If The White Lotus resorts hope to survive another tourist season, they really must do something about all these murders. In the first season of Mike White’s hit HBO series, Maui hotel manager Armond meets the wrong end of a pineapple knife after one of his guests catches the staffer defecating in his suitcase. In season 2, Italy doesn’t fair much better than Maui: The bodies are positively piling up as manager Valentina (Sabrina Impacciatore) does frantic damage control on the coast of her Sicilian resort. We learn from fellow employee Rocco (Federico Ferrante) that at least “a few” guests have been murdered this go-’round, their corpses flotsam for the Ionian Sea—much to the horror of guest Daphne Sullivan (Meghann Fahy), who discovers one such body as she enjoys a last-minute pre-departure swim.
Which leads us to the question at the heart of White’s sneering comedy, both this season and last: Who did the killing, and why? Only two episodes in, we only have so much evidence to go on, though already a few culprits seem likely. (Surely you, too, can imagine Jennifer Coolidge with a knife in her hand.) Still, White loves a red herring, so we best not be too precious with the lowest-hanging fruit. With that in mind, let’s lay out the mystery before us and take a few stabs—er, swings—at unveiling the victims.
Theory #1: Albie is the murderer. Or one of them.
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In season 2, we’re introduced to a wide-ranging cast that includes three generations of Di Grasso men: Bert Di Grasso (F. Murray Abraham), the grandfather; Dominic Di Grasso (Michael Imperioli), the father; and Albie Di Grasso (Adam DiMarco), the son. Bert is a womanizing installment of the Old Guard, proclaiming family values while making moves on virtually every young woman who crosses his path. Dominic is more subtle but no less vexed, having seemingly lost his marriage over an as-yet-unclarified infidelity. (Or infidelities.) He reveals to local sex workers Lucia (Simona Tabasco) and Mia (Beatrice Grannò) that he’s trying to kick his sex addiction, and hiring two young Sicilian women to parade around his hotel room isn’t helping matters at home.
Only Albie seems to have excised the sexual entitlement of his pedigree. During an episode 2 dinner with the listless young assistant Portia (Haley Lu Richardson), he reveals he’s a “nice guy,” the “peacemaker” of the family, who looks the other way when Bert and Dominic wink and flirt. Still, he has no desire to follow in their footsteps himself. Such an attitude, he claims, has made his escapades with potential partners more challenging: When women realize he’s a “nice guy,” they seem to lose interest. When Albie later walks Portia back to her hotel room, he kisses her outside the door, which seems to take her by surprise—and not an entirely welcome form of it. Then, in episode 3, he attempts to chide his father and grandfather for their misogyny, only for Portia to seem even less interested than before. Eventually, she ends up with the sexy Jack (Leo Woodall), a fun and muscular party boy who doesn’t seem to think much about misogyny either way.
It’s far too early to proclaim Albie an incel or anything of the sort. But White is clever enough to understand the alarm bells the term “nice guy” is sure to set off in a segment of The White Lotus’s viewership. All too often, men use their supposed “nice guy” status to justify a sexual entitlement no less insidious than Bert and Dominic’s own, just painted with a more palatable veneer. If these men are so nice, why wouldn’t beautiful women want to sleep with them? Especially “pretty wounded birds,” to whom Albie says he finds himself most attracted. Oof.
White has made it obvious The White Lotus season 2 is all about knotty sexual politics, particularly between heterosexual men and women. It’s possible, then, that the showrunner is positioning Albie as incel-adjacent, or at least dangerously sensitive, in which case the youngest Di Grasso just might—perhaps unintentionally—hurt someone in retaliation for a rebuffed attraction.
And in the last few episodes before the finale, Albie proves to be even more like his father than he knows. He and Lucia start a sexual relationship, which Albie seems to be paying for, though he clearly is picturing more romance in the encounters than Lucia intends. In the penultimate episode, it’s set up that Lucia is being hounded by her pimp, Alessio, an angry Italian man who follows her through the streets and then essentially abducts her. Could Albie be pushed to kill for his new “girlfriend” if Alessio gets too close? Or will Alessio give Albie the smack down and throw him into the ocean?
