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"Where does the pain go?"

"You have to treat these people like sensitive children. They always say it's about the money, but it's not. It's not even about the room. They just need to feel seen. Seen. They wanna be the only child. The special, chosen baby child of the hotel."
Armond
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The White Lotus is an HBO dark comedy anthology series created by Mike White (School of Rock, Enlightened), where each season takes place in a different property of the White Lotus hotel chain around the world

The first season follows a week in the lives of the staff and guests of the White Lotus Hawaiʻi, an idyllic beach resort on Maui. Among the cast are hotel manager Armond (Murray Bartlett) and spa coordinator Belinda (Natasha Rothwell); newlyweds Shane (Jake Lacy) and Rachel (Alexandra Daddario) Patton; the wealthy —and dysfunctional— Mossbacher family (Connie Britton, Steve Zahn, Sydney Sweeney, Fred Hechinger) with their guest Paula (Brittany O'Grady); and the eccentric Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge), among others. Amid the beautiful surroundings of the White Lotus, however, its various personalities come to clash and it becomes evident that much is amiss...

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The second season follows a different group of staff and guests at the White Lotus Sicily, including Michael Imperioli, F. Murray Abraham, and Adam DiMarco as three generations of the Italian-American Di Grasso family on a trip to their ancestral homeland; Ethan Spiller (Will Sharpe), a newly-minted Tech Bro and his nagging bitter wife, Harper (Aubrey Plaza) on vacation with their frenemies Cameron Sullivan (Theo James) and his wife Daphne (Meghann Fahy); strict hotel manager Valentina (Sabrina Impacciatore), wealthy British expat Quentin (Tom Hollander) and his nephew Jack (Leo Woodall); and local girls Lucia (Simona Tabasco), a sex worker, and Mia (Beatrice Grannò), an aspiring singer. Returning from Hawaii are Tanya (Coolidge) and her new husband Greg (Jon Gries), joined this time by Tanya's assistant Portia (Haley Lu Richardson).

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See the Season 2 Trailer


Tropes:

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     General Tropes 

  • Became Their Own Antithesis: It's a recurring theme that characters end up becoming exactly like the people they hate.
    • Season 1:
      • Rachel fears giving up her job and becoming a mindless Stepford Smiler and Trophy Wife with no identity outside of Shane. When she returns to Shane with hollow promises to "be happy", it seems like that's exactly what will happen.
      • Paula hates the Mossbachers and their avoiding of consequences and opulence, and wants to be a progressive defender of her fellow people of color. After getting Kai arrested for his part in the robbery, Paula acquiesces to Olivia rather than stand up for herself and leaves Kai in prison, presumably to face harsh consequences.
    • Season 2:
      • Harper and Ethan were the more honest and trusting couple, as compared to Cameron and Daphne's Happy Marriage Charade. Some Poor Communication Kills moments and jealousy issues later, Harper and Ethan are now the couple hiding secrets behind a facade of happiness.
      • Albie is desperate to break the cycle created by Bert and continued by Dominic of having terrible relationships and mistreating women. By the end of the season, he gets conned by Lucia and checks out a woman like Bert and Dominic, reflecting that he's becoming like them.
  • Bury Your Gays:
    • In the first season, the sole explicitly gay character, Armond, is the murder victim.
    • In the second season, Tanya kills a group of scheming gay men before dying herself, though the sole lesbian, Valentina, survives. Conversely, all the other heterosexual characters of both seasons survive.
  • Cast Full of Rich People: The show focuses on the rich clientele of an exclusive resort chain, as well as the employees who wait on them.
  • Central Theme:
    • In Season 1, how class tensions and hierarchies leave everyone miserable, with no clear escape for their pain, even in a supposed paradise.
      Quinn: Where does the pain go?
    • Conflicts between men and women over expected gender roles, and whether or not men are truly more culpable than women in these conflicts, form the basis of many plots in season 2.
      Bert: Women aren't all saints, Albie. They're just like us.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Season 1: The melon-slicing knife gets used in the final episode.
    • Season 2: A literal gun seen briefly in the penultimate episode is used to kill in the finale.
  • Closet Gay:
    • Mark's father, as he learns, was a closeted gay or bi man who lived a double life having sex with men on the side. He died of AIDS, not cancer, as Mark had been told.
    • Valentina's a closeted lesbian, never having slept with a woman before Mia even though she's in her 50s (to judge by the actress's age). Mia coaxes her to come out after this, and says she'll direct Valentina to some lesbian bars.
  • Dead Sparks:
    • In the first season, middle-aged couple Mark and Nicole Mossbacher don't have sex anymore due to a combination of their kids, humdrum domesticity, and Mark's emasculation. After they have a violent altercation with Kai their desire for each other is reawakened.
    • In the second season, Harper Spiller becomes bitterly insecure at their traveling companions the Sullivans' affectionate marriage and despairs that her husband Ethan is no longer attracted to her. It's not an unfounded assumption, as he jacks off to porn and avoids having sex with her. After they potentially cheating on each other with the Sullivans they have fulfilling sex in the second season finale.
  • Depraved Homosexual:
    • Downplayed by Armond in Season 1. He's a petty dick at times, and he did sleep with the much younger Dillon on the promise of giving him preferential treatment. However, he is also shown to be a genuinely good and caring boss, and a lot of his crazier behavior is a result of falling dramatically Off the Wagon earlier in the week and spiraling.
    • Played much straighter with Quentin in Season 2, a lecherous conman who's implied to be making the straight Jack sleep with him after being in a "deep hole" of some kind, and who also gets Tanya killed - as he was planning - in order to fund his lifestyle and renovations to his home.
  • Establishing Character Moment: On the first episode of each season we see all of the main characters arrive in a boat to the resort, behaving in subtle ways that will indicate their future characterization, while we see the interactions between the staff waiting for them on the pier. Once on the pier, the resort manager greets each party by name, identifying them to the audience. In both occasions there is someone trying to guess at the characters' backstories.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • In season 1:
      • Armond's response to dealing with Shane's incessant complaining about the Pineapple Suite is saying: "This guy and his fucking plunge pool will be the death of me."
