Across two seasons of The White Lotus, Mike White’s gleeful and grim anthology series about the various wards and tools of the global high-hospitality biz, audiences have encountered many dark and stormy souls: the Shanes, Gregs, Harpers, Ethans, and Doms of the jet-setting world. These high rollers should be footloose and fancy-free on their respective vacations. Instead, they roll like thunder into their luaus and beach clubs and palazzos and suites, grumbling all the while. They spend their days in Hawaii and/or Sicily as if socked in by a fog.
Which only makes it all the more dazzling when a gal like Daphne, one of this season’s biggest bolts of lightning, comes along. Played by actress Meghann Fahy of stage and soap and screen, Daphne is both the sweet sea breeze and the white-hot knockout that interrupts it. She beams and blinks across tables, her words gone before they’re heard. She is disarming and impervious—so warm that she’s cold. Or maybe it’s the other way around.
Daphne is an enthusiastic lover, a probably lapsed voter, and a flowy-dress-core mama. (“Zen mommy” is how the actress Aubrey Plaza, who plays Harper, once described Daphne’s Instaperfect vibe; “bogus” and “a front” are how Harper perceives her early on.) She is a basic b who loves Ted Lasso but also Dateline episodes about killer husbands who unplug their wives’ scuba oxygen lines while on vacay. (Who doesn’t?) She pops edibles and gets wine drunk and spends soooo much money on whatever child- or pet-related causes cross her socials. She is nice! But she contains enough multitudes that she is also, we think, schtupping and perhaps even procreating with her cutie blond trainer back home while her workaholic husband, Cameron, and his rude, bad colleagues are off separating fools from their dough. (It’s possible that Cameron and his colleagues are said fools, but more on that in a bit.) “I’m not a victim,” Daphne says in the third episode, and it’s super tempting to just take her at her word.
But she also says she never fights with her dear husband, even though we come to find out she sure does clock him. “He has really intense FOMO and abandonment issues,” Daphne chirps cheerfully to Harper midway through the season, while she’s in the midst of poking at both just to feel a charge. She is pure uncut wattage, whether she is encased in striped Prada, or in midriff-baring Ulla Johnson slacks, or in jammies featuring snakes, or in a bathing suit that is the color of the sun. That last one is what she is wearing in the very opening scene of Season 2 of The White Lotus, just before she gets tickled by the toes of the dead.
“You’re gonna die,” Daphne has just told two sunbathing newcomers to the resort, with all the love in the world. “They’re gonna have to drag you out of here.” Her week is ending; theirs is nigh. So jeal! She slips into the sea for one farewell dip and soon sidestrokes into a floating body. She rears back with a hair-raising “What the fuck?” that gets the show moving and the storm crackling, the way Daphne’s presence always does.
During a recent Fresh Air interview on NPR, White, the creator and director of The White Lotus, half joked about the power of a good old dead body. “You realize these kinds of hooks, like, do actually get viewers,” he told host Terry Gross, reflecting on the vibrant public reaction to his show’s 2021 debut. That first season began with a shot of a casket of uncertain provenance being loaded onto a plane in paradise, followed by the ominous words “SEVEN DAYS EARLIER.” Since then, the show has been renewed for second and third seasons, with Season 2 leading HBO Max in viewership over the past five weeks. “If I’d put a dead body at the beginning of Enlightened,” White quipped to Gross, self-deprecatingly, about his critically beloved but sparsely viewed 2011 series, “maybe people would have watched Enlightened.”
Instead, The White Lotus it has been, and The White Lotus it shall be. So far, the second season has borrowed much of what worked from the first installment: the sad delves into fading relationships, the bitter ends of service industry employment, the partly mega-famous, partly rando cast, the claustrophobic and world-class setting. And the mystery body! Or, in Season 2, the mystery bodies, plural: In the premiere, a White Lotus worker breaks the news of the drowned guest to the already unraveling hotel manager and adds, “Other guests have been killed,” too. How many? Unclear!
The White Lotus’s viewership has yielded an increasingly engaged fan base that loves to advance theories and observations—from the cynical, to the convoluted, to the hopeful—about exactly what series of events might culminate with someone(s) terminally afloat in the rocky Sicilian tide. Will an Ambien/aspirin mix-up come into play? A universal room key? Is Laura Dern going to show up? Is Portia the new Kim Bauer?
The one thing that does seem apparent is that none of the bodies are Daphne, which is what has made her such an intriguing character throughout this second season. She doesn’t seem destined to die, but might she have the wherewithal to kill?!
Fahy’s performance, in a way, is one more aspect of Season 2 that has ties to the show’s first run, though not in a manner that anyone besides White and his casting confidants initially knew. In a delightful conversation on Bowen Yang and Matt Rogers’s podcast Las Culturistas, Fahy explained that she’d gotten really far in the casting process for Season 1 of the series, ultimately losing out to Alexandra Daddario for the role of Rachel. (Fahy added that at a Season 2 premiere party, someone else’s agent gushed to her—meaning well!—that missing that part must have felt like “the biggest moment of your whole career out the window!”) Instead, the universe unfolded as it should have, and Fahy is perfectly suited for Daphne, who in many ways feels like a version of Rachel who has grown up and hardened and #tradwifed a little—but who has also maybe learned a trick or grown a pair in the process.
