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What is The White Lotus Season 2 about?
HBO’s The White Lotus season 2 is a kaleidoscopic look at themes of sex, betrayal, and hope. Each character has a different relationship to these themes. What’s positively charged for one character, might be negatively charged for another. For example, Ethan and Harper have a loving relationship but struggle with intimacy. While Cameron and Daphne have intimacy but a troubled relationship. There are plenty of storylines revolving around cheating in a relationship, but the idea of betrayal extends beyond that to Lucia trying to take advantage of Albie or Quentin’s befriending of Tanya. Then we see the way Mia hopes to become a singer. And Valentina’s longing for affection. While Dominic hopes to win back his wife.
TV Guide table of contents
- Tanya McQuoid-Hunt – Jennifer Coolidge
- Greg Hunt – Jon Gries
- Portia – Haley Lu Richardson
- Ethan Spiller – Will Sharpe
- Harper Spiller – Aubrey Plaza
- Cameron Sullivan – Theo James
- Daphne Sullivan – Meghann Fahy
- Dominic Di Grasso – Michael Imperioli
- Bert Di Grasso – F. Murray Abraham
- Albie Di Grasso – Adam DiMarco
- Lucia – Simona Tabasco
- Mia – Beatrice Grannò
- Valentina – Sabrina Impacciatore
- Quentin – Tom Hollander
- Jack – Leo Woodall
- Giuseppe – Federico Scribiani
- Isabella – Eleonora Romandini
- Written by – Mike White
- Directed by – Mike White
The ending of The White Lotus Season 2 explained
The ending of The White Lotus Season 2 begins with our hotel guests at the airport (similar to season 1). Dominic, Bert, and Albie watch an attractive woman walk by. After a cut, they head to the gate. Nearby, Portia tries on a big pair of cheap sunglasses.
At the gate, Cameron and Daphne share a kiss. Nearby, but facing the opposite direction, Ethan and Harper cuddle and smile. Portia approaches Albie and the two strike up a conversation for the first time since Portia semi-dumped Albie for Jack. She asks him where his dad and grandfather are. Which prompts Albie to ask where Tanya is. Portia gives a slant answer and Albie unknowingly references Tanya’s death. They shift into talking about their individual affairs. Portia with Jack. Albie with Lucia. Each admits how terribly it went. They exchange phone numbers.
We cut to Lucia and Mia back in Taormina. They walk down the main street in expensive, bright dresses. They hug a happy, smiling hotel bellhop.
Dominic, Bert, and Albie
Dominic, Bert, and Albie had a shared arc that leaned into the idea of generations. Bert was a womanizer and cheater and it caused Dominic to be the same. For most of the trip, Albie was on the opposite end of that spectrum, embracing a more feminist attitude and outlook. While Bert doesn’t change, Dominic has made strides to amend his behavior. Meanwhile, Albie’s behavior led to Portia losing interest in him and Lucia scamming him for 50,000 euros. That definitely taught Albie a lesson.
Despite being at odds for most of the trip, their individual experiences have brought the three men into a better understanding of one another. Albie no longer feels so superior or naive. Dominic realizes he can love his father without being his father. And Bert is Bert. When they all look at the woman, it’s an acknowledgement of how similar they really are. You can read into it as a “glass half empty” moment, as in Dominic will go back to his old ways and Albie will become just as bad. But I’d argue it’s a more neutral moment. An acknowledgement of their similarity rather than a signpost for disaster. Which is why the next shot is the three of them walking as a unit.
Albie and Portia
I think if the point was to demonstrate Albie’s turn to the darkside, he wouldn’t have such a nice conversation with Portia. Instead, we’d see Portia try to talk to him but he ditches her to go hit on the girl who had walked by in the previous scene. Something like that. Or as he talked to Portia he was sneaking looks at other women. But he and Portia are completely focused on one another. And they’re both happy to exchange numbers. Especially because they’re on more equal footing. Albie’s innocence had caused him to be overly cautious with Portia which had turned her off of him. After Lucia, Albie probably won’t be so vanilla. Portia had wanted a bit more danger and masculinity than what Albie offered. And she got that in Jack. Except Jack was too much. When she sees Albie again, she has more appreciation for what he has to offer.