      • Quinn is seen with an "End Homelessness" shirt while sleeping on the beach when he first meets the rowers. At the end of the season, Hawaii becomes his home.
    • In season 2:
      • In "Ciao", Daphne professes her love of Dateline, mentioning the stories of husbands murdering their wives while on vacation, which according to her happens more often that you think. Greg and Tanya’s entire trip to Sicily is part of Greg’s plot to murder Tanya with Quentin’s help so Greg can inherit her millions.
      • Quentin compares Tanya to a Giacomo Puccini heroine several times. Puccini was prone to DownerEndings where his heroines would die, like Tanya does in the season finale.
      • When Tanya foolishly asks whether a woman in the opera audience is the "Queen of Sicily," Quentin says that she is, then turns to smirk at his companion. This is the first clear sign that his adoration of Tanya is not quite the truth.
      • In "Arrivederci", Isabella is seen telling some hotel guests that the Tosca program ends that night. That opera ends with the titular heroine jumping to her death from the parapets of Castel Sant'Angelo, but not without first personally killing Baron Scarpia, the opera’s villain. Tanya also manages to kill the Big Bad of her storyline, but falls from his yacht to her death.
      • Also in "Arrivederci", Tanya wears the exact same outfit as the mannequin in one of the exhibits of the The Godfather set museum that the Di Grassos visit in "Bull Elephants"... the one that recreates Apollonia's death scene, foreshadowing that Tanya is the guest who dies this season.
  • Foregone Conclusion: While every season opener establishes that someone among the cast we meet will die, they also make explicit at least one person who will survive.
    • In the first season we know for sure Shane is not the one who dies, and that whoever dies is from the American mainland.
    • In the second season, Daphne, Valentina and Rocco are shown to be alive at the end of the week.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: Very few characters in the cast are 100% right or wrong. The more sympathetic ones tend to be victims of Corrupt the Cutie or Not So Above It All, or else make a Tragic Mistake that ends up undermining their good intentions. On the flip side, the biggest Jerkass characters usually have at least a Pet the Dog moment or Dark and Troubled Past that helps explain their actions, along with a lot of Jerkass Has a Point or Affably Evil. Even Quentin, who attempts to kill Tanya for her money, is implied to be acting out of unrequited love and desperation, and the sleazy Giuseppe is at least right that Mia got her big break at his expense. The biggest aversions as of Season 2 are Greg, the Big Bad of Tanya's plotline; Niccolo, the hitman involved with the scheme; and Isabella, a Nice Girl and Flat Character who is always friendly with Valentina despite their awkward situation.
  • Red Herring: Every season the show throws out several misdirections and false foreshadowing about who the person(s) who dies is going to be.
    • In season 1:
      • Mark's concern that he might have a terminal decease.
      • Greg's actual terminal illness.
      • Paula's improvised plan for Kai to rob the Mossbachers. It does blow up violently, but nobody is killed.
    • In season 2:
      • Daphne talks about her love of true crime spousal murder stories and makes playful threats against Cameron. Her only role in the death is finding the body.
      • The legend of the Testa di Moro vases is explained as a woman killing her lover for his lies and infidelity. Infidelity is not the motive for the murder.
      • Ethan and Harper are shown stalking through the hotel halls with "going crazy" music on the soundtrack. None of them is involved in the death.
      • The Di Grassos are threatened by a pimp who Lucia says is violent and unpredictable. It is all implied to have been staged by Lucia to get money out of them.
      • Ethan and Cameron are both shown swimming several times, and they have a fistfight in the water. Neither of them dies.
  • Relationship-Salvaging Disaster: Played with in both seasons.
    • In Season 1, Mark and Nicole have satisfactory sex for the first time after Kai robs their suite somewhat violently. The irony is, though, that although the stolen bracelets were worth $75,000, the Mossbachers are so rich that it barely qualifies as a disaster, and they seem happier with the rekindling of their relationship.
    • In Season 2, there's a lot of angst on both sides about Harper and Ethan's marriage and the prospect of either cheating on the other. Though they possibly did cheat on each other, they ultimately end up much happier and appear more contented in their relationship by the end of the week, just like Mark and Nicole.
  • Stupid Crooks: Both seasons feature criminal plots which are riddled with holes that result in them blowing up in the faces of the perpetrators.
    • In season 1, Paula concocts a plan for Kai to steal Nicole's US$ 75,000 bracelets from the safe in the Mossbacher suite. This plan has several flaws that they didn’t think through: a) It relies entirely on none of the Mossbachers deciding to go up to the suite, b) Kai doesn’t have the connections to fence the bracelets without being turned in or getting cents on the dollar, c) if either Paula or Kai is caught, there will be a trail of evidence leading to the other.
    • In season 2, Greg and Quentin plot to murder Tanya so Greg can inherit her vast fortune. This plot has several flaws that the conspirators didn't consider: a) The plot doesn’t account for Tanya bringing Portia along to Sicily and they have to improvise ways to distract her and separate her from Tanya, b) Quentin has framed pictures of him and Greg lying around his palazzo in Palermo where Tanya could (and does) find them, c) the plot involves a ridiculous number of people as accomplices (at least half a dozen besides Greg and Quentin) anyone of which could have second thoughts, blab about the plot or try to blackmail them afterwards, d) the triggerman they procure to do the actual killing is a low level drug dealer / gigolo who leaves his pistol lying around where the target could (and does) get at it. Twice. The only reason this plot gets as far as it does is because the intended victim is so dimwitted.
  • Tonight, Someone Dies: The opening scene of the first episode of each season reveals that some person or persons at the hotel has died, only to then jump back one week and follow the most recent batch of guests since their arrival. The identities of everyone involved in the deaths (victims and murderers) are revealed in the finale, and many hints are dropped in anticipation.
