the white lotus

We Need to Talk About Daphne

Photo: Fabio Lovino/HBO

Ostensibly, the main point of the opening scene of The White Lotus’s second season is to set the stakes: A bunch of people are dead, and we’re going to spend seven episodes finding out how it happened. But there’s something else that those first few minutes tell us. By all appearances, at least one guest has gotten through this week both physically and mentally unscathed. Right up to the moment she swims into a corpse, Daphne (Meghann Fahy) cannot say enough good things about her vacation at the White Lotus in Sicily.

Knowing The White Lotus, Daphne’s chipperness reads as unsettling from the jump. No one leaves this hotel feeling generally okay about themselves or the world — let alone exuberant. We rewind a week to find her arriving with her finance-bro husband, Cameron (Theo James); Cameron’s college roommate Ethan (Will Sharpe); and Ethan’s wife, Harper (Aubrey Plaza). The dynamics in this foursome are rife with dramatic tension: Harper despises Daphne and Cameron, who are the kind of rich people so securely swaddled in their own privilege that they can’t remember if they voted. Ethan seems a little enamored with his cooler, hotter college buddy but desperate to prove that he ended up on top now that he has sold his company for a boatload of money. Meanwhile, Cameron and Daphne’s frequent, spontaneous make-out sessions are haunting Harper and Ethan, who don’t seem too hot on hanging out with each other at all.

Daphne’s unshakable breeziness is all the more notable as the week progresses and the other members of her cohort unravel into various states of distress. While Cameron and Ethan vie for alpha-dog status, Daphne and Harper become tentative acquaintances. Daphne seems eager to open up to Harper, who gleefully receives a series of revelations that prove what she’d suspected: This couple is way more fucked up than they seem. They play mind games. They cheat on each other. Their children are maybe, probably not Cameron’s but actually the blond spawn of Daphne’s sexy trainer. This is great news for Harper, who has been dying to talk shit about all the dirty secrets hiding under Cameron and Daphne’s blissful veneer with her husband — until she suspects Ethan of keeping secrets of his own.

But even as we discover Cameron and Daphne’s infidelities, their happiness seems like more than just a front. They’re clearly attracted to each other. Is the fact that their foreplay involves joking about each of them cheating a little disturbing? Sure. But it seems to work for them.

The more we see Daphne evolve past the trope of rich, unhappy housewife, the more I find her strangely likable. In theory, Harper is far more relatable, yet I can’t help but admire Daphne’s gloriously unoriginal vacation wardrobe and insistence on enjoying herself throughout this nightmarish couples trip. There’s something perversely powerful about her worldview. Instead of agonizing over her husband’s infidelities, she took it upon herself to find some extramarital pleasure of her own. When Harper confides that she suspects Ethan may have cheated, Daphne doesn’t let either of them wallow because of their husbands’ betrayals — instead, she tells Harper she should get a trainer of her own. She has the same advice for Ethan, who comes to her in the finale with a similar concern about Harper and Cameron. Fahy’s face deftly flashes through heartbreak, disappointment, and bitterness before carefully recalibrating into carefree mode and telling him, “Do whatever you have to do not to feel like a victim,” and — it’s strongly implied — roping him into her own plan to do the same.

That’s not exactly an uplifting sentiment, but there does seem to be some wisdom to Daphne’s way of being. I wouldn’t quite call her happy (those few seconds after Ethan’s revelation give us a glimpse of her pain), but she seems more satisfied and comfortable with who she is than anyone else on this show. Another thing that sets her apart from the other characters: Daphne is fun. This is largely thanks to Fahy, who delivers her character’s twisted outlook on her relationship with an eerily blasé sheen — upending our definition of a healthy partnership in the same tone she’d use to recommend a new Wölffer Estate rosé. 

The season finale tells us, in no uncertain terms, that Daphne is onto something. Whatever infidelities Harper and Ethan committed during what turned out to be the most fucked-up couples-therapy vacation of all time, they were all ripped straight from the Daphne playbook. And their marriage, it appears, is much better for it — they end the weekend quite literally in the same position as Daphne and Ethan with both couples cuddling up at the airport. If this is how Daphne feels all the time, wouldn’t you envy her a little too?

We Need to Talk About Daphne