‘The White Lotus’ Season 2 Review: Sneaky Assessment of Sexual Politics

Mike White’s sequel shifts the focus from racial privilege to sexual politics, as Jennifer Coolidge leads a new cast to Sicily for another doomed vacation.

The difference between the first season of “The White Lotus” and its second episode in Sicily is, in essence, the difference between summer and autumn. Where Mike White’s initial introduction to his fictional luxury hotel chain weaves through viewers like a biting sea breeze on a sunny day, the writer-director’s sequel wears his black satire like a slowly shrinking sweater. . Every thread pulled connects to the white privilege so shrewdly taken to task in Hawaii, but it wisely unravels in new directions – sometimes a little slowly, leaving loose parts here and there, but always connecting sly critiques of sex and power. , as they relate to wealthy men and women.

Season 2 is intensely invested in relationships: husbands and wives, in particular, but also young loves and old friendships; inherited attitudes towards the opposite sex and often clumsy attempts to establish new norms. With an acting cast bringing these complex dynamics to life and gorgeous vistas of Palermo elevating their personal odysseys, Season 2 of “The White Lotus” emerges as a darker, more personal story, one that is sure to elicit uncomfortable conversations at home, as long as the couples are not frightened by the cold.

Not literally, of course. The White Lotus resort at the toe of the boot is filled with beach chairs, private pools, and plenty of bikini-clad bodies baking in the sweltering sun. Much like its American sister site, employees greet guests with choreographed waves and forced smiles as they dock and disembark — only Paloma’s manager doesn’t feign kindness. Unlike Armond (Emmy winner Murray Bartlett), Valentina (Sabrina Impacciatore) doesn’t hide her opinions from anyone. She’ll call an old man “old” across the face, or mock a guest hoping to find their lost luggage by asking if they believe in miracles. Besides her different behavior, Valentina isn’t as prominent as Armond either – not at first, anyway – but that too feels like a conscious and considered choice by White to help set season 2 apart from its predecessor. . What you’re about to watch isn’t what you’ve seen before, and Valentina sets the tone with aplomb.

Fabio Lovino / HBO

Even the one returning character — Emmy winner Jennifer Coolidge as love interest half-billionaire Tanya McQuoid — isn’t about to repeat herself. Vacationing with her now-husband Greg (Jon Gries), Tanya arrives with her new assistant, Portia (Haley Lu Richardson); he’s embittered by his wife since their Hawaiian romance, and she’s about as perplexed and perplexed as anyone who’s forced to pander to Tanya’s every unstable whim. So once again, Tanya feels alone, worried and abandoned. But rather than looking for love in the wrong places, she’s backed by a purely platonic local (Tom Hollander) and, until then, kept steady by her young assistant. Across five of the seven episodes, the employer-employee relationship is ripe for comedy, but too often overlooked. While it’s all too easy to use Portia as a sub for Season 1’s Belinda (Natasha Rothwell) — another person Tanya relies on for emotional support and bait as well as tons of cash — there are more jokes to extract between Richardson and Coolidge than “The White Lotus” takes time, even if their solo arcs work very well on their own.

Joining them at the station are a formidable (and dashing) trio of Italian-Americans. Bert Di Grasso (F. Murray Abraham) is a recent widower who hopes to visit the small town where his mother was born, along with his adult son, Dominic (Michael Imperioli), and his college-educated grandson, Albie (Adam DiMarco ). But as Bert is quick to point out, this “boys trip” wasn’t meant to be like this. Dominic’s 25-year marriage is all but over after his unspecified infidelity was recently discovered. Yet as a stubborn money man unaccustomed to things that don’t go his way, Dominic alternates between feigning normality, courting his son’s favor (in the hope that Albie will say a good word to his mother) and drown her sorrows – not always alone. Despite a father who set a less than shining example and a grandfather who hits on every woman he sees, Albie is a “nice guy”. He is kind, caring and supportive. He recognizes the privilege afforded him by his family’s funds, and when he meets the relatively small and penniless Portia, he is aware of the power inherent in his position as a burly young man with a respected dad. (Dominic, who pays for the whole trip, is a well-to-do “Hollywood guy”.)

Albie and Portia’s awkward attempts to navigate a vacation adventure provide great gritty comedy, though their conversations pale in comparison to Season 2’s Crown Jewel quartet, led by Aubrey Plaza’s Harper. On a celebratory getaway with her husband, Ethan (Will Sharpe) — who has just sold his business for untold millions — the couple see themselves as modern citizens of the world, and their relationship is not only healthy, but superior. They know each other’s personal inclinations, share a desire to help others with their good fortune, and they always, always tell each other the truth. All that stands between them and a happy week are Cameron (Theo James) and Daphne (Meghann Fahy). Ethan and Cameron were roommates in college and they remained close despite the latter’s sibling and high-end life in finance. Now that Ethan has made his own big stack, the two can spend even more time together…much to Harper’s chagrin.

Courtesy of HBO

There are similarities between Harper and season 1’s Rachel, the bride played by Alexandra Daddario, but Plaza’s character proves to be distinct. Both are initially naive about how wealth can disrupt people’s lives, and therefore their relationships, and both experience a rude awakening as a result. But Harper, like the show she runs, sees the situation in great detail. While Ethan views his friend as nothing more than a harmless beachhead – Cameron doesn’t read the news and, in one of James’ best lines, dismisses the act of voting with a “it doesn’t matter.” it doesn’t matter” – Harper fears she is looking into her future. Right now, she can barely stand the talk of nothing with Cameron and his seemingly silly wife. (Fahy is excellent.) But as their vapid journey continues to throw substantial curveballs at her, a nagging anxiety only grows: does money do people? Check that: does money do to men?

If there was a simple thesis to season 2 of “The White Lotus,” it would be courtesy of an aspiring singer named Mia (Beatrice Grannò), as she sits by the dock with her friend, Lucia (Simon Tabasco). Lucia, a sex worker, has been hired by one of White Lotus’ clients, and as they try to spot her client among the incoming guests, Mia wants to exclude anyone with a wife. Lucia quickly checks her out: “Wouldn’t be the first time,” she says, at which Mia drops her jaw and recites the show’s central tenet: “Men are so disappointing.”

Using the history of Sicily as a backdrop, Season 2 examines the culturally dominant machismo that drives men (cisgender, heterosexual) to do, well, everything. Competition fuels some successes, but it can also destroy their emotional states. Attraction can lead them to the woman of their dreams, but it can also lead them to cheat. White’s deft scripts don’t so much lay blame as they spread it — across time, across families, and across generations. Rather than treating the issues of patriarchy as a series of revelations, it probes the various elements of sexual politics that work to sustain men — and it does so through spicy, clever conflict. It’s hard to get enough of Harper’s quartet, just as it’s hard to predict where Season 2 might end (although, yes, it does end in murder again). The performances of Plaza, James, Impacciatore and especially Fahy help make up for fewer laughs by bringing precision and passion to their respective parts.

“The White Lotus” may not feel as light on its feet as last summer’s surprise hit, but it certainly isn’t resting on its laurels. Despite what status quo resorts may claim, comfort isn’t everything. Some things need to be shaken up.

Category B

Season 2 of “The White Lotus” premieres Sunday, October 30 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.

Source: https://www.indiewire.com/2022/10/white-lotus-season-2-review-1234775366/