    • In the first season, Shane mentions a death having occurred at the White Lotus, but the audience isn't made privy to who the victim was until the finale. It turns out to be Armond, killed by Shane.
    • In the second season, Daphne stumbles onto a dead body in the sea during her last swim before leaving the hotel, immediately followed by Rocco informing Valentina that a few guests have been killed. The second season finale reveals it is Tanya, who drowns trying to get off Quentin's yacht after killing Quentin, a mafia assassin and one of the guys in Quentin's clique.

     Season 1: Hawaii 
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  • Accidental Murder: Armond is killed by Shane due to the latter literally running into him with knife in hand while coming around a corner.
  • Alphabetical Theme Naming: The Mossbacher group starting with Mark then Nicole, Olivia, Paula and ending with Quinn; the other main-character guests are Rachel, Shane, and Tanya.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: During dinner, the Mossbachers get into a heated political debate about different social issues. Quinn asks a question that leaves the rest of the table so uncomfortable they quickly ignore it, exposing that none of his family particularly cares about their positions as much as they do winning.
    Quinn: Where does the pain go?
  • Audience Surrogate:
    • Rachel is the audience surrogate for the guests, and Belinda is the surrogate for the staff. Each are fairly level-headed and sympathetic people with down-to-earth concerns. In the final episode, they are completely unable to connect with each other, revealing how bad things have gotten.
    • Lani serves as a Decoy Protagonist audience surrogate. She's given a lot of focus in the first episode as the trainee who is learning the ropes and receives a lot of exposition about the running of the resort. She's gone by the end of the episode.
  • Asshole Victim: Most of the characters are not nice people and we have little sympathy when bad things happen to them. The story is made more tragic by the fact that many of the assholes do not get their comeuppance as we would like them to and instead the few decent characters get screwed.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Shane and Rachel are constantly bickering. It soon becomes clear that they barely know each other. Shane married her purely for her looks, while she married him because he's wealthy and handsome.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: The Mossbacher group. Mark and Olivia are the blondes, Nicole and Quinn are the strawberry blonde redheads, and Paula is the brunette.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: Both Shane and Rachel have a valid outlook in the room situation. Shane is right that they aren't getting the more expensive room they paid for and the hotel staff is trying to gaslight him into thinking they booked the wrong room. Rachel is also right that the way Shane is going about his grievance is disrupting their honeymoon and that he is more concerned with the room than with her.
  • Carpet of Virility: The ridiculously hunky guy who hits on Tanya in the final episode takes off his shirt to reveal a tan, toned and hairy chest.
  • Closet Gay: Mark's father, as he learns, was a closeted gay or bi man who lived a double life having sex with men on the side. He died of AIDS, not cancer, as Mark had been told.
  • Crapsaccharine World: The White Lotus is a lovely, luxurious tropical resort, but class tensions, relationship issues and colonialism simmer just beneath the surface. The promotional material and opening credits make use of this sort of imagery, as you can see at the top of the page.
  • Did Not Die That Way: Mark's father did not die of cancer, but AIDS.
  • Disappeared Dad: Mark's father died when he was a teenager.
  • Downer Ending: Shane accidentally kills Armond, while Rachel seems resigned to spending her life with someone she hates. Kai gets arrested for stealing the bracelets, likely ruining his life. Olivia and Paula's friendship remains a sham. Tanya finally seems to be getting over some of her mental issues, but at the expense of leaving Belinda's hopes for a better life in the dust. And in the grand scheme of things, the rich stay rich, the poor stay poor, and someone else comes along to replace Armond. Quinn does decide to stay in Hawaii and join the rowers, but it's left ambiguous as to whether or not that lasts.
  • Failed a Spot Check: It's one thing for Armond to write off Lani's weight gain as her overeating. It's another when her water breaks in the hotel lobby...and Armond just thinks she wet herself.
  • Fan Disservice: The shot of Mark's swollen balls in Episode 1.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: Deconstructed. Shane proposed to Rachel after a whirlwind romance of a few months, and they spent the next few months preparing for a big wedding. Now that Rachel is left with him on their supposedly idyllic honeymoon, she sees that Shane is an entitled asshole and second-guesses her decision to marry him. She eventually decides to stay with him, but it's implied to be a Stepford Smiler situation.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Olivia is extremely possessive and jealous of Paula, trying to take everything that Paula gets for herself.
  • Hollywood Law: No matter how much wealth and privilege and how clear a case of self-defense Shane might've had, there is no way in hell that the fallout of Armond's death would be resolved in less than 24 hours, and both Shane and Armond's body ready to leave the island in that timeframe.
  • Hula and Luaus: Deconstructed. The show is set at an exclusive Hawaiian resort that gives its wealthy tourists all the "stereotypes" — the beaches, the boating, the hulas, and fire dancing — but it's all a show put on for them at the expense of the Native Hawaiian population.
  • I Choose to Stay: Quinn runs away from the airport at the last minute and lives with the other rowers in Hawaii.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Greg suffers a fit of coughing in the fourth episode, but it's a Red Herring. Although he is secretly dying, he's not the one who died during the events of the show.
  • Interplay of Sex and Violence: Mark and Nicole have mutually satisfactory sex for the first time in years after the violent confrontation with Kai in the suite.
  • Jerkass: Pretty much every single character is this in one way or another, from Mark's bitchy daughter Olivia to Rachel's surly husband Shane.
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • Shane may be an insufferable asshole, but the second he is out of sight, Armond admits to Lani that he is right and that he double-booked the suite Shane is asking for.
    • When Nicole suddenly starts calling Rachel to task over the puff piece Rachel wrote about her, it comes across as thin-skinned and vindictive. However, when Rachel tries to deny responsibility for the article because she just "repurposed" someone else's content, Nicole rightly tells her that it just makes her an even worse journalist. Rachel later admits that she might be pretty mediocre at her job.