There’s also something to Portia learning from Tanya. It seems White Lotus made an effort to draw some parallels to Tanya and Portia. They weren’t mother and daughter but there was almost a sense of Portia having the potential to be like Tanya. They both have a bit of Eeyore-energy, the sad donkey from Winnie-the-Pooh. Ask either of them how their day is going and you expect to hear something depressing. With Portia knowing what happened to Tanya with Greg, Quentin, and the Italian mafia, she seems well aware of wanting to be anything other than Tanya. It was Tanya’s negativity and drama that caused Greg to do what he did. It was Portia’s negativity that caused her to abandon Albie for Jack. By asking for Albie’s number, she’s taking a step to be more positive.
These couples started as a group but events tore them apart. Which is why that final scene emphasizes the distance between them. Instead of sitting together, they’re back to back. Close yet separate. I would argue the proximity is thematic.
Harper and Ethan initially thought they were better than Cameron and Daphne. The latter seemed performative in their joy and Harper didn’t trust it. Once she found out Cameron and Daphne each cheated, it made her feel superior in her relationship with Ethan. Except that didn’t fix the issues she had with Ethan’s lack of desire for her. So Harper leaned into flirting with and maybe sleeping with Cameron. Which caused Ethan to sleep with Daphne. That makes Ethan and Harper the exact same as Cameron and Daphne. Except the love and joy they feel for each other isn’t performative. They really are in a better place after cheating than they were before. It’s not as “perfect” of a relationship, but it’s renewed in a way where the good outweighs the bad.
By keeping Harper and Ethan close to Cameron and Daphne, you visually demonstrate the way their relationship has come to mimic the other. But you don’t sit them together because you want each couple set off from the other. If you had them on opposite sides of the gate, then you’d be implying something completely different. Or if you had them together, then it would be about the group rather than the couples themselves.
So as broken as Cameron and Daphne’s relationship seems, and as toxic and unhealthy as it seems, I don’t think we’re supposed to doubt that the love is genuine. That the wish to be together is genuine, even though they cause each other pain. They find their ways to move on.
Lucia and Mia
The biggest thing here is the confirmation Lucia was never in danger. What she told Albie about her pimp needing money and threatening her was a lie. The guy who followed her and the Di Grasso men, chased them down, and demanded Lucia go with him—all for show. That guy is the very one she and Mia are so happy to see. The smiling guy working as a bellhop at another hotel. He’s just a friend.
Visually, there’s a cool moment. The first time we see Lucia and Mia is on this very street. But they’re walking towards the camera. In kind of drab, cheap clothing, looking disheveled. At the end, they’re in fancy clothes, glamorous as can be. And they walk away from the camera. It creates a bit of a bookend that gives us that full-circle feeling.
Who knows what they’ll do next. Maybe Lucia opens a clothing shop and is successful. Maybe she blows through the money and returns to her former job. The point here is she has an opportunity. Which is a wonderful thing to have. And maybe Mia keeps her job at The White Lotus as the piano player. I think it’s a similar thing where the important thing isn’t if she does or doesn’t. It’s that it’s up to her now. She has autonomy.
Overall, all of these characters have been shaped by sex and betrayal experience over the course of the six episodes. For most of them, the drama led to growth. Though for others
The themes and meaning of The White Lotus Season 2
Season 2 of The White Lotus has a few core themes. Specifically: sex, betrayal, hope. If you re-watch the season with these themes in mind, you can see how much they dominate the character arcs and subtext.
Sex is a focal point for a number of characters and storylines.
- Lucia is a call girl.
- Mia isn’t a call girl but decides to use sex as a bartering tool.
- Dominic is a sex-addict.
- Dominic’s grandfather, Bert, was a sex-addict.
- Dominic’s son, Albie, is caught between feminism and the influence of his father and grandfather.
- Ethan is addicted to porn.
- Harper is sex-starved and wants Ethan to want her.
- Cameron uses sex as a weapon whenever his ego is hurt.
- Daphne uses sex to get even with Cameron.
- For Tanya, sex is bait to set her up for a hit.
- Portia chooses sexual attraction over emotional connection and it almost costs her her life.
- Valentina is sexually repressed.
Since every character has a different relationship with sex, it allows the show to make more than a single, overall statement and instead be a wide-ranging discussion on the topic. Sometimes it’s negative. Sometimes it’s positive. But it’s not one thing.
Betrayal is another constant for every character. Unlike the theme of sex, it’s not a balance of some good betrayal and some bad. All the betrayal is bad. It’s just a question of whether what happens next has any silver lining.
