TV Review: ‘The White Lotus’ Keeps on Giving

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© HBO

Spoiler alert: This review includes spoilers for the final episode of The White Lotus.

Season two of The White Lotus surpasses its predecessor with an even more shocking twist and masterful character work. Over the past seven weeks, we’ve been unable to tear our eyes away from the drama and suspense unfolding onscreen. 

Set in picturesque Sicily, season two of the anthology series follows a similar formula to the first. The opening episode informs us of a death that has occurred at one of the White Lotus resorts. The series then flashes back to the arrival of the guests, whom we follow for the rest of their stay. The second season raises the stakes, with multiple bodies reportedly found on the same day. Mike White takes a fairly simple murder mystery plot and elevates it to a suspense-filled character drama. As tension slowly boils over in each plot thread, we are left wondering if the promised death will even be the most exciting and rewarding part of the season.

Whereas season one focused more on cultural appropriation and racism, expertly utilising its Hawaiian setting, this season’s cast of privileged characters is used to expose the toxic masculinity within society, as well as the toxic mindsets held towards romantic relationships. In particular, the Di Grasso family are a satiric illustration of how misogyny and harassment evolve over the generations. The grandfather, Bert (F Murray Abraham), is much more overt in his sexism, openly flirting with women decades younger than him, who are attempting to work whilst being sexually harassed. His son, Dominic (Michael Imperioli), is an ‘open’ feminist, yet also a serial cheater constantly devastating his wife with his exploits. The youngest member, Albie (Adam DiMarco), is even more progressive in his feminism, whilst openly admitting he is drawn to ‘wounded birds’. None of the men in the family sees women as individuals, only as objects for their own sexual desires. Unlike season one, where the (mostly white) privilege of the characters is an overt theme of the series, privilege is so ingrained in these characters’ lives that it is mainly in the background. The focus on relationships and misogyny is the compelling and captivating forefront, whilst the immense wealth of the characters involved is constantly satirised and condemned.

There is nothing quite like watching a series of a show as it airs. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this season was the drip-feeding of foreshadowing and character work week by week. From the statue depicting the Sicilian myth of a woman who killed her cheating husband, foreshadowing the imperfections in Cameron (Theo James) and Daphne’s (Meghann Fahy) marriage, to Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge) struggling to depart the boat in her heels, the show is a masterclass in how to add in minute details that enhance the story on a rewatch. A favourite detail is that of the dress on the mannequin of Apollonia, Michael Corleone’s Italian wife in The Godfather, who is killed by the mob. The same dress is later worn by Tanya in episode seven, expertly signalling her fate. The amount of care that went into the show is evident in every scene, making it a joy to watch.

The series finale was a masterpiece. With an 80-minute runtime, the tension between the different sets of characters was genuinely nail-biting. The build-up for each conflict means you are convinced that each character could die in every scene. Cameron and Ethan’s (Will Sharpe) slow-bubbling tension, culminating in a gripping fight scene in which both characters were drowned multiple times, was terrifying to watch, and yet unmissable. Lucia’s (Simona Tabasco) issues with her pimp, Alessio, will also keep you guessing right up to her final scene. 

Theo James and Will Sharpe as Cameron and Ethan the finale’s dramatic show-down. | © HBO

One of the most impressive and jaw-dropping performances comes from breakout star, Leo Woodall. His portrayal of Jack was genuinely unnerving, providing a terrifying contrast to his initially charming entrance. Mike White maximises the tension in the final episode, with Portia (Haley Lu Richardson) slowly piecing together Jack’s shady motivations for seducing her. Without a doubt though, the star of the episode was Jennifer Coolidge’s Tanya.

In a behind-the-scenes interview, showrunner Mike White commented on how this was the perfect ending for Tanya, a character who was obsessed with mortality. Jennifer Coolidge’s ridiculous yet endearing performance keeps you rooting for Tanya until the very end. The first season sees her tell her husband Greg how “death is the last immersive experience” that she hasn’t tried, an incredible detail that White clearly considered important. Ironically, Tanya was the character least predicted to die, due to her role as the connecting tissue across the two seasons. Her death is shocking in a darkly hilarious way; she dies at the hands of her own recklessness, after taking down an entire mob. The tragedy is mixed with the comic, as she hits the motorboat with a thud after attempting to leap to safety. Tanya was a uniquely compelling and unique character who turned out to be surprisingly shrewd and intuitive. The shock of her death comes mainly because she astutely figured out Greg’s scheme, rather than death slowly creeping up on her as we watch in horror.

Overall, The White Lotus was an absolute joy to watch, with every episode dripping in suspense and tension. Mike White’s sharp and witty satire pokes fun at his immensely privileged characters, whilst still compelling you to root for the most likeable of the bunch. He both subverts expectations (deftly sidestepping the dead prostitute trope) and conforms to them, with the final shot of the Di Grasso family all gawking at an attractive woman illustrating that they will never grow and learn. The resolution of every character arc is satisfying, but with tiny threads of conflict still lingering. Addictive and entertaining, it’s a must-watch for all.

Season one and two of The White Lotus are currently streaming on HBO and NowTV.

Words by Emily Nutbean


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