- Kimberly Hinds
Extravagance, lust, body bags and flawless timing
White Lotus season two is better than ever
With soaring inflation, daily news threatening the impending gloom of a worsening economy, a war in Europe and tech billionaires behaving monstrously, the rollout of Netflix's White Lotus season two struck with impeccable timing yet again.
Creator Mike White delivers another intoxicating and hilarious portrayal of uber wealthy Americans on holiday at the eponymously named exclusive resort. Where season one looked at wealth and privilege, this year's show is themed around wealth, male desire and toxic masculinity. Once more, the show is a brilliant comedic satire on the malaise of the very rich, with their navel-gazing discontent and petty worries whilst relaxing on sun soaked seaside cliffs surrounded by glittering azure waters.
Tanya, the self-pitying, basket case heiress played by the inimitable Jennifer Coolidge, returns from season one for another White Lotus stay, this time in Sicily. She is joined by her scheming new husband Greg (also from the first series), an enervated Uni grad contracted to accompany her, a pair of nouveau-riche couples on an awkward extended double date, and three generations of men from an affluent American Italian family visiting Sicily to get closer to their roots.
Within the first few minutes of the show starting, the tone, plot and partial ending for the show have been revealed. The ornately illustrated opening credits depict an operatic, baroque tale replete with leashed monkeys, smiling cherubs and naked women and as the accompanying music hastens in tempo and pitch, the scene descends into depraved debauchery complete with passion-fueled stabbings. In the first scene, we greet a dead body floating past a guest enjoying her last morning in the warm Mediterranean sea outside the White Lotus resort. A staff member alerts the hotel manager Valentina that more guests have apparently been killed. Talk about starting as you mean to go on! It is hard to watch the show without desperately trying to guess which cast members will end up leaving with their designer luggage, and who will be leaving in a black body bag.
When the Emmy-winning first series hit our screens in 2021, the pandemic had the world in a vice-like hold. Many countries had been in lengthy lockdowns - Auckland was mere weeks away from an almost four month shut-in - and the travel industry had been placed on hold. A fresh show set in a time before Covid on a tropical island at a fancy resort was just the salve we needed, and to boot, it poked fun at people with more money than they needed.
Is there anything more envy-inspiring and seemingly unjust than imagining cashed-up humans on extravagant holidays? It's always fascinating to me to see how the other half spend their money. My Instagram is full of well-to-do Influencers posting snaps of holidays that are credited to the man of their household,"Thank you [insert booming husband's name] for taking me and the kids to [insert exotic, overpriced location] this year, you spoil us." That they are spoiled in terms of no longer being able to enjoy a holiday at anything less than a five star resort is clear, but the phrase is baffling. Is a family holiday not funded from the same pot of familial money, with a joint parenting effort from both attending adults? It certainly implies that there are separate pots overflowing with vast amounts of money, siloed off to one partner, rather than my own married experience which is one unified if not shaky mortgage and a small yet significantly overdrawn savings account.
Not only will most viewers watch White Lotus from living rooms and bedrooms, miles away from this year's magnificent Italian setting, in New Zealand, the show also aired on Monday evenings in staggered release, so we were drip-fed it on the worst night of the working week. There's no better day or time to watch a show about the elite upper class not enjoying their money and wallowing in deep chasms of insecurity. For anyone not rich, it's an alluring notion that excessive amounts of money will eventually result in as much anguish and unrest as scarcity does. This idea makes us feel better about not having wads of money at our feet, and we can reassure ourselves that being ultra wealthy is not only undesirable but a tacky offence. Oh, the embarrassment of riches!
As this seven-episode season played out, Elon Musk was revealing his autocratic hand and dastardly soul to the world through his Twitter takeover/sideshow. The exultation we might previously have held for tech billionaires has been waning since the beginning of the pandemic, as Mark "Zuck" Zuckerberg carried on building his bizarre metaverse while making fake apologies for all his mistakes, and Sam Bankman-Fried "accidentally" misplaced $8 billion of customers' money in his now collapsed FTX crypto empire. There's never been a better time to hate on the super rich. Cue: White Lotus with its moneyed and flawed characters full of ill desires, insecurities and greed, set to the tune of a murder-mystery.
This year's show wasn't entirely without reproach. It's fair to say Mike White doesn't quite "get" older female desire, as seen in the implausible romantic encounters embarked on by Tanya and a grotesque young mafia gigalo sort, and Valentina with her openly pitiful desperation to connect with a woman, apparently any lesbian will do. And while the 77 minute finale episode was packed with suspenseful blown-out drama which in many cases (bar one tremendous move) fizzled out to a weird simper, this was still the greatest TV show of 2022.
Delivering a hearty dose of schadenfreude, White Lotus shows us that extreme wealth might be able to buy you a spouse on a prenup and an exclusive holiday, but happiness might still end up costing more than you will ever have. As they say in Italy, it "costare una fortuna."