    • During the dinner scene in Episode 4, Nicole makes a good point that many who claim to be fighting for liberation don't want to lose the privileges that work for them.
  • Like Father, Unlike Son: Mark and his son Quinn, the latter of whom would rather focus on his Nintendo Switch than his surroundings, to Mark's dismay.
  • Meet Cute: Tanya and Greg meet when Greg mistakes her room for his and can't get the door open.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Armond thinks Mark was hitting on him due to his questions about how anal sex feels. It was actually about Mark's late father's secret trysts with men, but Armond wasn't paying too much attention.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Invoked in-universe. In the final episode, a ridiculously hunky guy takes off his shirt in front of Tanya and starts hitting on her. She calls him a "pretty man" but tells him to go away.
  • My Beloved Smother: After a few unsatisfactory days at the hotel, Shane’s mother arrives interrupting his and Rachel’s honeymoon. She clearly means well but can’t help but critique everything in the hotel, including Rachel.
  • Mystical Lotus: Parodied. The titular hotel portrays itself as a peaceful New Age-influenced retreat in Hawaii. The irony of the "white" part is that it's nothing more than a luxurious playground for its wealthy clients, none of whom end up significantly improved (and, in some cases, instead become worsened or corrupted) by their stay.
  • Nuclear Family: The Mossbachers are a rich white family consisting of a father, mother, son, and daughter, all of whom are entitled in their own ways.
  • Persecution Flip: Nicole thinks that straight white males have it quite hard now, due to the cultural climate where she feels there's a backlash against them (thinking particularly about son Quinn, who fits into these categories). Paula and Olivia react with incredulity at her claims.
  • Pool Scene: Most of the main characters have scenes while in or sitting near the pool, since they're at a Hawaiian resort. The highlight of course being on younger female characters wearing bikinis or other swimwear.
  • Primal Chest-Pound: Feeling emasculated, a drunken Mark arrives at his bedroom acting like a gorilla and beating his chest in an apparent attempt to seem more dominant. He's rejected.
  • Psychological Projection: All over the place.
    • After Rachel leaves him, Shane angrily calls her a baby. She firmly retorts that he's the real baby, being coddled by his mother and throwing a fit over being put in the wrong room, despite getting an equally good one.
    • Both Rachel and Nicole criticize each other and their respective parties as "creepy", "crazy", and "weird" for their mutually hurt feelings over their careers and what they view as each other's (accurate) insults about their work.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: The entire series came about because of HBO getting back in touch with Mike White and asking about producing something small scale with limited sets and a small cast after the lockdowns and restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic had brought production of several series to a halt. The show was conceived, written and produced during the pandemic, though it's never mentioned in the show.
  • Revenge Before Reason:
    • The feud between Shane and Armond quickly escalates out of control. It ends with Shane accidentally killing Armond.
    • Kai is angry about his family's ancestral land being stolen by developers and is persuaded to participate in a poorly thought out plan for 'revenge' on people only tangentially related to the original crime. He ends up arrested and about to spend time in prison for robbery.
    • Paula is angry at Olivia and her parents so she talks Kai into the robbery. She ends up destroying one person's life and is blackmailed into having to remain Olivia's 'friend'.
  • Running Gag: Shane trying to get the room he and Rachel were originally booked for.
  • Secret Relationship:
    • Mark is shocked to learn his father had sexual relationships with men on the side, and died from AIDS because of it.
    • Paula secretly dates a Hawaiian guy she meets, since Olivia always gets jealous of her having things she doesn't.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Done deliberately. The creator states that a lot of this is meant as a Deconstruction of a transformative vacation in a place the guests are meant to view as magical. For the most part, none of the guests learn a damn thing and the staff don't change their circumstances unless they get worse. The corporate machine is driving the hotel and its environments, not actual authenticity.
  • Sitcom Archnemesis: A mutual version in the petty hatred between Shane and Armond, with Armond especially seeking petty and passive-aggressive revenge on Shane and Shane trying to ruin Armond's career, is a classic example. But then it escalates and escalates to extremely serious levels, resulting in Armond's death.
  • Skewed Priorities: Shane keeps trying to get the room booked for him and Rachel. She tells him to be happy with what they've got and enjoy the fact that they're in Hawaii. Somewhat mitigated by the fact it turns out Armond was going to charge them for both rooms and that's a 10K+ bill.
  • Stepford Smiler: In the end, an obviously conflicted Rachel gives Shane a big, quavering smile and promises to "be happy."
  • Token Minority Couple: Paula, who's Black, is secretly with Native Hawaiian Kai.
  • Too Much Information:
    • After learning her grandfather died from AIDS, Olivia starts speculating with Paula quite explicitly about what his sexual tastes were, dismaying Mark (who's still reeling from the revelation).
    • A drunken Mark starts oversharing to Rachel the sexual history of his marriage, much to her annoyance.
    • During the abortive scattering of her mother's ashes, Tanya starts telling a bunch of complete strangers all of her issues with her mother.
  • The Topic of Cancer: Mark begins his vacation convinced he's going to die of testicular cancer when he notices abnormal growth in his scrotum. He soon learns that he's in the clear, but when he calls to inquire about his father's death from cancer as it could still be hereditary, he learns his father actually died from AIDS.
  • Tragic AIDS Story: Mark's father, he learns, really died from AIDS, not cancer as he'd always been told. It happened when Mark was just a teenager.
  • Tragic Mistake: Armond accidentally double-books the Pineapple Suite, which leads to a series of escalating tensions between him and Shane and ends with Armond's death.
  • Trophy Wife: Rachel comes to realize that she's nothing but a trophy wife to Shane, whose only compliments to her up to that point are about how "hot" she is. Shane's mother tries to pep her up by saying that a trophy isn't such a bad thing to be.
