The White Lotus Season 2 Episode 1 Review: Ciao

The White Lotus season 2 opens in a satisfyingly symmetrical way to its first vacation outing.

Greg Hunt (Jon Gries) and Tanya McQuoid (Jennifer Coolidge) on The White Lotus season 2 episode 1
Photo: HBO

This The White Lotus review contains spoilers.

The White Lotus Season 2 Episode 1

It’s hard to pinpoint one exact thing that makes The White Lotus such compelling television. The first season (which was originally supposed to be a stand-alone miniseries) featured some of the best acting of 2021, with performances by Jennifer Coolidge and Murray Bartlett taking home Emmy wins. The composer of the series, Cristobal Tapia de Veer, did a phenomenal job of immersing the audience in this fictional version of Hawaii that is equal parts ominous and effervescent; this musical juxtaposition is very hard to pull off, replete with an opening title sequence ripe for analysis. 

Last but not least, the satirical style of comedy in each episode is in-your-face, yet just subtle enough to be awkward and relatable. Characters say things to each other that perplex the audience, and make us reminisce of times we may have experienced similar conversations. 

All of these components make The White Lotus a near-perfect mashup of anthology qualities, with themes and textures easily translatable to a whole new cast of characters set against the backdrop of a setting thousands of miles away from the first season. The premiere episode of the second season, “Ciao,” opens the curtains in a precisely symmetrical way as the pilot episode, “Arrivals”, did back in July of 2021. 

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There’s a scene that just so happens to be a time jump one week forward when the guests we’re going to get cozy with are about to conclude their vacation in Sicily. A woman decides to go for a swim out in the stunning waters off the edge of an Italian beach when she comes across a drowned corpse lying on its back in the ocean. Freaked out by the circumstances, she alerts the hotel staff, and the audience gets an intimate preview of what type of resort this is. Much like the White Lotus hotel from Hawaii, the staff here aren’t all that keen on attending to the finer details of their property, and it has fatal consequences for people who dare to sojourn. 

The plot then takes us back seven days to the present we’re going to be living in for the next seven episodes (thank you to HBO for gracing us with an extra hour of this fantastic series!) The guests file off of their arrival boats, ready to get their hotel room keys and start fanoogling the pretty European locals and their chiseled physiques. 

Jennifer Coolidge’s Tanya McQuoid is one of two recurring characters from the first season, the other being her now-husband, Greg (Jon Gries). The couple had an oddball dynamic before, where Greg seemed somewhat excited about Tanya’s idiosyncrasies. With the new season comes the passage of time and the tying of the knot, and Greg no longer embraces Tanya’s flaky ways, instead bristling at many of her quirks. 

He rags on about her diet and lack of ability to lose weight when he believes she’s eaten all of the hotel room’s complimentary macaroons, and also understandably exudes disgust after Tanya leaves him with a severe case of blue-balls in the middle of making love. Coolidge is in phenomenal form once again, somehow making the audience sympathize with a selfish millionaire boomer who would typically be the face of the Karen stereotype, making us see her as a misunderstood middle-aged woman looking for her purpose. 

While every new character has their own unique and hilarious personality traits, I want to focus on a trio who looks like they’re going to be a highlight of the second season. F. Murray Abraham (who just knocked his role in Cabinet of Curiosities out of the park), Michael Imperioli (oh my god it’s Christoph-a Moltisanti!!!), and Adam DiMarco form three generations of men looking to get in touch with their Italian heritage. Bert, Dominic, and Albie Di Grasso seem like well-intentioned vacationers, but we can come to expect something might go awry as a few layers get pulled back on their lives. Bert is addicted to flirting with women who could be his great-granddaughters, Dominic has a broken marriage, and Albie’s just trying to keep his sanity amongst the family drama. 

Other new characters include the duo-couples Ethan and Harper Spiller (Will Sharpe and Aubrey Plaza) and Cameron and Daphne Babcock (Theo James and Meghann Fahy). The pairs of spouses already seem like they might be better mixed and matched, and there was some hint at future infidelity when Cameron changes into his swimming trunks right in front of Harper. 

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What makes The White Lotus special is when all of these people start interacting and affecting each other’s trips. The first season only did this sparingly, which made it simultaneously fulfilling when it happened and disappointing when it wasn’t exploited more. This is something I’ll keep an eye on as the second episode comes around next week. After this first one, though, I’m happy to report that creator Mike White and company look like they’ve warranted HBO’s second season renewal and then some!

New episodes of The White Lotus season 2 premiere Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Max.


4.5 out of 5