The White Lotus S2E2: “Italian Dream” — Dreams Can Sometimes be Nightmares

harper spiller walks to eat her breakfast in The White Lotus S2E2
Photograph by Fabio Lovino/HBO

The following contains spoilers for The White Lotus S2E2, “Italian Dream” (written and directed by Mike White)

In the opening scene of Season 2 Episode 2 of The White Lotus (“Italian Dream”) we see waves of the Ionian Sea crashing against the rocks of the Sicilian shoreline. It follows the theme of the show where writer/director Mike White pairs some of the most troubled and dysfunctional people on the planet with some of the planet’s most luxurious scenery. But this scene also serves the purpose of positioning us for the sometimes tumultuous, and always unpredictable, relationships that will be unveiled in this episode.

Waves and rocks. One steady, one always moving. One swirling wherever nature takes it, one grounded and unshakable. One smashing the other, one taking the beating unflinchingly. One unpredictable, one that never changes. The dichotomy reflects the positioning and mystery we are seeing in the intermingling of characters so far in The White Lotus Season 2.

After one night at the luxurious resort, where do we find our characters? And more importantly, where are they headed?

Ethan and Harper Spiller

It has been said that money and power corrupt absolutely, but I am here to tell you that the relationship Ethan and Harper have was absolutely corrupted long before Ethan’s windfall that made them filthy rich. They seemingly have what many in a relationship covet: money, conversation, hobbies, and a sweet old lady as a housekeeper!

But all of these lofty achievements are obviously weighed down by the burdens of self-righteousness and insecurity. Harper rightly accuses Ethan of wanting to come on the Sicily trip just so he could finally “win the arm-wrestling contest.” Ethan is convinced Harper is threatened by the Sullivans (he asks her twice why she feels threatened), because of some unwavering belief that no couple can: 1) never fight; 2) be happy all the time; and 3) be that much in love after so many years together.

The theme of Ethan and Harper having wildly different sexual preferences, times of the day they want sex, and total incompatibility on whether or not they want kids is a signpost for the larger issues this couple clearly faces. They may actually talk about who they voted for and what geopolitical issues affect their lives, but there are many more important conversations worth having.

Cameron and Daphne Sullivan

If Cameron and Daphne aren’t your favorite couple on this show even after the first two episodes, I don’t know what to tell you. It seemed from Episode 1 that they were being positioned as the next-generation top-of-the-social-ladder buffoons that made much of the guest list from Season 1. But in a strange satirical twist, the Sullivans are most the real people on the island.

Cameron and Daphne share an intimate moment
Photograph by Fabio Lovino/HBO

Sure, they may get lost in a Ted Lasso binge marathon, or they may get swept up in drunk-donating when they see “children or babies in need or animal abuse,” but their hearts beating loudly and proudly on their sleeves. And the Spillers almost can’t stand it.

They want to know what the Spillers feel like now that they are rich. Cameron confides in Harper that they really want her to like them. They know each other’s fuses and what lights the match to set them off. But the emotional coup de grace is when the Sullivans tell the Spillers their impassioned story about almost losing a baby, the couple across the table literally does not know how to react.

To show that kind of emotion, connection, and dependence on someone else? Ethan and Harper Spiller would never.

Bert Di Grasso and Dominic Di Grasso

Like father, like son, I guess. We learn officially what was painfully obvious in the first episode of Season 2, “Ciao,” that Dom’s life at home with his wife and daughter is falling apart because of constant infidelity. Only this time he got caught and his wife is having none of it. Yes, that was Laura Dern’s voice you heard in Episode 1 when Dom spoke to her on the phone. Will we see Dern at some point in the season? Will she show up and walk right into the middle of Dom’s latest terzetto with a very willing Lucia and somewhat reluctant Mia?

(Dern is not presently credited with any episodes for The White Lotus, but we can always dream.)

But when Dom opens up to his father about his problems at home, knowing Pops had several trysts of his own, Bert tells him his problem is that Dom isn’t “keeping it tight.” Boys will be boys, men have urges, we weren’t meant to be with just one person, and all that machismo bullshit. Bert seems to think that the patriarchy in the Di Grasso family is above reproach, as evidenced by a truly horrific comparison he makes about Hades raping goddess Persephone, daughter of Demeter. But “Demeter actually forgave Hades!” Bert exclaims. Dom’s not doing anything nearly that foul, so it should be no problem for his wife to cast the affairs aside and come running to Dom with the open arms of forgiveness like the father of the Prodigal Son. Yikes.

It makes you wonder how Dom’s son, Albie, turned out to be the easygoing, humble young man that we see. At least that’s the version that is uncovered as his relationship with Portia is unveiled.

Albie Di Grasso and Portia

Albie quickly learns that he would rather spend time with new acquaintance Portia (Tanya’s personal assistant/persona non grata on the Hunt romantic vacation) than with his father and grandfather while they bicker about the ethics of male sexual urges. He knows all about what his dad has done, but seems largely unfazed. Over the course of Albie and Portia’s dinner, Dom becomes more of a father to Albie, and more a strawman for the type of alpha male he does not want to become. As a result, Albie confides in Portia that he seems to only attract young ladies who are “wounded birds,” but that he just wants a “real, good relationship.”

albie and portia say goodnight after their date
Photograph by Fabio Lovino/HBO

Enter Portia who is a walking definition of a wounded bird, having been abandoned by her boss Tanya in Sicily and ordered to stay in her room with a steady diet of room service and binge TV. She tells Albie she just wants to “have fun, feel like fulfilled and have an adventure, and I’m sick of f*cking TikTok and Bumble….and I just want to live my life with someone who is ignorant of the discourse.” She eventually concedes that maybe a caveman is the right kind of guy for her. But Albie, who has probably never had an adventure in his life that was not sneaking on his dad’s various forays, thinks she should aim higher.

Their night ends with a sweet kiss outside her door, as Albie is seemingly the only one on this Italian island who doesn’t have some sort of agenda with their relationship. At least not yet.

Tanya McQuoid-Hunt and Greg Hunt

If there is somewhere we can take bets on which guests end up literally dead in the water by the time the last episode of Season 2 rolls around, Greg has to have moved up to the heavy favorite at this point. After his mysterious and muffled phone call in Episode 1, Tanya overhears Greg talking in the middle of the night to someone else, saying “yeah, she’s clueless, as usual. I’ll be home tomorrow and I’ll give you a call when I get in…I love you, too.”

This revelation comes after Greg confessed to Tanya that he needed to fly back to Denver for work. The odd couple had just finished Tanya’s Monica-Viti-inspired perfect day in Sicily, Greg brought Tanya to a romantic restaurant only to drop the bombshell on her that he would be ditching her for three days of their week-long vacation.

Tanya and Greg begin their dream Italian day
Photograph by Fabio Lovino/HBO

Greg has been an enigma ever since we met him. The mysterious illness that plagued him in Season 1? Gone. The compassion he had for an unhinged Tanya when they first met in Maui? Nowhere to be seen. What exactly is he hiding and how has he not yet realized that someone who has as fragile a mental state as Tanya is not someone to be screwing with?

We learn from Tanya in S2E2 that Greg is always just running around in his underwear when they’re together. That’s quite a visual. But I have a strong suspicion now we are going to be seeing a lot more of Greg when Daphne discovers him floating near the shores near the White Lotus.

Written by Ryan Kirksey

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