The following contains minor spoilers for White Lotus Season 1 and Episodes 1-6 of Season 2
Mike White’s hit television show White Lotus has quickly emerged as the show everyone is dying to talk (and tweet) about. Following a group of rich people on vacation at one of the many all-inclusive White Lotus resorts, each season is totally disconnected from the last and yet entirely the same. Privileged people arrive, they struggle through a series of interpersonal conflicts that are simultaneously boring and captivating, and somebody dies at the end.
Ostensibly the show is driven by the mystery of who is going to die, but the beautiful thing about this show is that at the end of the day, we don’t really care. Season 1 carried us through a mystery where it could be anyone, ending with a completely accidental killing of the gay male hotel manager. That season was all about the privilege that straight, white, rich people have in their lives, and so in the end it made sense for this person with the least amount of privilege to be the one not to make it.
Season 2 takes us on a different journey. Discarding last season’s conversations of race entirely, White takes aim at a different measure of privilege this year: that of gender. While the benefits of being rich persist as a through line of the show’s main message, the interpersonal conflicts which take over our screen this year are primarily demonstrating complete and total misogyny.
I’ve seen many people say that this season is a much “easier watch” than last year’s season, and I completely agree. However, upon analysis of why this is the case, it becomes clear that we are simply more used to accepting infidelity both on our screens and in real life. Season 2 of White Lotus is not “retracting it’s fangs”, it is merely taking aim at a target which we have come to accept so completely that we do not see it as satire at all.
In season 1, Shane (Jake Lacey) played an obnoxious, stuck-up prick who was so used to getting his way that he was insufferable anytime he did not. Everyone hated him, and because he was easy to hate it was reviewed as a scathing inditement on the rich and powerful. In season 2, Cameron (Theo James) is still an obnoxious, stuck-up prick, but he’s the kind of prick that gets his way with hotness, charm, and the promise of riches rather than riches directly. They’re two sides of the same coin, but because Cameron is hot and funny, people are able to ignore the fact that he is just as misogynistic and terrible as Shane was.
Likewise, we see Rachel (Alexandra Daddario) as she would have become had she not left Shane. While Rachel ultimately realized that she didn’t want to give in to the luxury— albeit personally frustrating and morally unfulfilling— lifestyle her husband could provide, Daphne (Meghann Fahy) didn’t make the same decision. She doesn’t vote, knows that her husband cheats on her and that his business dealings are unsavory, By allying herself with a man who is not a good person, she falls to the same level that he does. She’s willing to look away from Cameron’s bad traits, and as a result we are able to as well. We’re used to women acting as accomplices to terrible men, and we’re used to men getting away with it as long as they’re charming.
Patriarchal norms are something so ingrained in us that even a deep satire of their most terrible manifestations are seen as fangless. Each and every man in this show abuses his power in some way, and the majority of the women are equally culpable by virtue of their complicity. If Rachel stayed with Shane, she would have become Daphne; if Ethan (Will Sharpe) embraces Cameron’s philosophies, Harper (Aubrey Plaza) will be faced with the same choice.