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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The White Lotus wraps up season 2 with an electrifying episode

Mike White delivers a shocking (and bloody and, yes, volcanic) finale

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Theo James and Will Sharpe
Theo James and Will Sharpe
Photo: Fabio Lovino/HBO

Season two of The White Lotus had flirted with being an opera, so it made sense that [redacted; don’t worry, we’ll get into specifics in just a bit] was the one who had to die at the end. Yes, Twitter is likely already rioting as I type this. And yes, we’ll all miss our favorite Emmy-winning star. But, when you think about it, this was arguably what Mike White needed to do if he was going to turn this anthology into must-see TV when it comes back for a third season. Better to let Jennifer Coolidge’s Tanya go out with a bang (bang! bang! bang! kerplunk!) than have us suffer through another season in which her charms would’ve, perhaps, began to grow a tad old.

Indeed, that sense I got at the start of the season that her character felt rather ancillary to the main plot at hand was a helpful misdirect. Or, rather, a good diagnosis of the way White was likely shoe-horning a character who might have best been left kept all to herself after her scene-stealing turn in the show’s buzzy first season. But by the time I finished this electrifying (and edge-of-your-seat thriller of an) episode, it was clear White was just building up toward what truly was a shocking (and bloody—volcanic, even) end.

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Well, was it really shocking though? On top of having given us plenty of operatic cues that suggested we were in for a tragic finale, the main intertext this season kept toying with was The Godfather. And really, Tanya coming out of a bedroom in the yacht shooting up everything she saw move (all while wearing a replica of the dress that mannequin had in The Godfather car) was very much on brand. Of course, she was never going to get away with such a bloodied scenario and, given the show’s penchant for darkly comedic accidental murders (see: season one), it made sense that Coolidge would get one final pratfall before moving on to (we hope) just as buzzy and meaty roles ahead.

Poor Tanya. Hers was a tragedy clearly months in the making (curse you, Greg!) and one that clearly Portia (Haley Lu Richardson) will have to live with for the rest of her life. But given the season’s interest in the feuding forces of ambition and desire, of money and sex, it makes sense that the rich lady would die while trying to foil an assassination attempt by her husband’s would-be former lover who needs the money to keep up the palazzo he’s inherited from his long-storied Sicilian family. I mean, this is a tale as old as time, no?

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Sure, some of us may have wanted to watch Cameron (Theo James) bite it. Or to see one of the DiGrasso men come to terms with their own mortality (and maybe, in the process, teach the other two about how to better understand the women in their lives). But losing Tanya makes a lot more narrative sense (Jennifer Coolidge now gets to be an HBO martyr! A Sicilian saint of the gays, if you will; what could be better?)

And I’ll give it to White; even after revealing his hand early on in the episode, he kept up a thrilling pace that had me yelling at the screen everything from “RUN, PORTIA!” to “JUST SWIM TO SHORE, TANYA!” and even, “OKAY, BUT EVEN IF HE’S GONNA KILL HER HE’S STILL HOT!”

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Meanwhile, elsewhere in the resort, we got to see the rest of our storylines quite neatly resolved. Well, sort of.

Albie got played, as we always knew he would be. No matter what he says, he made a very easy mark. (Lucia was always in control of the narrative, was she not?)

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Valentina got to let go of her work crush and found herself, instead, and got played in a very different way. (Mia got her way after all, didn’t she?)

Ditto Portia, who got to, well, learn in real time what was about to happen to her boss, only too late for her to do anything about it. (Okay, honestly…what is it about these characters who let themselves be played by pretty little things? Oh, they’re just regular people who are blinded by desire? Got it. Never mind. That makes sense.)

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Jennifer Coolidge and Francesco Zecca
Jennifer Coolidge and Francesco Zecca
Photo: Fabio Lovino/HBO

Indeed, stacking these various storylines together, White is fascinated with the ways in which we are most vulnerable when we let ourselves be guided by what (and who) we most want. Such vulnerability is a requirement, of course, of emotional and sexual intimacy. And yet it is also what most drives you to letting yourself be blindsided. The characters who most understand this (arguably Lucia and Mia, the two White chooses to close out the episode with) are the ones who better leverage it for themselves—and get us to root for them in the process.

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In the case of Harper/Ethan (Aubrey Plaza/Will Sharpe) and Cameron/Daphne (Theo James/Meghann Fahy), those insecurities ran up against the confines of monogamy. Harper, and later Ethan’s search for “the truth” was nothing but a wish for them to acknowledge that their intimacy had been eroded by rote familiarity—and it was only once they unshackled themselves from it (presumably by making moves on that couple across the bolted doors) that they found one another. Can such honesty survive? Daphne, who’s found herself a trainer, and who has an uncanny ability to reframe whatever Cameron does behind her back as both necessary and immaterial, has clearly settled on a way that works for her. And, if that fade we get after she leads Ethan away from prying eyes is any indication, she may well have helped him do the same.

When we last see them both couples are blissful once more. As to whether they’ll be able to weather what’s to come or whether they’ll need constant “trips to Sicily” or the equivalent to keep the spark of their desires alive is, alas, not for us to know. But it’s as bleak as it is a hopeful image of longterm companionship—built on playing others and playing oneself for the sake of what you truly want yourself to want. Which is both, as the show suggests, tragic and operatic in equal measure—and, contrary to what the final song tells us, anything but free.

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Stray observations

  • Which do we think will become the runaway meme/GIF of the episode: “These gays, they’re trying to murder me” or “Our Achilles heel is our Achilles cock” or, maybe, “So you fuck your uncle”?
  • Jennifer Coolidge, action star! Who knew this is what we wanted? But honestly, who else could’ve made that scene play both as comedy and tragedy? Watching her shoot at us (White rightfully letting us not see what she was witnessing, keeping us guessing until the end what was unfolding) was divine, like a carefully choreographed slapstick routine that ended in, well, murder.
  • Okay, so now that we know The White Lotus is coming back for a third season we have several things we’ll want to know soon enough. Namely, where do we think we’re headed next? Mexico? A ski resort? Somewhere in South East Asia? The mind reels at where Mike White may want to take us next. But, more importantly, now that we’ve lost the anchor of seasons one and two, we have to wonder: Will someone from season two be carried over to season three and, if so, can it please be Aubrey Plaza’s Harper? (Maybe following her divorce from Ethan?)
  • Also, how did we not even get an actual Laura Dern cameo? Might she, perhaps, be the DiGrasso we see in The White Lotus season three?
  • Oh Portia and Albie…I can’t decide who got played more spectacularly. Maybe they do deserve each other.
  • “When did the world become run by nuns?” You just know Cameron was one day away from bemoaning “woke culture.” Glad Harper finally got to chew him out even if it ended up being a tell in front of Ethan.
  • Will Sharpe in a wet (lavender) tee. (Thank you, Mike White, for all you’ve done in objectifying your leading men and also in making us all feel like every beautiful man is a danger both to themselves and to others.)
  • Can’t believe it took me this long to see that Jack had a “cowabunga” tattoo. That alone should’ve been a large enough red flag for Portia, don’t we think? Speaking of, what do we think will happen to Jack? Is the death of his “uncle” now the opportunity he needs to get out of the hole that was his life and start anew? (I doubt it, but a boy can dream!)
  • I’m gonna miss staying at The White Lotus every Sunday, but at least its ululating theme song will live forever in my Spotify playlists.