TV + Movies

The White Lotus: It’s All About Sex This Time, Except Sex (Which Is About Power)

At the same time, we need to ask if any sensitivity can be afforded to the queer characters, or the characters forming a minority, which has been a critique of the show from the earlier season as well.

The White Lotus: Sicily delivers on every expectation set up by the first season, with Aubrey Plaza and Jennifer Coolidge absolutely devouring their roles to an extraordinary, smart, and wacky finish. While the show’s first season delves into themes like racism, imperialism, and reparations; the second season falters into a different territory, mostly centered around power, sex, and money. The form of satire also shifts from class warfare to sexual relationships in the second season. This goes in accordance with what Oscar Wilde said – “Everything in the world is about sex, except sex. Sex is about power.”

The Truth About Marriages and Rich People

A recurrent theme over the past two seasons of the show has been the truth about the face of marriage or relationships in general, and how they require so much compromise. And just like the first season, sex again takes precedence through the form of style. Though it is debatable as Shaurya Thapa asks, “And given that the various characters are all entangled in a web of deceit, adultery, and understanding their own sexual identities, the sex appeal is imminent. But does the excessiveness really add to the plot or just doubles as another “style over substance” element?”

Thapa also mentions the exploration of masculinity through all the leading characters in different ways, which is evident in how the different men deal with their issues, particularly their behavior towards the women in the show in both the seasons. And season two only extends on the themes as we also see an element of infidelity present through the stories. Adding to this, we see how different female characters respond to this treatment: some revolt, some acknowledge their fate, and some find ways (even if unethical) to make it through.

In season two, all the marriages are empty and sad, and in constant competition with each other about who’s better. In a video by Skip Intro on YouTube, there is a discussion around how this is also based on the zero sum game of status symbol. The power dynamics are all messed up or hinting at how comparison is the thief of joy. It’s also hinted how characters want to be with people who are ignorant of ‘the discourse’ or just don’t care about anything at all and simply enjoy their life.

Queerness Is Hidden, But It’s Changing

In season one of the show, we saw two prominent queer narratives. One was involving the father of one of the characters, the conversation around which was weird to say the least. The other instance was the involvement of the hotel manager with one of the staff members of the hotel. And both of these instances were hidden and a source of embarrassment for both the queer characters. This follows how queerness in any form is not a part of the social system established around power, which is also true for season two. The revelatory queer moments in the show (along with nudity) always embodied an element of ‘shock’ for the audience, who weren’t always sure whether the show would go over its limits to show this specific sexual act or something similar.

In The White Lotus: Sicily, the narratives become prominent as we have the hotel manager Valentina ruling with an iron fist, but also wanting to be with a woman. The latter becomes true for her, thanks to Mia, and that has been a heartwarming moment to watch. At the same time, the storyline around Greg and the ‘classy gays’ explores an important intersection of power, class, and gender. The trope of ‘evil gays’ is fun to explore as it dictates the power that comes at the accord of class and gender. And who becomes victim to the same. No wonder the line from the show, “these gays, they are trying to murder me” has become an absolute meme, and Tanya tapped into the feelings of millions of gay men, instantly furthering the status of Jennifer Coolidge as a gay icon.

At the same time, we need to ask if any sensitivity can be afforded to the queer characters, or the characters forming a minority, which has been a critique of the show from the earlier season as well. While the show does amazing work of delving into the lives of the 1%, we also need to reflect upon it, especially the way it is created for a certain audience. Harper and Ethan’s origins as Puerto Ricon and Asian respectively is left unanswered in season two. It may also be a hint to how those with power don’t have to think about anything else at all.

Fresh Perspective on Sex Work

Perhaps the rare stance that The White Lotus: Sicily improved upon is its management of the narrative of sex workers. Tina Horn, writing for Mashable India, discussed how the show actually portrayed sex workers as its real heroes. The connecting thread of all the stories of the show are the sex workers, Mia and Lucia. Both of them wanted certain things from the hotel and they both got it. Mia uses her sexuality to get what she wanted, the job of a musician for which she is much more capable than the singer they actually had and of course, the journey is full of drama and fun as per White Lotus standards. But more than that, it’s also about the exchange one has to do to climb up the stairs of social mobility, and how sex is a part of the process.

For Lucia, the story follows her engaging with men and making them pay for her services, some of whom don’t want to do so. It is here Albie sees Lucia as “more than a sex worker” and Lucia knows that Albie sees her as a damsel in distress and would help her to attain a higher moral standing. That’s what she uses to further her position and her life in a way. And the show has mentioned again and again how Albie wishes to be the nice guy, a trope movies like Promising Young Woman has wonderfully explored, emphasizing how nice guys are not what they seem.

However, one of the most crucial aspects is female friendships. As per Tina, “White Lotus made me smile by dramatizing the most honest and lasting relationships in the sex industry: friendships between people at work.” This is also a significantly fresh narrative to see woven around friendship, given that season one’s friendship between Olivia and Paula was cringeworthy, where Olivia basically had Paula as a token ‘person of color friend’ to carry around.

It’s Wacky, Absurd, and Hilarious

Twitter was a constant stream of memes based on the show. For instance, in the opening episode we get the line – “Men are so disappointing” (which honestly sums up the entire show). Furthermore, Tanya says in one of the episodes – “Women are depressing, and that’s ok. They have a lot to be depressed about.”  Lastly, there’s the infamous Peppa Pig/Monica Vitti scene or the transition from gays are the best people to these gays are trying to murder me. All things considered and all critiques taken into account, The White Lotus: Silicy is truly one of the wackiest dramas on television right now. More than that, it’s a hilarious, satirical exploration lying at the intersection of class, gender, and power.

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Rajeev completed their under graduation in Political Science Hons. from Sri Venkateswara College, University of Delhi in 2020. They graduated with Masters in Women’s Studies from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai in 2022 and were a participant at the International Writing Program’s Summer Institute, University of Iowa for the 2021-22 session. They have been the recipient of Mavelinadu Collective’s grant for non-fiction for the first issue of Debrahminising Gender. Their work can be found in EPW, Women’s Link Journal, Shuddhashar, Gaysi Family, Feminism in India and Hindu College Gazette among others. Their research interests include queer experiences, feminist ethics of care, and masculinities.

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