Mike White is back to stab and skewer the rich once again with the second season of HBO’s The White Lotus. While the perfect and poetically tragic end to the first season could make you doubt the need for a sequel, White makes sure things stay thematically similar while serving up fresh, equally appetising roast of another batch of affluent tourists, this time in The White Lotus’ equally pretty and equally vulgar property in Sicily. There are more murders, flashbacks, bickering couples, horny men of all ages messing things up, locals getting caught up in the midst of it all, a hotel manager struggling to stay in the closet and the best thing in both the seasons, Jennifer Coolidge’s Tanya.
Despite how similar I have made the two seasons sound so far, they are indeed quite different in the fresh, equally interesting characters and their very messy dynamics that White introduces this season, apart from the indiscriminate amount of sex in each and every episode. At the centre of it this time are two young couples who mostly cannot stand each other but make a plan to go on a vacation together. There’s the ex-nerd Ethan (Will Sharpe) and his not-very sunshiny lawyer wife Harper (Aubrey Plaza); with his extra rich roommate from college Cameron (Theo James) and his very sunshiny stay-at-home wife Daphne (Meghann Fahy). Almost throughout the entire season (we were given 5 episodes for the purpose of this review), Harper (in an excellent performance by Plaza) loves to hate on her travel partners. She compares their seemingly-phony, too kissy-smoochy marriage to her own and always decrees herself superior. We travel their dynamics mostly through the eyes of jealous Harper and stuck Ethan as new, ugly layers of not only their friends but also of their own relationship peel away.
Slowly but surely, chaos unfurls within a span of just a week in the life of other tourists as well. There is also three generations of an American-Italian family on guest list. There’s the octogenarian grandpa (F. Murray Abraham) who wouldn’t mind pulling on the waitresses’ skirt if there were no one to stop him; the middle-aged dad (Michael Imperioli) who is definitely thinking about doing it too; and the son (Adam DiMarco) who would apologise to the waitress a thousand times, drop her home and give his dad and grandpa an earful for it. The three generations are constantly in a tussle, fighting over who messed up whom more. Their chats about the gender politics of The Godfather and ruining the lives of the women of their family make for some of the best writing on the show this season.
Then there is the needy, selfish Tanya. She returns to another White Lotus property for a vacation with Greg (Jon Gries), whom she met last season, and an assistant (Haley Lu Richardson) that Greg cannot stand the sight of. Even now, Tanya breathes every breath for the approval and attention of men around her: First Greg, who frankly doesn’t seem to care much about her and then a party of gay men who are a little too welcoming. But she could care less as long as there are eyes that rest on her and people who can sing of her. The spa worker she wronged last season is merely a tiny regret that is forgotten as easily it pops in her head. This time, the assistant is her new rag that she wipes her tears with only to discard it a moment later. But it is all so pathetic still that you almost feel sorry for her too.
In the midst of all these colourful characters are also the locals, a few of whom get better attention than others. There’s two young Sicilian girls, Mia and Lucia, who slip in an out of the property for some quick cash-making opportunities and tiny, almost endearing adventures. One want’s to be a singer, another is battling a prostitute’s guilt but they are the catalyst that brings the chaos that was harkened by the stunning opening theme by Cristobal Tapia. This time, they play the thread that loops everyone in rather than hotel manager Armond (Murray Bartlett) from season 1. The hotel manager this time round also gets some slivers of a meaningful backstory but even five out of six episodes in, I could see no promise of actually caring for her.
If the insufferability of the rich was the overarching theme of last season, White adds a tonne of adultery to the mix. One couple has mastered the art of brushing it under the carpet, one is just learning to lean into it. One man refuses to take ownership of the mistakes he made in his marriage; and another tries hard not to make another mistake that could end his marriage. The result is a lot of sex scenes dispersed throughout the show and of course, some are more uncomfortable to sit through than others.
But in between it all, White doesn’t go easy on the inherently nonsensical things that the rich believe in. In just a scene he lays bare the stupidity of both those who don’t bother to read the news and even those who do not wish to make babies because of ‘all that’s happening in the world.’ And as chaotic as their lives get, the chaos doesn’t affect the viewing experience. Multiple stories are still all woven so well with overlapping characters, I would also almost call it a Zoya Akhtar travel movie, on acid.
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