In The White Lotus, Everyone Is Part Of The Problem

The biting satire of "The White Lotus" leaves no character unscathed. Mike White's Emmy-winning hit is the latest in a long line of shows about rich people that we love to hate, and much like "Succession" or "The Crown," this show has a way of making the uber-wealthy appear deeply sad. But even though it paints some very complex and occasionally sympathetic portraits of its characters, "The White Lotus" never shies away from making fun of everyone that dares to grace our screen. The fact that Jennifer Coolidge is a legend and we support her every move does not preclude us from snickering as Tanya McQuoid spirals into a fortune-teller-fueled depression. And no matter how much he pouts, it will always be funny to recall the voice of Dominic Di Grasso's (Michael Imperioli) wife screaming at him from a phone receiver.

But usually, in a show like this, there are exceptions: an audience surrogate (or two) who reminds us that the world isn't exclusively filled with terrible people. Alas, every guest who has checked into the White Lotus is their own brand of terrible — no matter how self-aware they claim to be. It may have taken a few episodes for all the red flags to raise, but White's scathing commentary backs down for no one.

When the Sicily-set season first began, it seemed like we had two characters meant to hold our hands through the season as unfortunate victims of circumstances: Haley Lu Richardson's Portia and Aubrey Plaza's Harper. Neither were born into wealth, making them the closest thing we have to outsiders — but the further along this season goes, the more their flaws are put on blast.

Little Miss Not-so-perfect

Harper had an easy road to likability: not only is she played by the wonderfully sardonic Aubrey Plaza, she's also a catty, judgemental b****. And at a resort full of ultra-rich, insensitive, and vapid jerks, that's exactly what we need.

While everyone else radiates trust-fund baby and finance dudebro energy, Harper is introduced as a politically-aware lawyer who works in employment law, protecting people from terrible bosses like Cameron Sullivan (Theo James). She pays attention to the world! She takes care of her family! She doesn't lie to her significant other! She votes! I know I'm listing the absolute bare minimum here but this is "The White Lotus." Everyone else is very blatant shades of awful. When there are men like Bert Di Grasso in the room — running around and harassing every woman he speaks to — Harper is comparatively a saint. But if you extract yourself from the bizarro world of absolute monsters that stay at the White Lotus, her flaws become much clearer.

First off, Harper is a terrible vacation companion. No one's saying that a week with the Sullivans would be easy but she did know what she was getting into when she agreed to this getaway. She's also not so subtle about her discontent, which makes every single mealtime conversation unbearably awkward (at the very least, be judgey in private). But outside of all that, Harper's sanctimonious judgment is paper thin. She isn't judging the Sullivans from the sidelines — she's right beside them in the ivory tower. She's living the high life too, sipping cocktails by the pool and staying the night in an insanely expensive palazzo. It harkens back to similar characters from the show's first season, like Paula (Brittany O'Grady) and Rachel (Alexandra Daddario), who were put off by their wealthy companions but also basked in the glow of privilege.

Harper is letting her insecurities get the better of her

There are smaller things too about Harper in "The White Lotus" season 2  — like the way she belittles Ethan at dinner (god forbid they order the fish) — but her obsession with the Sullivans might be the worst part of it. Ethan wonders aloud if she feels threatened by them and sure enough, there seems to be some unspoken marriage competition that Harper is hellbent on winning. She ends up being partially right: The Sullivan marriage isn't as perfect as they make it seem. But she also totally misreads Daphne (Meghann Fahy).

Harper gets so caught up in judging and resenting Daphne that she doesn't realize there's more to the woman than meets the eye. She makes the mistake of seeing Daphne as a run-of-the-mill trophy wife and doesn't realize that she's powerful in her own right until they're high and alone in Noto. Similar to her surprise after learning about Daphne's difficult pregnancy, Harper seems stunned by the way that Daphne discusses her husband's infidelity. For the first time, she sees that her traveling companion is much more self-aware than she assumed. It looks like Harper's high horse of superiority is only getting weaker by the episode.

Portia is a hot mess

To Portia's credit, the call isn't coming from inside the house. She isn't an uber-rich lawyer or wealthy socialite, she's just a lowly assistant to the world's worst boss. At first, it's easy to feel sympathy for Portia who Tanya treats like an object that she can lock away until she needs it once more. She orders Portia around like it's nothing — stay in your room, hide in the bathroom, sit on my couch while I nap. In those moments, it's all we can do to grimace alongside the poor girl.

But in every other moment, rolling our eyes at Portia is the only option.

While, it's definitely insane for Portia to be ordered away into a hotel room, watching her mope about it by the pool is pretty infuriating. She's still in Italy, after all. She's still dining on her boss' dime at a luxurious resort. Why not just stay in her room and enjoy the room service and time off? Or, since she ignores Tanya's demand anyway, head out and enjoy Sicily? Why complain on the phone when you could dive into the pool or tour the city?

A mirror image of Tanya

The explanation seems to be that Portia is in the midst of a personal crisis. "I just wanna live my life," she laments to Albie, complaining about the cycle of consumerism, dating apps, and endless discourse. But even though Portia takes issue with her spiraling, content-obsessed Gen Z peers, she doesn't exactly hop on a Vespa to seek the fulfillment that they lack. Instead, she busies herself by sulking about her job and complaining to anyone with ears about her terrible lot in life. A speech that she is giving from *checks notes* a luxurious Italian resort.

/Film's Shae Sennett has made the case that despite how irritating the young assistant finds her boss, Portia is a lot like Tanya. Both feel like the world is falling down around them and are so narcissistic that they can't see beyond their problems — nor can they see any reason to change their own behavior to fix anything. In Portia's case, there's an extra layer of irony: She recognizes that flaw in her boss but not in herself.

The latest episode of "The White Lotus" busied itself with the concept of change: Will any of these people actually use this week as an opportunity to grow? Harper's solo trip with Daphne seems to have unlocked a few revelations, but who knows if anything will actually take root. And while I like the idea of Portia recognizing herself after spending more time with Tanya, that doesn't seem very likely. Maybe the second season will simply follow in the footsteps of the first, with everyone leaving just as awful as they arrived.