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For the guests at Sicily’s The White Lotus resort, the honeymoon is already over
“Incompetence makes me homicidal,” announces Cameron (Theo James) over a continental breakfast. It’s a good line which sums up his douchey entitlement, and in the context of a murder-mystery, it’s a pretty inflammatory one, too. Cameron’s an unlikeable guy: too rich, too confident, too handsome for his own good. But he’s also just found out his luggage isn’t making it to the hotel anytime soon, which, depending on your recent experience with travelling, might make you feel for the guy. It is a classic The White Lotus motif: an initial shudder of disgust, followed by a twinge of sympathy. If it feels a little familiar, the change in setting keeps things just fresh enough, and Mike White’s writing is as sharp as ever.
Season 2’s second episode, ‘Italian Dream’, does a good job at showing just how quickly the sheen of luxury can fade. Those opulence suites have become a mess overnight, less five-star hotel, more teenage bedroom; quite literally in the case of Harper (Aubrey Plaza) and Ethan (Will Sharpe). When she walks in on him jerking off – “what’s with the boner?” – an argument leads to bathroom conversation about all the ways Daphne (Meghann Fahy) and Cameron are superficial (she simply cannot trust a couple who don’t fight, and she’s right). The two actors – the most entertaining duo so far this season – play the whole scene straight, giving insight into each of them: Harper is easily threatened, Ethan is secretive. Daphne and Cameron are infinitely louder, and much more open, though that could mean their dark sides are more treacherous.
The di Grasso family, meanwhile, go exploring to find out more about their Italian heritage, accompanied by McQuoid’s banished assistant Portia (Haley Lu Richardson). The eldest di Grasso (F. Murray Abraham) mostly puts his foot in his mouth and crosses boundaries which would be unacceptable to those of younger generations later. His son, Dominic (played by Sopranos alum Michael Imperioli), is cheating on his wife (voiced by Laura Dern) with two local girls, Isabella (Eleonora Romandini) and Lucia (Simona Tabasco), who are living out their Pretty Woman fantasies.
It’s the youngest di Grasso, Albie (Adam DiMarco), who has the most compelling storyline out of this bunch, with his blossoming romance with Portia. The young couple’s dinner, which takes place a few tables along from Portia’s boss, is where The White Lotus excels. “I would date a caveman at this point,” Portia says. She just wants someone “ignorant of the discourse”, to escape the screen-sucking habits of dating apps and TikTok. He’s a nice guy, who can’t catch a break. White’s grasp on how young people speak isn’t that convincing – I have never heard anyone say that they are attracted to “pretty wounded birds” – but what he’s reaching for is new territory, particularly his characterisation of Albie. There’s clearly something lurking beneath his nice guy persona; their very polite kiss in the hotel lobby seems like the first step into something much more awkward. Perhaps they’ll learn that real life can be just as miserable as whatever they find on their phones.
Of all the characters to return, Tanya McQuoid (Jennifer Coolidge) always seemed like the least essential. Her storyline felt especially finished, and the character – damaged, selfish rich person – did not cry out for extra analysis. Her marriage to the brutish Greg (Jon Gries) replays similar beats, though indulging in her Sicilian fantasy does yield this episode’s funniest moment: a frantic courtyard moped ride. Greg lets her live out some Monica Vitti cosplay (though her pink get-up is more reminiscent of Peppa Pig, as Sabrina Impacciatore’s harried hotel manager points out), only for the date night to descend into tears when he says he has to leave to Denver for work.
Are we any closer to finding out who ends their trip as a corpse in Sicily’s crystalline waters (or who was responsible)? No: each of these people seem capable of losing it under the right circumstances. If the second season mirrors the first, it will be about the journey, not the grand finale, which is enjoyable enough, though a shake-up in structure might make things a little more engaging. In the meantime, the shots of the Sicilian coast are a nice enough placeholder, but those might get old quickly too.
‘The White Lotus’ airs weekly on Sky Atlantic on Mondays

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