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‘The White Lotus’ says ‘Arrivederci’ with a brilliant second-season finale

Review by Brian Lowry, CNN

It started with floating bodies, and finally brought home its various threads with a sly nod to the fact that the sex in this visit to “The White Lotus” tended to be transactional. In between, the second installment proved almost as engrossing, uncomfortable and meme-worthy as its Emmy-winning predecessor, which is no small accomplishment for writer-director Mike White.

Although Jennifer Coolidge’s Tanya represented the lone holdover from the first season, she won’t be vacationing in the third unless it’s a prequel, rather belatedly identifying the elaborate scheme that her husband had hatched, with the help of his friend Quentin (Tom Hollander, utterly brilliant), to orchestrate her untimely end. That did happen, but in the most darkly hilarious way imaginable, after Tanya had improbably snagged an errant gun and shot her way to within inches of an escape.

Tanya, however, wasn’t the only character being manipulated for money or advantage, which is what connected the show’s various threads. That included the hard-working hotel manager, Valentina (Sabrina Impacciatore), who succumbed to her repressed sexual needs, and gave a job to Mia (Beatrice Grannò) after she satisfied them; and Albie (Adam DiMarco), the young American trying to play the white knight by rescuing Mia’s friend, the call girl Lucia (Simona Tabasco), talking his father Dominic (Michael Imperioli) into giving her 50,000 euros.

“How are you gonna make it in life if you’re this big a mark?” Dominic asked, before ultimately caving in, influenced by his son’s promise to help him reconcile with his wife.

Lucia and Mia walked into the sunset to the lyrics “The best things in life they’re free,” an ironic, near-perfect coda to a show where money complicated everything, including relationships old and new.

Wealth also permeated the third major plot involving Ethan (Will Sharpe) and Cameron (Theo James), two college chums vacationing together with their wives Harper (Aubrey Plaza) and Daphne (Meghann Fahy), respectively. Over the final episodes, Ethan became preoccupied with his suspicion that Cameron had seduced Harper, which he attributed to resentment over the fact that Ethan had become so much more financially successful than his friend.

Yet the rift between them was healed by Daphne, who had clearly found her own ways of dealing with her husband’s philandering, and after leading Ethan into a secluded cove, seemingly opened his eyes to possibilities — to mysteries, as she put it — within the confines of a marriage that might even have saved his moribund relationship with Harper as well.

In addition to the change in locales there were key differences in the service worker-hotel guest dynamic that defined the original, including the way that class distinctions echoed through those interactions.

At the same time, White again conjured a disarmingly off-kilter vibe, and in both editions anchored the strange happenings not only around a foreshadowed death but the struggles of a hard-working hotel manager, grappling with what a personal life might look like while tending to all the spoiled infants entrusted to their care.

Keeping Coolidge around might have been a sort-of security blanket for the producers, but for any doubters, White has demonstrated that “The White Lotus” can be situated in any posh setting, as long as people remain willing to stay at a hotel chain where terrible things occasionally seem to happen.

HBO isn’t free (and like CNN, it’s part of Warner Bros. Discovery), but thanks to “The White Lotus,” it’s home to one of the best things on television, and as anthology-style concepts go, potentially one of the most durable.

So now that everyone obsessed with the show has said “Arrivederci” to Sicily, the only real question is, “Where are we going next?”

™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

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