The White Lotus threw everything imaginable at us in its sensational second season. There was suspense, class critique, sex, murder, sex, stunning locations, sex, humor, and did I mention sex? What’s helped enshrine the season as unforgettable peak TV is its incredible cast of characters. Understandably, icons like Harper (Aubrey Plaza), Cameron (Theo James), Portia (Hayley Lu Richardson), and the now-legendary Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge) received a lot of attention from fans. But it’s another character that stole the show at every opportunity: the hotel manager Valentina (Sabrina Impacciatore), and she is the unsung hero of The White Lotus Season 2.
That may come as a surprise to those of us who have spent the season focused on the guests instead. But creator Mike White has prepared us for this. Some of the best characters in the first season of The White Lotus were the hotel staff, especially spa manager Belinda (Natasha Richardson) and Armond (Murray Bartlett), the hotel manager, who ended up dying by Season 1’s end. Thankfully, we’ve known all along that the same fate would not befall the wondrous Valentina; we saw her in Season 2’s first scene, a flash-forward, of her arriving at the hotel horrified to discover not just one death, but multiple.
Valentina proved right out of the gate that she’s a very different kind of manager than Armond. There’s no doubt she takes her job very seriously, but she lacks that Americanized version of hospitality, which involves bending to the will of any guest request. Valentina is far blunter and more resistant—though she will get the job done, to not risk her hotel’s sterling reputation. When she greets the new batch of guests, she tells Bert (F. Murray Abraham) that she’s surprised he’s made it, as “It’s a long trip from Los Angeles, and you’re quite old, no?” Bitchy, but with a warm, disarming smile. Perfection. Moments later, she pulls a similar thing with Cameron, whose bag didn’t arrive to the airport. She tells him that he should have flown via Munich instead, and her tone suggests that she thinks Cameron is a freaking moron who should have known better, which certainly takes him back a bit. It’s clear that Valentina is here to ensure the hotel’s guests have a life-changing experience, but she’s not going to bend over backward for them. She’s going to bend the appropriate amount, thank you very much!
The second episode is where Valentina transcends from a generally badass person you long to be to a bonafide icon that can never be matched. Tanya and her husband Greg (Jon Gries) are standing outside the hotel taking pictures, and Tanya calls over Valentina to take their photo. But before that, Tanya asks Valentina to guess who she looks like—hoping for the answer of Monica Vitti, a famed Italian actress. What she gets is a thoughtful pause from Valentina, who answers with two amazing words:
Sometimes all it takes is a second to enshrine an icon. Of course, Tanya thinks nothing of it, casually correcting Valentina that she’s actually supposed to be Monica Vitti. In fairness, it’s entirely plausible that Tanya believes Peppa to be another equally beautiful and fashionable star. And hey, Peppa’s red dress is flowy and majestic. But what really sells Impaccitaore’s (improvised!) line delivery is that she says it straight-faced, clearly without one iota of regret or surprise that she let it slip from her mouth. Tanya looks like Peppa, and she stands by it. It’s something that could get her in some serious trouble—Tanya has a lot of money—but that’s not going to stop Valentina from speaking her mind.
If all that wasn’t enough, Valentina was officially enshrined as woman of the people when she’s seen feeding stray cats. It’s a small, tender moment, that shows Valentina does have some interests outside of work, and lets us in on who this character is.
While the guests of the White Lotus regularly lay their feelings bare for all to witness (they’re rich, after all, so you better notice them), Valentina remains much more guarded, refusing to let us (or anybody) in. Her sense of privacy makes her massively compelling: While everyone else is an open book, Valentina is a puzzle I found myself desperate to solve.
