The White Lotus Season 2 Review: Episodes 1-5
The White Lotus Season 2 premiered Oct. 30 on HBO, with new episodes debuting each Sunday.
When The White Lotus Season 1 came to its heightened, histrionic conclusion, I was among those who wondered if a second season was needed or warranted. As much as I enjoyed the blackly comedic exploration of the rich eating everything good around them, what else was left to tell? Going the anthology route, creator/director Mike White proves that there’s plenty more clueless rich people to skewer, satirize, and murder with his keen lens and poison pen in this equally enchanting sophomore season.
Right from the main titles featuring the remixed strains of composer Cristobal Tapia de Veer’s delightfully bent opening theme, White makes it clear we’re not treading the same territory as last year. Now set at a White Lotus luxury hotel property in Sicily, Italy, the season has Valentina (Sabrina Impacciatore), the raven-haired and bitingly blunt hotel manager, welcoming a new batch of affluent pleasure seekers into her care. They include three generations of Di Grasso men, geriatic Bert (F. Murray Abraham), middle-aged Dom (Michael Imperioli), and his college grad son, Albie (Adam DiMarco); the wealthy, married vacationing couples, Cameron (Theo James) and Daphne Babcock (Meghann Fahy), and Harper (Aubrey Plaza) and Ethan Spiller (Will Sharpe); and Jennifer Coolidge’s flighty and needy Tanya McQuoid and her now husband, Greg (Jon Gries), who are the only carry-over characters from Season 1. She’s shadowed by her browbeaten personal assistant, Portia (Haley Lu Richardson).
In the first episode, “Ciao,” White repeats the opening gag of potently foreshadowing death coming for someone in the ensemble and then rewinds the story to the prior week to show us how the new crop of characters arrive and their primary dysfunctions as people, family members, and/or friends. Woven amongst their stories are the adventures of two local young women, Lucia (Simona Tabasco) and Mia (Beatrice Grannò). Lucia has been booked as a prostitute by an incoming guest so she talks Mia into joining her to take advantage of the hotel luxuries during their downtime. They’ll catch the eye and attention of everyone checking in and the ire of straightlaced Valentina.
In changing things up this season, White doesn’t give Tanya as weighty a story this time around. She’s obsessed with pleasing her increasingly distant new(ish) husband, Greg, which leaves Portia time to herself which she fills by softly flirting with sweet Albie and joining his more lecherous grandfather and father on local tours. Hotel manager Valentina also doesn’t get the story or screen time afforded to hotel manager Armond (Murray Bartlett) last season, as she serves more as curt comic relief. That gives ample time then to the uncomfortable dance between the Babcocks and Spillers. The former are mega rich with children and the latter are middle class and childless who have recently leveled up with the sale of Ethan’s tech company. Cameron and Ethan were in college together and there’s a cat and mouse game between the couples as Harper both abhors and is attracted to the ostentatious couple that she can’t stop comparing to her own relationship. Across the first five episodes, White charts a subtle escalation amongst the four with Harper acting as our outsider-looking-in proxy for the weirdness that money and a lack of morals suddenly sweeps into her marriage. Plaza is especially good as the bristly cactus of the group who isn’t wrong for having her haunches up in their company.
The exploration of the Di Grasso men is a bit more traditional with them embodying the season’s overall theme of infidelity. Bert is the serial adulterer who still brazenly works the “fart and flirt” on women half his age, while Dom is now struggling with what looks like an impending divorce after following in his father’s footsteps. White seems to push Albie into the toxic masculinity of his family and ask if he will forge new ground or succumb to their legacy as he’s tempted himself.
It’s a far slower burn of a cumulative story, but it’s achieving less garish extremes.“
What this second season reinforces is how adept White is at writing characters who are infinitely watchable even as they exist in wretched excess. Be they ridiculous (Tanya), sympathetic (Albie), or vapid (Cam and Daphne), they’re all fascinating to observe as they embrace their various worldviews. And after last season’s locals, Armond and Belinda (Natasha Rothwell), were tragically used and abused by their crop of guests, White remedies that dynamic by having locals like Lucia and Mia who show up in Episode 5, as equally predatory towards the outsiders coming into their town. It makes for a more nuanced watch as all of the players seem more evenly matched in their boorish behavior which earns them all parity when it comes to the odds of any of them ending up floating dead in the ocean. It’s a far slower burn of a cumulative story, but it’s achieving less garish extremes which is welcome in distinguishing this season as an entirely different and worthwhile experience.
This story originally appeared on: IGN - Author:Tara Bennett