November 1, 2022

“The White Lotus” Returns with an Awkward Vengeance (Review)

“Italy’s just so romantic…you’re gonna die. They’ll have to drag you out of here,” says an outgoing guest at the very start of the second season of The White Lotus, which proved a hit for HBO when it premiered last year. From the instant those words left her mouth, I had the sense that they would be true, in both a literal and metaphorical sense.

Image courtesy of Warner Bros

The White Lotus
is a special kind of anthology series. Evidently set in the same universe as its first season, Season Two brings us to a brand new White Lotus resort, this time in Sicily. Almost every main character is entirely different — some more so than others — with very few returning characters. It’s those returning characters that ground the series as interconnected, beyond themes and the general sense of luxury.

Once again, HBO has pulled in an all-star cast to play a host of mildly despicable characters. Theo James (The Time Traveler’s Wife), Meghann Fahy (The Bold Type), Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation), F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus), Michael Imperioli (The Sopranos), Tom Hollander (Pirates of the Caribbean) and Hayley Lu Richardson (Shake it Up) are among the newcomers, each representing a different archetypal personality to mix and mingle with each other. They’re joined by Jennifer Coolidge and Jon Gries, the only actors reprising their roles from the first season as Tanya McQuoid and Greg Hunt, two White Lotus guests who married after their meeting and affair in the previous season. Their arcs from the show’s debut season didn’t necessarily need a continuation, but it’s always nice to see some familiar faces.

Image courtesy of Warner Bros

It seems that once again, series creator and writer/director Mike White is using
The White Lotus to offer his commentary on various controversial aspects of modern society, typically through clueless characters that have to be educated by others. After a politically-focused first season, it seems like White has moved into more nihilistic territory, perhaps exacerbated by world events that have unfolded since the show initially premiered. If The White Lotus continues, I can only imagine the lengths to which it will go in reminding us of emerging culture shocks and how little they jive with the norms of previous generations.

The creative limitations of only one individual handling both writing and directing duties for a series aside, the script is intelligent as ever, and the direction makes full use of both the location and the performers’ talents. The very premise of the series is based in relationship drama of every sort, and Season Two leans into it big-time. It’s sometimes difficult not to see the season’s new characters as “new versions” of the ones we knew in Season One, but as the episodes progress, we get a better sense of who they are how they’ll fit into the story. It’s still funny, but in an incredibly awkward way — is it making us think about the world around us, or is it only serving to sink us deeper into an unescapable pit of discomfort? I’m still not sure what The White Lotus is trying to do.

Image courtesy of Warner Bros

Be that as it may, I adore how much each episode of the series feels like a one-act play, with every scene playing out like a vignette, building on each other and heading toward an undoubtedly tragic climax. If it’s anything like its predecessor, slow buildup to rapid escalation is the name of the game, and there’s a lot to look forward to in
The White Lotus’s future.

New episodes of The White Lotus premiere Sundays at 9pm on HBO and HBO Max. Five episodes of Season Two were screened for this review.

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