“In the Sandbox”
- 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
Warning: Reviews of The White Lotus season 2 will contain spoilers.
Lest we forget, there will be multiple casualties to get to before the end of this season of The White Lotus. As with last season, I don’t expect we’ll see any deaths before the finale, but this week’s episode certainly hinted at a couple of possibilities. In the Sandbox brings a great deal of the season’s boiling plotlines to a head – most as a result of the events of the last episode – and it sets up what will surely be an enjoyable back half.
I had been mostly disengaged with Tanya and her relatively uninteresting storyline with Greg, but she comes to life here, mostly thanks to Jennifer Coolidge’s reliably excellent performance. Still adrift and confused about her marriage to Greg, she’s courted by a group of eccentric vacationers led by Quentin (Tom Hollander), who set out to show her a good time. It’s a kind of a mirror to season one, when Molly Shannon showed up in the fourth episode to inject a bit of chaos into Jake Lacy and Alexandria Daddario’s marriage, and Hollander already makes a strong impression so far. The difference couldn’t be more striking between Quentin and Greg. Whereas Greg mostly did things for Tanya out of a sense of obligation, it seems that Quentin genuinely wants Tanya to enjoy herself. Though if Mike White had a thesis statement for The White Lotus overall, it would be that joy is fleeting, so who knows how long Tanya’s happiness will last.
Or Portia’s or Albie’s, for that matter. After dancing around each other for so long, Portia finally decides she’s ready to just get laid and goes after Jack (Leo Woodall), the hunky guy she saw at the pool last week, who just happens to be vacationing with Quentin. It’s a testament to Portia’s moral fortitude that she still feels bad for hooking up with Jack, even though it’s what she’s secretly wanted all along. Even at the end of the episode, Albie would surely rather be with Portia than Lucia, despite how adorable they are together. They may have received some instant gratification, but how long will it be before they realize that they had happiness within their reach from the beginning?
For Ethan, his instant gratification is very much coming back to ruin him. Regardless of how faithful he ultimately was last week, he trusts Cameron a little too much to not leave a telltale condom in his room, which Harper quickly finds. Aubrey Plaza has been unsurprisingly phenomenal all season, and In the Sandbox features some of her best acting, saying so much with her body language and expressions without actually saying many words. Harper is entirely too forthright to keep what she knows hidden for long, so it’s a little surprising that the episode ends with her simply setting the condom wrapper out and seeing what happens, but perhaps this is a sign that she has turned a corner and is trying to be less confrontational. Or maybe she’s weighing whether she values short-term happiness (cheating with someone like Cameron) over long-term happiness (staying with Ethan and talking it out).
If there’s a theme specific to In the Sandbox, it’s the question of chemistry between romantic partners. Opposites attract, but most of the couples this season have been almost exact replicas of each other (with the exception of Tanya and Greg). Harper and Ethan know each other’s quirks and preferences inside and out. The same goes for Daphne and Cameron. Albie and Portia are still getting to know each other, which is why I suspect their romantic trysts in the episode will ultimately be short-lived.
Last week’s theme of inner character growth also continues here, with Lucia and Mia, who may have my personal favorite storyline. After traipsing about from room to room since the season began, Lucia is resolved to change herself and vows to stop sleeping around. It’s not clear whether she means for money or in general, but given where she ends up in the final moments of the episode, it plays into White’s thesis that change is difficult. Unfortunately it seems that she’s rubbed off on Mia, now determined to use her sexuality to further her singing career, which leads to a series of comedic dominoes that ends with Giuseppe’s incapacity.
The lingering question of who will die had not been at the forefront of my mind throughout the first handful of episodes, to be honest. And it’s a credit to White that the season’s drama doesn’t hinge entirely on who will get the axe. Every episode of season two has had plenty of interesting character development, and internal and external struggles. I still maintain that season one – as enjoyable and well-done as it was – was ultimately a little aimless in that very little changed from beginning to end for most characters. Four episodes in, and it already feels like things could change monumentally for almost everyone involved, and that’s an exciting feeling.