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The Ending Of The White Lotus Season 2 Explained

By the end of Season 2 of "The White Lotus," we knew there would be a body in the water. Not just because Episode 1 teased it, and not just because writer-director Mike White ended Season 1 in a similar fashion, but because the tension and dread had grown so thick in the last several episodes that it could only lead to some shocking and terrible conclusion. White wrapped up this eventful week at the White Lotus resort in Sicily with not just one body but several. The most significant was that of self-absorbed heiress Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge), who perished alongside a literal boatful of middle-aged gay men who may have been planning to murder her on behalf of her husband Greg (Jon Gries).

Where the Hawaii-set first season focused on race and class, with its anxious one-percenter guests taking their insecurities out on the resort staff, Season 2 looks at relationships and how people use each other to get what they want. In the universe of "The White Lotus," nearly every relationship is transactional, from sex workers Mia (Beatrice Granno) and Lucia's (Simona Tabasco) straightforward exchange of services to the tangled motivations that define the marriage of Cam (Theo James) and Daphne (Meghann Fahy). 

The dependent and self-motivated nature of these interactions is something that none of these characters can escape, no matter how much of a good person they may think they are. Let's take a closer look at the ending of "The White Lotus" Season 2.

Studies in paranoia

By the start of the final episode, the low-level dread hanging over the entire season has developed into full-scale paranoia, justified or not, across each of the main plots. Tanya, of course, has plenty of reason to be paranoid. For starters, while high on cocaine at a party thrown by her wealthy host Quentin (Tom Hollander), she sees what appears to be a decades-old picture of Quentin with her husband, Greg. The morning after, she confirms that she wasn't imagining things. So why would Greg and Quentin know each other when she seemingly met Quentin and his coterie of eccentric gays by chance? 

Meanwhile, Ethan (Will Sharpe) becomes consumed by the suspicion that his wife Harper (Aubrey Plaza) has slept with his former college roommate and frenemy Cam, torturing himself with explicit fantasies of their lovemaking. When he finally confronts Harper, her confession that the two of them kissed does nothing to dissuade him that something more must have happened.

The story of Albie (Adam DiMarco), his father Dom (Michael Imperioli), and grandfather Bert (F. Murray Abraham), on the other hand, is a rare case where the characters, especially Albie, need to be more paranoid than they are. After days of going where and when she pleased, the sudden appearance of Lucia's violent, controlling pimp ought to beg credulity, and the way she tells Albie that she needs money — while also refusing his initial offer to help — should have been a major red flag.

Villa for rent

Even as it becomes increasingly clear to Tanya that her newfound friends are plotting to kill her for Greg, Quentin's maybe former and maybe current lover, to inherit her immense wealth, she has difficulty believing it. Part of that is because the supposed murder plot, when spoken out loud, sounds ridiculous, and very well could be a product of Tanya's booze and drug-addled imagination. The larger reason she has to doubt the existence of any plot against her is that Quentin, by all outward appearances, is extremely rich. 

After all, Quentin has an amazing villa in Palermo and throws lavish parties there. He ferries his amazing friends around in a private yacht. As she says to her harried assistant Portia (Haley Lu Richardson) upon arriving at Quentin's villa in Episode 5, Tanya is comfortable around other rich people because she doesn't have to worry about anyone trying to get her money.

However, Quentin may not be as wealthy as he appears. A drunk Jack (Leo Woodall), Quentin's young "nephew," confesses that to Portia at the end of Episode 6. Quentin often remarks how difficult and expensive it is to maintain the villa — a true-to-life fact that has led many real-life Italian nobles in the last two decades to open up their great estates to tours and luxury rentals (via Today). Quentin shudders at the thought, but it isn't clear until the end how serious he is about keeping up his lifestyle and that when he asks Tanya if she would die for beauty, he isn't being rhetorical.

Why do they all eat at the hotel?

Tanya is not the only character who prefers being around rich people. Her line to Portia in Episode 5 is a skeleton key to a mystery that has riled fans on Twitter for weeks – why are these people always eating at the hotel? There are 89 Michelin-starred restaurants in Sicily, and yet other than Greg's farewell dinner with Tanya, her off-site adventures with "the gays," and the overnight stay for Daphne and Harper in Noto, nearly every meal eaten by the characters is done at the resort.

Part of that is a structural conceit of the show. Each episode takes place over a day, starting at dawn and ending late at night. White uses the breakfast buffet, lunches at the beach club, and dinners at the restaurant to draw characters together before sending them off again. The restaurant is a place to take stock of where characters are in their journey, both for the audience and the characters themselves. 

Beyond that, though, it shows how thoroughly incurious these people are. They would spend thousands of dollars to stay for a week in one of the world's most beautiful locations and the home of a legendary food culture but prefer to be catered to in the company of other rich people. Perhaps this is White's subtle reminder that though we may sympathize with Harper and Ethan's marital trouble, or Albie's difficulty connecting with his father and grandfather, these are not heroes to root for.

