Photo: /Fabio Lovino/HBO
Few shows welcome rabid theorizing more than The White Lotus does, between its promise of impending death and every episode’s ominous ambiguity. If you’ve been on the internet at any point over the last five weeks you’ve probably seen a lot of those theories, because everybody’s watching this show with a suspicious eye. And while we’ve had our guard up this whole time, it seems like our characters have finally caught up — reading into every little interaction and developing suspicions of their own.
As if anybody needs reminding, last week’s episode ended with Tanya discovering Quentin having sex with his “nephew” Jack. Though she doesn’t make any bold moves with this new information, we see it result in budding suspicions, particularly when Portia tells her that Jack didn’t pay for arancini, which is notoriously cheap. “Something about his relationship with his uncle … I don’t think it’s his uncle,” she says, urging Portia to slow down with him while simply crediting a strong hunch.
After encouraging Portia, whom Tanya says reminds her of her younger self, to get her shit together, Tanya seems cooler toward Quentin when he arrives, mentioning not being able to sleep because of strange noises in the night. But the second Quentin mentions the party he’s throwing in her honor, Tanya crumples back into his clutches, as if that’s enough to make her forget the whole thing.
Another character dealing with her own suspicions is Harper, who’s still grappling with the condom wrapper discovery despite Ethan’s explanation. “I feel like you don’t believe me, it’s starting to drive me crazy,” Ethan says, pleading with her to give him a break. Harper says it’s not the cheating that’s bothering her but what it says about their unfulfilling sexual relationship. “Do you even want me?” she asks, to which Ethan says he loves her — which isn’t what she asked.
In the next room over, Daphne and Cameron talk about this alleged bad behavior in a very different way. “What’d you do this time?” Daphne asks casually, before they flirtatiously joke about their respective infidelities. This scene, in which talk of cheating is treated like foreplay, confirms what we already knew about these two couples’ contrasting relationships with infidelity.
When the foursome reunites for a beach day, Harper’s suspicions continue to fester after spotting Ethan talking to Lucia and Mia (who are still owed money) and later Cam. But then we see a staggering shift. With Daphne off getting a massage and Ethan taking a swim, Harper and Cameron go up to the bar, but when Ethan emerges from the ocean, they’re nowhere to be seen. He goes up to their room to find her, where he discovers the door latched and the adjoining door to Cameron’s room open. Now Ethan is the suspicious one, especially considering Cam’s notorious “mimetic desire” and the fact that Harper is suddenly in a much better mood. Could she have done what she needed to do to make herself feel better like Daphne suggested? Or, as she tells Ethan, did Cameron just vouch for her husband’s good behavior that night? If so, why does Harper all of a sudden value what Cameron has to say?
While many are starting to finally catch on to what’s going on around them, one character still living in ignorant bliss is Albie, who seemingly still has no clue that his new love interest was his father’s escort. He’s so in the dark about this detail that he thinks it’s a good idea to invite Lucia along for their genealogy day trip as their translator. Lucky for an anxious Dominic, they have bigger problems to deal with than Lucia using the Di Grasso family’s 23andMe as her own personal dating site. They find themselves in a quasi-car chase when they realize they’re being trailed by Alessio, but rather than escalate matters, she instructs them to pull over. She switches cars to appease Alessio, which the Di Grassos consider a voluntary abduction.
Without their translator, their search for distant relatives is a bust. They arrive at the home of some fellow Di Grassos, who chase them away with knives and Italian diatribes. Fittingly, these angry potential relatives are all women; if this was the experience Dom wanted he could have just stayed home with Abby. The failed expedition is particularly tough on Bert, who fantasized about a grand homecoming. The usually jovial patriarch, cheery even when falling down stairs, is demoralized by the trip not going how he imagined.
He skips dinner, instead listening to Mia play her second night on the restaurant’s piano. Also listening on is Valentina at the bar. It’s her birthday, and her plans to finally go out with Isabella come to a screeching halt when she finds out that she’s engaged to Rocco of all people. So a lonely martini at work will have to suffice, until she’s joined by Mia, to whom she confides that she’s never actually been with a woman. This of course is a problem that Mia is able to fix, and she does just that in a vacant second-floor suite.
In his own suite, Ethan, having just told Cam to stop flirting with his wife, is having visions of Harper’s imagined infidelity. We see him picture what the scene could have looked like from inside the room he was locked out of, with Cameron sneaking away through the adjoining door. I don’t know if we’ll ever actually find out what really happened, but that isn’t really the point anyway. What’s important is the not-knowing, and how Ethan’s mind fills in that blank. The real action of this plotline isn’t what happened, it’s what’s going on inside these characters’ minds and how these seeds of suspicion (justified or not) can do irreparable damage in the real world.
Back in Palermo the party is getting started, with Quentin setting Tanya up with “arm-candy” Nicolo, who may or may not have mafia connections but definitely has cocaine connections. While Tanya partakes in her arm candy’s nose candy, Portia is nowhere to be found — having been whisked away on a day trip by a drunken Jack, whose sheen is starting to wear off. Rather than return to the palazzo for the party like Portia wanted, they get a hotel room, which was seemingly Jack’s (or perhaps Quentin’s) plan all along.
Jack getting drunk enough to keep Portia away from the party (and thus keeping Tanya isolated) also means he’s drunk enough to start spilling the beans, and he reveals that Quentin isn’t really as rich as he says. In fact, he was at risk of having to sell his family’s palazzo, but luckily, Jack says, he’s coming into money now. “Is he?” Portia asks, catching on to what’s happening. Jack also says he’s happy to help Quentin, since he once helped him get out of “a dark hole,” presumably a different hole than the one he was in last night. With these vague revelations, we see the grand return of worried, furrowed-brow Portia, who can only imagine the plot playing out at the palazzo without her.
That apparent scheme seems to be going to plan, with Tanya releasing her inhibitions (to quote Natasha Bedingfield) and dancing the night away before making out with Nicolo. In yet another example of the show’s phenomenal soundtrack, Tanya parties to “Ciao Ciao” by La Rappresentante di Lista, an upbeat pop song with lyrics about the end of the world. When the two sneak away into a bedroom, she stumbles across a framed photo that appears to be of a young Quentin alongside a younger version of a man Tanya recognizes — her husband, Greg. If that is the case, this validates a common fan theory: that the one love of Quentin’s life, the Wyoming cowboy, was actually Greg. So what’s going on here?
Naturally, this new revelation opens the door for even more speculation and theorizing. For example: Are Greg and Quentin working together on this grift? We’ve heard Greg bemoan the prenup that Tanya has in place keeping him from her money, but is it possible that said prenup has an infidelity clause? In that case, Tanya cheating on Greg, which Quentin has been laying the groundwork for and facilitating all day, could spell a windfall for these two potential schemers. My one note for Mike White would have been to have the picture of young Greg be Jon Gries in character as Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite.
Tanya doesn’t dig into this photo nearly as much as the audience undoubtedly will, primarily because she’s soon interrupted by a completely naked Nicolo. And if getting Tanya to cheat was the goal, things seem to be going according to plan.