Warning: This article contains spoilers from the Season 2 finale The White Lotusavailable in Italy on Sky and NOW.
Until we meet againthe final episode of the second season of The White Lotuswas for many reasons totally different from Departures, which is the conclusion of the first season of Mike White’s very acid satire on the very rich on vacation. Although at the center of both stories there was the death of one of the main characters (the first time it was Armond, the contemptuous manager of the Hawaiian resort; this time it’s the turn of Tanya, the ditzy heiress), the bloody end of the character of Jennifer Coolidge was set up with a lot more suspense than the previous ending. In some moments, Until we meet again it reaches almost Hitchcockian levels: it is not fully understood whether Tanya is imagining everything or if she is right, when she says to the captain of the yacht “Please… these gays are trying to kill me!”. What if Departures ended showing the various guests of the resort happy and unaware of the damage they had caused to the hotel staff, the last shot of the second season is instead dedicated to Lucia and Mia, the two lower-class Italian girls who are celebrating their sudden fortune – the credit for which goes to the rich but mouthful Albie Di Grasso. But, one way or another, the two concluding chapters seem to be part of a single story, a single vision. If the episodes seen so far could have led us to think that the second season had been more disappointing than the first, White finally manages to recreate the delicate combination of tones and themes that had made the first season so unique.
Let’s start with Tanya, who we discovered was one of the corpses from the first episode’s flash-forward. Coolidge was arguably the first season’s biggest revelation, thanks to White’s ability to use the notoriously more confused and naïve side of him to not only serve comedy, but genuine emotion as well. In almost every episode of this new season, Tanya has been used mostly for the purpose of easy laughs. But even if Departures had revealed his (at least apparent) depth and feelings towards the people he had used for personal interest, not much more of the character actually came out. Tanya is back obviously because White loves writing for Coolidge and then directing her, and also as a bridge between the two seasons; but her scenes thus far had felt a little forced and lacking in nuance — and worse, not as funny as the ones she gave us a year ago (which could be said of season two in general).
Until we meet again not only does it restore Tanya’s complexity in one fell swoop. It also knocks her out in a way so comical that only she could handle, as she foolishly dies of a broken head, leaping off Quentin’s yacht to reach a tender instead of taking the ladder that would have taken her directly there. . But the sense of real danger that White is able to evoke around her – and, before that, in the scenes in which his much-beaten assistant Portia (Haley Lu Richardson) begins to fear for their lives – is the reward for everything. In its best moments, the first season found a way to pillorise the resort’s awful guests and, at the same time, make you empathize with (or, at the very least, understand) them.
The plan that Quentin (Tom Hollander) and his friends have planned to take out Tanya on behalf of her husband Greg, who wants to pocket the money from the pre-nuptial agreement, might seem a little ridiculous. (Why organize such a complex plan and then leave Portia the opportunity to tell the police that Greg, seen in an old photograph with Quentin, could be behind the scheme?) And there are moments, throughout the story – and I don’t I’m only referring to jokes from instant memes, of course spoken by Coolidge, such as “He was fucking his fucking uncle!” – which are fun like nothing else seen in The White Lotus.
But for the most part those scenes are really scary and full of mounting tension. That Tanya is suddenly able to transform into some kind of John Wick and take out three of her alleged killers might seem silly. But White keeps our view fixed on his terrified face – far more expressive than when, as usual, it seems to wander into his thoughts – as he makes his way around the boat before finding a place to finally feel safe. Can this murderous intrigue and unexpected outburst of violence suddenly set the tone for the entire series? It’s hard to tell, even after two seasons. But as a stand-alone piece, it is an example of exceptional and never-before-demonstrated skill; manages to be both a parody of a thriller and a full-blown action sequence.
