At first glance, Cameron (Theo James) and Daphne (Meghann Fahy) look like the very image of #couplegoals, with their sunny good looks, photogenic designer outfits, and cute habit of snuggling and smooching in public. But Harper (Aubrey Plaza) doesn’t believe in their Instagram-worthy image of marital bliss. “It’s performative,” she taunts her husband, Ethan (Will Sharpe), once they’re alone. “Certainly not. It’s wrong.
‘Cause they’re all characters on The White Lotus, Mike White’s stinging satire on the rich and the wretched, it’s no surprise that Harper is ultimately right. Still, the real question, as Ethan points out, might be why Harper cares in the first place. In its second season, the HBO series turns us all into Harpers, casting a suspicious eye over the familiar trappings of courtship – and while the new episode doesn’t cut as close to the bone as the first, it does. on more than a few observations pointed enough to draw blood.
The White Lotus
Just as spicy, almost as tasty.
If the findings of season two can be summed up in one word, it just might be that the straights aren’t right (although in all honesty the show’s non-straights don’t seem to be that hot either ). In the five hour-long episodes sent to critics, over a seven-episode season, the drama primarily revolves around the intractable gender divide as it plays out on the battlegrounds of sex and romance, analyzed with the same anthropological precision that White brought to questions of wealth and class in the first season.
The new backdrop is a luxury White Lotus resort nestled along the Sicilian coast, and players a crop of mostly fresh guests. There’s the aforementioned foursome, celebrating the sale of Ethan’s business with a couple on vacation with friends; Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge) and her husband Greg (Jon Gries), the only recurring characters from the first season, traveling with Tanya’s existentially frustrated assistant, Portia (Haley Lu Richardson); and three generations of Di Grasso men (F. Murray Abraham’s Bert, Michael Imperioli’s Dom and Adam DiMarco’s Albie) on pilgrimage to their ancestral homeland.
Valentina (Sabrina Impacciatore) serves as this iteration’s counterpart to Maui’s beleaguered hotel manager Armond, until interest in a comely young employee (Eleonora Romandini’s Isabella). However, the staff mostly takes a narrative background about two locals, Lucia (Simona Tabasco) and Mia (Beatrice Grannò), who lurk around the hotel and seek to trade their sex appeal for money. or the favors they can extract from the wealthy. male guests.
After an Italian version of last year’s tropical opening credits sequence, the season begins again promising death in a flash-forward, before jumping back a week to piece together the story of who died. , how and why. The warning seems almost redundant. Whereas The White Lotus goes out of its way to showcase the breathtaking beauty of the island – taking a detour off the property to visit stately palaces, charming vineyards and this town where some of them The Godfather was filmed, like the longest tourist advertisement in the world – it also explains that Sicily would be the place where Hades raped Persephone. Romance and violence, whether physical or emotional, go hand in hand here.
Unlike the first season’s dismantling of cruel and clueless elites, the second lacks such obvious goals as Shane’s monstrous entitlement or Tanya’s selfish neediness. For one thing, the characters are, on the whole, rather more likable (even if Cameron is cut entirely from the same obnoxious cloth as Shane, and Tanya is still Tanya). Socio-economic class remains a constant concern for The White Lotus, but as a complicating factor for the season’s central themes of gender, lust, and love, in which the distinction between villains and victims isn’t so clear cut. The result is a series of episodes markedly less biting in their humor and less biting in their satire, even with Cameron’s tendency to spout alpha male bullshit or Bert’s to shamelessly flirt with every woman he sees.
Fortunately, the season is no less lucid in its observations or its sense of empathy. As a creator, White has a particular talent for driving the wedge between the people his characters want to see and the people they can’t help but be. Here, he uses it to tap into a nebulous anxiety about whether it’s even possible to know what we really want when we’ve spent our entire lives being told what to want. The question most clearly applies to the characters’ decisions about whom to fuck or flirt with, which are driven as much by a thirst for status or comfort as by any actual desire. (When a sex worker shrugs that “having sex knowing exactly what you’re going to get out of it isn’t so bad,” her clarity comes across as both refreshing and depressing.)
But the aforementioned anxiety is also expressed in moments like Portia fuming about the disappointments of a world where even breathtaking views like the ones she enjoys in Sicily might not result in true wonder or pleasure, but just “redundant content for stupid Instagram”. Richardson utters the words with a misery so palpable you can almost feel it — especially if you, too, have experienced this very specific but hard-to-pinpoint modern malaise.
She’s not the only one who benefits from White’s knack for crafting characters that feel painfully understandable, if not necessarily likable. Other standouts among a very solid cast include Plaza, who unfolds her signature deadpan to hilariously uncomfortable effect as a woman whose harsh judgments barely conceal her own insecurities. She’s a particularly good match for Fahy, who makes Daphne one of the season’s most compelling characters by tapping into the vast stores of steel and grief that underpin her usual effervescent persona.
Despite the sparks of sympathy that pass between the two women about their shared experiences, The White Lotus has no interest in reducing men or women to essentialist notions of predator or prey, subject or object, white knight or damsel. On the contrary, he is aware that it is the social framework in which all his characters – and us, the viewers as well – evolve. They can embrace these stereotypes as “hard-wired” or dismiss them as “constructed,” as Bert and Albie do in an argument over The Godfathermacho appeal, or try to work them to their advantage, as Lucia and Mia do.
But none seem able to elude them completely in favor of pursuing their true wants and needs, at least as of episode five; we’ll find out in the next two if there’s a way out that doesn’t involve becoming a corpse floating in the Ionian Sea. Harper, in the end, misinterpreted Cameron and Daphne’s love in a crucial way – assuming they were the only ones showing off their love and sex life. The White Lotus‘ gift to audiences looking for absorbing drama, semi-scathing comedy and perhaps painful introspection is that she’s not making the same mistake she did.
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