After five weeks of sexy intrigue, The White Lotus is suddenly stalling. Though “Abductions,” the penultimate episode of Season 2, still features sex and sadness, it’s mostly packed with overheated foreshadowing. And that’s really saying something, as the show has been thick with insinuation since the very first scene.
For one thing, how many more times can we see the teste di moro, those sculptures that represent the head of a man who was killed for his infidelity? This week, Ethan (Will Sharpe) passes several when he goes on his morning run. Jack (Leo Woodall) throws his clothes on one in the hotel room he rents with Portia (Haley Lu Richardson). More than once, Mike White lets the camera linger on their porcelain faces. It’s not like we’ve forgotten that someone’s going to die in the next episode, so all this nudging is unnecessary.
The same goes for the frequent shots of churning water underscored by intense music, and even the least attentive viewer could do without the close-up on a painting of a nude woman holding a dagger in the room where Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge) is having sex with a Sicilian drug dealer. There’s a tinge of desperation in how frequently we’re assured that a shocking conclusion is coming soon. Instead of promising us something juicy over and over, perhaps the season could’ve been an episode shorter and actually delivered it.
And speaking of implications, the episode may have ended with a major revelation. When she’s high on that drug dealer’s supply, Tanya finds a photo in the villa that looks like a younger Quentin (Tom Hollander) with a younger Greg (Jon Gries). Since Leo drunkenly tells Portia that Quentin is about to come into a lot of money — and we still don’t know who Greg was talking to in those secret phone calls back at the hotel — we may have just learned that Greg has been running a long con on Tanya to steal her money. Maybe he was at The White Lotus last year to find a rich, single woman he could swindle. Maybe after he left the hotel for “a business trip,” Quentin swept in to flatter Tanya, then get her coked up and isolated with a drug dealer who carries a gun. Maybe Leo’s job was to get Portia away from the villa, so that she couldn’t step in to help her boss when the drug dealer shoots her after sex. After all, this episode is called “Abductions,” plural. You could argue that Leo abducted Portia so that she wouldn’t realize Quentin had abducted Tanya.
If that’s true, then it’ll be disappointing, and not only because it was so obviously tipped off. There was something forced about the way Tanya said nothing to Portia about seeing Leo and Quentin having sex. Last season, she was blunt to a fault, so why is she suddenly so coy? Why would she tell Portia not to trust Leo without fully explaining herself? The likely answer is that Mike White needed her to be secretive, so that he could justify Portia’s willingness to go off with Leo and leave Tanya alone at Quentin’s. It’s never a great sign when a character’s primary motivation is to make things easier on the writer.
That entire reading of the episode could be wrong, of course, and even if it is correct, there are bound to be extra twists and turns next week. After all, Lucia (Simona Tabasco) got abducted by her pimp when she was out showing the Di Grasso family their ancestral village. There are bound to be ramifications there, just like Ethan’s increasing suspicion that Cameron (Theo James) is seducing Harper (Aubrey Plaza) will certainly lead to a confrontation.
No matter what happens, however, the finale will have to be wild to overcome the inertia of this saggy installment. It could happen. Hopefully it will. But after all this teasing, a satisfying conclusion will require some awfully big moves.
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Mark Blankenship has been writing about arts and culture for twenty years, with bylines in The New York Times, Variety, Vulture, Fortune, and many others. You can hear him on the pop music podcast Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs.
TOPICS: The White Lotus, Aubrey Plaza, Haley Lu Richardson, Jennifer Coolidge, Leo Woodall, Mike White, Simona Tobasco, Theo James, Tom Hollander, Will Sharpe