Warning: the following article contains spoilers for The White Lotus season two, episode one, “Ciao.”
HBO’s The White Lotus season 2 premiere kicked off with a new batch of hopefuls ready to enjoy a vacation in beautiful Sicily, Italy. Any hope of their time there going smoothly ends abruptly as tragedy strikes early on in the episode and a mysterious ceramic vase known as the Testa di Moro could portend more doom headed their way.
The episode begins with Meghann Fahy (Daphne Sullivan) luxuriating on a beautiful beach in Sicily, talking it up with a couple of women, then going into the water. Terror strikes when a dead body floats up against her and she leaves the water to call for help (and there are apparently more dead bodies of other guests). It then goes back to a week earlier when the characters first arrive at the White Lotus hotel. Meghann and her husband Cameron Sullivan (Theo James) are looking at their room with their married “friends” Harper (Aubrey Plaza) and Ethan Spiller (Will Sharpe) and they learn from the bellhop that it was once a convent. Ethan asks about the ceramic face vases he’s been seeing everywhere and the bellhop tells the story.
The statues are called the Testa di Moro. The bellhop says a Moor came to Sicily a long time ago and seduced a local girl, but when she found out that he was married with children she cut his head off because he lied to her. In the actual story, she’s a gardener, and the two fall in love before her heart’s broken by the man’s lies. After she kills him, she uses his head as a pot for her basil that she hangs on her balcony – but they don’t hear this part. Ethan asks what it means if the Testa di Moro is placed outside of someone’s house and the other couple responds before the concierge can. Cameron says it’s a warning not to have sex with the person’s wife and Meghann answers that it’s a warning to husbands not to “screw around” or they’ll end up buried in the garden.
These answers reveal a lot about these characters based on how they’ve interpreted this story. Cameron immediately thinks it’s about staying away from someone’s wife, but Meghann thinks it’s a message for husbands. It’s clear that they each identify with the perceived innocent party in their version of the story, and it alludes to where the story will take these couples.
Series creator Mike White has called this season “a kind of bedroom farce with teeth,” and we can see that in the tension-filled exchanges between these characters. Harper’s intellectualism clashes with Cameron’s dudebro attitude, and there’s a scene of impropriety on his part that calls his motives into question, and Meghann and Ethan – who likes the fun couple more than Harper – are left alone to converse. James has said, “Everyone is functioning in a way to manipulate and undercut another character,” and it’s safe to say Ethan is going to have a problem with Cameron flirting with his wife.
There’s one scene where Jennifer Coolidge’s returning character Tanya McQuoid Hunt is having sex with her husband when she disassociates while having sex. The scene focuses on the Testa di Moro for a moment and she pushes him off of her. Tanya tells him that she had visions of men with effeminate hairstyles, then she saw her husband who had shark eyes and they were completely dead. He could be the dead man at the beginning of the episode, or it could just be relevant to their unhealthy relationship.
The vacationers will be dealing with serious romantic issues this season on The White Lotus. There’s a loveless relationship, high sexual appetites, wandering eyes, and sex used as an exchange for goods. An Italian American family has traveled to Sicily to reconnect to their roots, but generational issues regarding views on sex and women have already started to interfere with their plans. Everyone will have to deal with their own baggage and there’s still the mystery about the dead bodies that needs to be answered. Whichever way you slice it, infidelity will be a major theme this season and things will eventually erupt like Mount Etna.