[Editor’s note: Do not read on until you’ve seen all of season 2 of The White Lotus. Obviously.]
The White Lotus wrapped up its second season last evening with “Arrivederci,” an operatic, bloody, and quite quotable final bow that saw some folks played by players (sorry, Albie and Portia) and others reach their final demises (ditto, Jennifer Coolidge’s Tanya, arguably the most beloved character on the series). (Said demise happened in the most darkly funny, pathetic way possible, thankfully, keeping true to the show’s spirit.) Now that we’ve had a good night’s sleep and can already start debating who from season two should make it to the next one, let’s take a moment to unpack the Sicilian chapter of Mike White’s ongoing HBO project.
Our own Madame Butterfly went out not with a bang but a splash in what Mike White himself called a “derpy” death. I gasped when Tanya went over the side of the yacht because I simply could not believe The White Lotus would kill off the magnificent Jennifer Coolidge and its only returning character. (In this house, we do not recognize Greg.) But before she went, she gave us iconic lines such as “These gays, they’re trying to murder me” and “Well, he was kinda fucking his uncle.” The other storylines were full of red herrings (Cameron ultimately just slides Lucia her envelope of cash without a problem, and Giuseppe’s rage at being replaced at the piano by Mia goes nowhere), but all the signs pointed to the actual violence resulting from Greg’s plot to get Tanya’s money.
Mia and Lucia emerge as the season’s victors, although the Di Grasso men seem unruffled at losing €50,000 just like that. But my mind will wander forever around the complex turns of the Cameron-Harper-Ethan-Daphne dynamic. While the violence between the men was out in the open, we’ll never know what transpired between Ethan and Daphne or Cameron and Harper, just as we’ll never know if those little blond babies are truly Cameron’s. As Daphne says, “We never really know what goes on in people’s minds or what they do, right? You can spend every second with someone, and there’s still this part that’s a mystery.” Meghann Fahy has been low-key turning in a standout performance all season, but she reaches another level during the scene where Ethan shares his suspicions. It’s ultimately her mentality that the show adopts as its own: Do what you have to do to not be a victim.
Never, ever count out Jennifer Coolidge: Much of the social-media griping during The White Lotus season two run has been that, as enjoyable as it is to watch the ever-iconic actor do, well, anything really, Tanya McQuoid’s storyline this time around was lackluster in comparison to, say, our sweet but scheming Sicilian sex workers or the increasingly paranoid—and increasingly naked—quartet of Cameron, Daphne, Harper, and Ethan. By contrast, our breathy-voiced, Oreo cake-loving socialite spent much of her Italian vacation simply being lovebombed and lavished upon by a gaggle of European gays (as anyone who looks and acts like Jennifer Coolidge should).
Fast-forward to Sunday night’s fervently speculated finale and that very same lovable “Did you knit your little cap?” dimwit is now a gun-toting caftan queen emptying a clip into a cabal of criminals on a luxury yacht. And it’s entirely plausible because, whether it’s spa treatments, cocaine binges, transactional marriages, bowls of pasta made by blind nuns, or, yes, gunfights, Tanya always dove headfirst into life experiences—and, in the case of her own demise, quite literally, smashing her skull and drowning in the ocean while trying to escape said shootout in a dinghy. “Death is the last immersive experience I haven’t tried,” she foreshadowed all the way back in season one. And though our hilariously tragic heroine may have lost in the grand scheme of this whodunit—in what idyllic world do we see Portia getting her shit together and coming back next season to avenge her old boss and murder that newly wealthy widower Greg?—at least Tanya McQuoid finally, truly got to try it all. Start shining that Emmy now.
I know that the guessing game of who’s going to die in the finale of The White Lotus is one of the things that has made it such a buzzy hit these past two seasons, but for me that’s actually the least interesting part of the show. It’s so much more than a murder mystery, and this season especially it felt like that aspect sometimes overshadowed the themes Mike White set out to explore—like the politics of sex, transactional relationships, the traps our fantasies can lead us into, and (in continuity with the first season) the ways in which privilege and wealth insulate those who have it from the rest of the world.
This final episode did bring home some of those ideas, but also leaned heavily into the red herrings it had set up, heightening the tension in every scene. I wanted to focus less on whether Ethan would kill Cameron or the other way around, and more on the kaleidoscope of thoughts playing across Daphne’s face as she processes what Ethan was telling her about her husband (what a great performance from Meghann Fahy). I didn’t end up caring much about the Di Grasso men and their “Achilles’ penises,” but I did worry about Lucia until the moment she and Mia walked down that street into the sunset. I hope they both make the most of Dominic’s guilt money.
Lastly, although Quentin’s con was telegraphed from the moment he showed up, heaping Tanya with lavish praise, no one could have predicted how it ultimately went down. Kudos to White for having the nerve to kill off one of the show’s most popular characters in a grandiose ending worthy of an Italian opera. Arrivederci Jennifer Coolidge; this series won’t be the same without you.
While first season of The White Lotus felt as though it was firing on all cylinders, with season two’s finale, Mike White showed we hadn’t seen anything yet. “Arrivederici” was a tour de force of sexual power plays, betrayal, and a lesson in how to avoid becoming the victim.
In the end, the men of the series proved to be nothing better than, well, men. However, the women of The White Lotus offered some truly wonderful and dynamic performances, culminating in Meghann Fahy’s final turn as Daphne. In one moment, she grapples with the betrayal of a newfound friend, and the next exacts a surefire way to not let it destroy her psyche. She’s truly a testament to heterosexual delusion and the essence of “live, laugh, love.” She’s great.
As ever, Jennifer Coolidge remains the crown jewel of the series. This season really allowed her as Tanya McQuiod to lean into some rich line deliveries and sensational physical comedy. (Tanya and Greg’s less-than-romantic ride through the Sicilian countryside on a Vespa remains a highlight of the season for me.) In the finale, we see her finally put the pieces together concerning her fabulous group of Palermo tour guides and her rotten husband Greg, although it unfortunately proves much too late. Her little jaunts up and down the boat in the final episode gave me the giggles, as did her breaking the news to Portia that Jack fucked his “uncle.” The scene of Tanya shooting aimlessly as she cries and stumbles around the boat will go down in HBO history, topped off with using Quentin’s last moments of life to ask him if Greg was having an affair. Right down to the end she was truly, madly, deeply her tragic self.
Obviously, Lucia and Mia came out on top at the end of this tumultuous week. Lucia exhibited a masterclass in scheming rich, pathetic men with the help of her adoring friend Allesio, who took on the role of playing her intimidating, aggressive “pimp.” She capitalized on Albie’s guilt and incessant need to swoop in like a knight in shining armor, as well as Dominic’s guilt over his rendezvous with her at the beginning of the trip to pull off a clean getaway with 50,000 Euros. Not to mention, Cameron finally coughed up the cash he owed her. All the while, Mia had a little fun herself, taking down her musical competition and winning over the affections of stoic Valentina. Not bad, girls.