinetic and exciting scenes of the finale involved our fraught socialite confronting the possibility that these gaggle of gays she’s been cavorting with may be trying to kill her. What’s a yacht excursion without a hint of foul play? These suspicions proved to be correct, as she discovers rope and a gun in one of the men’s bags. Acting quick, Tanya opens fire on the men, killing nearly all the gays. She sees a way to safety in the form of a lifeboat on the side of the yacht. In trying to jump to safety, Tanya hits her head and drowns. In lesser hands, Tanya’s death would’ve been pitiable. While it does elicit shocked laughter, it’s fitting that she dies by her own hand… in a way. She’s able to fight for her life and money against “gays who want to decorate their houses or something.” Yet, what kills her is the gap between luxury and safety. She can try and help herself, but she just can’t do it alone.
It’s also worth giving Tom Hollander a round of applause for playing Quentin, the rich gay who idolizes Tanya, yet is tasked with killing her. His fascination with her resembles that of any Queen who loves an underrated supporting actress. He talks at her, not to her. He consumes her life and experiences in almost predatory fashion. The final moments on the yacht with her might give away the game a bit too easily, as he sneers every line as if he’s auditioning for Scar in The Lion King. The normally sharp writing feels dumbed down at points, particularly in Tanya’s frantic conversation with her assistant Portia (Haley Lu Richardson), spelling out things about Quentin we already suspected. Still, Tanya and Quentin’s interplay remains some of the strongest work of the season and an expert dramatization of the relationship between a gay man and his female obsession.
Cannot wait to see all the roles that Meghann Fahy will book after this.
Move over Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, we now have Cameron & Daphne & Ethan & Harper. Ethan has become consumed with the suspicion that Harper had sex with Cameron to get back at him for his suspected dalliance. For all her wonderful work this season, Aubrey Plaza truly makes Harper a bad liar. Though she confesses to kissing Cameron in their hotel room, she doesn’t give up more. What’s so fascinating about how Mike White tells the story of these two couples is his use of reasonable doubt. Why do actual actions matter when sentiment and behavior tell a different story. Harper cannot let Ethan off the hook for the stray condom because she knows one thing to be true, he isn’t having sex with her. Ethan can’t shake off the feeling that Harper had sex with Cameron because he knows there is some sort of sexual connection between them. The homoerotic fight on the beach between Cameron and Ethan was clearly not going to give us our much awaited death. Yet, it was a sizzling boiling point for the tensions between couples.
The only person without nagging suspicion is Daphne, not because she can’t fathom Cameron would cheat. She knows he cheats on her and she knows that she can put him in his place. When Ethan comes to her with some sort of revelation, Daphne realizes that once again she needs to re-establish control. She leads Cameron to an island alone, what happens we’ll never know. The funny thing is, no one is asking in the show. Daphne has restored harmony. This role could have easily been a thin, underwritten waif. Luckily, Mike White has a tremendous amount of fascination in her, and Meghann Fahy dramatizes every reaction shot and lingering close up. She holds the audience’s gaze for nearly a minute, guiding us along her thought process. Daphne is remarkably self-possessed, with these revelations being mere speedbumps in her sunny day. When Cameron and Daphne run into Ethan and Harper at dinner, they can’t help but be excited. They completely upended this couple’s world while theirs is still intact. What fun! Soon after, Ethan and Harper finally have sex. One can’t help but be turned on by the wild bed swapping in Sicily.
Like Grandfather, like Father, like Son.
Speaking of bed swapping, the family that shares the same girlfriend stays together… quite literally. Albie is wrapped around Lucia’s (Simona Tabasco) finger, promising him love and stability if he gives her 50,000 Euros to pay off her supposed pimp. Conspiracy theory: I don’t believe Lucia ever had a pimp at all and that shake down was staged to play Albie’s sweet little heart. Albie confronts his philandering Father, Dominic (Michael Imperioli), for the money, promising in exchange he will convince his Mother to stay with Dominic. For all his enlightened “woke” idioms, Albie is just as willing to use women, including his own Mother, as a bargaining chip to get what he wants. They are shortly joined by the family Patriarch, Bert (F. Murray Abraham), who makes an offhand joke about getting an erection. This moment comes to fruition in the airport as we leave these three generations of Di Grasso men. They’ll always be at the mercy of their cocks. Dominic will try, most likely in vain, to be faithful. Bert leaves behind him no connection to his homeland and memories of a broken marriage, knowing he’s too old to ever change.
What’s most fascinating is how Mike White leaves us with Albie. Even though he’s lumped in with the more traditional dirtbag men in his family, he might still have a happy ending. In a trademark laughably goofy outfit, Tanya’s assistant Portia asks Albie for his number. She had been trying to “trade up” for sexy Essex lad, Jack (Leo Woodall), before it was revealed he’s an Uncle-fucking murder accomplice. Upon reflection, she thinks she could settle for a nice nerd. Albie recognizes that he had been “had” by Lucia, who took the money and ran. By giving Portia his number, he thinks he’s going after something different, when actually he’s repeating a pattern. He’s so desperate for love and companionship, he’ll rebound mere moments after losing 50,000 Euros. It’s not “the heart wants what the heart wants,” it’s the “cock wants what the cock wants.” Albie wants companionship, but also to feel like a “good guy,” except his only concept of that involves him in power, being a woman’s source for money and status.
In actuality, it’s mostly a fun time for those not staying at the hotel. Our harried manager, Valentina (Sabrina Impacciatore), gets to experience love with another woman with virtually no consequence. The final moments of this season delight in our Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of the White Lotus – Italian prostitutes Lucia and Mia (Beatrice Granno). Having walked away with money from both Cameron and Albie, they are living the high life, strutting around Sicily in merek new dresses and smiles as wide as possible. They don’t give the death, drama and destruction that lay behind them any thought. They got away with their grifts. One can’t help but think this is how Mike White feels as he wraps up season two of this insanely successful show. He stuck the landing and didn’t succumb to the sophomore slump. While season one we were left to contemplate our own place in a capitalistic hierarchy, season two just asks us to giddily skip through the streets. Our rich friends can’t buy happiness, but our working class friends sure can steal it. Wasn’t it just a fun time?