How the second season of “The White Lotus” became a phenomenon – Les Inrocks

Intense but fine, the second season of Mike White’s anthology has just ended with a bang, in the troubled waters of Sicily. Decryption of what has become the series of the year.

Monday, December 12 and in the hours that followed, more than four million people in the United States – including replay – immersed themselves in the shady adventures of the customers and staff of a luxury hotel in Italy, for the last episode strained from The White Lotus. A considerable increase compared to the first season, before the final figures which should largely exceed ten million. A feat these days where the public lead their lives in a disorderly way, but above all unheard of for a story without superheroes or dragons, weighted with action scenes and written by one man, Mike White , which plays with classic narrative codes more than it idolizes them.

After a perhaps slightly bombastic start to the season, we felt the hype rising, whether around the character of a depressed sixty-something played by the excellent Jennifer Coolidge – the only survivor of the first season –, through the passionate analyzes of the credits which circulating on the networks, noting that it contains quite a few keys to history, or even the declarations of love to the dissonant music and each time reorchestrated by the Chilean based in Montreal Cristobal Tapia de Veer. Series The White Lotus has become a phenomenon, taking a fierce look at the beauty and pain of the world, anchoring its ultra-contemporary social and political commentary under several layers of excess and glamour.

From Hawaii with love

As a reminder, this anthological series has as its principle immersion with a small group of often American and very rich tourists in a luxury hotel, facing local employees, shaking this microcosm very hard until it explodes. more or less programmed. Last year it was all in Hawaii, bringing to the surface the American racist unconscious. This season, Mike White – creator of the very beautiful Enlightened in the early 2010s with Laura Dern – offered himself a few weeks of filming in Sicily, in Taormina, for the exploration of sexual and financial dynamics, at the edge of the sea where a corpse floats from the first seconds.

This trip to Europe gave him wings, in particular to express his love for Italian cinema, quotes from Adventure by Michelangelo Antonioni, whether in the reproduction of a cult scene when Harper (Aubrey Plaza) is surrounded by men in the street, or through a form of pastiche, when Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge) wants to put a scarf around her head to “look like” Monica Vitti. All on the same filming locations. No one can look like the Italian actress anymore – who died in February 2022, just before filming this season – White seems to tell us, but that’s not so bad, just keep pretending, imagining yourself as much as possible in a different skin than ours. As the season progresses, Tanya tests the limits of reasoning. On the contrary, she suffers from being able to be only herself, a woman forcibly expelled from the seduction market, undermined by a loveless marriage and the impossibility of satisfying her desires without showing off her money – prostitution plays on elsewhere here a central role, with astonishing brutality.

Among the other reasons for the success of this second lift, there is the fact that the writer and director has built a suspenseful plot that is much more convincing than in the inaugural season, where the thriller seemed a little overplayed, even treated over the top. leg. For the better, Mike White has respected certain rules of the international series which would like a death to hold the attention, but always in his own way, by building powerful characters to seriously answer a simple question: how he or she is got there? Subtext: how our lives slip – literally – on what may appear as a detail?

Our colleague Jean-Marc Lalanne noted a few weeks ago the relationship of The White Lotus with the last Cannes Palme d’Or, Without Filter, in his way of identifying the flaws and swelling of a world (un)regulated by money and appearances, noting that this relationship stopped in the treatment of themes, ultra cynical with Ruben Östlund, much more complex with Mike White. This end of the season confirms the trend. In the same setting of a luxurious yacht, Mike White weaves a tragedy where the irony is not that which one would apply to the characters of whom one would have to make fun or whom one would have to humiliate, but the irony of fate, that he kisses full force. Warning, spoiler.

The death of Tanya, who had just reduced the assaults of her attackers to nothing, is certainly treated as a cruel swerve, an idiotic postscript to a life that had lost much of its meaning, but above all it leaves a bitter taste, deep, a mixture of regrets and feelings of inevitability on which Mike White invites us to meditate.

Intimate and political

It’s almost always that in The White Lotus : behind the jokes, the excesses, the glaring weaknesses of the characters, is revealed a form of diffuse empathy, impossible to detach. The intimate and the political waltz together. The series excels at showing how relations of domination circumvent each other to end up imposing themselves as a last resort, or to recreate themselves in another way, but also how vanity and requests for love constantly brush against each other, sometimes merge. White knows how to draw the dividing line between the two, the materiality of which he constantly reminds us of, but he also shows how capable we are of lying to ourselves to ward off fate. His characters struggle in the troubled waters of ill-being and enjoyment, never far away.

The love stories of two young couples around their potential jealousies (Cameron and Daphne, Ethan and Harper), like the story of three men from the same family in search of origins and satisfaction in a world of temptations (Bert, Dominic and Albie) or those of the two ultra sexy Italian twenty-somethings ready to do anything to live according to their plan (Lucia, Mia), the tension of The White Lotus is based on a form of permanent ambiguity, which the narration overcomes as a last resort to put everything back on track. A writing lesson that offers one of the most beautiful series of recent years, full of sap and desire, of sublimated bodies, but who knows how never to fall into exploitation. There will be a third season, which the creator wants to set in Asia. We can’t wait.

The White Lotus by Mike White season 2 currently on OCS

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How the second season of “The White Lotus” became a phenomenon – Les Inrocks