One of the most bizarre, quirky and darkly satirical shows has returned to the small screen for another round of drama, tension and ripe social commentary. This time around, The White Lotus take us to the shores of Sicily, introducing us to a flurry of new characters who are about to have the experience of a lifetime… for better or worse.
Much like the first season, it begins with a death (or deaths) at the resort before jumping back in time to follow an assortment of guests as they relish in the life-changing experience of staying at a Whit Lotus resort. It’s a formula that worked the first time, so there’s no harm in presenting audiences with the same mystery. The most influential change from last season to this one isn’t the characters – it’s the new themes and social commentary that drive the narrative forward. Where the first season was all about money and white privilege, this season revolves heavily around how sex and relationships drive and change people in different ways. It’s a concept that gets stronger as time goes on, with the idea of sex having a huge impact on the lives of every single guest. Mike White’s ability to really hone in on a central concept and keep that concept in focus the entire time is remarkable. As the creator, writer and director of every single episode, it’s great to see Mike’s very clear-cut vision for the season be fully fleshed out in a way that’s wholly entertaining from beginning to end.
The narrative itself is riddled with all of the chaotic storytelling, awkward dialogue, hilarious interactions and spine-chilling tension you expect, only in this season certain elements are massively amplified. There’s definitely a lot of that quirkiness in here, but the tension this time around is ramped up to an 11. The last couple of episodes especially had me locked in and on the edge of my seat in anticipation of what would happen next. Like, it felt as if a bomb (figuratively) could go off at any moment, with the dramatic tension getting so brutally thick you could cut it with a knife. Certain character arcs are so intense that they’ll turn non-nail biters into serial nail biters in an instant. With the drama in the series at an all time high, it’s balanced beautifully with satirical beats that are as awkward as they are hilarious. Those satirical elements don’t stand out as much this time around, as nothing can beat the interactions within the Mossbacher family, but there’s certainly still a lot to go around.
The sheer insanity of the dialogue was a huge highlight for me in the first season, and that’s carried through to this season in fine fashion. Mike White’s writing is so brilliant that it doesn’t matter whether a conversation is comedically- or emotionally-driven, because I was engrossed in every single character interaction. There’s so many moments in which I thought to myself “I could watch these characters sit at a table and unload passive-aggressive remarks for hours and be entertained through every minute”. Every conversation is in here for a reason – there’s no throwaways, with each moment revealing more about our characters and how they’re all changing (or not changing) based on what’s going on around them. No matter who the narrative was focusing on in any given moment, I was too invested in the arc unfolding on screen to worry about what was happening elsewhere. Again, it goes to show the true depth of Mike’s writing in really bringing all of these characters to life.
Speaking of the characters, I love how this season manages to introduce every single guest (and notable employee) in such a way that gets you on board with every single one of their arcs. What’s even more fantastic, is there’s a few key subplots that aren’t as large, but just as engaging. For instance, the happenings with Isabella (Eleonora Romandini) and her time at the front desk aren’t hugely important in the grand scheme of things, but I still found myself wanting to know more. From the sheer douchebaggery of Cameron (Theo James) to the horny old mind of Bert (F. Murray Abraham), the diversity of these characters is especially wonderful. It goes without saying that I love every single character in this season, so to talk about every single one would require a review twice as long as this. However, I will say that my favourite characters have to be Aubrey Plaza’s Harper and of course, Jennifer Coolidge’s Tanya. Oh yeah, Tanya returns in this season (not a spoiler btw) and she’s just as strange, insane and quirky as before.
So that’s all about the characters, but what about the actors? I don’t think it’s any surprise that every single performer nails their respective roles. Not only that, but I bought into every single relationship because it really felt like everyone on the cast understood where their characters stood with one-another. The performances are exceptional across the board with a few standouts. Jennifer Coolidge won her first Emmy for season one, and I can almost guarantee she’s about to back that up with a second win. Her performance is completely unhinged, and it’s wonderful. Every moment she’s on screen is a gift from the heavens. I also loved how Haley Lu Richardson portrays Portia. She’s a somewhat awkward personality that almost flows through life without an original thought, and Haley pulls it off greatly. Then there’s Aubrey Plaza and Meghann Fahy (Daphne), who both bring their A-game and contribute to plenty of memorable conversations that are mostly driven by Aubrey’s snarky attitude.
Again, to mention every single performance I loved would mean I’ll still be writing this review by the time season three drops. So, just take note that all the characters are strongly written and all the performances are spot on.
The use of music in this series is absolutely spectacular. As the score gets louder and more chaotic over the top of certain scenes, it heightens the dramatic tension tenfold. Some of my favourite moments are when the music gradually swells to extreme volumes, and you don’t even fully notice until it crashes back to silence. It creates an overwhelming sensory experience that sucks you in to the world and puts you in the shoes of the characters. The score within the series is grand, but it’s the opening theme that leaves the biggest mark on the series. It’s wildly chaotic and establishes primes you for everything that’s about to unfold.
In the end, this second season of The White Lotus is a step above what the first season delivers. Mike White’s writing is near-flawless, fleshing out every character setting them all up with an arc that’s entirely captivating. There’s so many layers to this narrative that it’s easy to get sucked into the world and never want to leave. It’s satirical, it’s intense, it’s awkward and it’s exactly what I wanted from a second season. Anyone hoping the series featured more serious tension gets that in this season, but not at the expense of the trademark quirkiness. Give me a third season ASAP because this is all I’ll be thinking about for the next year (or so).