  • Uptown Girl: Shane's family is much richer than Rachel's, which strains their marriage. Rachel acts as an Audience Surrogate to the world of the upper-class, both appalled by the attitudes of the wealthy guests (Shane included) and drawn in to the lavish lifestyle.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom:
    • Absent the Mossbachers' wildly overblown tale about their confrontation with a thief in their room it is highly unlikely that Shane would've been so quick to arm himself with a carving knife when suspecting that someone was in his room that night, and Armond would still be alive.
    • Rounding off the Mossbachers' accidental inciting of many of the resort's problems, if Olivia and Paula hadn't taken the drugs to the White Lotus or left their drugs on the beach, Armond wouldn't have fallen off the wagon.
  • Warm Place, Warm Lighting: The show, set in a Hawaiian beachside resort, has a noticeable yellow filter over its scenes, emphasizing the heat and societal ills simmering among the characters.
  • Wham Line: Towards the end of episode 2, when talking with his uncle on the phone, Mark finds out that it was AIDS, not cancer, that killed his father.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Olivia notes that Paula's text messages could implicate her involvement in the heist. Kai will also presumably be pressured to reveal how he knew the combination to the safe. We don't find out whether any of this will catch up with her.

     Season 2: Sicily 
https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/the_white_lotus_s2.jpeg
  • Accents Aren't Hereditary: Quentin has a very posh English RP accent while his nephew Jack has a broad Essex accent. However, this is an early hint he may not actually be his nephew.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys:
    • Portia gets essentially trapped into an awkward almost-fling with Albie even though she's clearly bored by his almost painfully nice-guy personality. She makes several comments about how Albie should be more aggressive and that she just wants to find a guy who gets her blood pumping. After he makes several clumsy attempts to be more assertive, she spots the hunky bad boy Jack, and she loses all interest in Albie.
    • Cameron is a charming, aggressive bad boy who has a long history of being more romantically successful than the more serious Ethan. Ethan complains that Cameron stole every woman he ever had any interest in during college.
  • All Women Hate Each Other:
    • Daphne says that she doesn't have any female friends because she believes the women in her social circle to be backstabbing bitches. She's telling this to Harper, who has been talking badly of her behind her back the entire trip.
    • Tanya tells Portia that she's uncomfortable with women and prefers the company of men — not just from a sexual perspective, as she also likes being friends with gay men.
  • An Aesop: How one thinks things are and how they actually are can be two very different things.
    • Portia believes Jack to be a fun hunk she can have a fling with. He turns out to be a conman being used to distract her from contacting Tanya and warning her about her impending assassination.
    • Albie sees Lucia as a Damsel in Distress. Instead, she turns out to be the Big Bad of his story who cons him.
    • Bert expects a loving family reunion with distant relatives. He and his family are instead chased away.
    • Both Bert and Cameron think that their wives are okay with their philandering. In Bert's case, Dominic clues him in on the fact that he not only hurt his mother, he also set a bad example for Dominic. In Cameron's case, Daphne may be getting back at him by cheating herself with both her trainer and possibly Ethan.
    • Valentina believes that Isabella is attracted to her. She learns that Isabella is with Rocco.
    • Harper believes that her marriage to Ethan is an honest and healthy one. He keeps Cameron's philandering from her, gaslights her when she confronts him, and gets jealous of even the thought of her and Cameron. After attacking Cameron, he goes off with Daphne to do something, and then gets back with Harper while hiding more secrets.
    • Finally, Tanya thinks she is a good marriage and that Quentin is her friend. Greg wants her money, so he hires Quentin to kill her.
  • Animal Motifs: Costume designer Alex Bovaird dressed many characters in animal print or jewelry to emphasize the season’s commentary about the often primal nature of sex and love.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: From Portia to Jack in "Arrivederci":
    Portia: "You fuck your uncle?"
  • Assassin Outclassin': Tanya manages to get a hold of the bag of the assassin that was supposed to kill her, and uses his gun to kill him, Quentin and Didier. Unfortunately she hits her head after trying to escape, and drowns thereafter, so Greg will presumably get what he wanted.
  • At the Opera Tonight: Quentin repeatedly compares Tanya to a tragic Giacomo Puccini heroine. In "That's Amore" he takes her to see Madame Butterfly in Palermo and the performance brings her to tears.
  • Awful Wedded Life: It turns out that Greg and Tanya got married, but their marriage is horrible. He clearly doesn't like her at all, while she is too much of a mess to be any kind of wife.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Tanya drowns trying to escape Quentin's yacht after killing him and the assassin that was supposed to kill her, meaning that Greg will get her massive fortune and doesn't have to give Quentin his cut.
  • Became Their Own Antithesis: Harper and Ethan were the more honest and trusting couple, as compared to Cameron and Daphne's Happy Marriage Charade. Some Poor Communication Kills moments and jealousy issues later, Harper and Ethan are now the couple hiding secrets behind a facade of happiness.
  • Betty and Veronica:
    • Portia gets the attention of friendly Albie and roguish foreigner Jack. Albie's nice and all, but he doesn't make her blood thrum the way Jack immediately does. She may have moved on from falling into All Girls Want Bad Boys by the end of the season after getting manipulated by Jack, if her exchanging numbers with Albie in the finale is any indication.
    • For all Harper dislikes Cameron, she recognizes that his sensuality is what's missing from her marriage to Ethan and leans into his flirting to get back at Ethan.
  • Bickering Couple, Peaceful Couple: Harper is aghast to learn that Sickeningly Sweethearts Cameron and Daphne never fight and considers it abnormal. She contrasts them against her relationship with her husband Ethan: even though she and Ethan are at odds on the trip and bicker often, it's because they talk about everything.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Greg turns out to be plotting for Tanya to be murdered and he succeeds when she drowns after shooting Quentin and the guy hired to kill her. Albie helps Dominic reconcile with his mother even though it's unclear if he really abandoned his cheating tendencies. Ethan and Harper are better off in their sex life at the cost of their honesty and with the likelihood that they have cheated on each other with the Sullivans, who will go on with their Happy Marriage Charade. Mia lands a permanent position as a pianist at the resort, causing Giuseppe's resignation, and Lucia ends the season with €50,000 by exploiting Albie's naivety. Valentina manages to accept her own sexuality, gets over Isabella, and become less of a bitter person. Portia and Albie reconnect despite their disappointing experiences and will possibly hook up in the future.
