Well, we’ve now had two seasons of complex, broken characters entering the paradise that is The White Lotus and its various resorts around the globe, hoping for relaxing holidays but instead finding all their problems magnified. In season one, we didn’t really know what to expect from this series. In season two, we knew it was all about observational gut-punches – the way human beings can be their worst selves, and never really have to reckon with their behaviour at all, and the way in which we all to some degree hide ugly truths.
There is plenty we could talk about from season two of The White Lotus, from that shock death to the searing analysis of masculinity across the decades via grandfather/father/son trio Bert, Dominic and Albie Di Grasso. But when it comes to complex, fascinating characters, it was Daphne Sullivan (Meghann Fahy) who stole the show.
When we first meet Daphne, she’s in a seemingly perfect relationship. She and husband Cameron are canoodling like teenage lovers, a stark contrast to their friends Ethan and Harper Spiller, who bicker on the short boat ride to the Sicilian resort.
However, this facade quickly cracks. We realise that Cameron regularly cheats on his wife and feels no remorse about it. Daphne, who has an inkling that her husband is less than faithful, counters this by manipulating him with mixed signals and disappearing acts.
This revelation in and of itself would make them one of the more interesting pairs in the season. While Harper and Ethan also have their own sets of issues to work through, the difference is they seem more concerned about actually confronting them. For Daphne, ignorance (well, forced ignorance) is bliss. She’s more than happy to turn a blind eye to her partner’s infidelity as long as she can wrangle her own sense of control back, too.
It’s this blend of manipulation and passivity that makes Daphne so intriguing. The contrast is only heightened during the episodes following Cameron’s wild night with sex workers Lucia and Mia. When Harper and Daphne have a conversation about doubting their partners’ fidelity, Daphne tells Harper she needs to find new focus. She tells Harper that she spends a lot of time with her trainer – that he’s extremely attractive and a big part of her life. When Harper asks to see a photo of him, Daphne passes her phone over. “This is a photo of your kids,” Harper remarks, and Daphne gives her a very interesting look before adding cryptically, “Oh, silly me.” It’s implied that her trainer – not Cameron – is the father of her children.
A lot of credit has to go to Fahy here for her brilliant work with this character. So much of Daphne’s mysterious nature is the result of little looks and subtle expressions Fahy gives in key scenes. For example, in the season finale. When Ethan pours out his theory that Harper and Cameron have had sex during their The White Lotus holiday, Daphne looks momentarily wounded – just enough to reveal that she cares – before switching to a kind of mask of calm. “I mean, we never really know what goes on in people’s minds and what they do, right?” she tells Ethan. “There’s still this part that’s a mystery. You don’t have to know everything to love someone.”
This feels like passive Daphne talking, but then she twists the tone. “I’m a mystery to myself, honestly I surprise myself all the time. I think you just… do whatever you have to do not to feel like a victim of life.”
Next minute she’s inviting Ethan to walk across to Isola Bella, a small secluded island off the coast. While we don’t know whether Ethan and Daphne have sex on their trip, it’s certainly implied.
So what is Daphne? She’s not really strong, because she’s being repeatedly cheated on by her husband while remaining in a marriage that is, at its core, a bit of a sham. But she’s also not weak – just like she advises Ethan, she takes back control by playing Cameron at his own game.
Then, there’s the question of happiness. It seems like Daphne genuinely is happy in this fucked-up existence. At the end of season two’s finale, she’s planning a trip with Cameron to The White Lotus’ Maldives resort. Their continuation as a couple even after such a tumultuous holiday doesn’t mirror Shane and Rachel Patton’s from season one, where a disillusioned Rachel sticks by her partner even though she’s almost completely fallen out of love. Daphne seems to genuinely enjoy the chaos of her marriage.
One viral Twitter post is doing the rounds at the moment, saying “she’s TRUE lobotomy goals”.
She’s TRUE lobotomy goals pic.twitter.com/Gyqm67dldd
— julia hava (@binchcity) December 12, 2022
But I have to disagree. Yes, it’s a meme. But what it’s implying is that Daphne is blind to how messed up her relationship is. I don’t think she is. I think she enjoys its toxicity. This is what The White Lotus has now done brilliantly for two whole seasons – tapped into the often uncomfortable truths about how we go about our lives, having our dreams dashed, choosing what’s worth suffering through – and how those choices aren’t always healthy ones.
The White Lotus has always been about the messiness of humans, and Daphne is such a perfect embodiment of that.
The White Lotus season two is currently streaming on Binge.