The Godfather

Season 2 takes place in Sicily, and if the average American knows anything about Sicily, it is likely due to "The Godfather" and its sequels. Mario Puzo's 1969 novel and Francis Ford Coppola's Oscar-winning 1972 film adaptation redefined how the mafia was portrayed in popular culture, coining terms like consigliere and popularizing the use of "family" as a euphemism for crime syndicates. 

"The Godfather" tourism remains big business in Sicily, and in Episode 3 the Di Grasso men, along with Portia, visit Castello degli Schiavi, the estate that served as Don Tommasino's villa. In real life, the villa is available for public tours, but the tacky "The Godfather" gift shop and replica of the car where Apollonia was killed are inventions of the show. 

While lunching at the Castello, Bert and Dom wax poetic about what a great film "The Godfather" is to Portia, who has never seen it. Albie, on the other hand, calls out what he sees as the film's misogyny and male wish fulfillment. Portia, between the three of them, barely gets a word in. 

The film not only exerts an undue influence on how Americans view Sicily but the mafia as well. When Tanya is introduced by Quentin to handsome younger man Niccolò (Stefano Gianino), his supposed mafioso status is treated like a fun little detail. Eagle-eyed viewers noted, however, that in the final episode she is wearing the same dress as the doomed Apollonia dummy at the Castello — a very different Italian movie heroine than what she wanted to be.

What happened on the island?

After confronting Harper, Ethan storms onto the beach where Cam is swimming and attacks him. Another guest breaks up the fight and Ethan returns to the beach. Daphne, seemingly unaware of what happened, invites him to sit with her. Ethan confesses his concern that their spouses slept together and Daphne invites him to explore the small island off the coast with her. 

As they walk across the isthmus connecting the island to the mainland, Daphne looks back at him warmly, beckoning him to come along like some mythological siren. They embark on the island, and we never know what happens. When the characters are seen again they are all at dinner together, as if the fight and the island excursion never actually happened.

Of all the characters, Daphne is perhaps the most mysterious. Harper and Ethan both confront her with the possibility that Cam is cheating, either with Mia and Lucia or with Harper herself. Both times she regards them with a kind of amused affection — as if they are one of her children tattling on another. With Harper, she strongly suggests that Cam is not the birth father of one of their kids. With Ethan, we are perhaps led to believe they got revenge on their spouses by having sex, but there is no direct evidence. 

After the island trip, however, Ethan seems to have come around to Daphne's philosophy of leaving room for mystery in marriage. Perhaps mutual infidelity is the thing that finally brings him and Harper together.

An easy mark

Lucia's in trouble, and only Albie can help. Or rather, only Dom and his money can help. Albie asks his father for 50,000 euros to give to Lucia to pay off her pimp and make a new life. Dom balks at the price as he has already paid Lucia and Mia a lot of money for their night together in Episode 2 and by letting them charge food and clothes to his room. Albie frames it as a "karmic payment" for Dom's years of infidelity and offers to put in a good word for him with Albie's mother (voiced over the phone by an uncredited Laura Dern). Dom can't refuse, but he shakes his head at his son and asks, "How are you gonna get through life when you're such an easy mark?"

Albie is, indeed, an easy mark. Lucia is clearly fleecing him. When she leaves his hotel room while he's still asleep and warmly hugs the doorman who played her fearsome pimp, it comes as little surprise. Still, the youngest Di Grasso is hardly alone in being easily deceived. Tanya takes it at face value that Quentin and this fabulous gaggle of men would be so entranced by her that they would invite her into their lives at first sight. Head concierge Valentina (Sabrina Impacciatore) spends the first half of the season quietly pining for her employee Isabella (Eleonora Romandini), misreading every social cue to a degree that almost seems intentional. 

Nearly every character lives in a bubble of their own making, willing to pay any price to keep the bubble from bursting.

Testa di Moro

In Episode 1, bellhop Rocco (Federico Ferrante) explains the significance of the Testa di Moro flower pots around the resort. These vases in the shape of a man's head are a Sicilian tradition based on the legend of a Moorish sailor who once seduced a young Sicilian woman. When the woman discovered that the moor had a wife and children back home, she decapitated him and used his skull to grow flowers and herbs. 

Hearing the grisly story, Cam and Daphne interpret it in different ways. Cam sees the vases as a warning to visitors, remarking, "If you come into my house, don't f*** my wife." Daphne, meanwhile, sees it as a warning to husbands instead, explaining, "Screw around and you'll end up buried in the garden."