Dominic, for example, has a chance to make amends. Albie is young and wealthy enough that what Lucia does to him probably has little impact on the foundation of his life. What Ethan and Harper go through is ugly, but in the aftermath they rediscover something they had lost. But Greg’s betrayal of Tanya leads directly to Tanya’s demise on the yacht.
- Lucia betrays Albie by scamming him for 50,000 euros.
- Mia feels betrayed by Giuseppe, the piano player who promised her career opportunities if she slept with him. But then eventually one ups him and wins his job.
- Dominic has betrayed his wife by constantly sleeping with other women and is dealing with the fallout.
- Bert cheated a lot and we see the impact it had on Dominic and maybe even on Albie.
- Albie wants to be the opposite of his dad and that causes him to, with the best of intentions, betray his own interests and family
- Ethan almost cheats on Harper, then is uncertain if Harper cheats on him with Cameron, so cheats on Harper with Cameron’s wife.
- Harper is uncertain if Ethan cheated on her, so maybe cheats on Ethan with Cameron, then probably will never know Ethan does cheat with Daphne.
- Cameron cheats on Daphne with Lucia and Mia because he felt abandoned by her. Then maybe cheats with Harper because he’s jealous of Ethan.
- And Daphne cheats on Cameron in order to feel like they’re even so she can keep their family together.
- Tanya doesn’t know Greg has put out a hit on her. And that her new friend, Quentin, is actually the one setting up the hit.
- Portia thinks Jack is Quentin’s nice, wealthy nephew. That they have a genuine connection. Only to discover he has been assigned to distract her and maybe even “get rid of her”.
- Valentina has a crush on Isabella and begins an effort to win Isabella’s affection. But it turns out Isabella is engaged. So Valentina’s betrayed by her own expectations.
It’s pretty standard for characters to want something. But in White Lotus Season 2, it seems to be more than a simple want. You have characters who are dreaming, yearning, envisioning. They find themselves in a status quo and are desperate to either break out of it or maintain it. And this hope essentially drives the characters to do what they do.
Like Harper doesn’t want to cheat on Ethan. But her hope Ethan will desire her creates an opportunity when Cameron desires her. Lucia cares about Albie but scamming him is her best chance to change her life. Tanya’s lack of self-sufficiency causes her to constantly be over-dependent on everyone. Which leads her to some pretty bad relationships.
- Lucia hopes to stop being an escort and go into fashion.
- Mia hopes to be a singer.
- Dominic hopes to win his wife back.
- Bert hopes to connect with distant relatives.
- Albie hopes to be a better man than his father.
- Ethan hopes to feel superior to Cameron.
- Harper hopes Ethan will desire her again.
- Cameron hopes to never feel inferior.
- Daphne hopes to maintain her marriage (though in her own way).
- Tanya hopes someone will take care of her.
- Portia hopes to have fun.
- Valentina hopes someone will love her.
Why is the show called The White Lotus?
The title, The White Lotus, refers to the fictional Hawaiian resort introduced in Season 1. But White Lotus is a brand rather than a single location. Meaning the show can choose a new location for every season. Hawaii for season 1. Taormina, Sicily for season 2. This means the show can keep a similar concept—wealthy people at a resort—but not be locked into a single setting. Season 1 leaned into Hawaiian culture. Season 2 leaned into Italian culture.
Beyond the literal in-world explanation, there’s more. In 2021, in an interview, Vulture asked White, “How early did you have the show’s title in place?”
White said: The title was there before I started writing. The idea of—and again, this is something I experience, ugh. But as someone who’s made money in my 20-plus years in the business, you look at yourself and you think—I feel like this is why I don’t judge Rachel [season 1 character]. I came out, so I felt like I was going to always swim upstream. I came out with so much idealism about the purpose of art, the purpose of what I was going to do. I have tried to stay that person, and I feel like, Have I fallen asleep in the poppy fields? Am I a lotos-eater? Yeah, I took The Emoji Movie. I tried to get the money for that house in Hawaii. I’ve tried to justify some of it by being like, Oh, I didn’t come from money. I’ll get my mom out of debt. At some point, it’s hard to justify continuing to chase the dragon. I wanted to explore that in a way that I felt like—at least for me, and it may not feel that way for the audience—but at least for me, it felt like I was exposing something of my own lotos-eating. …It’s both my name and the racial oppressor and all of that! I have been Shane [season 1 character] recently, where they wouldn’t let me into my room at two, they said, “Your room won’t be ready for two hours,” that kind of thing.
