He's the biggest villain in "The White Lotus" season 2

Somehow, in a season full of awful people, he's still the worst

By D. Watkins

Editor at Large

Published December 23, 2022 9:00AM (EST)

Adam DiMarco, F. Murray Abraham and Michael Imperioli on "The White Lotus" (Fabio Lovino/HBO)
Adam DiMarco, F. Murray Abraham and Michael Imperioli on "The White Lotus" (Fabio Lovino/HBO)

Spoilers ahead for season 2 of "The White Lotus" on HBO. You've been warned!

If you have a pulse and HBO Max, you are probably still buzzing about the ending of the second season of "The White Lotus." (Stop here if you haven't seen it and don't want to be spoiled.) 

Mike White's HBO drama focuses on extremely wealthy families who are even richer in drama. Some pain comes attached to old money, and some in trying to find footing in the midst of new fortunes. A host of interlocking dramas plays out against the backdrop of the fictional White Lotus resorts, the most beautiful, exclusive vacation franchise in the world.

So far, the series has started with the discovery of a dead body at the end of the week, then rewinds to guest arrivals and plays out from there. With each episode, viewers debate who will die in the end and who will be revealed as the killer — along with who the real enemy is. Thanks to the heightened egos and neuroses the wealthy guests bring to the property, the real villain isn't necessarily the same character as the one who ends a life.

In season one, the real villain was clearly Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge), a disconnected, goofy heiress who travels to Hawaii to bury her mother's ashes while on her luxury vacation. While there, Tanya meets an extremely talented wellness specialist named Belinda (Natasha Rothwell), whom she manipulates, uses and gaslights throughout the season. Belinda works hard to heal a broken Tanya, who is so impressed by Belinda's techniques she promises the two of them will open a clinic for women. This business wouldn't have much of an impact on Tanya's day-to-day — she's worth $500 million — but it would reset Belinda's life trajectory and create generational wealth for her family.

And then Tanya falls in love with a guy named Greg (Jon Gries) and decides to kick Belinda to the curb, leaving her in tears, with a broken heart, a small wad of cash and a head still full of dreams. Tanya was the obvious supervillain in season 1. It wasn't a stretch to imagine her having a tough time in season 2, as the only storyline the show brought back for its second locale in Sicily. And if you imagined karma giving Tanya a square kick in the ass with a steel-toe boot, you were right. 

Her husband Greg, who we are led to assume is secretly gay, lures her to Sicily and then leaves her alone for his maybe-lover Quentin (Tom Hollander) and his louche entourage to befriend, manipulate and then murdered on a farewell yacht party — all so, as we are led to presume, Greg can inherit her fortune, which their prenup would not allow in the case of divorce, and share it with Quentin. The murder plot fails, and in a glorious act of resistance, Tanya retrieves her would-be killer's pistol and goes on a John Wick-style murdering spree. After pumping the conspirators full of holes, Tanya attempts to escape by jumping off the boat in the awkward way that only Tanya could and ends up breaking her neck and drowning. Here we clearly see that Greg and his likely lover Quentin are the obvious villains. Tanya, as the previous season's villain, doesn't get a happy ending. However, this season also featured a quieter supervillain named Albie Di Grasso.

Albie (Adam DiMarco) — a Los Angeles native and Stanford graduate who works as an unpaid intern in a company that does urban planning and can still afford to vacation at one of the most exclusive, wealthiest resorts in the world (asshole) — is vacationing with his father Dominic (Michael Imperioli) and grandfather Bert (F. Murray Abraham). 

The trio has traveled to Sicily in an attempt to connect with their ancestors from the old country. Albie's mom and sister have stayed back because of years of pent-up anger created by Dominic, a sex addict with a history of infidelities. Albie shares in their anger; however, he still takes the trip. And ladies and gentlemen, that was my first red flag. I didn't declare him the enemy at that moment, but if you are upset with your dad for continuously crushing your mom's and sister's feelings, in addition to your own, then why take the free trip to Italy? Well, not a free trip; it was paid for with daddy's money. 

In the first episode of season 2, we hear Albie's mom (Laura Dern's voice) chewing out Dominic over the phone, chastising him about how he conducted himself throughout their years of marriage. At one point we hear her scream, "Albie is a sweet sensitive young man and I honestly don't know where he got it from." If I could have called his mom on the other end, I would've told her he's not that sweet. 

We see this at dinner when the three generations of men are talking about sex and the idea of Albie's father and grandfather desiring physical touch grosses him out. How can one be so woke, as Albie continuously reminds us he is, and yet ageist? 

"Girls are always complaining that guys aren't nice."

"No girl should ever be exposed to an old guy's junk," Albie told his grandfather at dinner, as if feelings and self-esteem and self-perception are emotions that belong only to the young. He would continue to address his father and grandfather in the same condescending manner throughout the seven episodes, telling them they only like films like "The Godfather" because they were sucked into patriarchy, how badly they needed to change and how all of their ideas were stupid and dated, leaving no room for nuance. (As if a liberated woman couldn't be a Coppola fan.) Albie came off like a walking, talking, living, breathing Twitter thread. 

