Once again, someone is dead on The White Lotus — or perhaps multiple someones. The second season premiere of the Emmy-winning HBO series wasted no time in telling us that while the hotel is perfect, the staff is excellent, the food is amazing, and the wine is beyond words, sometimes you might come across a dead body while taking a swim.
While Daphne (Meghann Fahy) only finds one body in the season premiere, a quick scene with hotel staff reveals that it's not the first. "A few" hotel guests have lost their lives on this romantic getaway, but before we can find out which guests, we flash back to a week earlier, when a new boat full of American tourists and their secrets arrives in Sicily.
The boat contains three parties traveling together: Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge) and her assistant Portia (Haley Lu Richardson); Daphne, her husband Cameron (Theo James), Cameron's old and newly rich friend Ethan (Will Sharpe), and Ethan's wife Harper (Aubrey Plaza); and Dominic DiGrasso (Michael Imperioli), his son Albie (Adam DiMarco), and father Bert (F. Murray Abraham). Very quickly, it becomes clear that there's tension everywhere.
Tanya is stressed that her husband Greg (Jon Gries), who is meeting her at the hotel, hasn't been answering his texts, and Greg is unhappy that Tanya brought her assistant along for a romantic vacation. Harper does not trust Daphne and Cameron, partly because she thinks they're too touchy-feely for a married couple, and partly because she thinks Cameron only reconnected with Ethan because Ethan just sold his company and came into a lot of money. Meanwhile, Dominic recently did something so bad that his wife doesn't even want a phone call to find out that they made it to Italy safely, and Albie basically hates his father and grandfather for being the kind of men who would ruin a family because they couldn't keep it in their pants.
As they arrive, three very different Italian women are waiting for them. First, there's Valentina (Sabrina Impacciatore), the hotel manager who is tasked with making all the rich tourists as happy as possible and keeping the riff raff out of the hotel. That riff raff includes Lucia (Simona Tabasco), a local girl with plans to meet up with (and make some money from) one of the American men from the boat, along with her more reluctant friend Mia (Beatrice Grannò). By the end of the first episode, we learn that Lucia has come to meet up with Dominic, who clearly isn't that broken up about his marriage.
So what does all this set up mean for the vacation to come? Metacritic sat down with the cast to find out.
As the series begins, Daphne is the only guest confirmed to still be alive after a week (though we can probably assume Cameron is alive as well, since Daphne doesn't seem to be a grieving widow), which didn't really dawn on Fahy immediately. She was more excited about the role she was getting to play.
"I think when I read it, I wasn't like, 'Sick, I'm not dead.' I was just like, 'Sick! I find the dead person!'" she says. "But I don't think I can say anything about it other than that."
"It's unexpected," James adds. "It's very unexpected, and only is revealed at the very end. That's the teaser."
Speaking of the young couple, Daphne and Cameron seem like they're truly living a happily ever after. They've been married for five years, they have two kids, and they have all the money in the world to take romantic vacations all over the world. They might seem enviable, but to Harper, something is definitely up. Is it jealousy, or is there something really going on here?
"I think she's a very kind of skeptical person," Plaza says. "She's a lawyer. That's how her brain works, so I think there's a level of Nancy Drew. She's like, 'I don't know about this, I'm gonna get to the bottom of this.' But then underneath of all that, there is a slight jealousy factor because although Daphne and Cameron come off kind of shallow, they seem happy, and they have kids and they seem like they are attracted to each other. So there's this element that I think Harper is in denial about. She's like, 'No one can be happy like this,' because she doesn't feel happy, so she wants to project something else onto them. So it's kind of both."
Of course, this is The White Lotus and it's a season about infidelity, so there's definitely some darkness hidden somewhere in there.
James says Daphne and Cameron "get off on the games they play with each other, and that keeps their relationship alive and fresh." But it's not all games.
"They are supposed to genuinely love hanging out together, love each other's company. It's about sexual politics," he explains. "Between the two couples, they're supposed to have a very enriched, fulfilling sex life. They're supposed to be deeply in love, but [writer-producer-director Mike White] is asking the question, 'How do you view and construct conventional concepts of happiness? Are they tired? Are they too constrained?' He asks those questions and doesn't necessarily answer them, but those are the themes he's playing with."