  • Black Widow: Greg turns out to be one. His motive seems to be that he wants to divorce her but will die if he can't use her money to pay for the cure to his illness.
  • Call-Back: At breakfast with Portia, Tanya says she "should have started that spa for poor women with the girl from Maui."
  • The Cameo: Kara Kay and Angelina Keeley, who both competed with series creator Mike White on Survivor: David vs. Goliath, appear in the cold open of "Ciao!" as new arrivals to the White Lotus Sicily.
  • Central Theme:
    • Gender dynamics, and toxic masculinity specifically.
    • The intersection of money, sex, and class.
  • Chocolate Baby: It's implied, but never confirmed, that the Sullivans' eldest child is not Cameron's. Cameron has darker coloring, while the child is blonde and blue-eyed like Daphne. While this is not genetically implausible, Daphne's hunky personal trainer is also blonde and blue-eyed, and she discusses him fondly in the same scene she shows Harper a picture of the child. It's yet another element to the complexity of her and Cameron's dysfunctional but affectionate marriage.
  • Cheated Death, Died Anyway: In the final episode, Tanya is clued in to how her new gay friends are conspiring with her husband to kill her and take her money. She manages to grab a gun and shoot most of them dead, but dies immediately after in a botched attempt to jump off the yacht.
  • Contrasting Sequel Main Character: Several characters here fulfil similar, but distinct, archetypes from the previous season, Hawaii:
    • The young married couple of Shane and Rachel is contrasted by two young couples this time around:
      • The wives: Harper and Daphne each contrast Rachel on opposite ends; Harper shows more conviction in her principles at the expense of being seen as a nag by others and she married Ethan before he got wealthy, rather than because of it, while Daphne is almost too easy-going to the point of coming across as a brainless beauty.
      • Shane is similarly contrasted by Ethan and Cameron. Whereas Ethan is more sensitive and understanding as a husband than he was, Cameron matches Shane's entitlement but more than exceeds him in confidence, to the point of arrogance. While Shane was also obsessed with Rachel (albeit in a superficial way), Cameron cheats on Daphne constantly, while Ethan is (somewhat reluctantly) loyal to Harper.
    • The Di Grassos take up the "family vacation" niche previously held by the Mossbachers.
      • The Di Grassos are depicted as altogether more functional and caring than the Mossbachers, but they notably lack the feminine presence of the latter that led Mark and Quinn to frequently discuss their feelings of emasculation under Nicole and Olivia's dominant personalities... because their patriarch's adultery is tearing the family apart.
      • Also, while Mark cheated on Nicole, it was a long time in the past and he had made it up to her, with both characters seeming to have gotten over it despite their dry and boring sex life (with even that aspect improving for them both near the end). Mark has also not gotten over the death of his father when he was a teenager and feels that his closeted father chose sex over his family. The Di Grassos are all straight, and Dominic's father, Bert, is still alive and on the trip with them. However, Dominic's adultery has ruined his marriage, and even though he's trying to rein in his sex addiction, he's failing. While Quinn seemed to have a porn addiction at the start of the first season, Albie is the chivalrous one compared to Bert and Dominic's horniness.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Daphne describes her husband’s colleagues in the finance world as little better than psychopaths interested only in making money.
  • Darker and Edgier:
    • In the first season, Tanya basically had a great vacation and turned out fine, at the cost of brutally dashing Belinda's business plans. In this season, she gets trapped in a murder plot, discovers her husband is behind it, murders three people and dies from a tragic accident.
  • Dine and Dash: Jack and Portia get arancini and run out of the restaurant without paying for it. Tanya, who is at this point suspicious of Jack and his association with their wealthy patron Quentin, is unimpressed by this story. She points out that arancinis are not expensive at all.
  • Did They or Didn't They?:
    • It's intentionally left ambiguous whether or not Harper slept with Cameron in the penultimate episode. She claims all they did was kiss and Word of God agrees with her, but there's a window of time that's unaccounted for.
    • In turn, it's also ambiguous if Harper's husband Ethan slept with Cameron's wife Daphne in retaliation in the season finale. We see the two of them walking up to a deserted area of the resort together and her giving him suggestive looks, but that's it.
  • Empathic Environment: The Sicilian volcano, Mount Etna, can be seen erupting in the background all throughout the season finale "Arrivederci", mirroring all the plotlines violently coming to a head in that episode.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Greg goes from an honest, hardworking man committed to enjoying his final days with dignity to a gold-digging black widower.
  • Food Slap: Mia, who is not a sex worker, throws her drink in the face of guy who asks her how much she charges for sex.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Daphne is the fun-loving Sanguine, Cameron the aggressive Choleric, Harper the pessimistic Melancholic, and Ethan the passive Phlegmatic.
  • The Generation Gap: Albie is a modern young man with more progressive views on things like gender. He makes critical comments about his father and grandfather's love for The Godfather, believing this reflects the patriarchal values of their generations. They both express dismay at this, saying he was brainwashed by being taught at Stanford.
  • Generation Xerox: Despite his awareness of the consequences, Dominic has turned out exactly like his father Bert. Both are sex addicts who cheated on their wives, causing strains in their relationships with their families.
  • Hand Wave: Greg was revealed to be Secretly Dying in the first season. In this season, he makes an offhand comment about being cured thanks to Tanya's money.
  • Hair-Contrast Duo: The bitter Brainy Brunette Harper is contrasted against the bubbly blonde Daphne, who seems ditzy but is not.
  • Happy Marriage Charade: Harper is certain that Cameron and Daphne's blissfully picturesque, "we never fight" marriage is a facade. The cracks begin to show in "Bull Elephants", where Daphne admits to Harper that she knows Cameron is hedonistic, philandering, and runs with a bad crowd, so she acts out in turn, though she insists she's not a victim.