Theory #2: Lucia and Mia are the murderers.
A recurring image throughout The White Lotus season 2 is that of testa di moro, the legend of the Moor’s Head. So the story goes, a Sicilian girl was once seduced by a Moorish man, only to discover he was already married—with children. In response, she sliced off his head. Such Moor’s Head busts populate guest rooms at The White Lotus’s Sicilian property, a visible reminder (and instigator) of our cast’s adulterous suspicions.
It would stand to reason, then, that the actual plot this season might mirror the legend. Lucia and Mia are both Sicilian girls who, as of episode 3, are becoming increasingly immersed in the goings-on of the hotel guests (and their sexual proclivities). Right now, they seem to have no interest in love; they’re at The White Lotus for business, to enjoy the gaudy lifestyles of the men and women who feed off their island. But should emotions run hot, violence is far from out of the question.
Theory #3: Greg is one of the victims—because he’s already dying.
If you watched season 1 of The White Lotus, you’ll recall that Coolidge’s Tanya McQuoid-Hunt first encountered her now-husband Greg at the Maui resort where Armond met his end. As of season 2, they’re now married, though Greg’s shed much of the charm that made him likable in the show’s first chapter. This time, he’s work-obsessed, critical and controlling, which throws Tanya’s own acute paranoia into a tailspin.
Her concerns calcify in episode 1, when she overhears Greg on the phone in the bathroom, telling an unknown caller, “Look. Listen, I don’t want to fucking talk about this right now, okay? Yes, I’m going to. Yeah. This is not the time.” When Tanya asks who he’s talking to, he explains, “It’s work. It’s Bob.”
Later, in episode 2, Tanya crawls out of bed to discover him on the phone again, saying, “Yeah, she’s clueless as usual. I’ll be home tomorrow, give you a call when I get in. All right, yeah, I love you too. And I look forward to it.”
Our first instinct is to assume he’s cheating on her. (That would certainly fit the themes swirling around this season.) And, in episode 3, these suspicions bear weight when a fortune teller reveals to Tanya that “your husband is in love with someone else.”
But, again, White often depends on these moments to make broader claims about class, sex, and gender. What if this is a mere misunderstanding, a case of bad timing and fear festering into irrationality? Remember that, during last season’s Hawaiian adventure, Greg revealed he was dealing with an illness. By the time this Sicilian trip comes around, he seems healthy and spry—something he attributes to Tanya’s help and wealth—but what if the disease has returned? And what if he’s keeping it from Tanya to save her the anxiety? If that’s the case, he could be talking to a friend, a co-worker, even his child (which would explain the “I love you too.”) And if that’s the case, Tanya’s inaccurate suspicions could prove lethal.
Theory #4: Greg is one of the victims—because he’s cheating.
But perhaps Greg really is cheating. When Tanya wants to have sex with him in episode 1, he doesn’t seem too thrilled about it, plus he’s on the phone with “Bob” on vacation! Some fans on Reddit seem to think he’s secretly gay, or perhaps bisexual. Might such a secret send Tanya into a jealous rage?
Then there’s the matter of a prenup: In episode 2, Greg mentions that he and Tanya can’t get a divorce because it’d leave him destitute, especially if he didn’t have a job. Might he be scheming behind her back to inherit her money, should she—I dunno—experience a tragic cliff-diving accident?
Theory #5: Greg is the cowboy.
After Greg leaves his rich wife in Sicily, she serendipitously meets up with the seemingly wealthy and charming Quentin (Tom Hollander), an Englishman living in an Italian palazzo with an entourage. At first, it seems natural he would be attracted to the campy fun of Tanya’s personality for its own sake, but as she and Portia join him in a second location, an ulterior motive starts to reveal itself. Quentin tells Tanya that he has only ever been in love once, with a “cowboy.”
“I’d have done anything for him,” Quentin says. “And the amazing thing is, after 30 odd years, I still would.”
