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On The White Lotus, Harper goes on an all-out passive-aggressive campaign

“That’s Amore” also treats us to a deep talk about life and beauty

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Haley Lu Richardson and Leo Woodall
Haley Lu Richardson and Leo Woodall
Photo: Courtesy of HBO

Have you picked up your jaw from the floor? That’s where mine was when Mike White finally revealed the twist we all should’ve seen coming. After all, for a “naughty nephew,” Jack (Leo Woodall) was, perhaps, too odd of a guest in Quentin’s (Tom Hollander) gay-filled yacht and palazzo. And if the impact of that final scene gets to be blunted by the way we get to refer to it as “this season’s rimming reveal,” there’s no denying writer-director Mike White made sure to make it as operatic (and eye-searing) as he could be. Almost as if he’d heard complaints about the way that season one Armond moment was (how shall we put it?) a tad too demure for the sex position it was depicting. Because boy did he deliver on this front (or, back, I guess) this time around.

I was almost tempted to write “Poor Portia” (Haley Lu Richardson) but for someone who’s so online and who’s clearly been reveling on how few fucks Jack gives, she’s probably primed to be endlessly more understanding about this, ahem, arrangement than anyone else on the show. That’s definitely not the case for Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge), who truly felt like she’d seen a ghost. Or something even more terrifying. But we’ll see. Might this be a condom wrapper moment where Tanya keeps the news to herself? Or will she try to steer Portia away from Quentin’s “beauty”? As with most other things this episode, whatever Tanya and Portia and Jack and Quentin decide to do will rest on how much importance they place on things like “propriety” and “tradition.” And, also, how much they value, say, open communication over lurid secrecy. How much does Jack owe, after all, a pretty girl he’s just met? Not all of us can be open books eager to be read like Tanya.

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I will say, this was probably the jolt I needed to finally be back on the Tanya train. Coolidge made this Puccini opera protagonist the reason to watch The White Lotus season one. And it made sense to thread this second season around another of her adventures. But there’s no denying the other Sicily guests have become the real scene-stealers this season (Aubrey Plaza’s Harper being right up there at the top of the list). All while Tanya’s heartbreak and kooky ideas about tarot readers, spas for poor women, finger foods, and her current husband have been hilarious, yes, but a tad footnote-y to the main thrust of the show. That is, of course, until these various thrusts she just witnessed after having arguably one of the most entrancing conversation about life and beauty with Quentin (Tom Hollander) we’ve seen yet.

Meanwhile, across town, Harper, Ethan (Will Sharpe), Cameron (Theo James), and Daphne (Meghann Fahy) went out for the most awkward wine tasting adventure you can imagine. Throwing caution to the wind and having learned her husband had lied to her the night before (though he insists he actually didn’t do anything with those “hookers” he and Cam had brought back to their room, he promises!), Harper went on an all out passive aggressive campaign. Watching Plaza navigate the way Harper is enjoying holding Ethan and Cameron in her thrall (the latter even eyeing her and touching her legs under the table!) all while trying to be indignant about their behavior was a masterclass.

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Then again, I don’t think anyone expected us to see Ethan turn out to be such a natural when dropping scathing reads on his friends. To call out Cameron for suffering from “mimetic desire” (“I was smarter. Maybe you thought sleeping with women I had a connection with would make you smarter.” Ouch) is an A-plus move—especially when Cameron has been less than shy in showing how much he’s into Harper to begin with. But the exchange was a reminder that, perhaps, the single most important theme of this season is the way these characters can never escape the fact that they only grasp sex as a transaction.

Michael Imperioli
Michael Imperioli
Photo: Courtesy of HBO
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Sure, that’s clearer to observe in Lucia (Simona Tabasco), who’s playing Albie like a fiddle, and Mia (Beatrice Grannò), who offered herself to Valentina in exchange for two nights at the piano. But it’s everywhere in the way these Americans in Sicily understand how they can relate to one another in bed; and that was all before we knew Jack and Quentin’s uncle/naughty nephew dynamic was decidedly more R-rated than at first glance.

It explains why Quentin leaves us with Gore Vidal’s line: “I can understand companionship. I can understand bored sex in the afternoon. But I cannot understand the love affair.” Love, after all, necessarily requires doing away with any kind of transactional dynamic. It’s what Bert (F. Murray Abraham) thought he had with his wife (and why she stayed with him, he argues, despite knowing of his affairs). And why Dominic so regrets how he let his relationship with his wife (voiced by Laura Dern, no less) sour so and why he’s now so sensitive about letting escorts like Lucia and Mia into his (and now Albie’s) life. What does love look like in 2022 in Sicily? Well, we’re seeing how such a question is harder to answer—even when the song Mia sings at the restaurant (“That’s Amore”) makes it feels so self-evident. Even if we all know it’s anything but.

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Stray observations

  • Is Daphne’s entire bubbly persona just an act? And if it is an act, is it an act of desperation? Of self-preservation? Of survival? The moment she shows Harper a photo of her kids on her phone (while claiming to be looking to show off “her trainer”) felt particularly calculated in its ditziness, almost as if she knew what she was doing, telling Harper in no uncertain terms why she stayed with Cameron. White’s been getting fabulous performances from all his ensemble but it’s been Fahy who’s been sneaking in with one of the most revelatory portrayals on the show.
  • Who can hook me up with some “healthy wine” from Mount Etna?
  • Oh Albie. I now worry he’s not only going to get his heart broken but his entire savings stolen...
  • I could write an entire piece on White’s decision to turn crashing waves into the visual leitmotif of the season (series?); here is nature at its most violent yet also its most beautiful. There’s a forcefulness that feels weighted yet also ethereal. One that speaks to an inevitability; waves will crash and crash and crash…you can’t escape from them, can only learn to avoid them, or ride them, or maybe just get washed over by them. Oh, that’s before you begin to see how he’s often used them as stand-ins for orgiastic pleasures…. See? So many meanings! So little time to unpack them all!
  • Speaking of overdetermined meanings: What should we make of White having Tanya sit through Puccini’s Madama Butterfly? Is this yet another clue for who’s gonna bite it by the end of the week? Tanya did say she sort of understood where Cio-Cio-San was coming from when she decided to kill herself….