The following contains spoilers for The White Lotus S2E1, “Ciao” (written and directed by Mike White)
As we arrive on the boat for Season 2 of The White Lotus, our initial visual is that it’s the second verse, same as the first. A whole lot more bodies, and a whole lot worse. Somebody better get Hugo Baker and Karolina Novotney on the line from Waystar Royco Cruise Lines, because The White Lotus chain of resorts now is developing a reputation for people turning up dead.
Just as Season 1 opened, Season 2’s premiere “Ciao” gives us a short “mom, cringe” scene between new character Daphne Babcock (played eloquently by Meghann Fahy) and some newcomers to the Sicily campus of The White Lotus. We learn Daphne and her husband Cameron (played by Theo James), are just about to head out of town after an immaculate week there. After just one more swim.
That last swim is likely going to really damage the score on the customer survey email the Babcocks get upon their return home. While Daphne gets the up-close-and-personal version of “sleeping with the fishes,” it’s not just one dead body she sees. One dead rich guest is so 2021. She is surrounded by multiple bodies floating in the Ionion Sea, causing Daphne and anti-Armond hotel manager Valentina (Sabrina Impacciatore) to justifiably lose their flipping minds.
And thus Season 2 is off and running. Structurally and visually, the first episode is a carbon copy of a Season 1 episode, but thematically they could not be more different. After Season 1’s dead dude discovery, there is an immediate tension that is quickly defused by the people-please caricature of resort manager Armond and his staff. Jennifer Coolidge’s Tanya may have been a neurotic, insecure, mother’s ashes spreader, but at least we could laugh at her self-deprication.
We learn throughout S2E1 that Tanya has simply replaced the newfound freedom she earned by spreading her mother’s ashes with another thumb to push her down. It turns out Bureau of Land Management Greg married her and now has no second thoughts about fat-shaming Tanya and conducting secret “business” in the bathroom so she can’t hear. I knew that Greg was trouble from the moment we saw him…
The sharp contrast of just our carryover guests from Season 1 is the new normal, as it becomes clear rather quickly that we aren’t in Maui anymore.
In Season 2, the tension of a whodunit and who-is-it murder mystery is heightened by the nature of the relationships shared by these new guests to the resort. Cameron and Daphne seem happily married and wildly in love, but their authenticity is called into question in the first half of Episode 1 when they admit the things they bond over are Ted Lasso and not watching the news. And their motives for being in Sicily are ambiguous at best, something called into question by their friends and co-travelers Will and Harper Spiller (played by Will Sharpe and Aubrey Plaza).
Cameron and Will were long-ago college roommates, but not the best of friends. Harper constantly reminds Will of this as we come to learn more about his recent entrepreneurial successes. Will has recently sold a company he founded and is now “loaded,” so why the invitation to Sicily now? Why wine ‘em and dine ‘em if Cameron and Daphne don’t plan to pyramid-scheme ‘em? At least that’s what Harper wants to know. Plaza plays Harper as somehow even colder and more stand-offish than in many of her previous roles, while at the same time trying to defer to Will’s instinct to people please.
In the early going, Harper is fine to defer, even if it means they have to order the whitefish off the dinner menu, “as long as it’s not too fishy,” but her bullshit antennae are way up.
Unlike Harper, at least the Di Grasso boys know why exactly they are in Sicily. The three generations of Di Grasso men—Bert (the flirtatious and still “rock hard” elderly grandfather of the trio), his son Dom (a Hollywood big shot with severe relationship turmoil back home), and the youngest Albie (a Stanford man who is shy about his university but not about digging into his paternal-side’s secrets)—have come to Sicily in search of their past. They want to uncover some of their history on an island where their family once lived.
But in Episode 1, the only thing being uncovered by that family is the body of a young and eager Italian prostitute named Lucia whom Dom has no problems bringing up to his room to try and escape the verbal outbursts of the partner left behind in L.A.
Lucia is finally able to outsmart and escape resort manager Valentina and her deputy Rocco, having clearly watched the first season of The White Lotus and now knowing what it takes to climb the rungs of the social ladder.
But just as those themes of social positioning, the haves and the have-nots, and the façade of control were the through-lines of Season 1, that is clearly not where writer and director Mike White is taking this season. We are going to dive deep into relationships this season, it would appear.
How do these many already-intimate, blossoming, and brand-new relationships evolve, or rather devolve? How do they begin to interplay and weave together a mystery that leaves several people dead, floating on the beach outside Sicily’s White Lotus?
Season 1’s White Lotus guests were secretly depraved but outwardly happy. It’s what was expected. But they, for the most part, displayed a sense of morality to one another that could have come from ambivalence but at least provided us as the viewers with a few characters to root for.
Through one episode, we are now focused more on deceit, resentment, and competition as we tour our resort across the pond. I hate almost all of them already. But perhaps that’s the point. Where this all goes, and more importantly, where this all ends, is going to be quite the relational journey as this second season begins.