The White Lotus Recap, Season 2 Episode 3: ‘Bull Elephants’

The White Lotus

Bull Elephants

Season 2

Episode 3

Editor’s Rating

4 stars

Photo: HBO

As the third day of our Sicilian vacation begins, we see a stark change in one of our most stubborn guests, Harper. While it was established last week that she’s not a morning-sex person, we now see her primping and lying on the bed to greet Ethan post-run after being confronted by their asynchronous sex life last week. But that’s nothing compared to the real shift in the Harper we’ve come to know and love. “I’m gonna be so good today. And friendly,” she tells Ethan, not just to prove him wrong but because she knows it’s important to him. While he seems doubtful of her ability to make a complete 180, she insists that she’ll be nothing short of delightful to Cameron and Daphne all day. “You don’t think I can be lovely? Just watch.”

It’s not just Harper, either. We see a shift for several of our characters this episode, in which they’re confronted with who they are and are challenged to change, either by themselves or by others. But are these efforts sustainable? Can they really change?

Nice Harper is unsettling to behold, both for us and her breakfast companions. After a brief pause in which she considers what a pleasant person might say, she lands on “Did you guys see the sky this morning? It was so gorgeous,” immediately catching Cameron and Daphne off guard with her change in attitude. But nice Harper struggles not to break character when Cameron and Daphne start bickering over whether to visit a palazzo in Noto. (So ​​they do fight!) And this is where nice Harper is really put to the test: Daphne proposes that just the two of them go to the palazzo, leaving the boys behind to Jet-Ski. Enjoying seeing her struggle through her self-imposed kindness assignment, Ethan eggs them on and, refusing to concede, Harper agrees.

Across the buffet, Albie and Portia reunite after their awkward parting the previous night. “I did want to come in and keep hanging out, just so you know,” he tells her, saying that he just didn’t want to make her feel uncomfortable — something Portia thinks Albie is incapable of doing. In fact, she thinks if anything he could be more aggressive. He wastes no time making this change, and when she tries to decline Bert’s invitation to tour the Godfather filming locations with them, Albie insists she has to come “I’m being more aggressive,” he whispers. It’s like a newborn puppy in a lion costume.

While visiting a house where the film was shot, they have a conversation about men’s interest in The Godfathera spiritual successor to Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan’s same conversation in You’ve Got Mail. It doesn’t take long for nice guy Albie to come back out, pushing back against the film’s romanticization of the patriarchy, leading to a conversation about whether the movie encourages a male fantasy or simply reflects it. Unfortunately, Portia isn’t able to stick around for what I’m sure would have been a productive conversation about gender identity with an 80-year-old man because she gets a call from Tanya summoning her back to the hotel following her weepy good -bye to Greg.

We’ve known Tanya the longest of our guests, and it seems like she’s the least capable of change. She’s exactly who she was when we first met her. But in her desperation to keep Greg from leaving, she offers to get rid of the prenup if it means he won’t go. But their marital problems go deeper than that. We find out that Greg is going to live thanks to the doctors Tanya got him, but she thinks that with that longer life expectancy, he realized he didn’t want to spend it with her. Despite her efforts, Greg leaves, which means Tanya needs backup. Enter her emotional-support assistant Portia and a fortune teller she requests from Valentina: “Do you think they could make a house call because it’s kind of an emergency?”

“I just wanna know if our marriage is gonna last,” Tanya says to the tarot-card reader, who promptly tells her that her husband is in love with someone else and that there’s someone beautiful in his life. “Couldn’t that be me?” Tanya asks, but alas, no. This is not the result Tanya wanted, so she throws the “negative” tarot reader out. Clearly, Tanya doesn’t change, discarding people the same as always. Even her attempt to cancel the prenup isn’t new; it’s her using her money to try and buy her way out of her problems, just like when she left Belinda a big tip to resolve her guilt last season.

Meanwhile, Harper’s change of attitude is being tested even further, when Daphne informs her that the two of them will actually be spending the night at the palazzo. When Harper asks why Daphne didn’t tell her this plan, she says that she wanted Cam to think it was spur of the moment so he would have FOMO and regret skipping it. “So you’re, like, playing games with him?” Harper asks, and Daphne cops to it, saying it keeps things interesting.

