It’s a conspiracy! I find? The penultimate episode of The White Lotus Season 2 puts virtually every character through their paces before reaching a climax that challenges much of what we’ve seen before. It works? On a technical level maybe. At the level of a TV show that has earned its place in your emotional range, maybe not.
We go storyline by storyline. Bert, Dom, and Albie go on a disastrous trip to Bert’s native village, bringing Lucía along as a translator (much to Dom’s chagrin). Before they reach their final destination, Lucí is forcibly reunited with her unquoted pimp Alessio, who engages her in a slow-speed chase. I contend that there’s little reason to believe that Alessio is actually a pimp and not just some guy involved in Lucía’s business – her claim that she makes him a lot of money even though her first sex job was similar to three ago Nights, close the case for me. Nonetheless, there is enough for Albie to worry about and Lucí for plenty to work with as she forges even closer bonds with her lovely prey. Remember how he’s attracted to “wounded little birds”? Yes.
Bert’s family was eventually evicted from their distant relatives’ property by a mad old lady with a knife in one hand and asparagus in the other. The whole affair is enough to bring the seemingly unflappably cheerful Bert, who frivolously dismissed his own wife’s dismay at his serial infidelities, to tears when he was rejected by complete strangers. And there you have it, I suppose: As Mel Brooks once said, tragedy is when I get a paper cut, comedy is when you fall down a manhole and die.
Then there’s the unhappy couple Harper, Ethan, Daphne and Cameron. Ethan spends all day getting angrier and angrier — and less and less expressive, thanks to Will Sharpe’s odd performance — over Harper’s apparent belief that he cheated on her when he didn’t. He goes so far as to ask Cam to break the bro code and testify to Harper that Ethan did nothing out of the ordinary; This gives way to a days-long, probably justifiable, paranoia nightmare of Harper and Cameron secretly fucking. Ethan warns Cam to stay away from Harper, but by this point, any damage that could be done has certainly been done.
The sexiest story of the episode, at least in my opinion, is about Valentina, the hotel manager Martinet, who obviously has a crush on her employee Isabella. Upon learning that Isabella is engaged to fellow concierge Rocco, Valentina cancels the dinner she’s asked for and retires to the hotel lounge for a sip. There she meets Mia, the truly talented musician and part-time hooker who recognizes Valentina’s need, finds out that Valentina has never been with a woman despite being gay, and seduces her with all her love. Good for both of them, I say! It’s nice to see that everyone on this show gets what they want, or in Mia’s case, gives what they want without any terrible strings attached. (At the moment anyway.)
Finally, there’s the saga of Tanya and Portia and their new British BFFs, Quentin and Jack. The morning after Quentin and his “naughty nephew” are found in flagrante, Tanya Portia warns of the potentially troubled relationship between the two men. Unwary, Portia makes her way to Palermo to spend the day with Jack anyway, only to watch him get drunker and drunker and more and more reluctant to return to the Palazzo for Quentin’s big party, until he gets the game so good as reveals — and swears and below about how Quentin rescued him from “a very damn deep hole” — at the hotel they retire to.
Tanya, on the other hand, is…well, whatever the cocaine equivalent of “wined and dined” is, that’s how she’s treated by Niccolo, a troubled coke dealer acquaintance of Quentin’s, whom he sourced specifically because of his heterosexuality and the size of his penis. He and Tanya make love, but not before she spots a picture of Quentin and… her husband Greg? Waaaaa?
Still, I’m having a hard time mustering a whole lot of emotional involvement in what the hell is going on here because The White Lotus is a show designed to thwart emotional investments. Basically, the hour-long dramedy just isn’t a genre for me. I don’t like how sitcom shortcuts are used on the way to dramatic payoffs, which in turn, even when they work, weigh on the jokes. I don’t like how it can lure and switch the audience, jumping between tones and modes at random. It would be an exaggeration to say that the whole thing feels like a scam – who is being scammed and with what? — but the inconsistency, the self-destructive nature of it all, makes it hard for me to enjoy.
So that’s where I’m left with this episode. Are there dramatic moments that moved me or comedic moments that made me laugh? Very much so! Bert’s open heartache as he relates his failed family reunion to the fact that he will never again be loved romantically or maternally. Quentin tells Tanya that coke is like “riding a bike” after a long abstinence. Jack half-drunkly claims that we’re living at the best point in history, despite all the evidence to the contrary brought up by Portia to burst his bubble instead of making any real point. Harper and Ethan’s grueling conversation about whether or not their marriage is dead is, I think, the closest and most powerful discussion of understandable human misery in the show’s history. Ethan’s increasingly unbearable, stony anger at everything. The revelation that Isabella and Rocco are engaged. The real sexual chemistry between Valentina and Mia.
It just seems to me that the whole is worth less than the sum of its parts, no matter how entertaining each of those parts may be. But who knows when there’s only one episode left? Maybe all the pieces fit together.