HBO’s The White Lotus season 2 episode 1 recap: Ciao

Jon Gries as Greg Hunt and Jennifer Coolidge as Tanya McQuoid Hunt in The White Lotus season 2 on HBO
Jon Gries as Greg Hunt and Jennifer Coolidge as Tanya McQuoid Hunt in The White Lotus season 2 on HBO /

As HBO’s The White Lotus season 2 opens, the American guests arrive at the prestigious five-star hotel, bringing with them hang-ups and secrets galore. A blonde woman is applying spray-on sunscreen on one of the lounge chairs at the beachfront of the White Lotus in Sicily.

We haven’t met her yet, but we’ll get to know her later as Daphne Sullivan. She strikes up a conversation with two women, friends, on the chairs beside her.

Blonde Daphne gushes about the resort and that she’s sad she’s flying out within the day. She walks to the sea and gets in the water for one last swim.

Moments later, a dead body floats past her. The resort manager and one of the hotel aides find out about the body and we’re informed that it’s not just one, but quite a few of the guests look like they’ve been killed.

The White Lotus season 2 episode 1 recap: Prelude to murders

Flashback to one week earlier, on the dedicated boat transferring guests from the airport to the hotel grounds, we get our first glimpse of the four groups we’ll get to know in the series. In a mirror scene from the first season, resort manager Valentina fluffs up her staff.

She bids them greet the arriving guests in sync, to wave at them with the same right hand, and plaster on big smiles. Valentina, unlike Maui resort manager Armond in season 1, isn’t too concerned with coddling the guests.

She masks her attempts at establishing a power dynamic early by passing them off as jokes. “I am impressed you are even here,” she tells one of the elderly Italian-American guests.

“Because it’s quite a long trip from Los Angeles and you are quite old!” Euro humor is definitely full of vim.

The resort staff aren’t the only ones anticipating the arrival of the boat. On the pier nearby are Sicilian locals Mia and Lucia, close friends and prostitutes (well, Lucia is at least, Mia is still iffy about her friend’s job), who are trying to spot the American client that’s booked them for the week for a girlfriend experience.

The White Lotus season 2 episode 1 recap: Severed Moorish heads

As everyone is checking in, we follow Ethan, Harper and their friends Cameron Sullivan and his wife Daphne to their room. They notice all the gaudy heads decorating their adjoining rooms.

The bellhop tells them it’s a local legend called the Testa Di Moro. It’s about a visiting Moor who seduced a local girl, but then she found out he had a wife and child back home.

“So she cut his head off,” deadpans the bellhop. Tech finance colleagues and college buddies Ethan Harper and Cameron Sullivan have just sold their company and are now legit nouveau riche.

The Sicily trip is their victory lap. Meanwhile, the three guys that make up the DiGrasso contingent are Bert, Dominic, and Albie—grandfather to grandson, in that order.

They’re Sicilian-Americans trying to discover their roots in a “back to the motherland” vacation. Dominic is here to at least try and regain some of his son’s trust, due to his wife becoming estranged after she found out about his cheating.

He thinks if he can lobby Albie to talk him up, he can get a reconciliation rolling. The elderly Bert, at least, is having the time of his life by flirting with almost every local woman he sees.

He starts with Isabella, one of the hotel assistants. He farts while he’s at it, too.

The White Lotus season 2 episode 1 recap: McQuoid is back!

The White Lotus
Jennifer Coolidge and Haley Lu Richardson in The White Lotus season 2 on HBO. /

The third and last American contingent is Tanya McQuoid (played by Jennifer Coolidge, the only character that’s carried over from season 1) and her young assistant Portia. Tanya is newly married and arrives at the hotel to find that her husband Greg is already at the lobby enjoying a Proseco.

They get into an argument right away, mostly over why Tanya brought Portia to a vacation. “It’s supposed to be romantic,” sighs Greg.

Tanya reluctantly agrees that Portia must stay out of the way and stay out of sight during the vacation. But she must also be available for Tanya in case she needs it.

So…just stay nearby and don’t go anywhere but try not to be seen. Portia is confused and despondent, but it is what it is.

Valentina catches Mia and Lucia loafing in the hotel’s hallways and throws them out. She almost gets into a fight with Lucia, after she makes a remark about knowing what they are.

The White Lotus season 2 episode 1 recap: Who’s Lucia’s John?

The most interesting interaction thus far among the American guests is how Harper (in Aubrey Plaza snob mode) finds Cameron and Daphne to be such a vapid couple. She just can’t seem to hide her disgust about it, especially when the two quip that they “don’t really watch the news anymore” because it’s so depressing.

It’s awkward and intensely gratifying. Tanya is trying for her first orgasm in-country but gets distracted by the Moorish statue heads and literally throws off Greg.

Her husband is none too pleased and this colors their mood for the rest of the day. After dinner Lucia is finally contacted by her John and it turns out to be Dominic.

While Mia is left alone at the bar, the piano player Giuseppe, hits on her. He gets water thrown into his face after a proposition is worded wrong.

As the other Americans get ready for bed, Dom and Lucia seal their first night together with champagne as prelude.

The White Lotus season 2 episode 1 recap: Review

The first season of this series was the most-awarded series at the 74th Primetime Emmy Awards, winning 10 awards including plums for Murray Bartlett (Bert DiGrasso) and Jennifer Coolidge (Tanya McQuoid) for best support roles.

Of course establishing the murders at the onset set against a backdrop of Euro paradise is important. But the main difference I enjoyed on this opener episode is how Valentina, as played by Sabrina Impacciatore, is such a different resort manager from Armond in the Maui branch.

Valentina smiles through her teeth as she’s cutting down guests to size and doesn’t hesitate to throw out nuisance visitors like the night walker contingent of Lucia and Mia. While there’s still a getting-to-know-you stage, between the audience and the big number of characters here, the performances that do stand out so far are Aubrey Plaza and Jennifer Coolidge, as Harper and Tanya respectively.

Harper feels that growing unease in her stomach, also displayed full on her face, that it seems like her husband Ethan has been swallowed up by, as the tech bro culture that has similarly made them newly wealthy. As Harper regards super white and super insipid couple Daphne and Ethan, who don’t watch news and don’t remember if they voted, you can almost see what she’s thinking: if we’re rich now are these two the kind of people we’re obliged to be friends and hang out with?

Coolidge as McQuoid is still as clueless and insanely self-centered as ever. Though I feel that her performance here is just steady as she goes.

I do think that’s the kind of character creator Mike White designed it as anyway. The humor is a bit darker, yet still as enjoyable as the first season.

Let’s see if we can figure out and bet on who dies at the end. Welcome to Sicily, folks.

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You can stream The White Lotus on HBO Go.