Back at the hotel, Cameron congratulates Ethan on his newfound financial success but wishes he had gotten a heads-up. Ethan is thrown by his blatant request for insider-trading tips, and before he can really wrap his head around it, Cameron is insisting that Ethan invest with him — proving Harper right about his intentions for this trip.

Harper and Ethan are essentially realizing simultaneously, Oh, these people are crazy. Unfortunately for them, this shared realization happens when they’re separated, meaning they have to go through and process it without their partner there to bring them back to reality.

After their disagreement at the Godfather house, Dominic pulls his son aside, worried that he has the wrong perception of him. “I’ve always supported women, I’m a feminist. I didn’t marry some subservient wife, your mother’s a brilliant, amazing woman.” Ah, so this isn’t really about what Albie thinks of Dominic, it’s about what Abby thinks of Dominic. He encourages his son to pass along his apologies to his mother, but Albie tells him that the only thing that can fix this is his father changing. Dominic insists that he has, or rather will, change, but Albie doesn’t seem convinced.

Dominic has already been told to get his act together by his father and failed to do so after yet another night with Lucia and Mia. But now it’s Albie asking him to change; will he be able to do it for his son? He’s caught between these two generations, and while advice from his sleazy father might seem like the pot calling the kettle black, his son’s perspective is likely worth more to him. So we see Dominic try yet again to make that change, telling the women that he won’t be able to meet up for the rest of the week and honorably discharging them from their duties. But for Lucia and Mia, it’s simply on to the next, and Lucia has her eyes on Cameron and Ethan across the restaurant.

Luckily for the women, insider trading isn’t the only cheating Cameron is interested in, and he is shocked that Ethan isn’t reaping the sexual benefits of his new success. After trying to introduce a resistant Ethan to the perks of cheating, just as he tried to introduce him to the perks of insider trading, Cameron spots Lucia and Mia and ushers them over to their table.

Outside, Albie and Portia meet for a beer by the pool, where she’s caught off guard when Albie boldly kisses her out of the blue — clearly still determined to be this new aggressive guy. But it’s not landing with Portia, who turns down his invitation to go back to his room. In Albie’s case, his attempt to change into someone he’s not falls flat because this very act of changing is just another example of being the same sweet pushover we know him to be. He’s only being “aggressive” because a girl told him to be, taking all of the weight out of it for Portia. I’m anxious to see how Albie processes this. Will it make him lean further into his whiny “nice guys finish last” attitude, or (hopefully) will he redirect this frustration toward his father and finally stop trying to be his family’s peacemaker?

Back at the palazzo, Harper is high off an edible Daphne gave her earlier, and the pair have a conversation about their husbands. “Has Ethan changed at all?” Daphne asks. He hasn’t, Harper says, almost with disdain in her voice, but Daphne assures her that that’s a good thing. She’s seen people like Ethan hit it big, then suddenly become cheating monsters. Daphne’s happy that her husband has a friend like Ethan, who she thinks is a good influence, especially compared to the Bernie Maddoff-like psychopaths Cameron works with.

That’s great for Daphne and all, but what kind of influence would Cameron then have on Ethan? We can see this conversation start to infiltrate Harper’s mind, like, Oh no, who have I left babysitting my husband while I’m gone? “Do you think Cameron ever cheats on you?” she asks Daphne, who says she’s learned how to handle it, without elaborating much.

But Ethan wouldn’t cheat, as Harper said earlier, calling him honest to a fault. And thus far she’s right. Back at the hotel, Cameron and Ethan are partying with Lucia and Mia, on a drug trip of their own, but on something stronger than Harper’s edible. All the time, it feels like Ethan’s body is simply being dragged through this montage while the unruly partying happens around him. Cameron starts having sex with Lucia, but when Mia kisses Ethan, he shakes his head, present enough to stop it.

Harper calls Ethan, but it goes unanswered. She’s entirely confident in the kind of guy Ethan is, but because she knows him so well, she also knows that he isn’t a dominant force. When she’s around, he follows her lead. But what happens when Cameron, another alpha, is the only one around? Will Ethan follow his lead? The day started with Harper deliberately changing who she was to prove a point to Ethan, but could it be ending with her husband at the risk of changing who he is?

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