Photo: Stefano Delia/HBO
It’s the midpoint in the season, which by extension means that our guests are halfway through their Sicilian vacations. And for most of them, the trip they find themselves on looks a lot different than the one they’d planned. For some, it even looks different than the trip they were on just yesterday. Good vacations have turned bad, and bad ones have turned good. All the while, our characters are navigating these unexpected changes in circumstance, and loss of control, with mixed success.
In the case of Cameron and Daphne, they wake up (Cameron alongside Lucia and Mia) having exposed their flawed relationship to their travel companions, who now each know their secrets. The façade of a perfect, no-fighting relationship is gone, but Ethan and Harper vow to honor Bro Code and Girl Code. This vow lasts only until Harper is back from the palazzo and able to finally exhale in the safety of her room, where she promptly spills to Ethan everything she was told in confidence about Cameron’s infidelity. But rather than bond with his wife over this shared revelation, Ethan stays mum about what he witnessed, upholding Cameron’s Bro Code.
When he gets up to use the bathroom, though, Harper stumbles on remnants of last night’s debauchery when she finds Cameron’s condom wrapper tucked in their couch. Harper naturally assumes that it was Ethan’s and begins to spiral internally. Seconds ago, she was reveling in the fact that Cameron and Daphne were “twisted” and, in comparison, her relationship was fine. But now she’s quietly palming the wrapper in a panic rather than confronting Ethan about it. All week, she has been determined to prove how good their relationship is based on how bad she was sure Cameron and Daphne’s was, and as soon as that happens, it all comes crashing down in one fell swoop.
While Harper’s trip takes a sudden nosedive, things are looking up for a once-despondent Tanya. In an example of art imitating life, Jennifer Coolidge’s character finds herself to be the object of affection of a group of gay men led by Tom Hollander’s Quentin. Taken by her chic, glamorous style, they invite her to spend the day with them at the beach club, and this newfound attention proves to be the exact serum Tanya needed to recover from being jilted by Greg. She now finds herself on a very different trip than she thought she was going on. Instead of a romantic getaway, she’s suddenly the belle of the gay ball. The latter situation is where Tanya thrives, and she’s finally getting her groove back (although I don’t know if she ever really had her groove in the first place).
This is a totally different dynamic than we’re used to seeing with Tanya, who is usually the one collecting people like they’re trinkets (Belinda, Greg, Portia). But now, it seems like she’s the one being collected by this group of gay men, each of whom looks more like Gallagher than the last. But because this is The White Lotus and not Under the Tuscan Sun, I’m suspicious about their intentions with Tanya. After all, Quentin is a very devious name. Plus he tells her an ominous story about a wealthy matriarch being killed by a group of investors because she wouldn’t sell them her house on a nearby island. “But now the house is open to the public, so maybe it was worth it,” he says with a chuckle.
Nevertheless, this change in itinerary reinvigorates not just Tanya but the ever-miserable Portia, who is introduced to Quentin’s nephew Jack (Leo Woodall). Mike White’s answer to Love Island, Jack is exactly the kind of himbo fuckboy Portia was looking for to “throw her around” on this trip. “If you want an adventure, stick with me, ’cause I know how to have fun in the sandbox, if you know what I mean,” he says — a line that a fellow Love Island contestant would praise as “great banter.”
The only problem is that earlier that morning, Portia had seemingly come around to Albie, eagerly inviting him to spend the day together and telling Tanya, “I feel like if I won the lottery, I’d throw away the ticket.” But if Albie is a winning lottery ticket (arguable), she throws it away once more just hours later when he comes to see her at the beach club and she’s with Jack instead.
Something that’s interesting about this show is that even though the season opening sets us up for a whodunit, I’m never consumed by the mystery as I watch. In fact, I hardly pay mind to the fact that one of these characters might be a killer — with the exception of right now. Seeing Albie spot Portia with Jack instantly brings that plot point to the front of my mind, and I’m bracing for him to snap. Albie is a suitcase that contains either a ticking time bomb or a cute Mickey Mouse clock, and it’s impossible to know which it is.
