All relationships are transactional to an extent. Romantic relationships, especially marriages, have varying levels of both explicit and implicit agreements. In friendships and familial relationships too, we all have expectations of what we want and need from all of the relationships in our lives. The White Lotus’ second season introduces us to a whole new cast of vacationers and locals and puts them in situations that force them to examine what they really want out of their relationships. Some of these trips end tragically, some are transformative, and others barely seem to register.
Tanya’s untimely demise is both shocking and somehow unsurprising. As our only holdover from The White Lotus Season 1, Tanya is a character we know fairly well after two seasons. Jennifer Coolidge is pitch-perfect. She threads the needle with a character that in another set of hands could have been a pure caricature. It’s easy to pity Tanya and spend the majority of the episode worried about what Quentin’s true intentions are but she reminds you over and over how self-centered she is. When Portia calls her to try and warn her, her first question is about which of the two of them is the one in danger. After turning the tables on her would-be assassins and while standing over Quentin as he slowly dies, her only question for him is whether Greg is having an affair.
While all this is happening, Portia’s Italian fantasy is crumbling around her much like one of the much-discussed Italian palazzos. Jack slowly unravels as it seems like he can’t quite bring himself to keep up his end of whatever deal he has with Quentin. Portia was dragged to Italy as an emotional support human and it nearly cost her her life. Her search for satisfaction ends up being so terrifying that in the end, she seems to abandon searching for any kind of spark and considers that maybe settling isn’t so bad. There are worse things than settling for comfort and safety. Who knows what kind of future she and Albie might have once they’re back in Los Angeles but it’s easy to see them ending up where Ethan and Harper begin the season.
Ethan and Harper seem to find their spark again after venturing outside their marriage. Or do they? Their future together appears to be as open-ended as the question of whether either one of them slept with their vacation companions. Harper begins the season convinced that Daphne and Cameron’s PDA is a front for a miserable marriage. While we certainly discover that they are keeping secrets and playing games with each other, ultimately their love for each other seems very genuine. Daphne presents both Ethan and Harper with the key to a successful marriage. She knows exactly who Cameron is and what she gets out of her marriage to him, so she does whatever she feels is necessary to balance the equation.
As dramatic as the couples’ vacation is for Ethan and Harper, the drama seems to barely register for Cameron. He and Ethan nearly drown each other and yet he gives a celebratory toast on their last night at the hotel. None of the events of the week seem to make any meaningful impact on his wife either. Daphne and Cameron arrive with their unspoken arrangement in place and the trip only serves to reinforce it. At the airport, the camera pans from them to Ethan and Harper who are for the first time having a public moment of affection. Time will tell if they too can will their way to a successful if not necessarily happy marriage of their own.
The other marriage potentially on the mend is Dominic’s after he strikes a deal with Albie. Dominic spends a large portion of the vacation trying to convince Albie—and himself—that he can change. After getting off to a shaky start, he appears to make a conscious effort to at least try to change. Whether it’s Albie’s insistence that all he wants is to never be like Dominic or his many conversations with his own father, Dominic seizes on the opportunity to make his “karmic payment.” Fifty-thousand euros might be a hefty sum to most but the price is right for a chance to mend his relationship with his wife.
Once again, Mike White refuses to indicate that one of these characters is headed toward a definitive happy ending—a fast-becoming staple of The White Lotus. Dominic can’t help but gawk at the beautiful woman walking across the airport. Change is hard! For someone like Bert, it may be too late but Albie still has plenty of time.
For all his posturing, Albie ends up willing to play peacemaker with his mother even when he’s not convinced that Dominic has turned a corner and he is hilariously in sync with Bert and Dominic at the airport. He admits to Portia that Lucia played him but doesn’t seem too fazed by it. He confessed his attraction to wounded birds in an earlier episode and Lucia gave him exactly what he wanted and played his part as the knight and rescued Lucia from her circumstances even if it wasn’t precisely the way he expected to. There’s some hope that Albie can move forward and expand his limited understanding of gender dynamics but maybe the best way to do that is not to call the girl who already blew you off once.
The White Lotus closes with a shot of Lucia and Mia having a lovely stroll down the streets of Sicily. They are the two characters who have the most successful week. Lucia starts off as the person with the most transparently transactional relationships given her job as a sex worker. While she might be deceitful in her pursuit of Albie and his family’s money, she is always honest with herself. She seems to genuinely enjoy Albie’s company but is aware that a real relationship with him doesn’t make sense and isn’t what she truly wants. She understands what they can gain from each other and knows that in the end, Albie will be just fine.
Mia also comes to understand that if both people understand exactly what the nature of a relationship is, there’s no shame in having an openly transactional relationship. She’s honest with Valentina at every turn and they share a moment of genuine connection that shakes Valentina loose from the perpetual funk she found herself in at the beginning of the season.
Season 2 of The White Lotus carried over many of the successful elements from its first season. The casting is top-notch again. Meghan Fahy is a revelation. Jennifer Coolidge and F. Murray Abraham can deliver lines that no one else can. Beatrice Grannò, Simona Tabasco, and Sabrina Impacciatore have an easy chemistry that makes their characters feel real immediately. Mike White is famously a huge Survivor fan and you can see elements of his fascination with the way people navigate relationships with each other when they’re forced into close proximity. This season he is able again to create compelling characters and then smash them all into each other to see what happens and what that says about them.
Feature image courtesy of HBO
'The White Lotus' Season 2 Finale - 8/10