You’ve got to choose your travel companions carefully. Otherwise, you may find yourself stuck in Italy with people you can’t stand for seven days straight. As we saw in the latest episode of The White Lotus, “Italian Dream,” things aren’t getting any more comfortable for our two mismatched couples on their second day of vacation. Harper (Aubrey Plaza) and Ethan (Will Sharpe) aren’t connecting, and Cameron (Theo James) seems to be making things worse with his off-hand insults and aggressive behavior. Meanwhile, Daphne (Meghann Fahy) may put on an air of personable detachment (she thinks Cameron’s temper tantrums are “kind of funny”), but she’s subtly clocking every interaction. She might be the most underestimated character this season.
In a recent interview with The A.V. Club, Fahy confirmed that there’s more to her character than meets the eye. “I think you meet her and you sort of think that she’s maybe a little bit one-dimensional,” she says. “[She has] kind of trophy-wife vibes. And then you sort of quickly come to realize that there’s a lot more going on there under the surface. She’s a bit of a complex character, a little bit mysterious. I think that the real driving force between the two in their marriage is just these psychological games that they sort of get off on playing with each other.”
Both Fahy and James talked with The White Lotus creator Mike White before they began filming about the ways in which their characters’ relationship would defy expectations. If you think you know what’s going on between them, you may be rethinking that by the end of the season. “Mike was really specific about Daphne not being a victim of the circumstances of her relationship and rather an active participant who has agreed to the terms that are very specific to them and their marriage,” Fahy says.
“Mike was very specific about that,” James adds. “[He wanted] to challenge everyone’s perception of what a functioning relationship should be. You know, in many ways, it’s pretty toxic. And they play these games and it seems completely alien to most of us. But the question he’s kind of asking the audience in one sense is how if they are in love—they are deeply affectionate, they also enjoy each other’s company, and it seems to be a functioning relationship—is it okay that the boundaries of their relationship are different from societal conventions?”
In episode two we saw the affection between Daphne and Cameron in their lighter moments, like shopping for clothes, and in more serious ones as well, when they recalled her difficulties giving birth to their youngest child. It was a striking contrast to their travel companions Harper and Ethan, who seemed to be constantly bickering and out of sync. These two couples are like oil and water, and the interplay between them is already one of the most fascinating aspects of the season so far.
“The tension of the show, I think, is one of the really special parts of it,” Fahy says. “Because it’s sort of always there, even if it’s not overt. A simple shot of somebody glancing at someone—like, it’s very subtle, but it’s sort of the undercurrent of the whole thing, no matter what’s happening.”
James points to the Italian frescoes shown in the opening credits as a thematic mission statement for the season, a connection between the location and the concepts that the show sets out to explore. “There’s many, many centuries of complex social evolution in Europe, but specifically in Italy, Sicily,” he says. “And that plays a big part of it in terms of American social sexual norms, meeting European, Italian [culture], and how they intercede. And then on top of that, you know, Mike uses it as a tapestry to make certain comments about gender construction. You know, what we assume are the roles that men and women should take, how dated they are sometimes, how they should be subverted, and how they’re not. And so it’s a right playground, and as a result it’s quite different from the first season.”
If you thought the first season was dark, just wait, Fahy says. “[Season two is] decidedly darker, and sexier, sort of off the top. And that was intentional on Mike’s part. He wanted to push it just a little bit further and explore different ideas. But it’s still playing with the way that we have blind spots.”