It’s a testament to how good the first series of The White Lotus was – the writing, the blending of murder mystery and sharp satire, the performances, the direction, the gorgeous photography even under lockdown – that, while people remember the turd being curled out into a guest’s suitcase by a man driven to the brink of insanity, they remember it as only part of a flawlessly executed whole.
Mike White, the show’s originator, is back with another carefully picked group of overprivileged visitors at his disposal. Instead of Hawaii, they are being cared for by the employees – and sex workers – of the White Lotus hotel in Sicily, and White’s keen moral eye focuses on sexual rather than racial politics.
The writing is as complex and layered as it has always been, the plotting is flawless, and the viewers’ sympathies – or loathings – are never allowed to settle in one place for too long. Although the actors are there to decompress, White is not one to let his viewers unwind.
We begin, like the original Lotus did, with a corpse that will not be recognized until the conclusion. This one passes a passenger who is taking one last dip in the water before her journey home. Valentina (Sabrina Impacciatore), the hotel manager, is summoned by Rocco. “It’s fine,” she adds, relievedly taking in the sight. “The ocean does not belong to a hotel.” He then informs her and us that other visitors have also been discovered deceased. “How many?” a terrified Valentina inquires. “A few?” Rocco asks, uncertainly. This is why he will always be considered an underling.
We then go back in time a week to meet the new visitors arriving at the gorgeous beach resort. Cameron (Theo James), an egotistical financier, and his charming, so-far-so-basic wife Daphne are among them (Meghann Fahy). Cameron has invited as guests his old college friend and nerd-turned-good Ethan (Will Sharpe), a workaholic, and Ethan’s spiky wife Harper (Aubrey Plaza), an employment lawyer. The interaction of their shifting dynamics – of power, class, intelligence, and financial clout – offers some wonderful passages that are as sensitively written and portrayed as they are sad.
The foursome’s first dinner together, during which Harper and Ethan discover that their companions don’t watch the news (“You can’t obsess”) and Daphne isn’t sure if she voted or not, will undoubtedly be held up as a nonpareil example of how to do – well, everything – in screenwriting books and classes for the rest of time.
Then there are the three Di Grasso family members, who have come to immerse themselves in their Sicilian roots and embody the three ages of man and the penis. Grandfather Bert (F Murray Abraham) spends his time flirting with every young waitress he meets, either harmlessly/embarrassingly/harassingly (depending on your generation and point of view).
Then there’s Dom (The Sopranos’ Michael Imperioli), whose wife and daughter haven’t joined him on the vacation because they’re fuming over the latest of his affairs (as revealed in another brilliantly crafted phone conversation between him and his invisible wife). Albie (Adam DiMarco) is the reconciling son, shocked by his grandfather’s actions but also at least as much by the concept that any lady should have to gaze “at an old man’s garbage”. Bert doesn’t see the problem. “It’s not like it’s ever been gorgeous. It’s not a sunset, but a penis.” Even if adaptation to new socio-sexual norms does not come with age, at least some knowledge does.
Albie has his sights set on young Portia (Haley Lu Richardson), the personal assistant of an enormously wealthy, semi-monstrous, semi-heartbreaking repeat guest to the White Lotus… Tanya McQuoid returns, this time with a somewhat darker, more desperate edge to her irreducible chaos and selfishness, performed by the brilliant Jennifer Coolidge. She is now married to sport fisher Greg (Jon Gries), her love interest after season one, who has turned into a bully – disdainful of her weight, uninterested in her wants or desires, of which there are certainly more than one person can fairly be expected to meet. Did he marry her for her money and is now letting his disdain show?
Or does it have something to do with his terminal sickness (which is not mentioned in the first episode)? Is it more to do with whoever he’s whispering to on his phone?
Add sex workers Mia (Beatrice Grann) and Lucia (Simona Tabasco) to the mix, and you have the makings of a rich, complicated, and gratifying comedy-drama. Enjoy another five-star stay in this opulent setting.