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The Battalion

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The BattalionMay 4, 2024

Criticism: ‘The White Lotus’

White+Lotus
via IMDb
White Lotus

A week after the conclusion of the first season of its high fantasy flagship series, on Oct. 30, 2022, HBO returned with the second season of their newly minted anthology “The White Lotus.”

While the show was originally commissioned during the pandemic as a limited series, the success of the first season led HBO to transform “The White Lotus” into an anthology. The series’ eponymous resort thus became a resort chain. 

The second season of “The White Lotus” transports us from the Hawaiian locale of the first season and into the Old World, our American characters vacationing in Sicily, Italy. Like the first season’s cold open, a death opens up the series, setting up a whodunnit before the series flashes back a week to the guests’ arrival … We, the audience, are left to pick up the pieces, meet the key players and embark on a whirlwind ride on a Vespa.

“The White Lotus” transports the audience to its exotic locale only to reveal the dark underbelly of the tourism industry. The series explores the divide between the affluent tourists who vacation and the locals employed by the tourism industry, both in an official and unofficial capacity, contrasting the former’s vast carelessness with the latter’s precarity. 

This class conflict culminates in the first season with the death of Armond, the hotel manager, at the hands of Shane Patton, one of the resort guests. This is not unlike Gatsby dying at the hands of George Wilson due to the Buchanans’s carelessness. As Nick Carraway once said, “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and … then retreated back into their money … and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

The Sicilian adventure of the second season begins with the camera trained on affluent guests and initially seems less concerned with the local plight than did the first season. While it is too early in the show to make an assessment, the second season has a possibility of course-correcting where the first season took a few wrong turns. Perhaps by focusing on the affluence, the show could better contrast the 9-5 monotony of the resort staff later on.

None of the cast from the first season return, save for Tanya McQuoid-Hunt, played by Jennifer Coolidge, and Greg Hunt, played by Jon Gries, her now husband. We are introduced to two contrasting couples, the Stillers and the Sullivans, and an intergenerational Italian-American family, the Di Grassos, who make up the upper-crust the series focuses on. 

Focusing on the guests, at least for the first couple episodes, has not been a bad time. In fact, I would argue that by doing this, the show leans into escapism as its North Star. We are given a five-star resort experience, complete with the sights, sounds and celebrity. Theo James, playing Cameron Sullivan, has already inspired thirst online after a semi-frontal scene of dubious context with Aubrey Plaza, playing Harper Spiller. 

“The White Lotus” makes the age-old assertion that not all that glitters is gold. Despite their material wealth and the escapism that provides, the affluent guests’ problems loom over them and cast a dark shadow. Tanya, for example, seems to have found love last season only to slowly realize that her feelings are not reciprocated. She pushes the feeling down with food and wine but neither can fill the gaping hole within her. Tanya’s mess is here to stay, regardless of where she is.

Speaking of mess, we cannot talk about White Lotus without talking about its creator, Mike White. The son of an ex-evangelical who later came out as a gay man and devoted his life to the advancement of LGBTQ+ rights, White has made a name for himself on his own right. He wrote the screenplay for “School of Rock,” competed in both “The Amazing Race” and “Survivor” and he also wrote the screenplay for “Pitch Perfect 3” before his work on “The White Lotus.”

Needless to say, White is an interesting man. He created a pandemic phenomenon which transported us from our drab surroundings to a dark tropical paradise. As we move from a pandemic into an endemic age, buoyed by the success of the first season, “The White Lotus” now must live up to the expectations it set for itself.

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