Meanwhile, Lucia and Mia find themselves on a comedown after their drug-fueled night with Cameron, which seems to have resulted in a Freaky Friday–like role reversal. Lucia suddenly feels demoralized by the night while Mia, originally hesitant, has had a change of heart about the operation. “Having sex knowing exactly what you are going to get out of it is not so bad,” she says, despite Lucia’s newfound shame. But when it comes to getting something from sex, Mia has a different goal in mind than the money Lucia has been collecting. She decides to sleep with sleazy piano player Giuseppe (Federico Scribani), telling a dumbstruck Lucia, “He said he would help me with my career. If I want to sing, I have to do it.”
While Mia tries to have sex with him in a “deconsecrated” chapel, Lucia abandons her original plan for the week, going rich men like Dominic and Cameron and instead setting her sights on Albie. Having been tossed aside by Portia, he’s receptive and has a nice afternoon with the sex worker his father hired for the week. “I always wanted to go to Los Angeles. It is my dream,” she tells him, repeating almost verbatim the very thing she told his father. Albie, of course, is more interested in hearing about her dream than Dominic was.
The first major change to the Di Grassos’ vacation happened before they even left, when Abby and Kara bailed — making it a boys’ trip and creating room for Lucia and Mia. But now, Dominic is determined to make things right and shows off a gift he bought Abby. Albie dismisses it as him trying to buy her off but really snaps when his father suggests that he’s the one who could talk her down. “I’m not going to be your advocate in this, Dad. That is so manipulative,” he says before storming off. Once considered to be the family peacemaker, Albie is hitting his breaking point and creating a shift in the established family dynamic.
We were told in episode one that the men were visiting to learn about their Sicilian heritage, but it seems like this trip’s genealogy expedition is only going back three generations as we continue to compare and contrast the Di Grasso men’s relationships with women. Or in the case of this episode, one woman in particular: Lucia, whom Bert and Dominic spot Albie with across the restaurant at dinner. “Like father, like father, like son,” Bert says.
While her guest’s trips unravel around her, Valentina is in her own world, apparently enamored with one of her employees who brings out a warmer, sweet side to the hilariously blunt resort manager. This story line might call to mind last season, when we saw Valentina’s Hawaii counterpart, Armond, pursuing an employee played by Lukas Gage. It initially seemed strange that both seasons would have such similar plot points, but given that so much of this season is about gender, sexual politics, and power, it feels like this gender-swapped version is almost the show in conversation with itself, contrasting men and women in this same situation. Valentina buying this woman a pin from a store she likes feels very different from Armond getting his employee high and eating his ass, for example, although both are nice gestures.
Valentina is brought back into the fold at dinner after the dining room erupts into chaos when Giuseppe collapses, reacting to the drug Mia mistakenly told him was Viagra. Making lemonade out of lemons, Mia sees an opportunity as he is carried out to the ambulance. “If you need a singer for tonight, I can do it. I’m really good,” Mia tells Valentina, who promptly tells her to get lost. Worth a shot!
Luckily, Lucia hasn’t poisoned her companion, Albie, who joins the women for a drink at the bar. Unfortunately, Portia and Jack are awkwardly at the other end of the bar as well, and although she claims to feel bad, it doesn’t stop them from making out in front of Albie. Seeing this play out, and refusing to let them win, Lucia starts making out with Albie in response. “That’s a twist,” Portia says, almost with admiration, before taking Jack to her room. Portia and Albie’s sex duel continues behind closed doors with each of them hooking up with their new companion.
After a long day haunted by her discovery, Harper once again asks Ethan what happened last night. He still doesn’t know what she means, instead telling her about Cameron’s investment proposal. Not getting the answers she’s looking for, Harper goes into the bathroom, where she takes out the condom wrapper and lays it out on the sink — perhaps for Ethan to find before his early morning run. Is she taking a page out of Daphne’s book and playing games?
While, yes, on one hand this is a silly misunderstanding that should be easily remedied with communication, simply clarifying that it was Cameron’s condom might not be the cure-all that it seems. Because then the question becomes why is Ethan keeping Cameron’s secret from Harper? That secret, along with just how shaken Harper is by this in the first place, demonstrates the prominent cracks in their relationship, which feels as though it’s on the brink of shattering like a fallen test di moro vase.