The lotos White mentions is in reference to Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem “The Lotos-eaters”. Which was inspired by the lotus-eaters from Homer’s Odyssey.
I was driven thence by foul winds for a space of 9 days upon the sea, but on the tenth day we reached the land of the Lotus-eaters, who live on a food that comes from a kind of flower. Here we landed to take in fresh water, and our crews got their mid-day meal on the shore near the ships. When they had eaten and drunk I sent two of my company to see what manner of men the people of the palace might be, and they had a third man under them. They started at once, and went about among the Lotus-eaters, who did them no hurt, but gave them to eat of the lotus, which was so delicious that those who ate of it left off caring about home, and did not even want to go back and say what had happened to them, but were for staying and munching lotus with the Lotus-eaters without thinking further of their return; nevertheless, though they wept bitterly, I forced them back to the ships and made them fast under the benches. Then I told the rest to go on board at once, lest any of them should taste of the lotus and leave off wanting to get home, so they took their places and smote the grey sea with their oars.
Tennyson’s poem is too long to quote in full but it’s essentially the Odyssey scene with more detail and lyricism that dramatizes the experience of being a Lotus-eater. But these lines embody the poem’s ethos: Surely, surely, slumber is more sweet than toil, the shore/Than labour in the deep mid-ocean, wind and wave and oar;/O, rest ye, brother mariners, we will not wander more.
The basic idea is a giving-in to ease. Why do the hard thing when the easy option is available? Which is what Mike White means when he talks about The Emoji Movie. He knew it was a low effort, low quality gig, but the money was good. So he took it. That initial artistic idealism he had gave way to simply making money. Easy money that leads to wealthy, easy living is the lotus eating.
That’s why The White Lotus is so focused on the wealthy and these issues that come up due to their wealth. But also the tension they have with those who don’t have money. So you can look at the title as referring to not just wealth but specifically the way wealth has turned people from who they initially were, the same way the lotus in The Odyssey stripped people of whatever identity they had and turned them solely into a consumer of lotus.
There are other implications there, of course. The word “Lotus” has become associated with yoga and meditation due to the popularity of the seated cross-legged lotus position. Britannica.com adds: Representing spiritual enlightenment, the flower is sacred in both Hinduism and Buddhism and was used in ancient Egypt to represent rebirth….In addition to artistic uses, the lotus has, since ancient times, symbolized fertility and related ideas, including birth, purity, sexuality, rebirth of the dead, and, in astrology, the rising sun.
That creates a tension. You have the positive energy of spiritual and symbolic force as well as the negative energy of apathy and indulgence. Which is kind of what we see play out in the show. The resort is full of beauty and promise. The people who go there want relaxation and peace. But their demons are still present. The show explores what happens when this negative energy becomes dominant. For some, it leads to transcendence. For others, tragedy.
The White Lotus Season 2 character arcs
- Tanya McQuoid Hunt:
- Start: Arrives on a boat to Taormina, with a bunch of her things and her assistant. She’s there to meet her husband and is demanding, impatient, and kind of oblivious.
- End: Tanya’s once again on a boat outside Taormina. She’s essentially alone and empty-handed. Her husband has betrayed her. She survives the hit he put out on her by gunning down Quentin and friends. It’s a moment of self-reliant glory. Except, Tanya isn’t a self-reliant person. Her tragic arc is that she’s someone who needs others but constantly pushes others away by being so dreadful. Here she is, alone and in need. And instead of waiting for help, she tries to save herself. And goes about it in the worst way possible.
- Start: Is with Tanya on the boat to Taormina, but is with the luggage and miserable. Being around Tanya all the time has amplified a glass half empty perspective in Portia. She’s looking for someone to be a spark in her life.
- End: Portia is at the airport. Free from Tanya. Even though she’s rattled from her experience with Jack, there’s a sense of motivation and positivity she had previously lacked.
- Start: Is judgmental toward Cameron and Daphne, believing the other couple to be performative. Is burdened by Ethan’s seeming sexual disinterest and wants to be wanted.
- End: At the airport, Harper and Ethan have become more like Cameron and Daphne. They’ve lied. They’ve cheated. But it’s somehow brought them closer. Ethan’s interest has returned and Harper is satisfied.
- Start: Is submissive to Cameron, a dynamic established back in college. And intimately shut off from Harper.