Albie took a softer approach in his dealings with Portia, a semi-villain played by Haley Lu Richardson. Portia is Tanya's assistant, and she deserves 20,000 free vacations to The White Lotus just for having to deal with Tanya on a daily basis. The two kids meet because Greg didn't want to see Portia around — ostensibly out of fear she would ruin their romantic vacation, but in actuality, he didn't want an unnecessary witness to the murder plot he was trying to orchestrate. So Portia had free time in beautiful Sicily, time in which she could have explored historic streets, meet the Italian guy of her dreams and ultimately carve out a small piece of enjoyment in her terrible existence. And she did — for a while — once she aggressively dodged Albie's harsh criticism. 

In one of their early conversations, Portia tells Albie she is sick of Netflix, sick of Instagram, and she just wants to break away from the discourse. She pours her heart out, telling him that she would date a caveman if it meant having the opportunity to live in the moment. 

Albie replies in classic Albie smugness, "You can do better than a caveman."

She was just telling the guy about the life she dreams of living, and what relationships, love and fun mean to her, but he couldn't listen. Portia didn't ask him to respond with a thinkpiece. She wanted him to respond by snapping his iPhone in two, possibly prompting her to do the same, and then grabbing her by the hand, pulling her deep into his world and, consensually, jamming his tongue down her throat. But Albie spends that moment — the only moment where the two of them could have clicked — telling her how women are supposed to think and feel and want to be treated.

Portia hangs around for another day or so, traveling with the Di Grasso family on a "Godfather"-themed sightseeing tour — another stage for Albie to display the reasons why he is the perfect nice guy and that everyone else at the table has zero redeeming qualities.

When Portia receives an even more unhinged than usual call from Tanya and is forced to leave the three men in the middle of their trip and return to work, Albie, not knowing the facts or how demanding of a boss Tanya could be, jumps knee-deep into conclusions that she must have left because of the older men's patriarchal "Godfather"-loving ways.

When Portia finds a new man, a bad boy named Jack (Leo Woodall) who claims to be Quentin's nephew, we can practically see Albie stewing over one of their earlier exchanges. "Girls are always complaining that guys aren't nice," he had told Portia. "But then, if they find a nice guy they're not always interested."

Not even thinking about holding himself accountable for being a judgmental, poor listener, Albie switches his interest to Lucia, a local girl and sex worker played by Simona Tabasco. Do Albie and Lucia really have a spark, or is she just that good at making him believe they do? When Albie finds out what every other cast member — including his father — already knows, he's fine with paying her price, but he also assumes she's "poor and a victim of a fucked up system." Because no woman as sweet, as funny, as intelligent, as delicate, and as kind as Lucia really wants to be a sex worker, in Albie's mind —he never comes out and says so, but his actions scream it. After witnessing a harsh exchange between Lucia and a guy she says is her pimp, Albie's brain concocts a plan to "save" her from sex work that involves his dad forking over 50,000 euros. 

Dominic, who has been around the block a few times — and who even had a night with Lucia and her friend Mia (Beatrice Grannò) earlier in the week — tells his son this is a terrible idea, that it doesn't make any sense. Albie dangles the one thing in front of Dominic that would make him comply: his wife and daughter. Albie basically sells out the feelings of his mom and sister by promising to deliver a good report on his dad, just so Dominic will open his wallet nice and wide for Lucia. He does this after lecturing his dad about purchasing forgiveness gifts for his mom and sister: "You can't just buy people." 

Dominic obliges because he's damaged and wants to find his way toward some type of healing. He is desperate to reunite with his family, and Albie knows that and uses his father to obtain his goal. And when Lucia disappears, triumphantly, with the cash, Albie doesn't tell his dad that he was right, nor does he celebrate Lucia's new freedom and economic empowerment. Instead, he takes the opportunity to make it about himself again when reunited with Portia at the airport at the end of the week. "She played me," he says, clearly in an effort to get some sympathy loving when they return home to California.

Had Albie listed to Portia from the beginning and treated her a bit like a caveman, she might have stayed with him that week rather than letting herself get pulled into Quentin's scam via Jack, who was able to easily separate Portia from Tanya during the crucial execution phase of their plot. Had Albie been tagging along instead, asking a lot of questions and getting in the way, suddenly Quentin's murder plot gets three times as expensive. Would it still have been worth it? Could Albie have actually saved a woman's life just by listening to her assistant? And yet he ends the week feeling like a victim himself. 

In line to check in for their flight home, we see three generations of Di Grasso men turn and stare at a beautiful young woman as she walks by. Albie, so desperate to be different at the start of the week, mirrors his father and grandfather perfectly — a villain origin story born, we're supposed to think, of heartbreak. But some of us weren't fooled by his earlier performance. Albie was a villain all along. 

By D. Watkins

D. Watkins is an Editor at Large for Salon. He is also a writer on the HBO limited series "We Own This City" and a professor at the University of Baltimore. Watkins is the author of the award-winning, New York Times best-selling memoirs “The Beast Side: Living  (and Dying) While Black in America”, "The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir," "Where Tomorrows Aren't Promised: A Memoir of Survival and Hope" as well as "We Speak For Ourselves: How Woke Culture Prohibits Progress." His new books, "Black Boy Smile: A Memoir in Moments," and "The Wire: A Complete Visual History" are out now.

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