‘The White Lotus’ Recap, Season 2 Episode 2: ‘Italian Dream’

The White Lotus

Italian Dream

Season 2

Episode 2

Editor’s Rating

4 stars

Photo: Fabio Lovino/HBO

Want to see episode three of The White Lotus before everyone else? Join us in Los Angeles on November 12 at Vulture Festival for an advanced screening, followed by a live conversation with Meghann Fahy—tickets are on sale now!

Last week, we were introduced to the Sicilian legend of “Teste di Moro,” about a scorned woman who beheaded her duplicitous lover. But this week, focus seems to be on cutting off a different body part. “I think some women cut off their husband’s balls and then they wonder why they’re not attracted to them anymore,” Daphne says, speculating to her husband about the dynamic relationship of their travel companions, Harper and Ethan. This notion of emasculation — or more broadly, who wields the power in these relationships — is a thread that runs throughout “Italian Dream.” Who’s wearing the (designer) pants, and what implications does that have?

Our second day at the White Lotus begins as our guests plan their itineraries over the breakfast buffet. The Di Grasso clan effectively adopt Portia, inviting her to walk to the Greek theater with them. A much kinder Greg than we saw last week indulges Tanya in her fantasy Sicily day — “Whatever you want; it’s your day to shine,” he tells her — though it’s unclear if this day includes the Oreo-cookie cake she requested for breakfast. Harper, meanwhile, finds herself solo while Ethan is on an early-morning run, until Daphne and Cameron beckon her over to their table. He ends up taking a call, screaming into the phone about his missing luggage, but Daphne assures Harper that she’s never on the receiving end of that rage, telling her, “We never fight.”

Harper finds this preposterous, and we can practically see her tuck this nugget away to gleefully report to Ethan back in the room — but when she gets there, she finds him jerking off post-run. She’s mildly offended that he didn’t just wait for her so they could have sex, but only barely, because it seems like no secret that they aren’t in sync in this department. He prefers the morning; she prefers night. They don’t seem to be in any rush to remedy this problem (Ethan passes on her offer to finish the job), but maybe that’ll change after a week of comparing themselves to Cameron and Daphne.

Speaking of, Harper is quick to pivot this conversation to bring up the “we don’t fight” revelation, deeming it a marker that their perfect life is really bogus. “You always do this with certain people,” Ethan tells her, deflating her glee. “You have to find them deficient in some way compared to you.” Passing on sex was nothing compared to shutting down what really matters to Harper: her shit-talking. She’s wounded by the accusation that she’s threatened by them, but quick to defend herself, retorting, “Everybody does it, Ethan. I’m sure they’re over there shitting on me right now, saying I’m a bitch or you could do better.”

And she’s right! Cameron and Daphne basically say exactly that later in their room, which is where Daphne lays out her aforementioned emasculation theory. While it’s arguable whether Harper actually emasculates Ethan, or if it has any effect on their unsynchronized sex life, it is clear that she’s the one wearing the pants in the relationship. Take, for example, the previous night, when she practically told Ethan what he’d be ordering for dinner, attempting to veto his selection of fishy whitefish.

Unlike Cameron and Daphne, one marriage in which there’s definitely fighting is the one between Dominic and his absent wife, Abby. Even so, Bert can’t wrap his head around why Abby and their daughter, Kara, opted to skip the trip. What could Dominic have possibly done to make them angry enough to miss a trip to Italy? As they roam the Greek theater, Bert recounts the Sicily-set tale of the rape of Persephone, in which Hades abducted Demeter’s daughter, Persephone, and dragged her away to the underworld. “Demeter forgave Hades, and he raped her daughter. I mean, whatever you’ve done can’t be as bad as that,” he tells Dominic.

The thing is, Bert does know what his son did. “Your mistake was being sloppy,” he tells him later over dinner, saying that the real offense wasn’t the cheating but being careless enough to get caught. Dominic bristles at this, accusing his father of not being discreet with his own affairs — which Bert dismisses as “peccadilloes.” But if Bert was aware of this, why the constant faux confusion over Abby and Kara’s absence? It seems that in asking why they aren’t there, he really means why are they so mad over this, which Bert sees as a nonevent. So much so that he thinks it’s an entirely solvable problem, urging his son to just fix it: “Just get your act together.” Clearly, Bert couldn’t hear that phone call with Abby through the hotel wall.

