By Peg Aloi
The second season of The White Lotus is decidedly darker than the first, and the atmosphere of decadence and luxury is overshadowed by an unsettling aura of danger, even evil.
After a hugely successful and award-winning debut season, follows Mike White’s wickedly funny, darkly disturbing, elegantly filmed series The White Lotus moves from Hawaii to Sicily for its second season. As I write this I have seen the first five episodes. There’s also an abundance of grandiose mountain and ocean views, and plenty of gorgeous, culture-specific music (last season’s native Hawaiian music gives way to Italian opera and love songs). In the first scene, a guest goes swimming at the luxurious White Lotus Resort and discovers a dead body floating next to her. As police investigate and hotel employees attempt damage control, several bodies are discovered in the water. The scene then jumps back to a week earlier, presumably to tell the story of how those deaths occurred.
Guests arrive by boat and are greeted by the hotel’s chief concierge, Valentina (Sabrina Impacciatore). There’s an immediate homage to season one’s exuberant, efficient, and ultimately unstable chief concierge Armond (the excellent Murray Bartlet). Valentina wears a pink two-piece suit identical to Armond’s in his first scene. But Armond was often overly cheerful and obsequiously polite; Valentina is a bit more cynical and judgmental and tough on her staff. There seems to be no collaborator quite like last season’s Belinda (Natasha Rothwell), the massage therapist who nearly received seed money to open her own spa from wealthy, fugitive guest Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge). Tanya returns for the Sicilian season and is now married to Greg (Jon Gries), a resort guest she met last season.
As the one character who bridges the two seasons, Tanya embodies the series’ satirical twist on people who have lots of money but aren’t necessarily happy or fulfilled. Tanya is insecure, entitled, somewhat naive, and often rude. She brings her assistant Portia (Haley Lu Richardson) with her, which angers husband Greg (who also appears to be upset about having to sign a prenup and who stabs Tanya for overeating). Tanya insists that Portia stay in her room and be available at all times. Understandably, Portia questions her decision to stay in her job. She does her best to hide from Tanya and Greg, manages to sneak out to dinner and makes a new friend in Albie (Adam Di Marco), a nice guy her own age who lives with his father Dominic (Michael Imperioli). on a family vacation at the resort ) and grandfather Bert (F. Murray Abraham). Albie’s parents break up because Dominic is a sex addict: this is further complicated by two beautiful Italian prostitutes hanging out at the hotel. Lucia (Simona Tabasco) is a seasoned professional but wants to find a rich husband so she can stop being a sex worker, while her best friend Mia (Beatrice Grannò) dreams of becoming a singer. Charming and cunning, the two eventually get Dominic to book rooms in their names so they can come and go as they please while Valentina keeps a watchful eye on them. Albie is attracted to Portia, who seems to prefer the bad-boy type. Meanwhile, Bert is busy charming and flattering every young woman he meets.
There are also two young couples vacationing together: Harper (Aubrey Plaza) and Ethan (Will Sharpe) have been invited to join his former business colleague Cameron (Theo James) and his wife Daphne (Meghann Fahey). Ethan, newly wealthy from selling his business, seems to disapprove of Cameron and Daphne’s selfish company, but does his best to be polite. Harper, on the other hand, is a socially committed employment attorney who resents the couple’s political apathy, considering Daphne shallow and Cameron a creepy alpha male. Meanwhile, Cameron and Daphne’s constant displays of affection are a reminder that Harper and Ethan rarely have sex anymore. The chemistry between these two couples is irresistible thanks to razor-sharp performances. I’m especially excited to see Will Sharpe, one of my favorite directors (Flower, Black Pond, landscaperand The Electric Life of Louis Wain), which stars opposite Aubrey Plaza, one of the most interesting actresses working right now.
In fact, the entire cast is outstanding, including the actors who play deeply unlikeable characters. I really enjoy Tom Hollander as Quentin, an eccentric Englishman who has retired to Tuscany and finds Tanya likable. Beatrice Grannò’s vocals are delightful, an intricate and inspired take on nightclub-style crooning. Sabrina Impacciatore plays Valentina as a complex woman whose rugged exterior guards a sensitive inside. And then there’s the inimitable Coolidge, who infuses Tanya with an intriguing balance of devotion and fear. She’s determined to have a romantic getaway with her husband and is even planning an “Italian Dream” day. She wants to ride behind Greg on a rented Vespa dressed like legendary actress Monica Vitti. Her dawning realization that her new husband is less than devoted to her is both sad and predictable. Her willingness to quickly befriend Quentin, who caters to what he calls Tanya’s glamorous style, is understandable. But the fifth episode ends with a shocking revelation – it remains to be seen just how far Tanya will go for love and acceptance. This second season of The White Lotus is decidedly darker than the first, and the atmosphere of decadence and luxury is overshadowed by an unsettling aura of danger, even evil.
Peg Aloi is a former film critic for the Boston Phoenix and a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. She taught film studies in Boston for over a decade. She writes about film, television and culture for web publications such as time, Vice, polygon, bustle, microphone, Orlando weeklyand Damn disgusting. Her blog The Witching Hour can be found on substack.