Like much of the artwork at the resort, the vases act as silent observers of the living. White often cuts to framed faces looking down in judgment. Still, the Testa di Moro vases are a special case, a piece of art explicitly tied to infidelity. For much of the season, it seems like Ethan will be the moor who gets his head cut off. Then, in the last two episodes, it looks like it might be Harper. In the end, though, it's neither of them. After a tense, odd final dinner with Cam and Daphne, Ethan and Harper make love, connecting for the first time on this trip. Moving to the bed, they accidentally knock the vase to the ground, shattering it and its adulterous prophecy.

The Di Grasso boys

This season is concerned with relationships and the dynamics between genders. The three generations of Di Grasso men are the best example of this, as Bert, Dom, and Albie are all consumed in different ways by their view of women. As Bert bluntly puts it in the finale, "Our Achilles heel is an Achilles c***." 

Bert, at 80 years old, is the product of a generation that saw flirting as harmless fun. Dom is embarrassed by his father's incessant come-ons to Isabella, Portia, and others. He sees himself as simultaneously more enlightened than his father and a victim of this mindset, blaming Bert for his own infidelities and subsequent estrangement from Albie's mother. He knows all the correct words to say and things to be guilty over, but still hires Lucia to be his weeklong escort before thinking better of it.

On the other hand, Albie is aghast at his father and grandfather's behavior and the rampant male entitlement with which they've lived their lives. A young Zoomer, Albie has internalized his generation's discourse over consent and power dynamics but also sees himself as a nice guy who "deserves" to be in a relationship, an ugly side that comes out when Portia ditches him for the more assertive Jack. The Di Grasso men see themselves as very different from each other in self-flattering ways, but when a beautiful young woman walks by them at the airport, all three turn their heads to watch her pass.

Etna erupts

Like the Renaissance artworks that hang on the walls, silently watching and judging the characters, nature plays a participatory role in "The White Lotus," whether standing in silent witness or actively mirroring the emotions of the characters. Mount Etna looms over the Sicilian landscape, ready to blow at any moment, much like the slow-burning plots happening on the ground below. In the final episode, as Tanya realizes that she is trapped on a yacht where her Sicilian lover Niccolò is likely going to kill her, a fiery plume erupts from Etna. There is no turning back now, and there will be no return to peaceful ignorance.

Of course, not all symbols are the same for everyone. The volcano also represents the conclusion to Ethan and Harper's storyline, erupting as their passion finally rekindles. Earlier in the episode, the two were represented by the roiling surf, churning dangerously like their unexpressed emotions. White uses the water as a symbol throughout the series, a place of both final destination (as we'll soon see) and of rebirth, often framing Harper and Portia around seabirds. These birds symbolize both of their anxious natures and perhaps anticipate viewers yelling at the screen that they need to get out of here, to fly away from these people, as soon as possible.

RIP Tanya

We knew there would be a death at the end of the season, but we didn't know it would be Tanya. We certainly didn't know how it would happen, with Tanya slipping and falling to her death in the ocean after blasting her way out of the yacht bathroom with Niccolò's stolen handgun. In true sequel fashion, this is a much bigger climax than Armond's (Murray Bartlett) accidental stabbing that ends Season 1, but it still feels similar. 

Bleakly funny, lightly horrifying, and with a bit of slapstick, Tanya's death is not exactly deserved, but it is at least understandable. Even after Tanya falls off the yacht while trying to jump into Niccolo's dinghy, there's a moment when you might think she could still make it, could somehow swim to shore and save herself. But a film noir stylized shot of Tanya floating motionless in the Ionian Sea tells the story well before Daphne's horrible discovery the next morning.

Speculation over who would die this season ran rampant leading up to the finale. Tanya was a surprise choice not just because she was the connective tissue between the first two seasons but because Jennifer Coolidge was so celebrated in the role, winning an Emmy for her performance in Season 1. Vulture reports that Mike White told Coolidge early on in the development process for Season 2, even before he had settled on Sicily as the location, that Tanya would die. "I tried to talk him out of it," Coolidge told Vulture in a post-finale interview, "but Mike is very strong. He said I was going to have a tragic ending, and he stuck to his guns."

The next vacation

So where do we go next? HBO announced in November that "The White Lotus" would return for Season 3, though details thus far have been few and far between. White has stated that he is interested in perhaps setting Season 3 somewhere in East Asia and centering the season around spirituality in the way that Seasons 1 and 2 were respectively about money and sex. Other than that general idea, he has remained tight-lipped about where or when we might see Season 3.

The other burning question is who, if anyone, we might see from previous seasons. Perhaps we'll catch up with Cam, Daphne, Ethan, and Harper on vacation together in the Maldives, as Daphne suggests at their final dinner. Portia might find herself once again working as an assistant to some terrible rich vacationer, or perhaps we'll see guests from Season 1 return, like Jake Lacy's Shane and Alexandra Daddario's Rachel. Maybe White will take Season 3 into prequel territory and welcome Tanya back from the dead. 

Whatever shape the next season takes, we can expect another seven episodes of beautiful locales and the best life has to offer wasted on the worst people in the world.