It was through her relationship with her work subordinate and friend Isabella that we started to get a sense of Valentina’s true nature. She works a few feet away from Isabella at the reception area, which allows Valentina to watch all of Isabella’s actions throughout the day. Valentina seems concerned with Isabella’s relationship with Rocco (Federico Ferrante), whom she believes is harassing Isabella. And Isabella was clearly the apple of Valentina’s eye, evidenced by a surprising moment in which Valentina gives Isabella a beautiful pendant as a random gift. It was clear Valentina was harboring some heavy romantic feelings for Isabella, especially when she moves Rocco out of reception so she can keep a closer eye on the subject of her infatuation.
Watching this, I was incredibly uncomfortable. The age-old adage “don’t meet your heroes” was bouncing around in my head. Could this sassy, scene-stealing angel sent from the scriptwriter’s heaven actually be a monster? Valentina’s flirtation with Isabella was possibly the most subversive moment of the entire season, revealing that power at all levels can be corrupted by sexual desire. Of all the topics I expected The White Lotus to cover, workplace harassment wasn’t one of them. Still, the show makes a bold and exciting (if devastating) choice to have Valentina, of all people, fall prey to lust when it comes to her working relationship with Isabella—or, more accurately, she became the predator.
But thankfully—mercifully—Valentina is too good of a person to fully become a villain, and even her position of power isn’t enough to sway her into taking advantage of her working relationship with Isabella. Isabella’s reveal that she’s engaged to Rocco and wants him to return to reception comes as a devastating blow to Valentina, just moments before the two are set to go celebrate Valentina’s birthday. Impaccitatore delivers the scene perfectly: We watch her become crestfallen, as well as have the striking realization that she’s pursuing something that is dangerous in more ways than one. She knows this needs to end immediately, and it does.
A surprise guardian angel allows Valentina to let loose on her birthday, and it’s Mia (Beatrice Grannò). Mia likely inspired by her desire for a permanent job and desiring Valentina (how could you not?) makes a move on Valentina and the two escape to a vacant hotel room. It took nearly the entire season, but Valentina finally let her guard down in the second-to-last episode. It was amazing to see Valentina finally get what she’s quietly been after this whole time—just like everyone else, she wants some hot sex that she’s never been able to experience before.
Even in a chaotic, death-filled finale, Valentina still got opportunities to remind us what a sensational character she is. She’s caught with Mia in bed after their glorious romp at the end of the sixth episode, immediately snapping back into manager mode while half-naked in bed. She dresses down the maid that opens the door with the appropriate ferocity required of a manager of a hotel where only the richest, most unhinged people inhabit. It’s a brilliant moment, with Valentina reckoning with both her personal and professional life at once. She handles it like the consummate professional we know her to be, with a bit of her spectacular trademark sass.
Valentina agrees to bring Rocco back, making up for her errors and righting what’s wrong, something that everyone staying at White Lotus seems completely incapable of. She seems genuinely remorseful for the way she treated Isabella, slightly blinded by her lust for her. Crucially, Valentina never let her powerful position take over her morals, even if it got dangerously close. Valentina is practically our guiding moral compass—I’d like to see someone like Tanya feed stray kittens!—even if she herself is far from perfect. Flaws are something The White Lotus knows all too well.
The storyline’s final beat was completely sold by Impacciatore’s brilliant performance. You can feel her disappointment in a slight lip quiver when Mia tells her that she needs a “real” lesbian lover and that the night they spent together, while electric, was little more than a fantasy played out. But their tryst has given Valentina newfound confidence in who she is, allowing her to be more open with her needs and desires outside of the work she devotes herself completely. It seems like a better work-life balance and a chance to be her authentic self are both on the way for Valentina.
This ending is exactly what Valentina deserved. She absolutely stole the season, cementing its themes with dark humor and warm heart. And for a show that regularly doles out cruelty to its whole cast, it was a real treat to see one of the workers have a wonderful character arc and not wind up heartbroken or dead. Every moment she was on screen in Season 2, Impacciatore created something magical, seemingly out of thin air. One day, may we all have the strength to tell the people society says we need to please that they look like Peppa Pig.