The world may not need one more take on season two of Mike White’s The White Lotus, but it’s getting mine anyway.
The seven-episode season on HBO lands in what I consider a sweet spot in storytelling length—about six to eight hours of programming. This length also works well for adapting novels to the screen, which rarely transfer in any satisfying way to a two-hour feature film, but gain room for deeper characterization, plot, and narrative arc in a limited series. Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America and The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis are two good examples.
Season two of White Lotus is structured the same as season one (my review here): bring a bunch of wealthy tourists to a resort, let them mix with the locals, and see what happens. Just as in season one, a dead body opens the storytelling in season two. We have to wait until the last episode to find out who got knocked off.
This season the locale is Sicily instead of Hawaii. The theme is sexual desire rather than class conflict. The main characters include two privileged couples traveling together from the U.S. Cameron is a finance bro married to Daphne. Ethan, his former college roommate, made it big with a tech startup. He’s married to Harper. The women don’t seem to have any professional lives. They are wives, and in Daphne’s case, a mother.
Cameron used to steal all of Ethan’s girlfriends in college. The question is whether he’s going to make a play for Ethan’s wife. Ethan seems to prefer porn to Harper.
Other guests include three generations of the Di Grassos, who have come to look up distant relatives. Bert is the patriarch, Dominick next in line, followed by grandson Albie. Bert is a former player who seems to have bequeathed to his son a voracious appetite for sex outside his marriage. Innocent Albie falls for a sex worker, Lucia. Is it love or is he a mark? Lucia’s buddy in the escort service world, Mia, is a talented pianist who gives the resort director, Valentina, a repressed lesbian, a taste of A+ sex in exchange for a seat at the lounge’s piano.
Tanya is a holdover from season one, a wealthy heiress traveling with her young assistant, Portia. Tanya gets mixed up with a group of gay grifters, while Portia is drawn into her own misguided dalliance.
Sex, intrigue, and deception—The White Lotus is pure soap opera. Of course, that’s what makes the series so entertaining. Plus, the show’s creator, director, and writer, Mike White, has a deft storytelling touch, nimbly moving from subplot to subplot, stretching the tension, offering stunning visuals, and getting deep into characters who might otherwise seem pretty shallow.
The culmination of the series is both over the top and well done. While none of the characters arrive at the resort with a “story goal” and instead seem to be blown about by the winds of chance and opportunity, each of them ends up in a place that makes sense—even the dead ones.