At the beginning of The White Lotus season 2, Daphne Sullivan (played by Meghann Fahy) is introduced as a woman who has it all: a bouncy blowout that complements her vacation-ready wardrobe, two beautiful kids and a doting husband, and the kind of unbothered outlook that a certain level of wealth can buy.
With her matching sets, floral patterns and persistently perky attitude, it’s almost too easy to write Daphne off as one-dimensional. But beneath this surface-level sweetness, she’s perhaps the most cunning, calculating, and interesting character on the show. Written and directed by Mike White, the HBO series famously unravels the sinister side of luxury vacations by tackling topics like power dynamics and wealth gaps. Daphne, with her alluring airheadedness, is the personification of these dichotomies.
In episode one, she’s presented as the ditzy wife of Cameron (Theo James), who has arranged a double-date vacation to Sicily, Italy with his old friend from college, Ethan (Will Sharpe), and Ethan’s wife Harper (Aubrey Plaza). Right off the bat, Daphne’s sanguinity stands out. She and Cameron are in a perpetual honeymoon phase, while Ethan and Harper have precisely zero chemistry. Costume designer Alex Bovaird makes her style bright and breezy, while Harper’s is structured and sober. All in all, Daphne’s life seems pretty perfect. And that’s because she doesn’t really care about anything.
In her daily life, Daphne is untouched by real-world issues. She doesn’t watch the news, she can’t remember if she voted, and she remains indifferent to her husband’s misogynistic hot takes. This surface-level superficiality is reflected in her incessantly cheery wardrobe. Wearing brands like Zimmerman, Ramy Brook and Gucci, Daphne is the quintessential hot mom and flirty wife. With a penchant for flowy silhouettes, outlandish prints and bright, bold colours, she treats getting dressed as a cause for celebration.
It soon becomes clear, however, that Daphne’s situation isn’t as flawless as it seems. Though she and her husband put forth an image of the ideal marriage, their relationship is actually built on mistrust and mind games. This proverbial curtain is pulled back in episode three, when Daphne reveals to Harper that she and Cameron like to play psychological “games” with one another. Not only does she know that Cameron routinely cheats on her, but she also implies that she has an ongoing affair with her personal trainer. She finishes by alluding that one (or more) of her children aren’t actually Cameron’s. “I’m not a victim,” she tells Harper, adding that sometimes, you do what you have to do to make yourself feel better.
As such, her colourful, moneyed style communicates an uncomplicated optimism. She’s rich, she’s conventionally pretty, and she’s incredibly privileged. So, despite the things that are wrong in her life, she always looks good. And as it turns out, this self-involved stance is what allows her to survive in otherwise unfulfilling circumstances.
As the trip goes on, the tension in the group grows. Harper finds out that Cameron cheated on Daphne, and suspects that Ethan cheated on her. Cameron and Harper kiss behind Ethan’s back. Ethan attacks Cameron. And although Daphne is at the centre of this drama, she remains impressively unbothered. Always holding an Aperol spritz, wearing a vague grin and serving an impeccably coordinated outfit, Daphne’s aesthetic is about impenetrable nonchalance. Her over-the-top style may suggest she’s easy to figure out, but nobody ever knows what she’s really thinking.
Daphne’s complexity culminates in the season finale. Aptly titled “Arrivederci,” the episode takes place on the last day of the group’s Italian getaway. In one pivotal scene, Ethan tells Daphne that he thinks their spouses’ cheated on them with one another. Her face briefly falls, but in true Daphne fashion, she brushes it off. “I don’t think you have anything to worry about,” she responds cheerfully, adding that you don’t need to know everything about someone to love them. “I’m a mystery to myself,” she cryptically continues. “I think you just do whatever you have to do not to feel like a victim of life.”
Following this exchange, the pair go to a secluded part of the island, where it is implied they, themselves, have sex. This scene captures the enigmatic essence of Daphne. As she walks, her fuchsia cover-up blows in the wind, her voluminous curls bounce up and down and a signature smile remains plastered on her face. But in this moment, it’s clear that there’s much more to her than meets the eye.
While Ethan and Harper go through a relationship reckoning on the trip, Daphne and Cameron remain largely unchanged. Despite their infidelities, they maintain a lovey-dovey dynamic. And just like her deceiving relationship, Daphne’s outlandish style never strays from its ethereal artificiality.
No one in The White Lotus is objectively “good,” but Daphne’s darkness is deliciously layered. All in all, she serves as a metaphor for head-in-the-sand serenity. Sure, money can’t buy happiness. But as Daphne Sullivan points out, it can buy delightful indifference. And isn’t that often essentially the same thing?
Ready for more luxury vacation drama? Here’s everything we know about The White Lotus season 3.
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