“I think some women cut off their husbands’ balls,” Daphne remarks thoughtfully to her husband from bed in Episode 2, about their uptight, sexless friends on the other side of the hotel room wall. “And then they wonder why they’re not attracted to them anymore.”
“Don’t you cut my balls off, baby,” Cameron responds, into it.
“I won’t,” Daphne purrs. Then she adds, “But you know what, if I wanted to, I could.”
This isn’t the only thing Daphne says throughout The White Lotus that tastes like a threat poured over ice and splashed with prosecco. On the one hand, she seems to be a born soother, an agreeable girl, the kind of dinner companion who can sparkle over any silence by repeating whatever it is she last heard someone else say and adding a smile on top. On the other hand, she is neither a Goody Two-shoes nor a priss. When she learns that a decorative statue in the hotel room is based on a legend of a philandering dude who was beheaded, she remarks: “It’s a warning to husbands, babe! Screw around, and you’ll end up buried in the garden!”
When a distressed Harper comes to her with the impression that one or both of their husbands have cheated, Daphne’s demeanor is a cross between a wounded Penny Lane chuckling bravely and asking, “What kind of beer?” and a satisfied modern woman whose approach to love and marriage is a bit more, ah, enlightened. “I’m sure whatever happened wasn’t a big deal,” she says, “and if anything ever did happen, you just … do what you have to do to make yourself feel better about it.” It is here that she tells Harper to find herself a trainer, as she says she has.
In interviews, Fahy has said that White isn’t the kind of showrunner who is interested in creating elaborate backstory bibles for every role. Instead, he leans on his impeccable casting and his precise writing to let the characters take shape right there on the screen. But Fahy has also said that White did give her two major insights into his vision of Daphne: that she and Cameron “really do love each other,” Fahy told Elle, and that “she’s not a victim.” On the surface, the relationship between Daphne and Cameron feels performative, their over-the-top schmoopiness surely a front for a deeper rot. But increasingly, as Harper and Ethan bicker and grow apart and spiral out of control, Daphne and Cameron seem like maybe they’re onto something. Look at how often they wake up fully spooning! Maybe cheaters can prosper?
“They have a great sex life and they laugh and they play, and all of those things are real,” Fahy told Vulture. “And then you kind of are meant to wonder: Well, does it really matter how somebody finds happiness?”
How happy have they found themselves, though? The ongoing premise behind The White Lotus suggests that few people are ever truly OK, that everyone has lots of shit going down behind closed doors. Movers and shakers are reduced to a whimper, half billionaires wonder whether this is all there is, married couples ask if this is it. There is enough conflict, and there are enough secrets, that just about everyone is in the running to be the dead body du jour.
Perhaps Quentin and his party people go a little too hard and too far and wind up overboard. Maybe one of the Di Grasso men, in a pique of lust or rage or both, ends the lives of the sex workers Lucia and Mia. Maybe Ethan kills Cameron, or Cameron kills Harper, or Portia kills Jack, or Jack kills Tanya.
Are we sure that Ethan and Daphne have never hooked up? Are we sure that Cameron isn’t actually broke? Is that Harper’s bag on the beach??? Is Daphne being friendly to those newbie strangers in the moments before that last fateful swim because she’s trying to establish an alibi for a killing she either participated in or helped conceal? The girl does rock a cover-up with the best of them, you know?
In an interview with Harper’s Bazaar, Fahy said that “the way that [Daphne] presents her sunny disposition is one of her superpowers.” But the light of the sun also burns. When Daphne decides to ball out on an overnight trip to Noto with Harper in Episode 3, sans their husbands, she explains her logic. “Don’t you think it’s better to just do what you want, even if it’s by yourself?” she asks. “Cameron does what he wants all the time. Why let them have all the fun?” This is an empowering and unapologetic way to think, but it is also kind of at odds with something else Daphne says a little later in the same episode.
Describing a safari she went on once with Cameron, Daphne remarks that in elephant herds, it’s the women and children who form meaningful and mutually supportive communities, frolicking at water holes and raising their young as a village. The growing males, meanwhile, are cast out of their clans at a certain point to learn to fend for themselves. “I feel sorry for men,” Daphne says. “They think they’re out there doing something really important, but they’re just wandering alone.” This doesn’t exactly sound like fun worth emulating—though maybe the saving grace, for Daphne, is that she doesn’t delude herself into believing much of anything is important.
And so, one way or another, the series will end this weekend much like it began: with Daphne radiant and talkative on the beach, for reasons that will come to seem either nefarious or benign; and then with Daphne walking toward the sea; and then with Daphne screaming. Whoever you are in The White Lotus, whatever your worries, one thing is clear: You really don’t wanna be in the water when lightning strikes.