The Di Grassos are attempting to reconnect with their Sicilian roots while also recovering from Dominic's cheating. His wife wants nothing to do with him and his daughter won't return his calls, and while Albie isn't thrilled to be hanging out with his cheating dad, he at least is still on the trip. But, of course, Dominic didn't plan to just be alone in Italy. He made plans with Lucia online, and while he's not in a mood to make conversation or hear about her dreams of traveling to Los Angeles, he's happy to have her in his hotel room and happy to pay her for sex. This trip to Italy is designed as family bonding time for Bert, Dominic, and Albie, but it's going to turn into a "day of reckoning" for Dominic.
While Dominic is the reason Lucia is so determined to continue sneaking into the White Lotus, there's a lot more to her than "local Italian prostitute."
"I was frightened by all the things that Lucia could have been read as because you don't have an opinion of her right away, and she can seem to be so many things," Tabasco says (via translator). "But then in the end, you do get a sense of her. You do get to know her."
Mia, at first, feels like the more relatable of the two. She's heartbroken that her ex has a new girlfriend, and she just wants to be able to make a living with her music. She finds ways to address her heartache and her dreams at the White Lotus, but Grannò says she also wanted Mia to represent a sort of comedic side of Italian stereotypes.
"There's something about Italian people that is very straightforward, and they say they're very loud as well," she says. "There's this thing that Italian people do that if somebody does not understand Italian, they will just repeat it louder. So that's how we are. We say, 'Do you get it?' So I think for my character, I tried to bring that kind of comedy of it — like somebody who wants to be understood and is very driven and straightforward."
There's a directness and urgency to hotel manager Valentina that suggests there's a lot more to her than meets the eye, and Impacciatore thought so too when she first read the scripts. But, she says she didn't immediately understand where White was going with the character until White told her about a vacation he had in Europe where he was treated the way Valentina treats her guests.
"I was feeling a bit embarrassed to represent Italy in this tough way," she says. "That was the character, but I felt a responsibility to somehow represent my country. I was surprised when the director of photography told me, 'Sabrina, I love your Italian energy,' and he made me think, 'Oh really, do I have an Italian energy? I didn't know that.'"
Impacciatore really did her research when it comes to running a hotel full of rich tourists.
"I think that wealthy people, generally speaking, are expecting things to happen and they expect that their desires are going to become a reality, and that was very interesting to me," she explains. "I tried to study the real general manager of the Four Seasons Hotel, and he was telling me the weirdest things about wealthy [men]. They don't want to have any issues, so you have to welcome them already with a glass of wine when they arrive, because they work so much that they are not used to being with the family. The vacation becomes a nightmare because they have to be with their wives, with their kids."
And even though that's what Valentina knows the people want, that's not necessarily what she's going to always do.
"It was interesting to me to play the part of someone that actually didn't give them what they want right away," she says. "Somehow I was creating a barrier between them and their desires, so it was funny to do that."
After the way we all fell in love with Tanya in the first season of The White Lotus, it's sad to see that her marriage is not going so great. Greg is not all that nice to her, berating her for things like eating all the macarons (who among us would not immediately eat all the free macarons on vacay?) and bringing her assistant along when she's traveling alone. This is not what Tanya deserves! Luckily, Coolidge and Gries say that things will change for her over the course of the season.
"It's not just boring sex with Greg," Coolidge says with a laugh. "Mike told me that this one would be quite an adventure. He said, 'It's going to be quite a roller coaster ride, Jennifer,' and I have to say, Mike White does not disappoint. It is the ride of a lifetime, and I got to play this incredible part and this very complicated, tortured person, but there is something cool. You do see Tanya's evolution. You see her as best as someone like that could be, someone who's so limited in so many ways, where a small thing is a big deal for someone who's that self obsessed and damaged. Sometimes that little thing is just a huge victory."
"It'll blow their faces off," adds Gries, and honestly, what more could we ask for?
The White Lotus airs at 9 p.m. Sundays on HBO and