The White Lotus Season 2 Premiere Review: Exactly Like Season 1, And That’s A Good Thing
The White Lotus season 2 very much uses the same formula as the first, to a positive result.
The White Lotus was an unexpected breakout hit for HBO, which created a pretty huge level of expectation for season 2. Though HBO currently makes its biggest ratings for spin-off stories about dragons, incest, and intra-family royal conflict, Mike White’s dark comedy-drama series had somewhat lower stakes: basically, rich people bickering at a gorgeous Hawaiin resort, up till someone gets murdered. The White Lotus season 2 seems to be essentially replicating a winning formula, but fortunately, without any reduction in quality.
The White Lotus Season 2 Premiere Review Score:
In a way, The White Lotus season 2 throws down a gauntlet with its opening scene. The first moments of the premiere episode involve Daphne (Meghann Fahy) gushing about the Sicilian resort to two fellow American tourists (Kara Kay and Angelina Keeley, who starred on Survivor with Mike White in 2018). Daphne tells the women how much they will love the luxurious, opulent resort and blissfully glides into the waters of the Ionian Sea for one last dip, only to bump into a corpse in the water.
Much like the first season, it appears that The White Lotus season 2 will involve the death (or perhaps deaths) of a resort guest. And much like the first season, most likely Mike White (who once again wrote and directed each episode) will hold off on revealing exactly who died, but that is really not what the show is about. This isn’t a murder mystery so much as a very acidic, sometimes sympathetic character study of a whole bunch of very privileged, yet miserable people on vacation.
The White Lotus season 2 introduces a new group of guests, with only Jennifer Coolidge (who won a much-deserved Primetime Emmy for her role in the first season) returning as her neurotic, ultra-rich heiress with low self-esteem and a bunch of mother issues. This time around, lawyer Harper (Aubrey Plaza) and Ethan (Will Sharpe) play a brittle married couple on vacation with his college roommate Cameron (Theo James) and Daphne; meanwhile Dominic (Michael Imperioli), Bert (F. Murray Abraham), and Albie (Adam DiMarco) are three generations of Sicilian-Americans here to visit their ancestral village; and two local friends (Beatrice Grannò and Simona Tabasco), one of whom is an aspiring singer and the other an Instagram-utilizing sex worker.
While we, as the audience, know that The White Lotus season 2 will culminate in some kind of death, the real drama in the premiere is the mostly unspoken hostilities and conflicts between the vacationers. Aubrey Plaza clearly holds both her husband and their travel companions at arm’s length, low-key condemning them for watching true crime specials over the news.
Michael Imperioli is in the middle of a very acrimonious divorce (which includes an unseen cameo by Laura Dern as his angry partner over the phone), while Bert is extremely, uncomfortably horny for an 80-year-old on vacation with his son and grandson.
Just like the first season, it seems The White Lotus season 2 will be a slow burn. Although the first season was only six episodes (seven for Sicily), Mike White took a great deal of time for place-setting, getting all of the characters in position for their inevitable meltdowns/murders. In truth, very little happens in the premiere episode in terms of actual plot, but the weak spots in the various relationships are already apparent.
It also helps that the scenery for The White Lotus season 2, mostly shot in the Sicilian cities of Palermo and Noto, is absolutely gorgeous. Combined with the eerie, classical-inspired painting of the opening credits sequence, the show is a visual feast in addition to its dark character studies.
However, it will be interesting to see whether The White Lotus season 2 subverts the expectations in the same way as the first season. So much of Hawaii was a slow demonstration of hypocrisy, virtue-signaling, and just good, old-fashioned miscommunication, and there is already a lot of that here.
While the show is absolutely an ensemble first and foremost, it is already pretty clear that Aubrey Plaza will be the breakout of the show, with her stiff, judgmental Harper seemingly caught between wanting to call out her companions for their flippant social attitudes and wanting to not seem “shrill.”
The great F. Murray Abraham makes great use of his theatrical gravitas to show Bert as both a casually harassing letch and a clumsy, farting old man, while the resort manager Valentina (Sabrina Impacciatore) gets in some fantastic lines while trying to chase sex workers out of The White Lotus.
More than any other aspect of the show, Valentina seems to be the main difference between the first and second seasons, with her sharp-tongued, casually cruel character being the opposite of Hawaii’s soft-spoken, internally crumbling Armond (Murray Bartlett, who won a much deserved Primetime Emmy).
The White Lotus season 2 has to follow a peculiar, practically perfect first season of the show, and it seems that it is going to do that by luring us into the same rhythms. We shall just have to wait and see if Mike White pulls any rugs out from under us.