Not many shows count as appointment television these days—especially for us card-carrying wait-for-it bingers—but HBO’s The White Lotus is a noteworthy exception. A lavish, riveting combination of mystery, comedy, and social commentary, The White Lotus made a splash in its first season, a robust, chewy hit about class and race inequality at a posh Hawaiian resort. Conceived as a limited series, The White Lotus was so successful that creator Mike White got the green light to do it again, and the resulting second season had me addictively tuning in weekly, just like the good old days.
It might be fair to say that with its extension, the The White Lotus has morphed into something vaguely Fargoesque: a yearly anthology mystery, with a new cast and locale, connected by shared lore. Continuity nod number one this season is the White Lotus itself, explored now as an international resort chain. Situated on the almost criminally picturesque Sicilian coast, the season begins as an attractive young woman named Daphne (Meghann Fahy)—after raving about her vacation to some newcomers—takes a swim in the Ionian Sea, only to find a dead body floating in the water. As in season one, this opening flashforward question ricochets backwards, introducing us to an Agatha Christie roster of potential future corpses. Arriving with Daphne is her sketchy dudebro husband Cameron (Theo James), who has lured along his old college roommate and newly wealthy friend Ethan (Will Sharpe) and his reluctant wife Harper (Aubrey Plaza). Also on the list is continuity nod number two, Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge), a guest from the Hawaii season who now comes to Sicily on a romantic getaway with her new husband Greg (Jon Gries) and her beleaguered, floundering assistant Portia (Haley Lu Richardson). Then there are three generations of DiGrasso men: young Albie (Adam DiMarco), middle-aged Dominic (Michael Imperioli), and elderly Bert (F. Murray Abraham), who have come to Sicily on a sentimental journey to track down their ancestors. Unknown to his father and son, though, Dominic has engaged the services of a local prostitute named Lucia (Simona Tabasco), and the liaison between Dominic and Lucia lures Lucia’s aspiring singer friend Mia (Beatrice Grannò) into the drama, as well as a terse, buttoned-down hotel manager named Valentina (Sabrina Impacciatore).
Which of these privileged, wealthy people, or their unlucky servants, will end up dead? As in the original, this season gives us a teasing, up-front mystery for the rest of the season to gradually solve, and a large, memorable cast to support it. Since White designs the mosaic so adroitly, seeding the scripts with sub-mysteries and sub-sub-mysteries, the experience of watching it unfold is once again riveting. This what’s-going-to-happen momentum is embellished by intriguing symbolism, subtle backstory exploration, and foreshadowing hints of the plot’s end game. But mystery-solving energy is also accompanied by quirky comic moments that incisively satirize the out-of-touch, upper-crust bubbles of its toxically wealthy protagonists. (For example, when Harper—who, like Alexandria Dadarrio’s Rachel in season one, is a newly admitted outsider still adapting to wealth—admits that she doesn’t want to bring a child into this world, what with everything so messed up right now, Cameron and Daphne respond with epic “what do you mean?” privilege.) White glories in taking the piss from the super-rich, and in season two, he revels in their fantasy bubble, exploring how wealth empowers its owners to cavalierly entertain illusory, idealistic notions about their lives and the world. He also smartly pivots thematically from race and colonialism to sex, and the endlessly problematic power dynamics that result when sex and wealth collide. This focus adds a differently sordid gloss to the skewering commentary.
One might have questioned, after season one, whether The White Lotus was sustainable as an extended series. But while occasionally this season has signs of a show that could repeat itself with diminishing returns, overall, I think it makes a good argument for the concept’s longevity. Comedy-mysteries are a hot commodity right now, and The White Lotus remains an uncommonly refined and compelling example, plus it has the buzz to lure high-quality talent. Certainly, this year’s cast rivals the first’s for exemplary performances, providing breakout showcases for Fahey and Richardson, yet another outstanding turn from Plaza, and terrific support from everyone else involved, including a smartly deployed Tom Hollander and scene-stealing hedonism from Leo Woodall. I would probably never want to visit a White Lotus Resort in reality, but I’m definitely looking forward to my next vicarious stay.