As published in CLAUDIA
When uninitiated friends ask me about The White Lotus I give a short explanation: It’s like Agatha Christie‘s tale. Various characters with motives and secrets are placed in an isolated places. Someone dies, and we spend the episodes deciphering “who”, “how” and “why”, and the answer is never obvious. But of course, the series is much more than that. Each season starts with the news that someone has died, we go back in time to find out who the victim (and the executioner) is, but we follow a long psychological and behavioral study that resonates with all cultures. It’s deep but fun. What’s more, it’s addictive!
The showrunner, Mike White, had already given a show with Enlighted, in 2011, a series starring the sensational Laura Dern and which followed “a self-destructive woman who has a spiritual awakening”. In an attempt to have “an enlightened life”, she ends up creating conflicts both at home and at work. Though adored by critics, the series only ran for two seasons on HBO. When traveling with friends, including actress Jenniffer Coolidge who lives the priceless Tanya McQuoid, Mike had the inspiration for The White Lotus. Work began along with the pandemic and the cast was isolated in Hawaii, in a real hotel that passes for the fictional White Lotus (whose name is a self-tribute to the author, “White”). Public success, algorithms, and prizes gave the green light for the second trip, which ended on Sunday with the promise of a third.
Even if you haven’t seen the first part of the story, you can catch up on the most recent season. If you’ve seen it, you’ll like it more. In the first season, the author showed several sub-themes with humor and intelligence: the conflict of generations and the narcissism of the rich. Full of pop references – the arrival of guests is a reference to the TV classic, Fantasy Island, but instead of dreams, we soon realize several nightmares and a destructive click. Isolation with nature seems to bring out the worst in everyone instead of the best. In the second stage, we leave Hawaii and land in Sicily, with new characters and the return of the curious Tanya. As part of the formula, there is one death (in this case, several) and we go back in time to find out who made the ultimate trip to Italy. I will spare spoilers.
Amidst the idyllic Sicilian setting, with quotes from The Godfather (which was recorded on location) or the Michelangelo Antonioni classic The Adventure, starring Monica Vitti, The White Lotus is rich and intelligent in its references. Tanya compares herself to the star of Italian cinema (but is cruelly called “Pepa Pig”) and another character Harper (Audrey Plaza) relives frame by frame one of the film’s most famous scenes, all contributing to rising tensions. And the most interesting thing is that Mike White insists on showing us the communication conflict between people. Never has the truth been so lonely and the lie so convenient. There are generations of young people trying to teach their elders “what changed”, there is generation X in the middle, but more than anything that takes center stage is the old dichotomy of honesty or falsehood and again, of bright shape. No one is who they appear to be, willingly or otherwise.
And it’s the female characters that stand out. I’ve already mentioned Tanya, the millionaire who deservedly earned Jeniffer Coolidge the Emmy for Best Actress (and who should repeat the feat next year), but the second season seems to have found her replacement as a favorite: Daphne Sullivan (Meghann Fahy). Cameron Sullivan’s (Theo James) betrayed and disconnected wife is anything but silly. Interestingly, the actress who shined as Daphne auditioned for a role in the previous season but was not chosen. They remembered her for a role that could have been even smaller if it weren’t for the subtlety and emotion that Meghann imprinted on Daphne. Her tactic of turning a blind eye to the shortcomings of those around her could be seen as toxic and old-fashioned, but she has won over supporters around the world. She wins a job where everyone is spectacular.
And who died in Sicily? Well, the victims’ conclusion turns out to be logical (I don’t mean to say obvious) and in retrospect, it was forewarned from the beginning, but the originality of how they get there is at once funny, sad, tragic, and heartwarming. Mike White promises that the third season will keep death as a common denominator, but that it must address the religious conflicts of the East and West. Coming from him, we know he’ll hit the bullseye!