- End: Ethan not only challenged Cameron physically but slept with Daphne. The sense of superiority gained from this reactivates his intimacy with Harper.
- Start: Is in a loving yet vengeful relationship with Cameron.
- End: Is in a loving yet vengeful relationship with Cameron.
- This is a weird one. It’s not like Daphne learns about Cameron cheating for the first time while on this trip. She’s known. It’s why she has no female friends. It’s why she’s having an affair with her trainer. It’s why she punishes Cameron by spending a night with Harper someone else and triggering Cameron’s abandonment issues. So Daphne’s arc is kind of an anti-arc. All this stuff happens and her and Cameron just let it go. Some people might think that’s sad. Others might think it’s empowering. But it seems to be working for them.
- Start: Is a charming jerk who covers up inferiority and abandonment issues through performance, money, and sex.
- End: Cameron’s still a charming jerk who covers up inferiority and abandonment issues through performance, money, and sex.
- Similar to Daphne, this is more of an anti-arc. Cameron is the same person at the end as he was at the beginning. The only difference is the viewer’s perception of him. The fact that he and Ethan had a legitimate fist fight only for Cameron to pretend like nothing happened is peak Cameron. There’s a serious lack of accountability on his part. But in exchange, he also is quick to forgive others. Which is at once infuriating and endearing.
- Dominic Di Grasso
- Start: Has a sex addiction that he can’t help but indulge in, even when on vacation with his father and son. Lacks self-control. Doesn’t have his son’s respect.
- End: Dominic has discovered a degree of willpower and stopped looking to sleep with someone all the time. He’s finally putting his family over his cravings. And has the perspective that part of the reason he is how he is is because his father was like this. Part of his desire to change is to be a better role model for Albie.
- Albie Di Grasso
- Start: Is naive and desperate to not be like his dad and grandfather so leans into an intense kind of masculine-feminism. This leads to him being a bit performative and unrealistic. More platitude than person.
- End: After being played by Lucia, Albie realizes he’s more like his father than he wanted to admit. And that women aren’t all tragic creatures he needs to save. The good news is, he isn’t bitter. Or broken. Just humbled. When he encounters Portia in the airport, he can have a more natural and mutual dynamic with her, treating her more like a person than a concept.
- Bert Di Grasso
- Start: Is too old to womanize anymore, but longs for the days. He’s hopeful that he’ll find distant relatives in Sicily that he can connect with and share a special moment.
- End: The encounter with the distant relatives did not go as planned. They were a group of women who wanted nothing to do with men. It kind of feels like a karmic moment. Three Di Grasso men being chased off by three Di Grasso women. Bert continues to long for his younger days.
- A little more of an arc than Cameron and Daphne but not by much. Ultimately, Bert’s more of a foil for Dominic and Albie than a primary character.
- Lucia and Mia
- Start: These two share an arc. They start together on the streets of Taormina. Their clothes are of lesser quality. They are a bit messy. They hunger for a better life. The main difference is Lucia is well-versed in using sex to get ahead but Mia isn’t.
- End: They’re once again on the streets of Taormina. Except now they have fancy clothes. Great makeup. They’re as wealthy in appearance as any of the tourists. Both used sex to get ahead. Lucia with Albie. And Mia with Giuseppe and Victoria. She’s now a professional singer and Lucia has tens of thousands of dollars to start a new chapter.
- Start: Is sexually repressed, in the closet, and longing for affection. There’s a lot of self denial.
- End: Valentina comes out to Mia. Then sleeps with Mia. Then favors Mia over Giuseppe by giving Mia Giuseppe’s job. Not a perfect person, as she definitely uses her authority for personal gain, Valentina at least ends the show heading in a more honest direction. By being more open about her sexuality, she might be able to meet more people and put less pressure on others and herself. There’s the opportunity for her isolation to end.
Questions & answers about The White Lotus Season 2
Is there really a White Lotus hotel in Taormina, Sicily?
The hotel is real but it’s not a White Lotus. It’s the San Domenico Palace, by the Four Seasons. If you go check it out, make sure to head across the street to one of the city’s best arancini places, Da Cristina.
Now it’s your turn
Have more unanswered questions about The White Lotus Season 2? Are there themes or motifs we missed? Is there more to explain about the ending? Please post your questions and thoughts in the comments section! We’ll do our best to address every one of them. If we like what you have to say, you could become part of our guide!