The White Lotus, season finale, review: violent, fun, traumatic – and a mystery solved

Theo James and Will Sharpe in The White Lotus - HBO
Theo James and Will Sharpe in The White Lotus - HBO

Whip off the fancy duvet, remove the complimentary chocolates from the pillow, and the core message of Mike White’s luxury thriller anthology The White Lotus (Sky Atlantic) is perfectly straightforward: people are horrible.

But in the hilarious, devastating, thrilling and chilling finale to series two, White spun this dark yet straightforward lesson into a carnival of horror – the awfulness magnified by the fact that the tragedy and the comedy were intertwined under the oppressive gorgeousness of Sicily in high tourist season.

The White Lotus 2.0 has to date revolved around two talking points. The first had to do with tonal shifts from season one (largely flowing from the absence of a performance as volcanic as Murray Bartlett as hotel manager Armand). Relocating from Hawaii to Sicily and with an all-new cast – with one significant exception – the mood was less frenzied, but also more withering. The other inflexion point arrived in episode five as White achieved something regarded as impossible in 2022 by shocking us with an explicit sex scene.

The tryst was between Tom Hollander’s dandyish ex-pat Quentin and his likely lad “nephew” Jack (Leo Woodall). Morally-questionable sex was again to the fore in the finale. Or was at least hinted at as emotionally impotent nerd Ethan (Will Sharpe) drove himself into a neurotic frenzy over his suspicion that wife Harper (Aubrey Plaza) had been unfaithful with Ethan's toxic frenemy, Cameron (Theo James), during their couples getaway at the Sicilian resort.

Spoilers for the the finale follow.

Meghann Fahy in The White Lotus - HBO
Meghann Fahy in The White Lotus - HBO

And so Ethan confronted Cameron’s wife, Daphne (Meghann Fahy), who was unmasked, in the final hour, to be the oldest soul on the island. Her glib, glamorous veneer folding away, she explained, “you don’t have to know everything to love someone.”

Ethan and Daphne were implied to have worked through their respective spousal issues via a spot of horizontal jogging – a conjunction that rebooted Ethan’s libido. It also transformed his and Harper’s marriage into a facsimile of the loved-up sham that existed between Cameron and Daphne.

The obvious insinuation was that, in love as in life, it’s better to pretend. How stunningly bleak – as was the resolution of the storyline of naïve Albie (Adam DiMarco) and sad-eyed sex worker Lucia (Simona Tabasco), who had of course been stringing him along all this time. Not even Albie was shocked – as he told walking Gen-Z fashion disaster Portia (Haley Lu Richardson) at the airport.

The White Lotus – already confirmed as returning for a third series – elsewhere continued to walk a line between serious and slapstick. White’s ability to write scenes that are simultaneously unspeakable and frothy remained remarkable as he got to the spoilery climax of the instalment. Quentin and his pals were revealed to literally be the gay mafia. Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge, the only returnee from 2021) went Rambo and shot the lot – only to then slip and fatally crack her head alighting from their yacht.

Violent, then fun and ultimately traumatising: White Lotus in a bespoke nutshell. It also brought the season full circle. The body Daphne had paddled into in episode one was Tanya’s washing to shore. Daphne screamed – but a few scenes later was in the departure lounge laughing with Cameron. Screaming, then laughing, goes to the heart of The White Lotus and White’s writing. This is a relationship horror show dressed up as a sun-glazed thriller and all the scarier for it.