Up until that point, season 2 had largely been buoyed by the nightmarish vacation of dual couple Ethan-Harper (Will Sharpe and Aubrey Plaza) and Cameron-Daphne (Theo James and Meghann Fahy). The acting, in this particular storyline, was of such a high standard (mainly thanks to Plaza and Fahy) and the motivations of all four characters so elusive, that it always ended up being interesting, even when other storylines took over. That storyline remained one of the strong points of this season until the end, leaving many answers open, but in a way that fits perfectly with the themes raised by the quartet, first of all the fact that every relationship must deal with compromise, even when you’re filthy rich. At the end of the series, we still don’t have the certainty of the following things: 1) Did Harper and Cameron really sleep together, as Ethan assumes, or was there just a kiss, as Harper herself claims? 2) Even if it really was just a kiss, would Harper still have slept with Cameron if Ethan hadn’t come to the room? 3) Did Daphne and Ethan get revenge by having sex of their own after he shared her suspicions about her respective spouses? 4) Isn’t one of Daphne’s two children actually the child of her personal trainer, and not her promiscuous husband?
We can make our guesses: the boy actually looks a lot more like the blond personal trainer than Theo James; the looks that Ethan and Daphne exchange as they walk towards Isola Bella are not exactly those of someone who is contemplating nature. But White knows it’s much more interesting to maintain that ambiguity than to answer all the outstanding questions. Whatever happened between Daphne and Ethan, their excursion still managed to get the man out of his sexual torpor, and lead him to find a renewed passion for his lonely and frustrated wife, Harper. And the unspoken marriage agreements between Daphne and Cameron allow them to find strength in infidelity, whether it’s in the waves of the Ionian or in any other holiday setting.
Daphne’s philosophy of life – “We really don’t know what goes on in people’s minds or what they do” – doesn’t entirely suit the least successful of the series’ nodes, namely the toxic masculinity embodied by the three generations of the Di Grassos. All three behave exactly as we would expect: Bert (F. Murray Abraham) proudly states that “our family’s Achilles heel is actually Achilles’ cock.” Dom (Michael Imperioli) tries for the umpteenth time to make peace with his wife, but he can’t help but give a very explicit look to a girl in the last scene at the airport. And Albie (Adam DiMarco) is too engrossed in the idea of passing for “The Good Guy” to acknowledge that Lucia (Simona Tabasco) is conning him. It’s all predictable and predictable, and Abraham’s line is the only thing that can bring some life into the sluggish trio.
If the staff of the previous resort came out rather broken (Armond literally), things are much better this time around. Lucia makes a lot of money: not only thanks to Albie, but also because Cameron gives her what she deserves after their wild night. Mia (Beatrice Grannò) is hired as a regular singer of the hotel after sleeping with Valentina (Sabrina Impacciatore). Theirs is a transaction of interests, rather than a real relationship, but both parties come out satisfied and happy. Valentina manages to break the armor she has built on herself, finally sleeping with a woman after a lifetime of repression and overcoming the disappointment of an impossible love story with one of her employees, Isabella (Eleonora Romandini).
Meanwhile, at least someone gets the punishment they deserve. Quentin and two of his friends die, and while Greg may inherit Tanya’s fortune, the way she dies is confusing enough to open an investigation. Albie has lost $ 50,000 of the family fortune, but above all she has had the reality bath that she deserved. And even Cameron doesn’t seem entirely indifferent to what happened during this vacation, considering the very unhappy air he shows when, in the end, we see him at the airport ready to leave (the complete opposite of the former roommate Ethan, who hoped to dominate psychologically until the end and who instead seems to come out much more victorious). Compared to the scheme of the first season, it is a satisfactory and also necessary inversion: it would have been impossible to think of a second season in which the rich guests of the hotel in question returned home serene and unaware of the damage caused to those less fortunate than They.
But not even a finale so violent and sexy as to be unforgettable can completely obscure the flaws of this season. A third chapter has already been announced, and Cameron says in this latest episode that he wouldn’t mind taking his friends to the Maldives. Surely surpassing the iconic Tanya would do everyone good: White would have nothing new to say about the character, despite Coolidge’s tragicomic talent. But will the showrunner be able to replicate season 1’s perfect mix of satire and pathos? And, if not, his ability to create memorable moments like Tanya on the yacht or Daphne and Ethan’s long walk will be enough to make The White Lotus a journey that we want to do again, and again, and again…?
From Rolling Stone USA
The magnificent ending of ‘The White Lotus 2’ restores the greatness of this series | Rolling Stone Italy