Later, he and his alleged nephew Jack separate Tanya from her assistant and ply her with drugs. Just before she falls into the arms of a gorgeous Italian sex worker, Tanya notes a photo on Quentin’s dresser that shows him with a young Greg. And they’re wearing cowboy hats. Could Greg and Quentin be in cahoots? As Jack tells Portia just before he passes out into a drunken sleep, Quentin is expecting to “come into some money soon” to keep his palazzo afloat. Maybe he is murdering his cowboy love interest’s wife so they can split the insurance. Or maybe he’s just trying to nullify the couple’s prenup with a night of well-documented debauchery. Some Reddit users noted what looks like a red light in a painting hung over the bed as Tanya is getting some sensual attentions.
Theory #6: Ethan is a powder keg waiting to explode.
When first introduced, Ethan and Harper were almost presented as the healthier couple in comparison to Cameron and Daphne, who obviously have flexible ideas about fidelity. Ethan even rebuffs the advances of gorgeous Mia while on molly. But jealousy and a dysfunctional sex life seems to be driving Ethan to suspicions about his wife—especially with Cameron’s history of sleeping with his friend’s romantic interests in the past. Ethan seems to be becoming more and more consumed with the idea that Harper and Cameron hooked up, thinking Harper wants to retaliate against him for possibly sleeping with a sex worker in their hotel room. (Even though he didn’t.)
In the teaser for the final episode, Ethan seems to confront Daphne about it, and her suggestion is that they get a little carnal revenge of their own. Could Ethan lash out at his own wife? Or his best friend?
Theory #7: Daphne is faking it.
Ah, but we’ve yet to discuss the pair of perfectly ill-suited double-daters on this vacation. Daphne, who discovers the dead body bobbing around in episode 1, is the radiant, mind-bogglingly rich wife of Cameron (Theo James), with whom she shares two children. Cameron—a self-assured finance bro with the chiseled stature of, well, a Hollywood actor—belies no lack of confidence in his marriage, which seems airtight even as lawyer Harper (Aubrey Plaza) attempts to poke holes with her disapproving gaze. She’s arrived in Sicily with husband Ethan (Will Sharpe), Cameron’s college roommate and a newly wealthy tech genius. At nearly every opportunity, Harper clashes with Cameron and Daphne’s sociocultural myopia, but there’s no denying a current of heat running between Cameron and Harper as the long, sun-baked days roll on.
If The White Lotus continues down this road, as it’s all but assured to, might Daphne be much more than the sweet, simple-minded housewife she seems? In episode 3, she reveals that Cameron has cheated on her, but she insists she’s “not a victim.” She plays her own mind games with her husband.
With that in mind, is it possible she might have faked her surprise at encountering a dead body in the ocean? If so, she’s quite the actress, but that’s the fun of a show like this one. The characters continue to surprise you—until they don’t surprise you at all.
Theory #8: Cameron and Daphne are scam artists.
Remember that Cameron and Daphne are the ones who invited Harper and Ethan on this trip. Surely they must have ulterior motives beyond near-attempted murder on jet skis. In episode 3, Daphne not-so-subtly refers to Cameron’s friends as “Bernie Madoff types,” and Cameron himself tries to convince Ethan to invest with his company. “I would love to help you and Harper,” he says. “Please, let me.” Why does his conviction smell of desperation? And if he’s desperate, might he and Daphne not be quite as rich as they seem?
If they are indeed scammers, gobbling up money through less-than-legal enterprises, that could get them into trouble with their new BFFs, not to mention with The White Lotus property itself.
Theory #9: Tanya is the killer.
Jennifer Coolidge does seem to be something of a muse to Mike White, so it feels unlikely that he’ll kill off fan favorite Tanya at the end of the season. The show has been been greenlit for a season 3, which means we have to see Tanya again, in another luxurious locale. The question is, will she be arriving there from jail?
Maybe the body in the water belongs to Quentin, Jack, her Italian Stallion lover, or any of the other people in the palazzo scheming for her downfall. Murder in self-defense is still murder and it looks like Tanya could be fighting her way out of a corner in this season’s finale.
This story will be updated.
Lauren Puckett-Pope is an associate editor at ELLE, where she covers film, TV, books and fashion.
Aimée Lutkin is the weekend editor at ELLE.com. Her writing has appeared in Jezebel, Glamour, Marie Claire and more. Her first book, The Lonely Hunter, will be released by Dial Press in February 2022.