In the first episode of this season, as the guests were just checking into their rooms at the White Lotus, unaware of what was in store, we learned about the legend of Testa di Moro. It was a spooky tale of love, betrayal, and ultimately, revenge, but with all of the excitement going on in the premiere, it was easy to forget the story and get caught up in Bert’s comments about his manhood (or Cam’s actual manhood). In episode two, however, another legend was revealed—and in episode four, we’ve learned of yet another. It’s becoming clear that we should maybe be paying attention to these stories being thrown in our faces because, as the season continues to play out, these tales of the past are seemingly becoming more and more relevant. So, let’s pause for a second and explore the Testa di Moro, Persephone and Hades, and Isola Bella, because they may just help reveal the answer to some of the biggest questions this season.
Testa di Moro
In episode one, when Cam, Daphne, Ethan, and Harper arrive to their room, Ethan asks hotel worker Rocco about the ceramic statues depicting a man and a woman’s head sitting on pedestals in the entryway. “We keep seeing them everywhere,” he says. “Testa di Moro,” Rocco responds. “The story is, a Moor came here a long time ago and seduced a local girl. But then she found out that he had a wife and children back home. So, because he lied to her, she cut his head off.”
The White Lotus’s creator, Mike White, has said he was inspired by the ceramic vases when he arrived to Italy and decided to work the mythology into the storyline. “There’s so much classic mythology about sexual jealousy and the sexual politics of men and women,” White told Variety at the season’s premiere. “It just felt like, maybe that should be more of the theme [this season].”
So, let’s think about this for a minute. Do we know a married man who is fooling around with a local girl? Um, are you watching the show? There are currently two men who fit this description: Dom and Cam, who have both slept with local woman Lucia. Of course, Lucia knows these men are married and have kids. She has seen Cam with Daphne multiple times, and Dom has been pretty open about his problems at home. Plus, now Lucia is even getting to know Dom’s son, Albie, too (wink wink), so she’s fully aware of the circumstances there, and likely isn’t about to cut any of her clients’ heads off for having a family. That being said, maybe in the modern version of this tale, the local woman kills the man for a different kind of betrayal, like say, not paying her. Cam still has quite a bit of money to cough up to Lucia—and, who knows, if he never makes that cash appear, he may end up with his head sitting alongside those ceramic busts.
Hades and Persephone
Once Bert triumphantly makes it to the Greek Theater in episode two, he takes a seat and begins to do what he does best—first, he complains about his son’s inability to carry on with a more inconspicuous affair. When he’s done with that (until dinner, at least), he tells a very charming story. “You know, Hades raped Persephone right here in Sicily,” he says. “She was picking flowers and he burst through the earth and he raped her...Then, he dragged her down to the underworld.” While to many this is a disturbing old myth with not much significance, to Bert, it’s a story of forgiveness. “Demeter forgave Hades and he raped her daughter,” Bert tells his son. “I mean, whatever you’ve done can’t be as bad at that. As Hades. And the raping.” If Demeter can forgive Hades, why can’t Dom’s wife forgive him? Of course, Bert is speaking to the wrong person here, as it isn’t Dom who needs to do the forgiving, but Laura Dern. Maybe try calling her up and telling the story again, Bert.
Hopefully, Bert is right, and this story foreshadows forgiveness that’ll come later in the season. Because while this show can get dark, I don’t think anyone wants it to get Persephone-and-Hades dark.
And then there’s the most modern of the tales we’ve heard thus far, the one that Tom Hollander’s Quentin tells Tanya during their get-together at the beach club. Tanya asks Quentin about the island off the coast to which he responds, “Isola Bella.” Quentin explains there’s a house on the island that used to belong to a wealthy Swedish family. “The old matriarch was the last one living in it and there were these powerful, local investors,” he says, adding, “if you know what I mean,” seemingly implying the involvement of organized crime. The “investors” wanted the house and the island, “but the old battle axe wouldn’t budge,” Quentin explains. “They made her all kinds of offers, and then one day her body was found in a heap at the bottom of the rocks.” The story has a happy ending, though, as the house is now open to the public, “so maybe it was worth it,” Quentin says.
There are a few ways one could read into this. As of now, there hasn’t been any talk about the Mafia on the show aside from references to The Godfather, and despite the fact that Sicily is notoriously home to La Cosa Nostra, one of the most infamous Mafia groups. It’s possible this tale is an introduction to a Mafia storyline for the second half of the season. Or—and it’s possible I’m just being cynical here—Quentin and his friends (including Emily is Paris’s Bruno Gouery—yes, I see you!) are the fill-ins for the “powerful investors” in this story, and they quickly recognized Tanya for being a wealthy, but also a fragile and easily manipulated person. It’s possible they want to use her, suck her dry of her assets, and then leave her at the bottom of the rocks. Yes, these men feign wealth with their beach club parties and talk of estates in Èze, but it could all just be an act to gain Tanya’s trust. Don’t fall for it, Tanya! And maybe stop flaunting your Valentino and Bottega Veneta bags as you hysterically cry in public. It kind of makes you an easy target.