  • Happy Ending Override: Tanya's apparently happy ending is completely overridden by the second season. Though she's happy with Greg, he turns out to have married her for her money and never loved her. Quentin, Greg's co-conspirator who's in love with him, separates her from everyone and tries to kill her. She kills him, and then drowns. Greg gets all her money and apparently escapes without consequences.
  • Head-Turning Beauty:
    • Filling in for Alexandra Daddario's Rachel in season one, this time it's Simona Tabasco's Lucia, who spends the season wearing tight, revealing outfits and being lusted after by virtually every character on screen with her.
    • All three Di Grasso men turn their heads to gawk at a beautiful Italian woman walking by at the airport.
  • Henpecked Husband: Cameron regards Harper as a bitter nag and wonders to his wife if Ethan regrets marrying her now that he is wealthy.
  • High Turnover Rate: A throwaway line by Greg tells us that Tanya treats her assistants as disposable and Portia is merely the latest in a long line of them.
  • Hookers and Blow:
    • Dominic and Cameron hire recreational drug-toting prostitute Lucia and her friend Mia for separate nights of debauchery.
    • Quentin procures a male prostitute and lots of cocaine for Tanya during a party at Quentin's palazzo in Palermo.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Long shots of Jack and Portia walking together emphasize that he's literally twice her size. This takes a dramatic turn when Portia suspects that he's kidnapping her.
  • I'm a Man; I Can't Help It: Explored in "Bull Elephants": are men inclined towards sex, or have they been conditioned to act that way?
    • Albie derides his dad Dominic and grandfather Bert for putting The Godfather on a pedestal, saying it's emblematic of a time when toxic masculinity and philandering were more socially acceptable. He adds that films like it condition men to act that way; Bert and Dom say that men are naturally like that. Albie later presses Dom (whose sex addiction has apparently destroyed his marriage to Albie's mother) to take responsibility for himself. Dom tries to make good on this by turning down Lucia and Mia, but they move on to Cameron and Ethan.
      Dominic: Movies like that exist because men already do have that fantasy. We're hard-wired.
      Bert: Mm. Comes with the testosterone.
      Albie: No. Gender is a construct. It's created.
    • Cameron tells Ethan that monogamy is a social construct and that it's totally normal for good-looking, high-powered rich guys like them to cheat on their wives. He promptly recruits Lucia, Mia, and their stash of drugs for a night of sex and partying. Ethan is uncomfortable and reluctant, though his wife Harper (who had been on the receiving end of a similar confession from Daphne about Cameron's proclivities) is suspicious about what they're up to.
  • Impoverished Patrician: The Sullivans mention a princess whose house they stayed in once who rented her house as a hotel because she had no money. Later in the season, Portia and Tanya's "wealthy" patron Quentin turns out to be one such patrician, as he repeatedly says that the upkeep on his Palermo villa is ridiculously expensive and is plotting to murder Tanya for her money.
  • Incompatible Orientation:
    • The lesbian Valentina is infatuated with her younger, pretty receptionist Isabella, who obliviously announces her engagement to male coworker Rocco.
    • The gay Quentin tells Tanya that he is still in love with a (straight) American cowboy whom he met as a much younger man and is still in love with him even after decades have passed. That's Greg.
  • Inheritance Murder: Greg conspired with Quentin to have Tanya killed so he could inherit her money, while he was away with a cast iron alibi.
  • Ivy League for Everyone: The only colleges mentioned this time around are prestigious ones: Cameron and Ethan met at Yale, and Albie just graduated from Stanford.
  • Less Embarrassing Term: Lucia is a prostitute. When Bert (who knows that his son had already booked her for a couple of nights and is trolling him) asks what she does for a living, she diplomatically says she works in hospitality.
  • The Mafia: Quentin says that a man he arranges to meet Tanya has certain "family connections." When Tanya asks if that means he's in the Mafia, Quentin says that it's an unwritten rule in Sicily not to use that word.
  • Making Love in All the Wrong Places: When Mia offers to have sex with Giuseppe in return for him connecting her to people from the music industry, he leads her to a deconsecrated chapel in the hotel to do so, with the two then getting to business on a pew.
  • The Masochism Tango: Daphne and Cameron initially seem to have an idyllic and affectionate marriage, but the season reveals that their relationship is more dysfunctional than they let on. Cameron is unapologetically unfaithful and irresponsible, while Daphne copes by enjoys the privileges their marriage gives her and retaliates by being unfaithful in turn and acting spontaneous in ways she knows irritate him.
  • Maybe Ever After: The finale implies that perhaps Albie and Portia, having learned their respective lessons from Jack and Lucia, might get together.
  • Mistaken for Prostitute: The hotel's lounge singer mistakes Mia for a prostitute and straight up asks her how much she charges. In his defense, Mia herself had commented earlier that her outfit and makeup did made her look like a prostitute. It's somewhat understandable as she came with her friend Lucia, who is a prostitute.
  • Mythical Motifs: The characters are ominously told the legend of the Moor's Head, a common decorative motif in Sicily, in the first episode. According to legend, a Sicilian girl began an affair with a visiting Moor, only for him to tell her he was returning to his wife and child in the East. She then killed him in a fit of rage. It's appropriate for the season's theme of gender dynamics, and indeed infidelity, betrayal, and marital stress are common among the characters.
  • Noodle Incident: Clearly something happened between Dominic and his wife based on their phone call in "Ciao." What exactly this was is never explained however, and Dominic seems to be completely unwilling to talk about it, but it's implied it had something to do with him cheating.
  • Nouveau Riche: Inverted. The Spillers made their money very recently but are slightly uncomfortable with it due to their social awareness and aren't flashy with their spending. In contrast, the long-wealthy Sullivans live large and enjoy fancy vacations.
