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The White Lotus' New Opening Credits Are Bursting with Hints and Horniness

Beyoncé isn’t the only one making "Renaissance" hot these days.
  • Scenes from the opening credits of The White Lotus Season 2 (HBO)
    Scenes from the opening credits of The White Lotus Season 2 (HBO)

    Katrina Crawford and Mark Bashore, designers of The White Lotus's opening credits, have gone full horndog for Season 2. Their new art emulates 16th-century frescoes, but here, old-timey doesn’t mean chaste. This season’s credits are plastered with nudity, animal intercourse, and yes, a blow job. And just like the first season's rotting-wallpaper sequence, the new images hold juicy clues for the show's plot.

    Upgraded from a limited series to an anthology after last year's popular run, HBO's decadent comedy-drama picks up at a Sicilian resort in its Season 2 premiere, "Ciao." A mostly new cast of mostly wealthy vacationers arrive at a White Lotus hotel, where they're awaited by beautiful rooms, waving employees, and for more than one of them… death. Like the pilot, "Ciao" opens in medias res to establish a forthcoming tragedy.

    But death's specter comes second to sex this season. Adam DiMarco, who plays a Sicilian-American vacationer, has described the new White Lotus as "dark, sexy, [and] funny." Creator Mike White calls it "a bedroom farce with teeth." So far, the script has deemphasized corpses — and colonialism, the first season’s most thorny topic — in favor of sexual power dynamics and gender politics.

    Nowhere is this focus more clear than in the opening credits, which introduce the new cast and hint at their characters’ personalities. Aubrey Plaza’s judgy lawyer, Harper, is represented by a bird who dive-bombs another bird. F. Murray Abraham’s character, a leering 80-year-old who puts the "Nonno" in Italian grandfather, flirts under a voyeur's gaze. Jennifer Coolidge, one of only two actors to straddle both of The White Lotus’s seasons, gets a monkey again — although this time, the monkey wears a collar and a chain. (Might this entrapment have anything to do with her character’s recent, already-sour marriage?)

    As the credits roll, Cristobal Tapia de Veer’s "Renaissance" thumps through the speakers. Tapia de Veer redeveloped his hypnotic Season 1 theme into an opera-Eurobeat number for this season. "Renaissance" opens with a gentle harp and a soprano’s lofting voice, but half a minute in, digital manipulation transforms those vocals into the original theme’s ululating melody. The cuts get quicker and quicker as the song surges into a Eurobeat frenzy. A pink-gray column swells upward from a fountain and erupts.

    The penis is everywhere throughout the first episode: in the credits, in conversation, in the mirror. Pre-fountain, the credits cut to a close-up of a statue's junk, then jump back and reveals Theo James’s name. Not 40 minutes later, James’s character, Cameron, goes full frontal in the presence of his friend's wife.

    Meghann Fahy plays Cameron’s wife Daphne, a rich white woman who may or may not have voted in the last election. In bed, she says she misses her children, but Cameron soon initiates sex by pinning and tickling her. On her last day of vacation, Daphne will sigh, "Italy’s just so romantic." Has she truly fallen for this wealthy asshole? Or is she performing adoration (as Harper suspects), soon to meet someone who really makes her moan? Either way, she’s likely in for good sex. Fahy’s name appears alongside a pair of putti, winged infants who resemble Cupid and symbolize profane love.

    If you go by this season's credits, women can be cunning and powerful. Sabrina Impacciatore plays a scolding resort manager, and her illustration shows a woman pointing a finger at a lounging couple. Simona Tabasco’s Lucia is a Sicilian sex worker who visits the White Lotus's clients; her character is represented by a big cat with a bird in her mouth. Lucia's friend Mia, played by Beatrice Grannò, seems timid at first. But Mia’s artwork features a mythological being who resembles a harpy and a sphinx (she has a woman’s body, a bird's wings, and a lion’s tail). Mia could easily be this season's killer. Harpies avenge injustices, and sphinxes protect, and there is something narratively tempting about a young woman doing right by her (wronged?) friend.

    But speaking of wrongs, we have to talk about Leda and the swan. As the music pulses, now fully four-on-the-floor Eurobeat, a canted frame centers on a naked woman whom a swan has mounted. In Greek and Roman mythology, Zeus/Jove impregnates Leda in the form of a swan. In some versions, it’s consensual, and in others, it's rape. Let me just say that when Portia, the young assistant played by Haley Lu Richardson, wore a sweater sporting multiple swans to the pool, I cringed.

    We've only begun to sink into this season, but more horniness is sure to come. Poking around the internet, I’ve heard tell of porn and Jacuzzi shenanigans. At some point, Tom Hollander (2005's Pride & Prejudice) shows up with a posse of gay friends and his handsome nephew (Leo Woodall). I'd love to see Mia getting comfortable with sex on her own terms, especially since, when we first meet her, she’s listening to Italian pop icon Raffaella Carrà’s song “A Far l’Amore Comincia Tu” (which The Guardian’s Angelica Frey translates as "be the one initiating sex").

    One of the Renaissance’s key ideas was humanism: an outlook that assumed and celebrated humans' inherent greatness. Artists such as Donatello and Michaelangelo sculpted nude classical figures, who were purported to exemplify human strength and beauty. Petrarch devoted himself to recovering lost, significant writings. Erasmus championed education for the masses.

    But The White Lotus has more of a taste for misanthropy. It has always centered on self-centered, quivering rich people, and it is clearly allied with Harper, a character who seems loyal but brash. "We’re all just entertaining each other while the world burns," she suggests when conversation turns to an overabundance of streaming shows. That blow job in the credits? It would seem to prove her right. At the peak of the "Renaissance" chaos, a city on a hill burns. The frame zips down the illustration to a man at the seashore, then to two figures engaged in oral sex, then to two goats in flagrante delicto. Well, you can’t have rebirth without sex, right?

    Cecilia Johnson is a culture journalist and copy editor based in Minneapolis.

    TOPICS: The White Lotus, HBO, Aubrey Plaza, F. Murray Abraham, Jennifer Coolidge, Katrina Crawford, Mark Bashore, Meghann Fahy, Michael Imperioli, Mike White, Theo James