Our functional pair of couples reunite for another day of sitting at tables with Aperol Spritzes (mixing things up by sitting at the beach too), and like clockwork Cameron and Daphne dish out plenty of material for Harper to judge. She collects each of these cringey comments like they’re little souvenirs, and with each one we can practically see her becoming more vindicated, as if she’s silently saying “see?to Ethan. They detail the many five-star hotels they’ve been to in-depth, while saying that Puerto Rico, where Harper’s family is from, has “never really been on our radar.” Then Cameron addresses the elephant in the room, asking them how they like being newly rich. Not much has changed, they say, with Harper adding that they aren’t really materialistic. Cameron circles back to this comment after Daphne mentions her donations. “Yeah, we’re not just materialistic pigs… despite what you might think,” he says with playful hostility.

There have been a lot of comparisons between Cameron and last season’s resident finance bro, Jake Lacy’s Shane. But a key distinction this time around is that Cameron has a worthy adversary in Harper. Just like Cameron, Harper is the alpha in her relationship and on his level when it comes to both confidence and wealth. That equal footing is something Shane didn’t have in his conflicts with Armond and Rachel, and it brings a new dimension to this character archetype. It’s what makes it so entertaining to watch them spar: They challenge each other more than their respective partners do, and the seems very idea of ​​being challenged to catch them both off guard.

When Cameron pushes back on her “materialistic” comment, we see Harper get flustered for the first time, as if she hadn’t realized they were competent enough to recognize her digs as digs. A similar thing happens later, when she hears about the traumatic delivery of their baby and suddenly sees a different side to the couple, like, Oh wait, these are real people.

Meanwhile, determined to make Tanya’s Italian dream a reality, she and Greg rent a Vespa, despite the discouragement of a very nervous Valentina. “Who do I look like?” Tanya asks, showing off her pink Monica Vitti drag. “Peppa Pig,” Valentina answers, before anxiously sending them off on their bumpy ride through Sicily. Monica Vitti and Peppa Pig — two European icons.

We later find out why Greg was so intent on creating her perfect day, when he drops the bomb that he’ll have to leave their romantic trip early for a emergency work in Denver. (Is there a White Lotus in Denver? Free season-three idea here.) Tanya, an heiress worth a half-billion dollars, can’t wrap her head around why he doesn’t just quit. “I can’t quit; I can’t afford to quit. You made me sign a prenup. What if we don’t work out?” he says, afraid that he’ll become just another one of the many people that Tanya discards (*cough* Belinda *cough*).

This fight provides us with some interesting context about the dynamics of their relationship, but it’s not entirely clear who’s emasculating whom. On the one hand, we’ve seen Greg be terrible to Tanya, disrespecting and walking all over her throughout last week’s episode, even giving us reason to that he’s cheating believe on her. But now we know that when it comes to money, she holds all the power and has him by the balls. He’s practically a toy at her disposal (not a very fun toy either — if you wind it up, it coughs, and its only accessory is underwear). The question is, is his poor treatment of Tanya the result of this power imbalance or simply an excuse for it?

While that fight ensues, across the restaurant, Portia and Albie get to know each other better over dinner and prove to be yet another case study in Daphne’s emasculation theory. Nobody is emasculating the already mild-mannered Albie, of course, but his “nice guys finish last” idea complements the attraction part of Daphne’s thesis.

“Girls always complain that guys aren’t nice, but then if they find a nice guy, they’re not always interested,” he says, providing support to Daphne’s suggestion that women aren’t attracted to emasculated men. That assertion might unfortunately ring true between Portia and Albie, because as lovely as our sweet Albie seems, there appears to be some disconnect when it comes to what they’re each looking for. After all, just yesterday, Portia, after being urged to “go get some dick,” said that her goal was “to get thrown around by some hot Italian guy.” Albie is not the throwing-around type. Albie is the type to politely ask to kiss her at the end of the night and then say, “Let’s hang out tomorrow!” He refuses to have a bad relationship with women, breaking the generational cycle that we see with the older Di Grasso men, who insist on having a bad relationship with women.

In contrast, one of said older Di Grasso men, Albie’s father, is hosting Lucia and Mia for a threesome in his room. The kind gesture is a way to thank Dominic for adding their names to his rooms (and thus his tab), which he had to do to give them access to the hotel — something Valentina was resistant to budge on. So after a day of living it up Pretty Woman style on Dominic’s dime, they pay him a visit. But Dominic, seemingly determined to follow his father’s advice and “fix” his marriage, tries to turn Lucia away. Upon the emergence of Mia, however, three proves to be company, and Dominic folds, inviting the women in.

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