  • Oh, Crap!: While on the boat back to Taormina , Tanya gets a phone call from Portia who helps her piece together the fact that Greg has actually plotted for Tanya to be murdered by the Mafia.
    Tanya: These gays! They’re trying to murder me!
  • Old People are Nonsexual: Bert's son Dominic and grandson Albie express disgust at his tendency to flirt with every pretty young thing he sees in Sicily. Albie asks if he can still get it up.
    Albie: It just seems like the body would naturally stop getting horny once you're past the age of procreation, you know? Like at fifty, you would just stop.
    Dom: ...Fifty? Fifty's not that old.[...]
    Bert: I'm still virile, by the way. I could still impregnate a woman.
  • Once More, with Clarity!: The season opens with Daphne going for a swim and finding a corpse in the ocean. The season finale shows the same scene but clarifies that it's Tanya's body she found.
  • Operation: Jealousy:
    • Jack suggests that his companion Portia wants to make Albie envious and the two kiss. Albie is notably affected but Lucia tells him not to let Portia win and kisses him in turn. Portia is bothered enough by this to leave with Jack.
    • Frustrated that Ethan may have cheated on her and doesn't seem to be attracted to her, Harper leans into Cameron's flirting in "Abductions". The mind games obviously upset Ethan.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Played with. Ethan and Harper are normally very honest with each other, but the first time he's not completely honest, she presumes the worst and believes that he cheated on her.
  • "Rediscovering Roots" Trip: The reason the Italian-American Di Grassos are in Sicily — they're of Sicilian descent, and want to bring the grandfather, Bert, to the town of his ancestors.
  • Rewatch Bonus:
    • In “Ciao!” Greg gets angry with Tanya for having her assistant with them on the trip and demands that she tell Portia to stay away from them. Keeping in mind that he was plotting Tanya’s murder the whole time, it becomes clear that he did this so Portia couldn’t act as a witness.
    • Large portions of Quentin's dialogues with Tanya take a whole new meaning when seen through the lens that he is actively plotting her death, becoming a mostly Evil Gloating and mocking her over her impending demise.
  • Riddle for the Ages: It's never answered what is the nature of Quentin and Jack's relationship beside being sexual. It's likely they aren't related given their accents, but it's not specified.
  • Romantic Ride Sharing: Invoked. Tanya wants to feel like Monica Vitti, so she rents a vespa for her and her husband to drive through the streets of Sicily. The resulting ride is very uncomfortable for Greg.
  • Rule of Symbolism: When Ethan and Harper finally have sex, reconciling their relationship, they accidentally break the Testa di Moro in their room, which represented a relationship ending in violence. This signifies that the pair are out of danger.
  • Sequel Escalation:
    • While only one person died during the events of season 1, by the end of season 2 at least four people have died.
    • While Armond's death in Hawaii was entirely accidental, the deaths of season 2 are the result of an intentional murder plot gone wrong that results in a shootout.
    • While the criminal plot in season one involved 75,000 dollars, this time around the objective is almost half a billion dollars.
  • Sequel Goes Foreign: The first season was set in Hawaii: exotic, but still accessible enough to its American guests. This season is set in Italy.
  • Sex in a Shared Room:
    • Cameron has sex with a prostitute in Harper and Ethan's room, while Ethan is on the sofa in the same room.
    • Also discussed by Harper, who asks Ethan if Cameron ever had sex in front of him. Cameron's reaction shows this is likely.
  • Shout-Out: The Di Grassos spend a lot of episode 3 talking about The Godfather and even go visit some of the filming locations. Portia is later seen sporting a The Godfather T-shirt, presumably bought as a souvenir at one of the locations.
  • The Three Faces of Adam: The three generations of Di Grasso men:
    • Recent college graduate Albie is the Hunter — he's progressive, charming, but still making his way through the world.
    • Albie's father Dominic is the Lord — he's financially successful and has raised two children, but has a turbulent personal life and an addiction he can't shake.
    • And the grandfather Bert is the Prophet — he's old, sentimental (the reason they're on the trip is for him to get in touch with his roots), and tries to impart advice on his son and grandson.
  • A Threesome Is Hot: Dominic makes a valiant effort at resisting Lucia's advances since he wants to get a handle on his sex addiction. But when she dangles the possibility of a threesome with Mia in front of him, he folds right away.
  • Token Minority Couple: Lampshaded. Harper complains that she (of Puerto Rican descent) and her husband Ethan (of East Asian descent) are probably the acceptably white-passing diverse friends of the rich white Sullivans, and indeed they stand out as two minorities in a majority-Caucasian batch of guests.
  • Tragic Mistake: After thwarting the plot to murder her, Tanya fatally misjudges her jump from Quentin's yacht.
  • Trap Is the Only Option: Dominic knows immediately that Lucia's request of 50,000 euros from Albie is a scam and all but tells as much to him, but he coughs up the money anyway because he has something to gain from the situation.
  • The Voice: Laura Dern voices Abby, Dominic's estranged wife, over the phone in "Ciao!" Abby appears in a photo on Dominic's wife, alongside their children, but the woman is not Dern.
  • White-Collar Crime: Cameron very passive-aggressively chides Ethan for not cutting him in on some insider trading when he sold his company, promptly blowing off the illegality of it when Ethan brings it up.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: In a season peppered with classic film references, a few characters fall into this:
    • Albie thinks he's the Nice Guy in a romance swooping in to save Broken Bird Lucia from an evil pimp. While it's possible Lucia developed genuine feelings for him, he's actually just a mark, and Alessio was in on it all along.
    • Portia wants to have fun and acts like she's in a freewheeling Rom Com after she meets Jack. She's actually being played as part of an assassination plot masterminded by Greg.
    • Tanya sees herself as a Monica Vitti-like heroine and after Greg leaves starts to believe she's in an Under the Tuscan Sun-type story about a jilted wife bouncing back, with Quentin as her new Gay Best Friend. Quentin is actually working with Greg as part of a plot to murder her for her money.
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