The White Lotus: Season 2, “Bull Elephants” – TV Review

“Bull Elephants”

  • Creator: Mike White
  • Starring: Jennifer Coolidge, Aubrey Plaza, Michael Imperioli, F. Murray Abraham, Haley Lu Richardson, Meghann Fahy, Theo James, Will Sharpe, Beatrice Grannò, Tom Hollander, Simona Tabasco

Grade: B+

Warning: Reviews of The White Lotus season 2 will contain spoilers.

If there’s one thing that’s going to drive me nuts with this season of The White Lotus, it’s in Mike White continually dangling the character of Valentina (Sabrina Impacciatore) in front of us, only to pull her away at the last second. Bull Elephants opens with her on her trek to work, where she stops at a cafe and is hit on by a stranger whom she savagely rebuffs. Part of the fun in the first season was in Murray Bartlett’s Armond and his slowly unraveling mental state as the hotel’s guests ran him ragged. Outside of these brief snippets, Valentina has largely been a mystery so far, including a scene later on in the episode where a co-worker approaches/flirts with her. Surely White has grander designs for her, but it’s hard to parse out exactly what those designs will be.

I had wondered after last week’s episode what kind of darkness would lie underneath Cameron and Daphne’s seemingly perfect façade, and this episode surely uncovers it, revealing a more broken marriage than Harper and Ethan’s. Daphne ropes Harper into visiting a gothic town while the men stay behind to jet ski, only to reveal to Harper that she’s already rented the villa for the night so they can do what they want. Meghann Fahy has quietly been the MVP of the season so far, turning what could easily be a ditzy, shallow character into someone smarter and more calculating than what she initially seems. She may view her head games that she plays with Cameron as a harmless way to achieve a fraction of independence, when in reality it’s damaging their relationship – though, based on the revelation that Cameron has cheated (“at least once, that I know of”), perhaps it’s already damaged beyond repair.

The White Lotus; HBO

And Cameron takes the day’s opportunity to show how truly douchey he is. Harper’s suspicion of Cameron’s ulterior motives comes to fruition almost immediately after he’s left alone with Ethan, as he not only guilts Ethan because he kept him in the dark about his company’s sale, but begins selling Ethan on trusting his money with him. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he picks up Mia and Lucia for a night of drinking, molly, and sex – though Ethan crucially stays faithful. Some kind of reckoning is surely coming next week, whether from Daphne for Cameron betraying her, or from Harper for Ethan putting himself in the compromising situation.

White’s script for Bull Elephants questions how much we can change who we are, in virtually every storyline. It’s shown right off the bat from Harper, who tries to capitalize on Ethan’s post-run “routine” but he hardly even recognizes the effort she’s put into it. It’s in Dominic’s realization that he needs to make fundamental changes to himself if he wants even a glimmer of a chance to win back his wife and family. Some hope can be seen as he essentially “fires” Mia and Lucia, but who knows how long this will stay in effect? The entire storyline with Dominic, Albie, Bert, and Portia (and Tanya, for that matter) in Bull Elephants wasn’t the most compelling, but the conversation at the site where the scenes in The Godfather were filmed was one of the highlights of the episode. It’s a scene that showcase’s White’s ability to write dialogue that gets to the heart of each character’s viewpoint while revealing something about their true nature.

The White Lotus; HBO

Albie and Portia continue to spin their wheels around each other, though it hits on the theme of change, as Portia hints that Albie could be a little more assertive towards her. He takes the critique to heart, and it really looks like he could score with Portia. That is, until Portia convenes with Tanya after Greg leaves and convinces Portia that she shouldn’t go for men that are emotionally unavailable (though why Portia would take the advice of a maniac like Tanya is anybody’s guess). There’s still a long way to go, and Albie and Portia are great characters – and are played to perfection by Adam DiMarco and Haley Lu Richardson – but something’s gotta give with them, dramatically speaking, sooner or later.

I’ve been surprised by how closed-off this season has gotten so far, and by that I mean that there haven’t been many new pairings between characters outside of their own little bubbles. Season one saw all manner of interaction between the different families, even if it was just for a scene or two. Of course, this is just a minor complaint, and I don’t need White to force characters together when they don’t belong – there’s definitely plenty of drama going on within their own circles. I started out the season mentioning how structurally similar the two seasons were, and while some similarities can be drawn between the characters of both seasons, it’s been refreshing to see how White’s thematic material has adapted to the new circumstances.

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